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What Are Backlinks in SEO? Everything You Need to Know

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What Are Backlinks in SEO? Everything You Need to Know

Backlinks (aka inbound links, incoming links) are links from a page on one website to another. Search engines like Google use backlinks as votes of confidence in ranking pages.

What are backlinks

Backlinks are important for SEO because of two main reasons: 

  1. Rankings – Generally speaking, the more backlinks your webpages have, the more likely they are to rank for relevant search queries (we confirmed this in a study). 
  2. Discoverability – Search engines revisit popular pages more often than unpopular ones. And they may discover your content faster if you get backlinks from popular pages.

There are two ways to check a website or webpage’s backlinks. 

The first method only works for sites that you own. Use the second one to check backlinks to another website or webpage.

Checking backlinks to your website 

A basic tool for checking backlinks to your website is the free Google Search Console. 

Once signed in, click “Links” on the sidebar. The number below “External links” shows the total number of unique backlinks to the website.

How to check backlinks in Google Search Console

Google Search Console shows limited data in the app (top 1,000 links) and won’t show you some useful SEO metrics you could use to analyze your backlinks. To get more data for free, you can use Ahrefs Webmaster Tools

Once you set up a project, click on Backlinks in the dashboard. 

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Backlinks summary in Ahrefs' dashboard

This will take you to the Backlinks report in the Site Explorer tool. This report will show all your backlinks and relevant backlink data. 

See your backlinks in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Checking backlinks to another website 

You can start with a tool like Ahrefs’ free backlink checker

Just enter a domain or URL, and hit “Check backlinks.”

Ahrefs' free backlink checker

You’ll see the total number of backlinks and referring domains (links from unique websites), plus the top 100 backlinks.

Backlink profile in Ahrefs' free backlink checker

To see a full list of backlinks to any page or website, use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer

What makes a good backlink? 

Not all backlinks are created equal. Here are some of the many attributes that contribute to a backlink’s quality and utility. You can use them to analyze your backlinks and link building opportunities: 

  • Authority
  • Relevance
  • Anchor text 
  • Follow vs. nofollow 
  • Placement 
  • Destination 
What makes a good link

Let’s look at them in more detail. 

Authority 

Backlinks from strong webpages usually transfer more “authority” than weak ones.

Pages that have backlinks cast a stronger vote

We’ve studied page-level authority a few times, and we’ve found a clear relationship between it and organic traffic.

UR Rating vs. search traffic

Sidenote.

URL Rating (UR) is Ahrefs’ page-level authority metric. It’s scored on a scale from 0 to 100.

That said, backlinks from strong pages don’t always transfer more authority. 

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The more links there are on the page that links to you, the less authority will be transferred to you because it’s shared between all of those pages (due to the PageRank algorithm). 

You can gauge a backlink’s authority by using the UR metric in the Backlinks report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer. (You can also find it in other Ahrefs tools where relevant.) The higher the UR, the better. 

UR metric in Ahrefs' Backlinks report

Relevance 

Links from websites on the same topic as yours are deemed to bring more value. Google states this in its “How Search Works” guide:

If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign that the information is of high quality.

Say a plumber has backlinks from two pages: one about cats, and one about installing boilers. Relevance in this context means that chances are the latter link is most valuable.

Backlinks from relevant pages are more valuable

Anchor text 

Anchor text refers to the clickable words that form a backlink.

Example of a link anchor

Google says that anchor text influences rankings in its original patent.

Google employs a number of techniques to improve search quality, including page rank, anchor text, and proximity information.

You can see the anchor text of any backlink in Site Explorer’s Backlinks report. 

Checking the anchor text of backlinks in Backlinks report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You can also filter for certain words in the anchor text. 

"Anchor text" filter in Backlinks report

Follow vs. nofollow 

Nofollow is a link attribute that instructs Google not to follow the link and serves as a hint not to pass authority (as of 2019).

Anatomy of a nofollow link

A followed link is a link that doesn’t have that attribute nor the “sponsored” or “UGC” attributes. 

Because nofollow links usually don’t influence rankings, it’s best to prioritize getting followed links. 

However, since “nofollow” is only a hint now, pursuing a nofollow link from a relevant high-authority page may still be a good idea.

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You can find these types of backlinks using filters in Site Explorer’s Backlinks report. 

