What are backlinks and do I need them?

What are backlinks and why are they critical to the success of my site?

What are backlinks and do I need them?

A site without backlinks is like a day without sunshine.

Backlinks have long been considered as one of the primary ranking factors for any site. The more backlinks you have, generally the better your site will rank.  Think of backlinks as votes for your site. The more votes you get, the better your site is. There are caveats, of course, but for the most part if your site creates good enough content to earn links from other sites, then your site’s placement in the Google search results will improve.

Keep in mind that Google makes about 95% of their ~$125+ Billion each year from search, so their main focus is to ensure than when you search for something on Google, you get the very best results.  Basing those results on how many good backlinks a website has is a time proven and highly effective method to determine which sites are good results for the Search Engines.

There is a concept referred to as link juice and that is the power backlinks can send to your site.  Link juice can be good or toxic.  A powerful site sends a lot of good link juice.  A poor site sends bad link juice.

What are good backlinks?


what is a backlink - good backlink

The very best backlinks are links from sites that are relevant and authoritative.

If your site is focused on how to care for your dog, a link from PetCo is a very powerful link because it is relevant to your site and it’s accepted as being an authoritative site.

That’s not to say that only relevant links are good though.  A link from Forbes magazine, for instance, isn’t as relevant as a link from PetCo, but it is still immensely powerful.

Think in terms of relevance and authority.

There are a couple of other types of sites that are generally considered to carry a bit more weight than others such as Government sites and Educational sites.  This has lessened somewhat over the years but is still worth understanding and pursuing.

If a government site (with a “.gov” domain name) links to your site, it carries more weight than a link from elsewhere.  Same with a link from an educational site (.edu).  If you think about the difficulty of getting a government site or a college such as Stanford to link to your site, you can understand why they are considered extra powerful.

What are toxic backlinks


what is a backlink - toxic backlinks

There are a few categories of what should be considered toxic backlinks.

Foremost among them is any link that you pay for.  Yes, there are places you can go to buy links to your website and it is almost always a bad idea.

Google spends an inordinate amount of time and money to find sites that have paid backlinks pointing at them and when they find them, they penalize them heavily.

In addition to buying backlinks, trading links is not looked upon favorably.

I have a site, you have a site. I send you an article with a link to my site and you send me an article with a link to your site.  We both put those articles on our sites and presto, we each have a backlink.

The problem with this approach is that it’s very easy for Google to discover and, again, penalize you for.

Don’t trade or buy backlinks

Toxic backlinks can also come from sites that are considered spammy sites or any site that could be considered a “poor neighborhood” in Google’s eyes.  You probably don’t want links from gambling or porn sites pointing to your site.

Since relevance and authority were the buzzwords for the good backlinks, non-relevance and little authority can be thrown into the toxic backlinks description.

Going back to your Dog Care website, a link from PetCo was good (relevant and authoritative) but a link from Joe’s House of Guitar Pics Made From Fingernail Shavings (www.joeshouseofguitarpicsmadefromfingernailshavings.com) isn’t a good backlink because it’s neither relevant nor, more than likely, is it an authoritative site.

Use Google Disavow tool for toxic backlinks

As mentioned above, there’s nothing you can do to avoid other sites linking to yours.  You may end up with toxic backlinks that can harm your Google rankings.

Google understands this better than anybody.  They also understand there will be times when you need to address toxic backlinks so they make their Disavow tool available to you.  Use with caution. 

The Google disavow tool

The concept behind using this tool is to find the backlinks you want to disavow, package them up into a text file, and feed them into the disavow tool.

The process overall is easy but what can be tough is finding the toxic backlinks.  Quite a few tools exist to help you with this.  The manual process is to find the links to your site using the Google search console. From there, if you have more than one site, click into the specific site from the dropdown and look at the links for that site.

Google search console - links

From here you can download all of the backlinks Google sees pointing to your site. There’s an export button on the top right of the page where you can export the entire list to a Google sheets, Excel, or CSV file.  I’d recommend exporting to Sheets or Excel, whichever you are most comfy with, and then working through that as a list.

Identifying which links to disavow

Here’s the tricky part.  You don’t want to accidentally disavow the wrong links. Doing so can cause great harm to your rankings.

