Backlinks: An Online Handshake
When you speak with SEO professionals, you may hear them talk about the importance of backlinks. Backlinks are when another site links to your site. These links are important because not only do they help drive traffic to your website, but they are a sign to Google that your site provides information that people appreciate and view as worth linking to.
In the beginning of 2015, there was controversy following one of the Google “hangouts.” John Mueller, of Google, seemed to indicate that webmasters should not focus on building backlinks. This took the marketing world by storm, as many people dedicate time and energy to developing a high quality backlink profile.
Careful analysis of the problem, however, demonstrates that this might not have been what Mueller meant. At other Google hangouts in the past, he gave advice about how to appropriately go about building successful and useful backlink profiles. It is now largely agreed by many marketing professionals that Mueller was speaking about avoiding using illicit tactics to build backlinks, such as engaging in, “I link to you, you link to me” backlink schemes.
To understand how backlinks should ideally be developed, it can be useful to look at how business is conducted in person.
The Role of a Handshake
Place yourself in a corporate meeting between two important executives. They are sitting at a long table in a professionally furnished conference room. They sit at opposite sides, each with a team of assistants taking notes of the meeting and making sure that the bosses are always equipped with a glass of ice water.
The two hash out their ideas. They want to see if their information aligns and if they believe they can work with each other. No executive wants to run the risk of doing business with someone who would ruin their reputation. Before any deals are struck, they want to make sure that this is a professional with whom they want to have their name publicly associated with.
After a long conversation, they both stand up.
“Well, I suppose we are in agreement,” says one.
“Yes. I will have my team get started on the contract right away,” says the other.
They reach out and they shake hands—and now everyone in the room knows that they will be willing to vouch for the other.
The Role of the Backlink
The handshake is a backlink. When one site links to another, they are publicly vouching for the content on that page. They have reviewed the information and found it to be in line with what they believe about the topic at hand. They trust that when they send their page visitors to that website, the users will be able to obtain useful information that will help them answer their questions.
Backlinks should not be something that you ever have to trick the other website into doing. It is not supposed to be the end goal of SEO. Instead, backlinks should be viewed as a part of a larger SEO strategy that involves creating high quality content that people are interested in reading and find helpful.
That does not mean you cannot ask for backlinks. If you find a website that aligns with your intended audience and you think your content would be helpful, there is nothing wrong with asking for a link, but it should always be done upfront and honestly.
You can build backlinks by writing guest posts or thought-leadership pieces for other websites. You should also be sharing your content on social media to increase exposure and build more backlinks.
Google, and its algorithm, want to keep an eye out for backlinks that come from low quality sites or always seem to come from the same types of sites. They want to make sure that the backlinks are diversified and gained honestly. If a poor site links to you and you do not want the backlink counting against you, then you can always disavow it to let Google know that you want no part of that link.
When it comes to building backlinks, remember to always build them honestly and with the end user in mind. Just like a handshake in business, it should be viewed as a public vouching for the other site. When you view it in that context, it will be easier to understand the role of backlinks in the online web community.