Filtering backlinks by rel attributes in Ahrefs

Placement 

Because people are more likely to click prominently placed links, some links on webpages likely pass more authority than others.

Prominently placed links may transfer more authority

Bill Slawski talks about this in his analysis of Google’s updated “reasonable surfer” patent:

If a link is in the main content area of a page, uses a font and color that might make it stand out, and uses text that may make it something likely that someone might click upon it, then it could pass along a fair amount of PageRank. On the other hand, if it combines features that make it less likely to be clicked upon, such as being in the footer of a page, in the same color text as the rest of the text on that page, and the same font type, and uses anchor text that doesn’t interest people, it may not pass along a lot of PageRank.

Consider this when pursuing links. If your link will likely end up in the site’s footer or along with 50 other sites in the sidebar, then put your energy into other opportunities.

Something that can help you find backlinks placed in content (as opposed to less prominently placed links) is the “Backlink type” filter in Site Explorer’s Backlinks report. 

Filtering by backlink type in Ahrefs

Destination 

Because Google ranks pages and not entire websites, it’s best to build links pointing directly to the page that you want to rank. 

However, getting links to some page types is harder. For example, getting links to commercial pages is often difficult because people prefer linking to informative content. 

To address this, you can use internal links to pass authority from pages that get a lot of links to your important but “boring” pages. 

Use internal links to transfer authority between your pages

Generally, there are four ways to get more backlinks to your site: 

Four ways to get backlinks

Adding backlinks 

Some websites allow you to add a link either by manually submitting it or requesting to submit it. It’s easy to get a link this way, but it’s not always worth it. They can be low in value in the eyes of Google or even deemed spammy if you overdo it. 

One of the most common (and legit) tactics here is to add your website to relevant local directories. They can help you rank for queries with local intent and get your business discovered by customers too. 

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Asking for backlinks 

This is when you reach out to other site owners, editors, or webmasters and ask them to link to your page. For this to work, you need to have a clear value proposition. That’s where link building tactics come in.

Here are a few tried and tested ones:

  • Guest blogging – Offer to write a one-off post for another website.
  • Broken link building – Find relevant dead links on other sites, then reach out and suggest your working link as the replacement. (You can use our broken link checker to do this.)
  • The Skyscraper Technique – Find relevant content with lots of links, make something better, then ask those linking to the original to link to you instead.
  • Unlinked mentions Find unlinked mentions of your brand, then ask the author to make the mention clickable.

Learn more about these tactics and others in the video and posts below.

Buying backlinks

Every now and then, you’ll come across an offer to buy links—don’t take it.

Buying backlinks is extremely risky. Google is strongly against that, and you can get your site penalized.

This is not to be confused with paid link building services. Good link building agencies use legit, white-hat tactics that have nothing to do with spam or buying links for that matter. 

Earning backlinks 

This is when people discover your content via search engines like Google, social media, or word of mouth and choose to link to your page. In other words, earned backlinks are organic.

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You can improve your chances of earning more backlinks by creating truly useful content that people should want to link to. 

You should definitely promote your content too. The more people you reach, the more links you can get. 

What to avoid with backlinks 

Basically, when pursuing backlinks, avoid anything that looks low-quality, spammy, or like an obvious link scheme (links in exchange for something).

Bad links will be a waste of time. In the best-case scenario, they won’t have any impact on your rankings. At worst, they may make your pages rank lower on Google or even not appear at all

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Google advising that sites violating its policies will rank lower or not appear at all in results

Here are some types of bad links you should definitely avoid:

  • PBNs – Multiple sites linking together in order to manipulate search engines.
  • Paid links – Exchanging money, goods, or services in return for links for ranking purposes.
  • Link exchanges – Linking to a site in exchange for that site also linking to yours.
  • Automated links – Use of automated software or services to generate large volumes of links to a site.
  • Forum and comment spam links – Adding spam links in forums as part of signatures.

Final thoughts

Backlinks are crucial for ranking on Google, especially for competitive queries. But the easier it is to get a link, the less valuable it’ll be.

Looking to get started with link building? Read our beginner-friendly guide or watch our link building tutorials on YouTube

Got questions? Let me know on Twitter or Mastodon



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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

Whether you are new to paid media or reevaluating your efforts, it’s critical to review your performance and best practices for your overall PPC marketing program, accounts, and campaigns.

