Backlinks Explained

Backlinks Explained: Why Your Backlinks Aren’t Paying Off

In many ways, SEO backlinks are a kind of online popularity contest. Unlike internal links, these links are placed on other sites to bring people back to your page, proving you’re a trusted authority that fellow sites are willing to recommend. They’re great for getting Google onside, and they’re not a bad way of reaching new audiences, either. 

But, building backlinks is less about popularity, and more about planning. A great backlink strategy relies on the creation of linkable content, the targeting of resource pages, and even the specific identification of broken links that your links could replace. According to the experts, it’s also a goal that you should dedicate at least 20% of your marketing budget towards. 

All of these are minor efforts to go when you consider that 58.1% of marketers believe successful backlinks have a significant impact on search rankings. But, what happens if you’re putting the work into backlinks, but are failing to see any of the benefits? 

Countless companies are at risk of hemorrhaging money on backlinking strategies that simply don’t benefit them in the long run. Whether you’re in that position now or are worried that your current backlink strategy might not meet the cut, our complete backlinks explained guide can help you to identify where you’re going wrong, and what you can do to create a more successful SEO backlink strategy moving forward.

Are you Targeting the Right Websites?

Ultimately, the aim of creating backlinks is to – 

  • Create trust
  • Build domain authority
  • Reach new relevant audiences
  • Increase brand awareness

You’ll never achieve those goals if your backlinks appear on spammy, unreliable websites that have nothing to do with your target niche. That’s because Google is unlikely to consider a backlink on a spammy, poorly designed site as worth indexing. Which means these backlinks are unlikely to be of any notable benefit to your web page or SEO efforts, and may even prove damaging in the long run. 

You could argue that there’s still a chance of direct click-throughs from even a ‘bad’ backlink, but those are unlikely to lead to conversions if backlink placements are entirely irrelevant to your brand. As a result, you may end up spending significantly more on link-building than you could ever hope to get back from your efforts. 

To avoid those issues, it’s vital that you think about, and thoroughly research, any websites you target throughout your backlink SEO strategy The key things that you’ll want to consider include –

  • Domain authority: Authoritative domains that appear high in Google search have good credibility, great on-page content, and are more likely to result in SEO-boosting backlinks with high click-through rates.
  • Trustworthiness: A website link from a trusted source will always be better for SEO. Trusted sources might include things like high-end journals, government sites, or simply high-quality websites that always link to reputable sources. 
  • Link diversity: Links from diverse, relevant websites offer the furthest possible audience reach, and make it less likely that Google will suspect you of shady backlink activity. 
  • Relevance: Backlinks should always appear on sites with some relevance to your brand, either in terms of a shared target audience, a similar niche, or simply a relevant blog post. 

Quantity Over Quality: The Backlink Myth

Stats show that the top ranking page in Google has on average 3.8xs more backlinks than those in positions 2-10. But, it’s important not to mistakenly assume that this means more backlinks are always better. 

Google’s algorithms are sophisticated enough that you’ll never fool them with a load of rubbish backlinks. Instead, you only stand to boost your search ranking using high-quality, well-chosen links, even if those only appear on a handful of websites. 

Limiting the number of backlinks you create can also be beneficial in that it provides you with more time to thoroughly research each of those placements (something you’ll never do if you’re smashing out 100 backlinks in a week), ensure natural anchor texts, and even increase your chances of achieving a relevant, yet diverse, range of links. 

But, how exactly do you achieve quality backlinks, aside from simply limiting numbers? The answer most often lies in the content you create which, to attract high-quality link placements, should include – 

  • Blog posts and articles: Blog posts and articles are perhaps the most popular ways to get backlinks, either posted on your site or as guest posting on the origin website in question. These pieces of content are relatively easy to produce, and provide plenty of opportunity to insert keywords that can help external sites to find and link to your page.
  • Infographics: Infographics are informative, bitesize pieces of content that many sites will link to, especially given that these are pieces of content in image form. Infographics should target a specific topic and include researched statistics, as well as things like your brand logo and colors. 
  • Surveys: Brands trying to build their own high-quality content will typically link to statistics from surveys they’ve discovered online. By conducting even a small-scale relevant survey amongst your client base, and publishing your findings, you can increase the amount of high-quality backlinks you receive, as well as prove your worth as a market authority. 
  • Downloadable PDFs: Downloadable PDFs like instruction manuals and how-to eBooks rely on long-form content that takes a little longer create, but these additions will typically result in highly relevant, trusted backlinks. 

