What is a backlink?
Okay so let’s first define what a backlink is.
A backlink is a hyperlink from one website to another. There are many attributes that can be associated with a backlink. Usually there are only 2 types that are commonly talked about in the SEO community.
These are: ‘do-follow’ and ‘no-follow’.
‘No-follow’ links are found on social media sites and anywhere where a website does not want to associate with another website very closely, but still wants to provide resources for its users. A common example is when you link to a page of your competitors, but you don’t want them to benefit from this backlink (more on this later).
A no follow link is created with the nofollow link HTML tag, which looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.website.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Link Text</a>
This attribute can be found using the inspect tool in Google Chrome browsers, or by using various Chrome extensions, which can allow you to visually identify these links on the page.
Although ‘no-follow’ links do not pass link juice, they are still desirable and you will likely accumulate these types of links without additional effort. Social signals are generally considered a good thing, and all links from social platforms are no-follow.
Sometimes the ratio of ‘no-follow’ to ‘do-follow’ is looked at by SEOs. This is not particularly useful. However, it can help figure out how ‘unnatural’ a certain website is. For example, if the ‘do-follow’ to ‘no-follow’ ratio is 99 : 1, then obviously something ‘fishy’ is going on. Generally a ratio that would be expected would be something close to 1 : 1.
Technically there is no such thing as a do-follow link. Hyperlinks by default are generally do-follow – that is, they are not associated with a specific attribute. These kinds of links are the are you are looking for when working on SEO as they pass on ‘link juice’.
How Do Backlinks Help SEO?
Google uses some 200 ranking factors to determine whether your website deserves the number 1 organic position in Google Search.
Of course no one except Google truly knows what the secret formula is, and of course it’s constantly changing with changes to Google’s algorithm, but through trial an error SEO’s have largely deciphered what makes one website rank over another.
A large factor in this, perhaps the single largest factor once on-page factors are refined, is the backlink portfolio. You can think of this as a popularity contest.
In real life, no matter how much praise you give yourself, no one cares. But when other people vouch for you, then people start to take you seriously. So long as it’s not just your mom haha!
The same applies to link building. The more websites upvote yours through backlinks, the more reputable your website seems to Google, the higher they will rank you. This is Off-page SEO in a nutshell.
What Backlinks Should I Acquire?
So this depends on your specific website niche and the keywords you’re going after. As a general rule, you want backlinks coming from websites in a similar niche as yours. Why? Because Google then starts to see your website associated with other similar websites, and will start to trust your authority on a given topic.
Apart from being on topic, the most fruitful backlink opportunities are those on high authority sites.
Domain Authority & Backlinks
Domain authority is a measurement of how Google sees and treats a website on a specific topic. This is comes down to volume, quality and relevance of backlinks.
Technically Google does not have any such measurement or at least it’s kept secret, but several third party tools such as Moz, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs and SEMRush have developed their own measurements of authority.
These third party SEO tools measure authority in slightly different ways, and have different names for measuring the same thing, but ultimately they try to give every website a score out of 100. This core is generally compared to websites in the same niche and attempts to understand how they fit in the authority hierarchy.
Scores of 0-20 are generally considered low, 20-40 is medium and 40+ is high authority. Very few sites have a domain authority over 70.
The higher this number, generally the better your backlink. This needs to be further investigated however, as PBNs and other low quality sites may still have high domain authority according to third party tools.
Complicating Domain Authority With Page Authority
The third party tools that measure domain authority generally provide a second measurement alongside domain authority. We’re going to refer to this measurement as page authority.
The domain authority is a measure used for every page of the domain and gives an overall picture of link juice flowing through a website, but page authority is the link juice of a single page.
It’s important to note that this value is perhaps more valuable as it predicts the link juice passed by any given page.
Why Both Domain Authority And Page Authoirty Are Unreliable Measurements
As mentioned before, these measurements have been created by third party tools and not by Google itself. As such they do not reflect how Google actually sees a website and do not take into account penalisations and the fact that the website may not in fact be ‘real’ or have a legitimate backlink portfolio.
For example a website may have a domain authority of 70. But looking deeper reveals that no one visits the website. Sometimes this is obvious, but sometimes it’s not.
Some of these tools attempt to correct for this problem by providing some kind of ‘spam’ or ‘trust’ score. But even this tends not to be accurate.
The Single Best Measurement For Backlink Strength Is Organic Traffic
The best SEO measurement that provides a real insight into the strength of a particular backlink is traffic. Website traffic allows you to visualise not how random third party tools see a website, despite their usefulness, but how Google itself sees a website.
Obviously if Google did not think highly of a website, it would not provide it with traffic and rankings. Traffic can be determined again by third party tools such as Ahrefs, but please be mindful that the results provided are only estimates. In our experience, traffic results are usually underestimated.
Considering Anchor Text
Anchor text is the linking text that’s used in hyperlinks. It gives both users and search engines a better understanding of what the destination page is about. Anchor text is super important to consider when creating backlinks as backlinks with poor anchor text may reduce or even negatively affect SEO from otherwise strong links.