Revisiting your paid media plan is an opportunity to ensure your strategy aligns with your current goals.

Reviewing best practices for pay-per-click is also a great way to keep up with trends and improve performance with newly released ad technologies.

As you review, you’ll find new strategies and features to incorporate into your paid search program, too.

Here are 10 PPC best practices to help you adjust and plan for the months ahead.

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1. Goals

When planning, it is best practice to define goals for the overall marketing program, ad platforms, and at the campaign level.

Defining primary and secondary goals guides the entire PPC program. For example, your primary conversion may be to generate leads from your ads.

You’ll also want to look at secondary goals, such as brand awareness that is higher in the sales funnel and can drive interest to ultimately get the sales lead-in.

2. Budget Review & Optimization

Some advertisers get stuck in a rut and forget to review and reevaluate the distribution of their paid media budgets.

To best utilize budgets, consider the following:

  • Reconcile your planned vs. spend for each account or campaign on a regular basis. Depending on the budget size, monthly, quarterly, or semiannually will work as long as you can hit budget numbers.
  • Determine if there are any campaigns that should be eliminated at this time to free up the budget for other campaigns.
  • Is there additional traffic available to capture and grow results for successful campaigns? The ad platforms often include a tool that will provide an estimated daily budget with clicks and costs. This is just an estimate to show more click potential if you are interested.
  • If other paid media channels perform mediocrely, does it make sense to shift those budgets to another?
  • For the overall paid search and paid social budget, can your company invest more in the positive campaign results?

3. Consider New Ad Platforms

If you can shift or increase your budgets, why not test out a new ad platform? Knowing your audience and where they spend time online will help inform your decision when choosing ad platforms.

Go beyond your comfort zone in Google, Microsoft, and Meta Ads.

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Here are a few other advertising platforms to consider testing:

  • LinkedIn: Most appropriate for professional and business targeting. LinkedIn audiences can also be reached through Microsoft Ads.
  • TikTok: Younger Gen Z audience (16 to 24), video.
  • Pinterest: Products, services, and consumer goods with a female-focused target.
  • Snapchat: Younger demographic (13 to 35), video ads, app installs, filters, lenses.

Need more detailed information and even more ideas? Read more about the 5 Best Google Ads Alternatives.

4. Top Topics in Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

Recently, trends in search and social ad platforms have presented opportunities to connect with prospects more precisely, creatively, and effectively.

Don’t overlook newer targeting and campaign types you may not have tried yet.

  • Video: Incorporating video into your PPC accounts takes some planning for the goals, ad creative, targeting, and ad types. There is a lot of opportunity here as you can simply include video in responsive display ads or get in-depth in YouTube targeting.
  • Performance Max: This automated campaign type serves across all of Google’s ad inventory. Microsoft Ads recently released PMAX so you can plan for consistency in campaign types across platforms. Do you want to allocate budget to PMax campaigns? Learn more about how PMax compares to search.
  • Automation: While AI can’t replace human strategy and creativity, it can help manage your campaigns more easily. During planning, identify which elements you want to automate, such as automatically created assets and/or how to successfully guide the AI in the Performance Max campaigns.

While exploring new features, check out some hidden PPC features you probably don’t know about.

5. Revisit Keywords

The role of keywords has evolved over the past several years with match types being less precise and loosening up to consider searcher intent.

For example, [exact match] keywords previously would literally match with the exact keyword search query. Now, ads can be triggered by search queries with the same meaning or intent.

A great planning exercise is to lay out keyword groups and evaluate if they are still accurately representing your brand and product/service.

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Review search term queries triggering ads to discover trends and behavior you may not have considered. It’s possible this has impacted performance and conversions over time.

Critical to your strategy:

  • Review the current keyword rules and determine if this may impact your account in terms of close variants or shifts in traffic volume.
  • Brush up on how keywords work in each platform because the differences really matter!
  • Review search term reports more frequently for irrelevant keywords that may pop up from match type changes. Incorporate these into match type changes or negative keywords lists as appropriate.

6. Revisit Your Audiences

Review the audiences you selected in the past, especially given so many campaign types that are intent-driven.

Automated features that expand your audience could be helpful, but keep an eye out for performance metrics and behavior on-site post-click.

Remember, an audience is simply a list of users who are grouped together by interests or behavior online.