If you move forward with this, ensure you are only disavowing sites that are spammy in nature.  Unless you are using a tool such as SEMRush or AHRefs, you’ll be visiting each site in your backlink profile to determine if the backlink is appropriate.

With this approach, you really want to go entirely with topical relevance rather than perceived power or credibility of the site. And you’ll only want to disavow sites that are obviously spam sites.

If one of the links takes you to a Korean gambling site, and your site is not about gambling, it’s probably safe to disavow it.

If you land on the site and the text is in a different language, that’s a red flag but not a final determination.  Google translate is your friend here.  Find out what the site actually is about.

Disavowing toxic links

When you’ve got your backlinks noted and packaged up into a text file, head on over to the disavow tool.  Google gives you some very stern warnings as you proceed.  Heed them – this is serious work.  It’s so serious, Google gives you the almost unprecedented “are you really, really sure you want to do this” screen two times:

The first screen gives a great explanation of what you are doing as well as a link to learn more about the process.  Take the time to read the information on the linked screen.  You should not be doing this without full knowledge of the process and the results.

Google disavow tool

The second screen gives a stern warning and a bit more explanation in addition to some available help information. Again, please read and heed.


Google disavow screen 2


The final screen repeats the warning and allows you to upload the file containing the links you want to disavow.

Google disavow screen 3


Nofollow vs. Follow backlinks

When you get a backlink, there are several parameters that can be attached to that backlink.  Whether or not it’s nofollow link can only be seen by looking at the html of the link itself.  The first one below is a nofollow link, the second is a follow link:

<a href="https://snugdata.com" rel="nofollow">cool site</a>
<a href="https://snugdata.com">cool site</a>

As mentioned, you can dig into the html code (right-click/inspect) or you can install a Chrome extension (there are many) that will indicate nofollow vs follow links.

Nofollow links

Nofollow links do not send “link juice” to the site they are linking to.  Google will not “crawl” this link and does not even recognize the anchor text for it.  A nofollow link is simply a link for your users for additional information without sending any significance of that information to Google.

These do not only apply to links coming from other sites to yours but understand them can also help ensure you use them appropriately on your own site as well.

These are most often seen in comment backlinks for blogs.  If you’ve seen random and usually incoherent comments with a “click here for the best gambling in the world” link, it’s safe to assume that link was assigned a nofollow tag.  So the spammer who posted the comment is most likely not getting any Google love from it.

An excellent example of nofollow links is Quora, the Q&A site.  Here’s a site that allows experts to post answers to tons of questions from curious users.  In almost every answer, you’ll see a link back to the responders web page.  That is a nofollow link so does not get crawled by Google.  BUT, Quora is immensely popular and readers will follow that link and end up on the responders page.  So even though it’s a nofollow link, it does still attract readers. If that reader likes the page enough, they may link out to it which can result in a follow link.

Follow links

Follow links do pass link juice as well as the anchor text.  These are usually used in the body of posts and articles and are the holy grail of your backlink pursuit.  Additionally, it’s important to use follow links when linking from one of your pages to another (internal links).  This is a common approach to help distribute link juice from more established pages to newer pages.

How do I get backlinks?

First, I should point out that you have very little say in what sites create backlinks to your site.  You can get a backlink literally from any website.

If Forbes decides to discuss an article on your site and links to it, great news for you.  But, on the other hand, if OnlineCasinoWinnersEveryDay.com decides to link to the same article, there’s nothing you can do.

The link from Forbes would be a good one, the link from the Casino site would probably be a bad one.

There are ways to earn links from sites that are relevant and authoritative.  The simplest and most time-proven way is to create good content and then socialize it.  If it’s good enough, other people will link to it.

As an example, the article you’re reading right now.  I’m writing it with two purposes in mind.  First is to be useful to the reader but a very strong second is for the article to be so well written and so detailed that other sites will say “Wow, great article. I’m going to link to it”.

When you have content like that on your site that is so good other sites link to it you are earning backlinks and most likely they’ll be relevant, authoritative and credible.

Why would OnlineCasinoGambling.com link to this article?  No reason for them too.  But what about entrepreneur.com?  What about HubSpot? What about local business incubators?  All good sites, all relevant and all credible.  I’d love to get links from them.

