Backlinks are the backbone of search engine optimization, directly contributing to how well a site will rank within a search engine index. Also referred to as one-way links or inbound links, backlinks are links on one website that point back to another website.
Because backlinks originate on a website over which a webmaster has no control, they are considered “off site” elements for search engine optimization. Each backlink counts as a vote, and the more votes, theoritically, the higher the ranking in the various search engines such as Google. More recently, search engines have started examining the link reputation of the site from which a backlink originates. The more established and more respected the site, the higher the weight the link is given for its vote. Plus, the more relevant the site providing the backlink to the other site, the more influence this link will have over ranking.
In addition to the quality, and relevancy of the site providing the backlink, the actual anchor tag used will play a role in ranking. Backlink anchors should include relevant anchor tags that match the keywords being optimized. This provides an added boost when the search engines crawl and index content on the sites containing the backlinks.
The importance of backlinks means that webmasters should develop a strategic one-way linking strategy that incorporates a variety of link building techniques as part of their internet marketing strategy. Some proven techniques for obtaining backlinks include directory submissions, article submission services and posting on forums. Social bookmarking sites also allow the submission of “stories” and “links” with associated tags to identify the content of the submission. These are generally listed publicly and indexed relatively quickly in the search engines which will show an immediate backlink. A word of caution if utilizing social bookmarking sites for obtaining backlinks. The high ranking of these sites such as Digg and Delicious means that it is possible for these sites to rank higher for the submitted content.
Some will advocate utilizing blogs to obtain backlinks. There are those in the SEO community that see this “comment spam” as being nothing more. It may provide a boost in an arbitrary ranking system called Page Rank that is utilized by Google to identify the relative importance of a website, but in the long term does very little to increase and sustain traffic to a website. If links are placed on sites with unrelated content, there is no real incentive for a user to click on the backlink and visit the other site – it just doesn’t interest them. For example, if a visitor on one site about “antique Christmas ornaments” would be unlikely to click on a link about “turbo motorcycles” but more likely to click on a link about “Custom Christmas Cards”.
While some backlinks regardless of the site they are placed on will get the occasional click, it is more beneficial to concentrate on link building around relevant sites that can be used to promote targeted keywords. This increase the chances of another user clicking and following the backlink, meaning more traffic and perhaps more conversions.
In addition to the boost in ranking provided, backlinks also aid in having a new website indexed faster by the search engines. Search engines index content as they crawl sites they know about. As links are encountered, the search engine spiders follow those links, discovering new content and new sites. Therefore, having a backlink on a site that is already indexed by the search engines will enable a newly developed site to have its content indexed as well.
Building backlinks is long and tedious work at times, but the benefits that can be seen as traffic increases and a site develops is enormous. Keep the linking strategy systematic and consistent, and as a webmaster, the number of backlinks obtained will increase.