Therefore, there are unlimited ways to mix and match those audiences and target per the sales funnel.

Here are a few opportunities to explore and test:

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  • LinkedIn user targeting: Besides LinkedIn, this can be found exclusively in Microsoft Ads.
  • Detailed Demographics: Marital status, parental status, home ownership, education, household income.
  • In-market and custom intent: Searches and online behavior signaling buying cues.
  • Remarketing: Advertisers website visitors, interactions with ads, and video/ YouTube.

Note: This varies per the campaign type and seems to be updated frequently, so make this a regular check-point in your campaign management for all platforms.

7. Organize Data Sources

You will likely be running campaigns on different platforms with combinations of search, display, video, etc.

Looking back at your goals, what is the important data, and which platforms will you use to review and report? Can you get the majority of data in one analytics platform to compare and share?

Millions of companies use Google Analytics, which is a good option for centralized viewing of advertising performance, website behavior, and conversions.

8. Reevaluate How You Report

Have you been using the same performance report for years?

It’s time to reevaluate your essential PPC key metrics and replace or add that data to your reports.

There are two great resources to kick off this exercise:

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Your objectives in reevaluating the reporting are:

  • Are we still using this data? Is it still relevant?
  • Is the data we are viewing actionable?
  • What new metrics should we consider adding we haven’t thought about?
  • How often do we need to see this data?
  • Do the stakeholders receiving the report understand what they are looking at (aka data visualization)?

Adding new data should be purposeful, actionable, and helpful in making decisions for the marketing plan. It’s also helpful to decide what type of data is good to see as “deep dives” as needed.

9. Consider Using Scripts

The current ad platforms have plenty of AI recommendations and automated rules, and there is no shortage of third-party tools that can help with optimizations.

Scripts is another method for advertisers with large accounts or some scripting skills to automate report generation and repetitive tasks in their Google Ads accounts.

Navigating the world of scripts can seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is a post here on Search Engine Journal that provides use cases and resources to get started with scripts.

Luckily, you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science — there are plenty of resources online with free or templated scripts.

10. Seek Collaboration

Another effective planning tactic is to seek out friendly resources and second opinions.

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Much of the skill and science of PPC management is unique to the individual or agency, so there is no shortage of ideas to share between you.

You can visit the Paid Search Association, a resource for paid ad managers worldwide, to make new connections and find industry events.

Preparing For Paid Media Success

Strategies should be based on clear and measurable business goals. Then, you can evaluate the current status of your campaigns based on those new targets.

Your paid media strategy should also be built with an eye for both past performance and future opportunities. Look backward and reevaluate your existing assumptions and systems while investigating new platforms, topics, audiences, and technologies.

Also, stay current with trends and keep learning. Check out ebooks, social media experts, and industry publications for resources and motivational tips.

More resources: 

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Google Limits News Links In California Over Proposed ‘Link Tax’ Law

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A brown cardboard price tag with a twine string and a black dollar sign symbol, influenced by the Link Tax Law, set against a dark gray background.

Google announced that it plans to reduce access to California news websites for a portion of users in the state.

The decision comes as Google prepares for the potential passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), a bill requiring online platforms like Google to pay news publishers for linking to their content.

What Is The California Journalism Preservation Act?

The CJPA, introduced in the California State Legislature, aims to support local journalism by creating what Google refers to as a “link tax.”

If passed, the Act would force companies like Google to pay media outlets when sending readers to news articles.

However, Google believes this approach needs to be revised and could harm rather than help the news industry.

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Jaffer Zaidi, Google’s VP of Global News Partnerships, stated in a blog post:

“It would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds—who’ve been lobbying for this bill—and could use funds from CJPA to continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content.”

Google’s Response

To assess the potential impact of the CJPA on its services, Google is running a test with a percentage of California users.

During this test, Google will remove links to California news websites that the proposed legislation could cover.

Zaidi states:

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.”

Google Claims Only 2% of Search Queries Are News-Related

Zaidi highlighted peoples’ changing news consumption habits and its effect on Google search queries (emphasis mine):

“It’s well known that people are getting news from sources like short-form videos, topical newsletters, social media, and curated podcasts, and many are avoiding the news entirely. In line with those trends, just 2% of queries on Google Search are news-related.”

Despite the low percentage of news queries, Google wants to continue helping news publishers gain visibility on its platforms.