Makes sense, right?

How can I get some good backlinks fast?

Slow down tiger.

“Getting backlinks fast” can be a signal to Google that your site is suspect.  I mean, how does a site get a lot of relevant, credible and authoritative backlinks fast legitimately?

You can do it but proceed with caution.  Unusual backlink activity can signal a spam site OR it can signal a site with viral content.  Google knows the difference.

There are a number of places you should consider that are easily obtained and yet highly authoritative and credible.  What are they?  Facebook for one.  Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr to name a few.

I’ll give a more comprehensive list below but the idea is to create profiles on sites such as these and fill those profiles out entirely.  They’ll have a field in your profile for “website”.  Add the URL for your website and you have a backlink.

Easy peasy.

So easy, everybody is doing it. If everybody is doing it, normally I’d say don’t do it but in this case, it’s best to do it.  If your competitor has a backlink from LinkedIn but you don’t, what do you think Google thinks of that?

Here’s a list of places you can sign up, create a profile and add your website for a quick and easy backlink.  But, as always, a caveat is in order.

Use these sites.  Don’t just create a profile and let it rot.  Log into them on a regular basis (monthly is fine) and add some content.  Otherwise Google sees a backlink from a credible site such as Twitter but from a page that isn’t ever used.  Create the profiles and then use them.

Creating and then not using them is worse than not having them at all.

Backlinks for your websiteHere’s a solid list. 1-5 below are almost table stakes these days.  Having profiles on these sites should be a priority.  Below are descriptions from the sites themselves in case you aren’t familiar with them:

  1. YouTube:
    • A free video sharing website that makes it easy to watch online videos.
    • Google owns YouTube so extra credit for having an excellent profile and videos uploaded with links in those video descriptions back to your website
    • 2 billion users
  2. LinkedIn:
    • An online platform that connects the world’s professionals.
    • The gold standard for business profiles.
    • 660 million users
  3. Facebook:
    • Builds technologies that give people the power to connect with friends and family, find communities and grow businesses.
    • The gold standard for business and personal profiles
    • 2.7 billion personal account users and over 80 million business users
  4. Twitter:
    • A service for friends, family, and coworkers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages.
    • The only standard for 140 character messages
    • Over 330 million monthly active users
  5. Pinterest:
    • Visual discovery engine for finding ideas like recipes, home and style inspiration, and more.
    • Over 320 million monthly active users
  6. Instagram
    • Free photo and video sharing app available on Apple iOS, Android and Windows Phone
    • Owned by Google so extra credit for using and having a fully fleshed out profile
    • Over 1 billion monthly active users
  7. Reddit
    • A network of communities based on people’s interests
    • 330 million active monthly users
  8. Flickr
    • The photography revolution for sharing, storing, and organizing your photos in one of the largest worldwide photo communities
    • 100 million monthly users
  9. Imgur
    • Find the funniest, most informative and inspiring images, memes, GIFs, and visual stories served up in an endless stream of bite-sized fun
    • 330 million users
  10. Photobucket
    • The premier destination for uploading, downloading, sharing, linking and finding photos, videos and graphics
    • 100 million users
  11. Tumblr
    • A meeting place for fandom, socio-political causes, weird quirks, and then some.
    • Over 480 million users
  12. Medium
    1. Sole purpose is to help you find compelling ideas, knowledge, and perspectives.
    2. 60 million monthly users
  13. HubPages
    1. Discover and create original, in-depth, useful, media-rich articles on topics you are passionate about. all for free
    2. 46,000 published users, 700,000+ published articles
  14. SlideShare
    1. The world’s largest community for sharing presentations and professional content
    2. 38 million registered users

That’s a solid list and it’s growing as we speak.  Don’t be afraid to try new ones but remember the established ones have strong credibility.

If you create a profile on each of them and then use them, your site will gain credibility.  How do you use them?

  • SlideShare is a great place to repurpose content you already have created.  Turn an article into a PowerPoint presentation and upload it SlideShare so more people can view it.
  • Got some Videos?  Upload them to YouTube and share them.
  • Got an itch to do some more blogging?  Write on Medium.
  • Got some images to share?  Upload them to Flickr.
  • You get the idea – be creative and be busy!

Where can I get backlinks slowly?