The Anchor Text Dilemma

Anchor Texts

Anchor texts are the pieces of text that will contain your backlink. They’re the first impression that backlinks will create of your site, for both Google and organic audiences. And, as with any first impression, it can be hard to change, or recover from, when you get anchor texts wrong. 

Unfortunately, it’s become a lot harder to choose the ideal anchor text in recent years, especially since Google’s Penguin update back in 2012. Google algorithms now penalize keyword stuffing, meaning that it isn’t always enough to simply choose an anchor containing an obvious keyword like you might have even a few years ago. 

But, surely there aren’t all that many ways to create an anchor text, right? Wrong. In reality, anchor texts can take a few different formats, such as – 

  • Exact match: An anchor text that’s an exact match to keywords in the linked page. So, for this article, that could be something like ‘backlinks explained’.
  • Partial match: An anchor text that contains some variation of the keyword for the page in question, such as ‘SEO backlinking strategy’ for this article. 
  • Branded: An anchor text that simply links to the name of the brand creating a backlink.
  • Naked: An anchor text that consists of the naked URL being linked. 
  • Generic/organic anchors: A generic anchor that’s typically unrelated to the link, such as ‘click here’.
  • Images: Images like infographics could contain clickable links in their alt attribute. 

According to Google’s Penguin update, websites may find themselves penalized for using too many exact match anchors. Yet, options like using too many generic anchors can result in fewer click-throughs due to a lack of link specificity. To truly optimize anchor texts in light of these challenges, brands could benefit from – 

  • Applying versatile anchor texts 
  • Keeping anchor texts natural
  • Considering the text surrounding an anchor text
  • Always linking to relevant content
  • Placing anchor texts strategically

User Experience and Landing Page Quality

The user experience (UX) and quality of the landing pages you’re linking to are just as important as the websites you choose for your SEO backlinks strategy. 

This shouldn’t come as any surprise considering that, if users click off a perfectly-performing website and land on a slow-loading mess of a page, they’re liable to click right off again. SEO is also a layered process, meaning that spending a fortune on backlinks is unlikely to be worthwhile if your page isn’t SEO-optimized in any other way. 

But, what does a quality landing page look like? 

  • Page loading speed

53% of web users would click off a website that takes more than three seconds to load. To keep those people happy, Google has certain standards when it comes to page loading speed. Google’s PageSpeed Insights can help you determine whether your landing page meets those standards. If not, then it’s vital to improve page speed with processes like image optimization, compression, and reduced redirects. 

  • Mobile Optimization

Over 60% of web traffic now comes from mobile devices, and Google’s made no secret about the fact that mobile optimization is now a vital SEO consideration. Without this, your page may either altogether fail to load on a mobile screen or will provide a slow-loading, off-center display that’ll keep everyone away. Using a theme that’s specifically targeted as ‘mobile responsive’ can prevent this, but it’s also important to do your own research into how that theme looks on a mobile once you’ve added your linkable page content. 

  • Transparency

User Experience and Landing Page Quality

The whole reason you’re using backlinks is to build website trust, so don’t ruin that with a load of dishonest on-page content and advertising ploys. In particular, Google will penalize you for using what it deems as ‘intrusive pop-ups’ on your landing pages. These include pop-ups that block your entire web page, or which are difficult to close in any way. Transparency could also come under fire from things like contact information that’s difficult to find or a lack of honesty about the data you’re collecting or how you’re using it (which is also a legal issue if you’re dealing with European visitors). 

To be effective, a backlink landing page should be as well-thought and transparent as your backlinks themselves. This means no intrusive pop-ups at key moments in consumer journeys, and immediate honesty about things like contact information (which should appear on every page or as a chat option at the bottom of your site), and your use of things like browser cookies. 