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However, the “CJPA as currently constructed would end these investments,” Zaidi says.

A Call For A Different Approach

In its current form, Google maintains that the CJPA undermines news in California and could leave all parties worse off.

The company urges lawmakers to consider alternative approaches supporting the news industry without harming smaller local outlets.

Google argues that, over the past two decades, it’s done plenty to help news publishers innovate:

“We’ve rolled out Google News Showcase, which operates in 26 countries, including the U.S., and has more than 2,500 participating publications. Through the Google News Initiative we’ve partnered with more than 7,000 news publishers around the world, including 200 news organizations and 6,000 journalists in California alone.”

Zaidi suggested that a healthy news industry in California requires support from the state government and a broad base of private companies.

As the legislative process continues, Google is willing to cooperate with California publishers and lawmakers to explore alternative paths that would allow it to continue linking to news.

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The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: March 2024

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The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: March 2024

Every week, we share hot SEO news, interesting reads, and new posts in our newsletter, Ahrefs’ Digest.

If you’re not one of our 280,000 subscribers, you’ve missed out on some great reads!

Here’s a quick summary of my personal favorites from the last month:

Best of March 2024

How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

Author: Glen Allsopp

tl;dr

Glen’s research reveals that just 16 companies representing 588 brands get 3.5 billion (yes, billion!) monthly clicks from Google.

My takeaway

Glen pointed out some really actionable ideas in this report, such as the fact that many of the brands dominating search are adding mini-author bios.

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Example of mini-author bios on The VergeExample of mini-author bios on The Verge

This idea makes so much sense in terms of both UX and E-E-A-T. I’ve already pitched it to the team and we’re going to implement it on our blog.

How Google is Killing Independent Sites Like Ours

Authors: Gisele Navarro, Danny Ashton

tl;dr

Big publications have gotten into the affiliate game, publishing “best of” lists about everything under the sun. And despite often not testing products thoroughly, they’re dominating Google rankings. The result, Gisele and Danny argue, is that genuine review sites suffer and Google is fast losing content diversity.

My takeaway

I have a lot of sympathy for independent sites. Some of them are trying their best, but unfortunately, they’re lumped in with thousands of others who are more than happy to spam.

Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updatesEstimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updates
Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele’s site fell off a cliff after Google’s March updates 🙁 

I know it’s hard to hear, but the truth is Google benefits more from having big sites in the SERPs than from having diversity. That’s because results from big brands are likely what users actually want. By and large, people would rather shop at Walmart or ALDI than at a local store or farmer’s market.

That said, I agree with most people that Forbes (with its dubious contributor model contributing to scams and poor journalism) should not be rewarded so handsomely.

The Discussion Forums Dominating 10,000 Product Review Search Results

Author: Glen Allsopp

Tl;dr

Glen analyzed 10,000 “product review” keywords and found that:

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My takeaway

After Google’s heavy promotion of Reddit from last year’s Core Update, to no one’s surprise, unscrupulous SEOs and marketers have already started spamming Reddit. And as you may know, Reddit’s moderation is done by volunteers, and obviously, they can’t keep up.

I’m not sure how this second-order effect completely escaped the smart minds at Google, but from the outside, it feels like Google has capitulated to some extent.

John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...

I’m not one to make predictions and I have no idea what will happen next, but I agree with Glen: Google’s results are the worst I’ve seen them. We can only hope Google sorts itself out.

Who Sends Traffic on the Web and How Much? New Research from Datos & SparkToro

Author: Rand Fishkin

tl;dr

63.41% of all U.S. web traffic referrals from the top 170 sites are initiated on Google.com.

Data from SparktoroData from Sparktoro

My takeaway

Despite all of our complaints, Google is still the main platform to acquire traffic from. That’s why we all want Google to sort itself out and do well.

But it would also be a mistake to look at this post and think Google is the only channel you should drive traffic from. As Rand’s later blog post clarifies, “be careful not to ascribe attribution or credit to Google when other investments drove the real value.”

I think many affiliate marketers learned this lesson well from the past few Core Updates: Relying on one single channel to drive all of your traffic is not a good idea. You should be using other platforms to build brand awareness, interest, and demand.

Want more?

Each week, our team handpicks the best SEO and marketing content from around the web for our newsletter. Sign up to get them directly in your inbox.

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