Now you’re talking.

Gaining links, or more accurately, backlinks pointing to your site is an ongoing and literally never-ending effort.  It’s not a one-time thing but rather something you should always be working for.

The best way to gain links over time is to consistently create content that is interesting and useful for your website’s visitors and suitable for backlinking by industry professionals and influencers.

There are two basic approaches:

  1. Publish and pray: This is the where you spend a lot of time writing great content, put it on your website, and then do nothing more. You just hope people will notice it and link to it. With millions of blogs publishing hundreds of millions of articles every day, this is a risky approach
  2. Publish and pursue: This is where you spend a lot of time writing great content and then more time reaching out to industry experts and influencers to share that content. Socialize your content on all of your social media channels.  Post on Facebook, Tweet about it, etc.  You research and find the owner of a site that is considered the very top of your chosen field or niche and you reach out to that person with a warm and personal email to thank that person for the work they do and share your article.
    • You do this about 500 times.
    • If the article took you a week to write, you spend the next 3 weeks socializing it.
    • Then you start on your next article.

If you followed the above procedures for an entire year, you’d end up with 12 very well written articles and numerous strong backlinks.  This is far better than 60 so-so written articles and a couple of weak backlinks.

Building your backlink profile is a long term game.

When I say you write great content, I mean you write it with the intention of it being the very best on the web.  If it’s not, why would Google show your page over somebody else’s?   This typically means content that is rather lengthy, detailed, well researched and includes links out to other authoritative sites.

  • Lengthy: Studies have shown that long articles are more supportive than short articles with regards to your ranking. I’m talking on the order of 1,500 words and up.  Shoot for 2,000.  The article you’re reading right now is a shade over 3,600 words and when I socialize it, I feel confident that other sites will be happy to link to it.  Why?  It’s a well thought out, detailed and exhaustive article.
  • Detailed: Leave no stone unturned. Don’t make your reader go to another website to augment what you (should be) explaining.
  • Well Researched: Don’t wing it – your readers will know if you are the expert you say you are or not. You have about one chance to lose their respect with some crappily researched information and you’ll never see them again.
  • Links: Yes, you should link out to other sites as long as those sites are relevant to your article, credible and authoritative. Linking out signals topic relevance to your site.Also, internal links are great.  Link to pages or other resources on your site that supplement what you’re writing about.

What is anchor text?

No discussion about Backlinks would be complete without discussing Anchor text.

The clickable text of a link is the anchor text.

For example, in the following sentence, I have created a link to my own blog page.  The Anchor Text is the string “SnugData Blog” and the URL that the link (and the anchor text) point to is http://snugdata.com/blog.

For more information, please visit the SnugData Blog.

The anchor text is what shows up as the clickable text. In this case, the underlined blue text that your read is the anchor text.  The link it takes you to is the actual backlink.

Why is this important?

Google places an emphasis on the anchor text for links that come into your site and, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  Again, going to relevance as an important point regarding Backlinks, a link whose anchor text is relevant to your website is more powerful than one whose anchor text is not relevant.

If you have two backlinks to your Dog Care website and the anchor text of one is “pet shampoo” and the other is “online gambling”, which is more relevant?

Unfortunately, you often have little say over anchor text.

Remember you’re not buying or trading backlinks so how can you control how another person creates the link to your page from their website? Mostly, you can’t.  But sometimes, you can and when you can, you definitely should.

If you create a guest post, for example, its common to link back to your own site in the article you write.  This is a perfect case of when you have control over the anchor text of your backlink. Also, if you post questions or answer questions in public forums, you can often add a backlink and in this case, you can usually control the anchor text.

You can’t always control it but when you can, you should.

Backlinks – a summary

Short and sweet:

  • They’re incredibly important to help rank your site so your potential customers find you instead of your competition
  • You can get a lot of very solid backlinks by creating profiles on a number of popular social media sites and then using those sites regularly
  • You should constantly and consistently add quality, lengthy, detailed content to your site and then spend more time promoting that content than you did writing it. With content, quality trumps quantity.
  • Control the anchor text when you can


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  1. […] ranking website for that term I searched for as well as how authoritative that site is, how many backlinks their page has, how much traffic it’s getting, etc.  All important information for me to […]

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