What Are Backlinks (SEO)?

Literally “backlink” or “incoming link”, the term ” backlink ” is used in the field of natural referencing (SEO) to designate a hypertext link within a content pointing to another site, another domain. We can oppose the internal link which can take the same form but refers exclusively to content on the same site.

The internal link is mainly used to facilitate the navigation of the Internet user and the indexing of pages by Google robots, while the backlink is used to:

  • Indicate to the Internet user the external location of a piece of information / a product
  • Transmit popularity from one website to another

It is in this second function that SEO is particularly interested in. It is thus considered that inserting a backlink in content is a way of recommending another content, another web page. 

This recommendation is a token of trust (called “Trust”) that Google uses in its relevance algorithm to determine the ranking of its search engine results. 

Basically, the more backlinks a website has (that is, links from sites that recommend it), the more its popularity increases in the eyes of Google. Of course, the reality is a little more complex than that …

The backlink is generally carried out as part of an SEO strategy and its “off-site” component, the netlinking strategy

The SEO consultant is no longer satisfied with backlinks emerging “naturally” to his site from sources that he does not control. He will seek to generate them in greater quantity and/or quality. The backlink then becomes more complex in its theory and is assigned attributes (no-follow for example), and even a value judgment, made by Google.

This classification of a backlink as being of good or bad quality is carried out according to many criteria, in particular related to the context of the backlink, on which SEO experts try to influence.

How can the backlink influence the positioning of a site in the Google SERPs? And how to implement a netlinking strategy to acquire good backlinks?

The Backlink: definition

The components of a backlink

In the HTML code, a backlink is materialized by the link’s <a> tag, which contains the target URL: the address of the content that you want to link.

This <a> tag opens and closes to surround one or more keywords, which constitute the link anchor. It is on this expression that the Internet user can click to access the linked content.

<a href= “http://example.com> anchor of the link </a>

For Google to start judging the quality of a backlink, the link anchor must be relevant to the targeted content: that it allows it to be defined or at least to encourage action in a context thematic and semantics appropriate.

Thus, a link anchor such as “General De Gaulle” which points to Napoleon’s Wikipedia page would run the risk of not being deemed relevant … On the other hand, the following anchors are much more so:

Of all the European emperors, <a href= https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napol%C3%A9on_Ier> Napoleon 1 st </a> is undoubtedly one of the best known.

If you want to know more about Napoleon and his conquests, <a href= https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napol%C3%A9on_Ier> click here </a>.

Napoleon’s Wikipedia page will tell you a lot more about his history: <a href= https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napol%C3%A9on_Ier> https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoléon 1er </a>

Then, to constitute a good backlink, it is not only necessary that the anchor of the link has a relationship with the content of the target page, but also that the page issuing the link deals with a similar or identical theme. Thus, if the link to Napoleon’s Wikipedia page is inserted in an article describing only the life of General De Gaulle, there is little chance that Google will judge it as qualitative …

On the other hand, if it is inserted in an article describing the major French military figures and that this content gives as much importance to Napoleon as to General De Gaulle (paragraphs of equal sizes, explicit subtitles …), the link then begins to find its consistency in the eyes of Google compared to a given context.

The “nofollow” attribute of a backlink

If you have a website, blog, or even a simple mailbox, you are probably familiar with the concept of spam: an unwanted message that imposes itself on you through an email or a comment and which, most of the time prompts you to click on a link. 

Spam techniques have emerged as much to bring the visitor to specific content as to recover something, such as personal data for example. We, therefore, designate as “spammy” content or comments left on blogs or forums whose primary objective is to benefit their author and less to the content on which they are published. 

Spammy comments often contain links to questionable sites in order to allow them, among other things, to recover the SEO popularity of the site, recover “link juice” (see below).

To avoid this popularity leak through poorly controlled links, it is possible to assign backlinks an attribute: rel = “no-follow”.

This is an instruction for search engines when they discover the link on the page: it indicates to them that the sending site “does not assume” the link in place and therefore they should not perform any popularity transfer.

A blog can therefore decide to assign a “no-follow” attribute by default to all the links published by Internet users in its comments and thus prevent the risks for its referencing by protecting its popularity.

<a href= “http://example.com opening rel= “nofollow “> link anchor </a>

Logically, for a backlink to play a role in improving the referencing of a website, it must not include the “no-follow” attribute, under penalty of being considered openly disowned

The quality of a backlink is therefore also a matter of legitimacy!

The location of a backlink

Finally, what can be a game-changer when it comes to the quality of the backlink is its position within the source page. Google considers that a link in context is more relevant than a single link, disconnected from a semantic environment.

It is, therefore, more efficient for your SEO performance to place a backlink inside a paragraph of text, rather than in a menu for example.

