SEO for Business (Part 3): What are Backlinks?
After gaining an overview of SEO and keywords, the next thing to understand is backlinks.
Backlinks are still one of the main ways Google judges the authority of your website. Without them it is almost impossible to rank high in Google’s search results.
What are backlinks?
Backlinks are simply links from other websites to yours. Google sees backlinks as endorsements of your website.
Generally speaking, they not only help improve your website’s domain authority, but also add another source of traffic to your website.
Imagine there were two plumbers with websites of a similar quality. One of them had lots of backlinks from other websites to his but the other had none. To Google, it looks like more people trust and vouch for the former plumber’s website, so that will be ranked higher than the website with no backlinks.
However, ranking higher isn’t as simple a case of having loads of backlinks.
Quality & quantity of backlinks
The quality of your backlinks matters just as much if not more than the quantity.
This is in part because some websites simply gain ‘junk’ backlinks from unauthentic websites solely set up to give out backlinks. This is considered a ‘grey’ or even ‘black hat’ SEO technique.
Grey hat techniques are shady and frowned on (by Google) techniques to rank a website. Black hat are very shady (and sometimes illegal) ways to rank a website.
Both grey and black hat techniques, such as building up backlinks from fake websites, might help you rank a website in the short-term. But bear in mind that Google updates it’s algorithm 500 – 600 times a year, and so eventually will likely discover which websites are using black hat techniques and penalise them with a low ranking.
There are many black hat ways of building dodgy backlinks to make a website rank. These include backlinks from junk websites, private blog networks set up with the same purpose, even hacking into other websites to insert a backlink.
However, let’s stay focused on legitimate ways to build backlinks.
How to build backlinks the white hat way
White hat SEO is legitimate SEO that doesn’t go against what Google recommends.
Below are 3 white hat ways you can build a healthy backlink profile to your website. By following these steps, you will eventually be able to rank your website in a sustainable and lasting way.
1. Sign up to business directories and local chambers of commerce
There are many business listings out there, all competing to become a new online version of the Yellow Pages. Many of these websites are free to sign up to and don’t take more than ten minutes to complete.
By signing up to well run and relevant business directories, you can gain useful backlinks to your website and a new source of potential customers.
Once you have signed up, don’t forget to ask your customers to leave reviews on these sites to help your internal ranking on them.
Example directory websites include yelp.com, yell.com, the UK Small Business Directory, and more.
Another great way to gain a good backlink is to join a local business association or chamber of commerce. You will usually not only gain a backlink from your listing on their website, but will also gain access to a new network of local businesses.
2. Other local businesses
If you have a good working relationship with other local businesses, then you can offer them a backlink to your site in exchange for them giving you a backlink to theirs.
Say you are a local bakery and one of your customers is a local café. You can ask the café to include a link to your website on a page of theirs.
Both of you could place a link on the ‘partners’ page of your respective websites or anywhere else that you see fit. All you need to add is a simple sentence such as ‘Proud supplier of [café’s name or logo]’ (and they could add something along the lines of: ‘Proud customer of [your company name or logo]’).
By having local backlinks, you also send a stronger positive signal to Google about your place in the local area you want to rank in.
Backlinks from other local websites may take time to build up. You could send each business an email or give them a call to ask for them, or you could wait until the next time you see them face to face to ask.
Building up backlinks over time is actually healthier than getting many all at once. If you suddenly get lots of backlinks in a short timeframe, it might look unnatural to Google, who might suspect you are using black hat techniques to do so.
3. Local media
Another way to get good quality relevant backlinks is to feature in local news stories.
To help this happen, you can introduce yourself to local media outlets and let them know that they can reach out to you if they need quotes for future stories.
The stories you could give quotes for could be as simple as something to do with how your business is coping during the lockdown, to more specific quotes related to your industry.
Aside from contacting local media directly, you can also sign up to websites like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and check their daily updates for opportunities for media mentions.
Media outlets might not always give you a backlink for featuring in their stories, but the exposure alone will contribute to putting your business name out there.
4. Guest posts
Another great way to gain backlinks is to write guest posts for websites.
These posts can be made to measure posts for the host website or variations on content you written about on your own website. If it is the latter, be sure never to copy and paste from old articles.
Even if themes are repeated, content itself must always be unique, otherwise Google will penalise you for it. The exact same content pasted on multiple sites screams ‘spammy’ and ‘black hat SEO’…
Finding out where you can submit guest blogs is another issue. One quick way to finding them is to use variations of this formula: ‘[your industry] + write for us’. For example, ‘Carpenter write for us’, ‘restaurant blogging’, or ‘used cars guest post’.
It may take time and a lot of emails/calls to secure a good website to post on. One way you can save time is by beginning outreach before you have written a blog. After all, the website might want to agree on a specific theme for the content before they agree to publish it.
In some ways, the outreach process for backlinks is like sales: you need to put a lot of effort in to get a few leads, and even more effort to make a couple of conversions. However, over time you will be able to build new relationships and gain crucial backlinks.
You can also look out for opportunities to appear on podcasts that discuss your industry or busines more generally.
Firstly, you will gain exposure to their audiences and have a chance to pitch your business. Secondly, most podcasts will publish information about the episode on their websites either in the form of show notes or a follow-up article (or both).
5. Sponsor local events
The fifth way to gain backlinks that we will look at here is to sponsor local events.
Sponsoring local events (or teams/individuals) brings its own benefits, including positive PR and general brand exposure.
Aside from these, it also helps you gain media mentions, build relationships and gain backlinks from websites associated with those you are sponsoring.
Building backlinks might seem like be a slow and time-consuming process. However, in the long-run it will make a big difference to your website’s ranking.
Remember to think about quality before quantity with backlinks, and don’t rush the process. The more relevant and trusted a website is, the more value a backlink from it will bring to your website.
Avoid black hat SEO practices at all costs. Though they may bring you results in the short term, in the long-run you will probably get penalised for them by Google.
Think of backlinks in terms of endorsements and relationships. Good partnerships and reputations take time to build up and maintain and can pay off at unexpected points in the future.
Kain is an SEO freelance consultant and copywriter based in London. His business is called Barbell SEO (https://barbellseo.co.uk)