What Are Backlinks & How Do They Help SEO?


Backlinks are an essential part of search engine optimisation (SEO): the art and science of generating traffic to your website through the likes of Google and Bing.

Explore our guide to discover the basics of backlinks, including:

  • What are they and why do they matter?
  • The importance of anchor text and other SEO factors
  • The difference between follow and no-follow backlinks
  • Backlink checkers and SEO tools
  • Domain authority vs page authority and other ranking factors

What are backlinks?

A link is a connection between two webpages, and a backlink is an incoming connection to your website from an external site.

Basically, when another webpage links to your webpage, that’s a backlink. Backlinks are also referred to as external links and inbound links.

Why do backlinks matter?

Backlinks are essentially currency for search engine optimisation. Links pointing to your website tell Google that your website is trustworthy and reliable, and therefore help your ranking on the search engine results page (SERP).

Essentially, search engines see backlinks as a vote of confidence for your website. Why? Because another brand willing to point their audience away from their site and onto yours is a clear indication of trustworthiness.

Earning backlinks is out of your control in the eyes of search engines, meaning it is one of the most reliable ways to test the value of your content – a key factor in determining Google rankings.

SEO Backlink factors

The following features and metrics determine the SEO impact of a backlink to your site:

  • Whether it’s a Follow or No-Follow backlink (more on this later).
  • The Page Authority and Domain Authority of the website linking to your page (again, more on this later).
  • The trustworthiness of the domain linking to your website.
  • The anchor text of the link
  • The position of the link on the page of the external site..

Follow-Links vs No-Follow Links: The Difference

There are two types of backlinks: follow links and no-follow links. 

Follow-links and no-follow links are both terms that describe hyperlinks that can be crawled and indexed by search engines. However, the difference between the two is that a follow-link has a direct impact on a site’s search ranking, whereas a no-follow link does not.

A follow-link is an endorsement of a website’s domain authority, and therefore passes what’s known as link equity. On the other hand, a no-follow link does not contribute to domain authority, page authority or on-page SEO.

While both types of backlink boost traffic to your site, if you want to improve your SEO, your resources are better spent on generating follow-links.

follow links

Examples of follow-links:

  • Any links from other websites, not including comment forums or social networks. For instance, if BBC news or a lifestyle blog linked to your eCommerce site, that would usually be a follow-link.

Examples of no-follow links:

Any links that include the following code: rel=”nofollow”

This includes:

  • Social media users, accounts and pages linking to your site.
  • Comments on blogs and forums linking to your site.

If, for example a user links to a website on Facebook, it does not mean that the facebook.com domain is endorsing your website or the content on that specific linked page. This is why no-follow links exist.

However, this does not mean that social media shares are not important. They still heavily contribute towards site traffic and engagement, so please do not underestimate the importance of social media marketing in your strategy.

Page Authority vs Domain Authority: The Difference

Page Authority and Domain Authority are directly associated with the number of links to your website, among various other factors.

Both are scored on a scale of 1-100 and measure the likelihood of ranking on search engines.

What is Page Authority?

Page authority details how likely (and high) an individual webpage will rank on search engines.

What is Domain Authority?

Domain Authority predicts the ranking of an entire website or subdomain in terms of SEO. 

How to discover your Page & Domain Authority

To determine your Page Authority and Domain Authority scores, we recommend downloading the MozBar! Google Chrome Extension

Once installed, if you turn this plug-in on when searching for a term on Google, it will tell you the Page Authority and Domain Authority scores of each competitor for that keyword or phrase.

You can also use it on any website – simply head to the URL and click the grey M in your Extension toolbar.

For more useful tools, check out our blog: Google Chrome Extensions for Marketers.

What is a good Page and Domain Authority score?

It’s important to bear in mind when measuring your website’s Authority that a score close to 100 is very unrealistic. We would instead suggest comparing your scores to that of your competitors in order to outrank them on Google.

These scores are also logarithmic, not linear, therefore it is much harder to increase your score the higher it is. Increasing your Domain Authority from 5 to 10, for instance, is much more straightforward and achievable than boosting it from 50 to 55.


Anchor Text: What is it and why is it important?

Anchor text is the text in which a hyperlink is embedded. To put it in the simplest of terms…

Creative marketing agency

The above is an internal link (a link that connects to another page under the same domain). The anchor text is ‘creative marketing agency’, with the hyperlink being: https://knaptonwright.co.uk/

If a link does not have any anchor text, and appears just like the URL above, that is what is known as a naked URL. It is important that any backlinks pointing to your website, as well as any links on your own website, have anchor text. This is because anchor text indicates to search engines what the link is sending people to.

In an ideal world, the anchor text of links going to your website reflect the keyword or phrase you are trying to rank for with that page.

According to Moz, 45% of links on the web are naked URLs. The other 30% have branded-term anchor text, while only 6% are keywords. Another 14% of anchor text is made up of generic words such as “click here”, “learn more” and so on. This is not ideal as it does not help Google determine what your linked content is, and what value it brings.

