If you have owned and operated a website long enough, you may have heard the term “backlink” mentioned in reference to SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
What is a Backlink?
A backlink is a term that describes when a hyperlink is created from one website to another. In the SEO industry, a backlink is often also referred to as an “inbound link.”
Are Backlinks Important for SEO?
Absolutely! That is because Google interprets backlinks as a “vote of confidence” from one website to another. The following is an analogy that may help to better understand the concept behind backlinks, from a search engine’s perspective.
An Analogy to Explain Backlinks
Let’s say you are at a restaurant, where you observe Elon Musk, Bill Gates and another gentleman sitting together at a table, having dinner. You recognize that Elon Musk and Bill Gates, are among the most successful tech entrepreneurs in the world, and as such, are considered by many to be important persons.
But, what about the other gentleman who is sharing the table with Mr. Musk and Mr. Gates? You do not know who this person is, but because he is sharing a table with Elon Musk and Bill Gates, you likely assume that he must also be an important person.
Thus, when a website links to your website, it indicates to Google, that your website must also be important to some degree. Moreover, if a number of high-authority websites link to your website, this not only tells Google that your website must be important, but it also increases your website’s ability to rank better.
Are All Backlinks Equally Good for SEO?
The short answer is no. Not all backlinks are equally good for SEO.
At one end of the spectrum, you can have backlinks from trusted, high-authority websites that should boost your website’s authority.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have low-authority, “spammy” websites that may actually hurt your website’s authority if you get too many backlinks from them.
Then of course, there is everything else in between, which may or may not help your website depending upon the degree of authority the website linking to you has.
Natural vs Unnatural Backlinks
One thing that helps search engines like Google assess the value of backlinks is whether they are perceived to be “natural” or “unnatural”.
Natural (also called Organic) backlinks are those that occur “naturally” when a website links to another website without payment or some other incentive. Thus, natural backlinks are given because a website owner feels that the website it is linking to has valuable content that may be relevant or of value to their own visitors.
For example, if a WordPress plugin developer liked our blog post “5 Simple Ways to Protect your Website from Hackers” so much that they put a link from their website to our blog post, this would be considered a natural backlink. This type of backlink is completely acceptable to Google and can improve the link recipient website’s authority.
Unnatural backlinks are those that are typically obtained when a Black Hat SEO company uses a link scheme to obtain numerous backlinks for a client, usually over a very short (unnatural) period of time, in an attempt to manipulate organic search engine rankings. These types of backlinks are in direct violation of Google Guidelines and can result in a penalty from Google.
An example would be if you paid XYZ Black Hat SEO Company to improve your search engine rankings, but instead, they placed 2,000 backlinks from spammy, low-authority websites to your website. As a result, Google should tag your website for an unnatural pattern of backlinks, which could then result in a penalty that would hurt your website’s search engine rankings.