A common practice – and more or less obsolete – is to place backlinks in the footer of a site. Thus, the backlink is present on all the pages of the site, transferring the possible popularity of each of them to the target site.

But Google has not fooled: the position of the backlink lower than all the other elements of the page and generally in smaller font indicates to him that this link is not really intended to be clicked by the user. 

Therefore, Google identifies your backlink as blatantly flagged “SEO” and gives it less credit in the popularity calculation.

Likewise, to avoid abuse, when faced with several occurrences of the same link within a page, Google only takes into account the first in its calculation of relevance and popularity. Thus, only the first anchor counts to contextualize the link, as well as the position of the first link within the page.

As you will have understood, the quality of a backlink is, therefore, a clever mix of criteria to which is added its strategic positioning on the page: the more it is contextualized and located high in the text, the more it is likely to be perceived as a qualitative backlink by Google’s algorithm.

The importance of backlinks in SEO

Popularity at the heart of Google’s algorithm

After defining what can be considered a good backlink, let’s take a few lines to explain how Google’s algorithm works which allows it to establish the ranking of results for a given query.

Google wants to provide Internet users with the most relevant answer to their question, to their search for information. To do this, he must determine the content which, by virtue of their form and substance, is most likely to please him. It then scans its index to find the most qualitative corresponding results. 

To constitute this index, the robots crawled a large number of sites and indexed their content: length, structure, semantics… They notably sifted through the Panda and Penguin filters. 

At this stage, some already stand out and correspond to the intention of the request asked. But it is still necessary to order and prioritize them…

How to identify the results to be presented first? To position them, Google then observes the most popular content and the most appreciated by other users on the web. And backlinks are undoubtedly a signal of this popularity!

Thus, a site that deals with the subject in depth through rich content already attracts the attention of Google.

But if this site also receives many backlinks from other qualitative sites in a similar theme, then it has a good chance of being part of the shortlist and ending up on SERP # 1.

The content and netlinking are indeed two of the pillars of SEO (3 e being the technical SEO).

Linkjuice or “link juice”

All net linking strategies consisting of getting good backlinks are based on a star concept: link juice

This concept is also common to the notions of internal and external links.

This pictorial name makes it possible to express the transfer and dilution of popularity that takes place when a link is set up from one page to another.

We also speak of the transfer of “Page Rank”, as an indicator of the popularity of a page.

To keep the metaphor of fruit juice, imagine a 1L bottle full to the brim. If you want to transfer the juice to another single container, this will collect 1L of liquid. If, on the other hand, you want to transfer the fruit juice into 2 containers, each will collect the only 50cl of liquid, equally. If you transfer it to 3 containers, each will only collect 1/3 of the bottle, i.e. 33.3cl of liquid, etc.

The principle is the same with the PageRank of a page. Take the Home page: if it offers 5 internal links in the main menu and 3 external links (backlinks) to other referring or partner sites, its PageRank (aka its popularity) is then transferred and divided into 8.

Each page that is linked, whether internal or external, then receives 12.5% of the popularity of the Home page.

According to this simple rule, we deduce that the more links a page receive – internal or backlinks, the more its popularity increases because each of the source pages will have transferred a part of its own popularity to it.

Therefore, the heart of the SEO netlinking strategy is to obtain the maximum popularity for its pages by obtaining a maximum of quality backlinks.

What netlinking strategy to acquire backlinks?

An optimized link profile

We speak of a “link profile” to define all the “off-site” characteristics of a site: the number of backlinks but also of referral domains issuing links, their evolution over time (acquisition or loss), Geographical distribution of source sites ‘ TLDs, the various anchors used and their proportion …

These are all indicators delivered by the SEO tool Ahrefs in particular. Here too, we can assess the quality of a link profile and the alleged popularity it brings to the site.

By following the theoretical rules mentioned so far, the operation of Google’s algorithm and its relevance and quality criteria, we can therefore imagine the perfect link-profile, ideal, to bring a site the maximum popularity:

  • A large number of backlinks from quality sites. These are sites with rich and documented content, oriented on a specific theme, and themselves target many backlinks on the web.
  • Links inserted in thematic content pages very close to the target page
  • Optimized anchors on strategic keywords for content positioning

Only here it is: once again, Google is not fooled. And a too perfect link profile risks putting the chip in his ear … The engine wants to remain in control and seeks to prevent any manipulation of its results.

He believes that naturally generated backlinks on the web – that is, following the logic of “I like, therefore I recommend” – are never perfectly optimized.

They sometimes appear in comments, so possibly in no-follow, they are sometimes inserted on the raw URL rather than on a keyword, they are sometimes made from Canada, Belgium, Switzerland …

To be credible in the eyes of Google, it is, therefore, necessary to keep a proportion of lower quality links, or even to strive to acquire them when we judge that the link profile is too optimized. 