What we mean by branded-term anchor text is that which uses company names or products. If, for instance, we would have used ‘Knapton Wright’ instead of ‘Creative marketing agency’ in the example above, that would have been branded-term anchor text.

How to build backlinks to your website

So, you know what backlinks are, how they help SEO and what backlink tools are available, now it’s time to get your head down and generate some!

building backlink

The aim here is to evaluate, source and create opportunities for authoritative and relevant backlinks to your site. The best place to start is to check the backlinks already driving traffic to your website.

Evaluating current backlinks to your website

Fortunately for you, there are several free backlink checkers available at your disposal. As we are a fully-fledged SEO agency, we use the paid-for SEMRush package for many of our SEO needs. However, there are free alternatives, one of which being Moz’s Link Explorer, which allows you 10 free queries a month.

For the purpose of this backlinks guide, we’ll talk you through this free option… 

If you search your domain on Link Explorer’s Inbound Link section it’ll tell you the specific external pages linking to your website.

While this is useful in discovering your current state of backlinks, the true value comes in checking the backlinks of your competitors…

Finding backlink opportunities using Link Explorer

Start by heading to Google and searching for the keyphrase you are hoping to rank for. Turn on the MozBar extension and make a note of the Page Authority and Domain Authority of the top 10 sites. This presents a clear picture of the competitive landscape and what you need to beat.

Next, you’ll want to copy and paste each of the top URLs onto Link Explorer’s Inbound Link Section. From here, you can see what are the most authoritative sites linking to these top results and therefore helping their ranking. 

Make sure you do this for several variations of the keyphrase you are hoping to rank for before making a list of the recurring domains that appear on your Link Explorer searches. Are there any patterns? Look for:

  • The same domains linking to various top results.
  • The same type of websites linking to the top performing pages on the SERP. Are they lifestyle blogs, ecommerce, directories? 
  • Similar industries linking to the top pages.
  • Similar anchor text across multiple links.

Opportunities should appear from these patterns. If, for instance, you notice one website is linking to various top results for that keyphrase on Google – why not reach out to the owner of that site to see if they would like to link to any of your content? Or, better yet, instead of replicating your competitor backlinks, why not find a similar website and reach out to them for quality backlinks instead?

Fixing Broken Backlinks

An often overlooked method of generating quality backlinks to your website is making the most of broken links.

A broken link is a hyperlink that directs people to a page that returns a 404 error. These backlinks obviously do not contribute to link equity, and are therefore not only pointless but potentially damaging to your site’s SEO.

Do not waste this opportunity; someone has tried to endorse your site and it is now your job to regain that value! 

broken link

Broken links occur when a page is removed from your site but someone is still linking to it, or if a link is entered incorrectly into a site.

To find broken links to your site, you’ll need to use one of our following recommended paid-for options:

Once you’ve found the broken links, you’ll need to complete one of the following:

  1. Set up a URL redirect for that link. This is the easier option but you do lose around 10-20% of link credit doing this. Your best bet is to instead…
  2. Contact the site owners using the broken link and provide them with a correct, working link.

Broken Link Building via your competitors

Another method of not only building backlinks but cheekily pinching them from competitors is to search for their domains using the above link checkers and tools, find the sites using broken links to their content and offer them an alternative working URL that links to similar and equally relevant content on your site.

Bad examples of link building

Google is a pattern-detecting directory, in that it does everything it can to not be fooled or coerced into ranking content that does not provide value to its searchers. This means it is very hard to game the system.

SEO professionals (and unprofessionals) have tried to master the dark arts when it comes to link building in the past, but this almost always ends in them being penalised.

We would always recommend following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines when it comes to ethical SEO. This means you should avoid manipulating rankings via:

  • Buying links to your website.
  • Purchasing multiple domains and linking between them.
  • Building sites specifically to link to one another.

If you use dodgy practices and methods you will always be sweating the threat of being punished in the rankings.

Backlink outreach: how to ask for links in the right way

Remember, when reaching out to web developers, business owners, content writers and journalists, you are asking them for something. They do not have to do anything for you, so please remain courteous, polite and friendly. 

This is always the best way to conduct business. Put relationships at the forefront of everything you do, and try to demonstrate value without appearing salesy or pushy.

If you find a website that you think would benefit from linking to your own content, reach out via email, phone or social media. Remember to personalise your request, but keep it simple. People are busy, and do not have time to read paragraph after paragraph.

Structure your backlink outreach around a clear, precise and succinct proposition that includes:

  1. What you want (for them to link to your content) and why they should want it too (because it provides ______ for their readers and you’ll share it on your platforms too).
  2. A personalised approach that is not pushy or salesy in any way.

For larger websites such as lifestyle blogs and news sources, try and get the contact information of a specific contributor that is invested in your industry. This can be done via an email within their byline or their social media account. Journalists and reporters are always looking for sources!

Oliver Wilkinson
Content Manager

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