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What Are Backlinks and Why Are They Important?

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When it comes to content on your website, there are two kinds of links: internal and external. Internal links connect users to content within your site, while external links bring them to content on a different site. 

External links are also known as “backlinks.” Each time you link to another webpage, you give that site a backlink. By the same token, when another website links to your content, you have received a backlink. Below, for example, I have given tasteofhome.com a backlink to their survey of America’s favorite Christmas dishes:

Both internal and external links are important for good SEO, but backlinks in particular are used by Google to determine a website’s usefulness and authority. If you have received a backlink, it is presumably because someone else thought your content was valuable. The more backlinks you receive, the more confidence both users and Google will have in your site. 

What Are Toxic Backlinks?

screenshot of a backlinks audit in SEMRush
SEMRush’s Backlink Audit gives links a toxic score (shown in red)

There are occasions when you may receive undesirable backlinks, or “toxic” backlinks. These are so-named because they actually have a negative impact on your site’s ranking. Google refers to these kinds of backlinks as “unnatural,” and penalizes sites regardless of whether or not they are aware of them. 

Once upon a time, Google did not vet the source of backlinks. Any and all backlinks were considered good and could increase a site’s visibility. This inevitably led to “link schemes,” where unscrupulous SEO companies began selling spammy links by the thousands. 

Although Google now penalizes backlinks that are from inorganic sources, link schemes are still one of the biggest culprits when it comes to toxic backlinks. 

It can be difficult to remove unwanted links, but one strategy is to conduct a site audit and submit unwanted links to the Google Disavow Tool. When you “disavow” a link you are telling Google that you want it taken off your site and the source known for future indiscretions. 

An SEO software like SEMRush allows you to identify all the links you want to disavow and then save them in a .txt file, which can be uploaded directly to the Disavow Tool. You can follow SEMRush’s steps to disavow links here.

Removing toxic backlinks is complicated and should be done with great care. You do not want to unintentionally remove healthy backlinks. If you are new to SEO, we recommend you consult with an experienced digital marketer to help you identify and remove any links that are dragging your site down. 

How Can You Encourage Healthy Backlinks?

We use the word “encourage” because, in reality, you cannot force anyone to link to your site. However, there are some tried-and-true methods that can give your site an edge when it comes to link-building.

Create Linkable Assets

Linkable assets are precisely what they sound like: assets on your site that are worth linking to, or sharing. Let’s use the example of a cooking blog. Some examples of linkable assets might be:

  • A downloadable recipe card
  • A shopping list
  • A video demonstration
  • A survey (like the one we used as an example in the beginning)

If you are a technical website, linkable assets might include:

  • Infographics
  • Software
  • Statistics

Whatever your topic, the idea is to offer free, quality information that can be easily shared. 

Submit Positive Reviews

When you create a review or testimonial online, you often have the opportunity to include your website for verification. This can be a great way to boost visibility and get high quality backlinks from the companies you review. 

We recommend using this strategy only for positive reviews, since those are the ones companies are most likely to post on their websites.

Connect With News Outlets

Respected news outlets have high authority, so a backlink from one of them is highly desirable. 

Programs like Help a Reporter Out (HARO) send emails to subscribers with opportunities to act as a source for certain articles. You can sign up for HARO for free. Whenever you see a relevant request pop up in your inbox, simply send your credentials, website, and a quote for the reporter to use in his/her/their article. If they decide to use your quote, voila! A great new backlink!

Ask!

There is no harm in reaching out to a site owner and asking if they will backlink to your content. If you have relevant, quality information to share, it is absolutely appropriate to send a quick email or use the site’s contact form.

A great way to incorporate this strategy is if you notice that a link on a site is broken. Say, for example, someone has an external link that is supposed to take you to an article about gardening, but you get a “404 Page Not Found” message when you click it. 

Now let’s say that you, yourself, have some great content about gardening. That broken link is not doing this other site any good, so identifying it AND supplying the owner with new content will, ideally, result in a grateful backlink. 

Serenity Digital is Here to Help

Link-building, like much of SEO, is a long game. It can also be frustrating, even for seasoned marketers. You may not get any responses from the email requests you send, or you may have to deal with bad backlinks, or with competitors who beat you to the punch with the news outlets. 

Whatever the situation, keep in mind that backlinks will not happen overnight. Just remember that every step you take is useful in your overall SEO strategy, and you will see results eventually. 

Serenity Digital’s mission is to make the marketing process less stressful for businesses, so we are happy to take on the frustrations associated with backlinking and SEO in general. Give our office a call to see what else we can take off your plate.  

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