SEO Explained – What are backlinks?

SEO is a mysterious beast, and in an effort to simplify the key elements of SEO we’ll be posting a series of posts on the basics of organic search.  We don’t pretend to be SEO experts, so these posts are a combination of our experience, research and common sense.   Let’s start with backlinks, what they are, and whether you should employee a backlink strategy to improve your rank.

Backlinks are links that link to your site or webpage from another site.  If I put a link to your website, well that would be a backlink for you.  They are important, because they help determine the relative popularity of your website.  The more quality links that link to you, the better.  Well sort of.

As we learn more about SEO, we find more people are out to exploit the system. There are many SEO experts offering services where they will paste your website link to all and sundry, regardless of the context of that linking site to yours.  This is primarily the driving force behind comment spam that you see regularly through your website.  This sort of link spam practice saw many websites get smashed with Google’s Penguin update, that overnight saw some websites drop from high positions to the depths of Google’s ocean.

Google of course has a more sophisticated approach to determining the quality of your backlinks.  Whilst we can’t say 100% this is true, it’s widely understood that Google will take into account:

  • The page authority of the referring site i.e how popular or authorative is the site who is linking to you
  • The relevance of the referring site to your site.  Typically this is based on your shared primary keywords / industry.
  • The anchor texts relevance to the linking page.  The anchor text is the descriptive text that is used in the link, be it a word or a sentence.  The more relevant it is to your site, and to the keywords your site focuses on, the better.  However, too many of the same keywords and it will look like your trying to trick the system.

If you’ve got highly authorative, and relevant websites linking to you, this will help improve your pages value.  Consider it a vote in an election.  The more votes you can obtain, potentially the higher up the engine you will float.

So given all this information, how can you improve your backlink strategy?


Free tools to check your backlinks

1) Open Site Explorer – This is a great site, however it has limited data unless you sign up for $99 a month!  The beauty of this site is you can compare your backlinks to your competitors.  It’s a great way to see why some of your competitors are higher in the rankings, and what sites are linking into them.

2) Link Diagnosis – This site might be overkill for the novice, as you need to install a plugin into Firefox, but for those that like to get technical it’s a doozy.  It has a whole heap of data, and allows you to export it.  In researching this blog post I may have just found a new love child.

3) Backlink Watch – This site will list all the websites that link to you including the anchor text.  It also tries to determine the relevant page rank of the linking sites.  In our attempt, the sites linking to us had very little relevance.  Not sure if that’s because they are indeed not relevant, or if the website just doesn’t accurately show page rank/value.   We also saw that our anchor text was almost always Florence Road, so our recommendation, to ourselves,  is to vary this to our keywords like web design, wordpress websites, etc.

4) Rank Signals – This site was simple, quick and easy to use.  Each link has the anchor text (or image) and page rank of the referring site.  We didn’t see anywhere near as many links as Backlink Watch.

5) Small SEO Tools Backlink Checker – This showed up some odd results, and was rather slow to navigate through.  The site did include page rank and site relevance which was handy.

Do you know or use others?  Leave a comment and let us know.


Our Top 3 recommendations

1. Find Relevant Industry Bodies

A lot of our customers are small and medium sized businesses.  Try searching for your keywords, and see what industry bodies appear higher in the search rankings.  Can you possibly put a link on that industry bodies site back to yours? Don’t stress too much about link sharing between websites.  That was an old practice that is now deemed mostly irrelevant.

If you are going to put links on various sites, try and vary the anchor text and the landing page.  This was a key learning for us.  We have a lot of links with Florence Road but instead we should have links on website design, wordpress websites etc.

2. Social Media Relevance

We always recommend a Google + Page for your business, as well as other higher ranking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.  Remembering relevant links into your site are considered popularity votes, and the simplest way of people sharing and linking to you is via Social Media, so make sure you’ve got some active profiles.

3. Write New Content / Blog

The best way to get people linking and sharing your website is to write interesting relevant content.  There is also a theory that Google looks at your last 60 days of activity to see how active you’ve been.  This was the tipping point that got our buts back into gear to start writing again!


Backlinking is just one small piece to the SEO puzzle.  When building our websites we optimise for SEO as much as possible.  For more information on how we might be able to help improve your SEO ranking (existing clients only I’m affraid) please drop us a line.




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