A net-linking strategy is therefore above all a matter of diversity.

Backlink acquisition techniques

To cultivate diversity in a link profile, it is, therefore, necessary to multiply the methods of acquiring links, the types of links, the types of anchors …

Keep in mind that Google penalizes any too obvious attempt to manipulate its results, therefore the publication of the links, whatever they are, must also be diffused in time and be carried out over a certain period.

A spike in new links could generate a red flag for Google, and undermine your efforts to improve your popularity and your ranking in the SERP (because that’s what it is, let’s remember! ).

Create links from directories

Preferably choose thematic directories, relevant to your activity. If none exist, then select known general directories: find out because everything goes very quickly on the web, and directories are created and unmade almost as quickly as Google changes its algorithm…

Each year its directory flagship like fire Omniz, Yelp … Preferably choose a permanent directory to keep the benefit of the link for several years. Create a description sheet for your activity or your site: it includes a “Link” field in which you can enter the URL of your site, often the Home page.

Create links from forums

On the same principle as directories, first, focus your research on thematic forums of authority sites in your field. If you can’t find one, opt for general forums with relevant topics. Become a contributor, preferably regular, and try to insert your link in a comment, in the middle of an appropriate text.

It can then be another page than Home. But be careful: to avoid seeing your comment moderated and not published as much as possible, the link must really add value to the discussion, provide information, an element of response.

Post comments on blogs

Select reference blogs in your theme and write constructive comments on the content with which you agree or on the contrary on those you want to question.

Of course, don’t just insert your link. Bring a real opinion or valuable information: testimony, experience …

Your link should preferably be seen as a complementary source to continue the debate or deepen the subject.

Obtain links from supplier and partner sites

The SEO utility of “Partner” pages on websites has been denied for several years, Google has become accustomed to devaluing content made up only of links.

That said, these pages still exist because the websites that host them see them as a kind of showcase for users: by proudly displaying their suppliers, customers, and partners, we thus establish credibility and an image of seriousness in the eyes of visitors. . So try to get links from the partner pages or modules of other companies you work with. The easiest way is to ask them …

Publish guest articles in guest-blogging

If your expertise and interventions have value in your market, solicit serious blogs or sites on your topic and offer to publish a guest post.

You provide the content – you must then deliver a well-written and documented article – without any other consideration than the mention of your name and a link to your site.

The publisher site wins because the publication is beneficial to it: traffic generated on its page, a strengthening of its semantic field, organic keywords on which to rank… and on your side, you have normally obtained a quality backlink.

Exploit social networks

Staging contests or sharing incentives on your brand’s social networks to generate mass backlink publication as well as traffic to your site.

Even if the backlinks from social networks do not have the same weight in SEO, they still help send Google signals of your notoriety and your popularity with your target audience.

Buy the writing and publication of sponsored articles

This practice consists of selecting thematic sites and blogs related to your activity and contacting the editor or blogger to suggest a subject to be covered, in which to place a link to your site.

Most of the time, the blogger writes himself from a brief you submit to him, so as to ensure that the post follows his editorial line. In return, you pay him a certain amount of money.

Google’s policy is to penalize the purchase of links when it is detected, some sites prefer to advertise the color and precede your article with a clear mention such as “Sponsored article”, which then drops your publication in the field. advertising and relaxes Google’s tolerance for you …

Produce web press articles

Similar to getting a sponsored article published, you can have a newspaper article published about you. Web media generally enjoys much greater popularity with users and Google. Its contents tend more easily to appear on the first page of results, especially on the name of a company, a brand, or a personality.

For the media, having content written by a journalist, sometimes in the form of an interview or a platform, is expensive. This applies to respect the editorial line and must ensure that the subject developed will interest its readership.

You can therefore try to generate content free of charge by sending traditional press releases, hoping that your subject will attract the attention of the media and make them want to “invest” in a paper.

But then you have no guarantee that the article will disseminate the information in the desired angle or even place a backlink to your site. Or you can increase your chances and pay for the article being broadcast.

Be aware that the price is often much higher than that of a classic sponsored article because you are paying as much for the time and editorial expertise of the writer as for the placement of your contextualized link and the ranking potential of the content created.

A backlink to your site from an online press site is sure to bring it great popularity, this is an avenue that should not be overlooked!

Create a network of PBN sites

The last method and not the least is to create a network of ancillary sites called PBN ( Private Blog Network ), fed with thematic content and intended to regularly make links to your site. In order for it to be effective and to deploy its full potential for bringing SEO popularity, a PBN must be carefully designed to avoid detection by Google robots.

Thus, we will ban all links between PBN sites, we will expand the semantic fields worked on, we will ensure a residual popularity contribution on these sites by choosing expired domain names with a satisfactory number of existing backlinks …

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