The Nofollow/Dofollow Conundrum

The relation property is an HTML tag property that effectively determines what kind of link you’re creating. When building backlinks, you’ll deal with two different relation types, which are – 

  • Dofollow Links: A dofollow link is a link that passes the authority of the origin site directly to the destination site. Backlinks are typically ‘dofollow’ by default. This kind of link is incredibly useful for SEO purposes, as it helps to improve a website’s domain authority, rating, and keyword rankiing. 
  • Nofollow links: A nofollow link is a link that doesn’t pass authority onto the destination site. These links don’t offer a huge amount of value from an SEO perspective. It’s possible to create a nofollow link by adding rel=”nofollow” to a link’s code. 

Looking at those definitions, you might jump to one obvious conclusion – dofollow links are useful, and nofollow links are not. But it’s nowhere near that simple. 

From an SEO perspective, dofollow links certainly hold more of an obvious benefit. And, considering that SEO is your reason for creating backlinks in the first place, it can be tempting to pile all of your efforts into this. But, nofollow links also exist for a reason and can prove worthwhile for things like weeding out spammy links, or for linking paid ad content. A campaign that uses solely dofollow links may also look unconvincing so, in that way, there is some SEO benefit to adding nofollow links into the mix. 

But, what ratio of each should you be using? 

There’s no clear answer. Instead, choosing how many of your links should be dofollow vs nofollow should see you considering factors such as – 

  • Origin site: You’ll benefit more from dofollow links on high-quality sites, while no-follow links can still help to create referral traffic from lower-quality origin websites.
  • Link type: If a link is paid for or user-generated, nofollow links are generally best, while more organic or natural in-content links should ideally be dofollow.
  • Anchor text: Is your anchor potentially spammy (nofollow), or is it organically placed (dofollow)?

Are Your Backlinks Contextually Relevant?

In many ways, context is key when it comes to backlink strategy SEO. We touched on this a little when we spoke about the relevance of an origin website, and your need to consider things like a shared market niche, or target audience.

But, niche and audience aren’t the only considerations when it comes to the contextual relevance of a backlink. Sticking to those factors alone could see you only producing backlinks on competing sites or sites that have a lot of other backlinks similar to yours. Plus, if you overthink things like the relevancy of your anchor text, you may end up getting stuck in an exact match spiral that ultimately harms your SEO.

The truth is, you don’t have to advertise your pet food brand solely on pet shop websites. Rather a backlink to a pet food site could be contextually relevant on something like a show jumping website, or a how-to blog with pet-specific posts. To make sure that Google also considers these backlinks as relevant, you simply need to guarantee – 

  • Contextual, natural anchor placements
  • Links to relevant landing pages on your site
  • Links across a wide variety of relevant pieces of content

Monitoring and Tracking: The Forgotten Step

Backlinks Monitoring and Tracking

As with anything in business, you’re unlikely to enjoy any real value from backlinks if you fail to monitor and track their progress. After all, outside of their unique SEO benefits, backlinks that perform particularly well, and even those that don’t, can help to highlight everything from the best kinds of anchor text, to the most successful placements. 

Luckily, there are now a load of tools out there to help you monitor backlink progress, and see at a glance how the right backlinks are boosting your page score. And, you can go as complicated or as basic with this as you like. 

For one thing, it pays to keep an eye on your SEO score both before and after a backlink campaign using a tool like My Site Auditor. This way, you can see more generally whether your backlinks on the whole are having a notable SEO impact. 

Tools like Moz and Google Console can also be helpful for creating backlink strategies based on reports that include –

  • The websites that link you the most
  • Your most linked web pages
  • The most common anchor texts used when linking to your page

With this information, you’ll be in a far better position to tailor linkable content and target the best websites for backlinking purposes at all times. 

Making Sure Backlinks Pay Their Way

Backlinks are undeniably lucrative, but that’s not to say that every backlink campaign will land well. In fact, with Google hot on the heels of any backlinks you have out there, this is one the hardest marketing strategies to get right. Without thinking about everything from target websites to link relevance and even landing page quality, there’s every risk that you’ll see no SEO improvement at all. Even once you’ve perfected these key focuses, a failure to monitor strategy success could still see you failing to secure an SEO boost from building backlinks. 

Making sure to inform your SEO score using audits like those offered by our team here at My Site Auditor is the best first step toward backlinks that land how they should. This way, you’ll be able to see more directly how backlinks improve your on-page SEO score and, if backlinks aren’t paying off right now, what mistakes you need to rectify to feel their benefits at long last.