In a Google SEO office hours hangout someone asked John Mueller to explain what Google means by quality backlinks. John offered a recommendation on how to approach the problem of attracting natural backlinks.
What are Backlinks?
A backlink is a link from one web page to someone else’s web page.
The term backlink probably came about from when websites engaged in reciprocal link strategies and one website linked to a second website in exchange for a link back to the first site. The link back to the site was called a backlink.
They are also called inbound links. That name came about as a way to differentiate them from outbound links (links that point out from a site to another site).
And lastly they are also called external links as a way to differentiate them from internal links. External links are links that point to a page from outside a site. An internal link is a link that points to a page from within the site.
There are many ways of classifying backlinks. There are paid links, reciprocal links, guest post links and so on.
It’s possible to classify backlinks with two categories. There are natural backlinks and there are unnatural backlinks.
One can say that there are quality backlinks as well but for the purpose of this article, quality backlinks can be classified as a natural link.
And a natural link is simply a link that happened after a web page came to someone’s attention.
How Does Google Identify Natural Links?
Here’s a spoiler: John Mueller doesn’t reveal how Google identifies natural and unnatural links.
But he does talk about the mindset to be in order to earn the kinds of links that Google prefers.
“I’ve heard a lot about backlinks, that that Google considers quality backlinks.
When it comes to quality, what exactly do you mean for quality backlinks and how Google analyzes between natural and paid backlinks?”
Google’s Mueller paused and looked up as he considered how to answer the question.
John Mueller’s Answer:
“So my recommendation… I think especially if you’re getting started is not to focus on backlinks because it’s very easy to get stuck into the situation of, like you said, Google wants quality backlinks or Google wants natural backlinks therefore I will make my backlinks look like quality or I will make my unnatural backlinks look like they’re natural.
And it’s very easy to spend a lot of time focusing on that.
So that’s something where, from my point of view, I would focus on your site first and really work to build that up really strongly first.”
The Mindset for Spotting Opportunities
Mueller next explained being ready to spot opportunities for self-promotion, one of the most basic aspects of getting a site noticed.
And then over time you’ll see maybe there are opportunities where you can mention your site with other people with regards to advertising perhaps, with regards to other ways where you can create something really fantastic and point that out to other people and say, like at this cool stuff that I did.
And then they link to your page because they think, oh this is really neat.
And essentially, when it comes to links, Google’s point of view is that these should be things that are not organized by you, that are not paid for by you, that are not created by you.
But rather they should be naturally people who say well, this is really cool, I really like that.
Similar to how if you make a website, you probably have seen lots of other sites where you say, this is cool, I will link to that, I will refer to that because it’s something useful for my users.”
Obviously (and Mueller’s said this in the past), links don’t happen by themselves. He is on record stating that website publishers can’t just wait around for people to find your site.
Mueller has also said that self-promotion is important.
How a site is promoted is where Google and SEOs diverge in their approach. Build and tell is very simple.
The first part is to build. That means researching what people want to read or tend to link to then creating something that will appeal to them.
The outreach is the second part, which is to tell others about what was built, especially the people who tend to link to that kind of content.
The Build and Tell approach could very well be one of the best ways of promoting a site in a way that encourages natural links. Building without telling won’t necessarily work.
Mueller has recommended self-promotion so instead of focusing on the link, maybe it might be useful focusing on building and telling.
Watch John Mueller discuss quality backlinks beginning about just after the 35 minute mark:
Roger Montti is a search marketer with 20 years experience.
I offer site audits and link building strategies.