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The Anatomy of a Backlink - SEO Link Building Explained

Updated on December 8, 2014

In brief, a backlink is an incoming link to a particular webpage.

Backlinks are usually in the form of a hyperlink (a text or image that can be clicked on) that exists on an external site, but can also be on pages linking to each other within the same website.

Backlinks were once the primary method of navigation on the web, but have now taken their place in off-page search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO allows website owners to increase their visibility in the search engines, by appearing higher in the search engine results page (SERPS) for a particular keyword term.

Backlinks can be created both manually or semi-automatically using commercial SEO software. Although expensive, link building software can create a large number of incoming links to a page to help increase its SERPs. Some of the most common areas on which backlinks can be created include:

• Blog comments
• Forum signatures
• Press releases
• Link exchanges
• Article marketing (e.g. Ezine articles)
• Social bookmarking sites (e.g. Digg)
• Web directories (e.g. DMOZ)
• Video sharing sites (e.g. YouTube)
• Web 2.0 properties (e.g. Hubpages and Squidoo)
• Social Networking sites (e.g. Facebook and Twitter)
• Government and Educational sites

A backlink has two purposes, and each is specific to the type of backlink that’s pointing to your webpage. The first is to drive targeted traffic to your website. Backlinks on article directories or answer communities (e.g. Yahoo! Answers) are often best for this - if a reader is interested in the topic, he will click on the link and be directed to your website.

The other purpose of backlinks is to increase your SERP. A diverse number of backlinks pointing to your site will help Google and the other major search engines to recognise your website as quality content, and give it a high ranking for different keyword terms.

Now the site from which a backlink is pointing to your site can have different value in the eyes of Google and the other search engines, and there is a variety of criteria upon which you can use to determine the value of placing a backlink on a certain webpage. The basic criterion is as follows:


‘Dofollow’/‘Nofollow’
Over a decade ago, Google implemented a new system by which it evaluates backlinks in SERPs. It introduced an HTML tag that could be used on websites that pointed out to search engine ‘spiders’ (the robots that ‘crawl’ the web indexing and ranking content) not to register the link as an incoming backlink.

In dofollow links, the page rank (PR) of the domain/page passes on to the page you link to. With nofollow, it’s the opposite. This doesn’t mean nofollow links are worthless, because a good mix of both nofollow and dofollow are required to simulate natural backlinking.

It can be determined as to whether a page provides nofollow or dofollow backlinks by using a free Mozilla Firefox Add-on, called ‘NoDofollow.’ By going to a webpage, right-clicking and selecting ‘NoDofollow,’ it highlights all nofollow links pink, and all dofollow links blue.


Page Rank (PR) of the Webpage
Page rank (PR) is a measurement tool used by Google to determine the authority of a webpage. When searching for places to leave a backlink, it is most beneficial to leave a backlink on a webpage with high PR, as it passes on greater authority or “link juice” to your website. However, this link juice is divided among the total number of links on a page, meaning it may not be worthwhile creating a backlink on a high PR webpage with hundreds of outbound links.

Page rank of a webpage can be found using a free tool called Page Rank Checker.


Domain Authority
The authority of a site (although largely reflected by page rank) also is an important factor in looking for backlinks. Authoritative pages, such as government or educational sites, or large websites with hundreds of pages, such as Wikipedia, can pass on significant link juice to your webpage and help your search engine rankings. It’s been said that a backlink from a government of educational site (whether the link be dofollow or nofollow) is worth hundreds of ordinary backlinks - so it is a good idea to try to incorporate authoritative backlinks into your backlinking strategy.


Related Content
This requirement is debateable in relation to backlinking, because webpages on sites such as Wikipedia will often link to another internal page when there is no contextual relevance whatsoever. However, in terms of receiving possible visitors from a backlink it is often good policy to leave a backlink on a site that is within the same niche as yours.


Anchor Text
The anchor text of a backlink is the actual clickable text that is created. It is important where possible to create an anchor text that is related to your webpage; usually the primary keyword you are trying to rank for is best.


When building backlinks, your link diversity and link velocity is also important to consider. A backlinking campaign looks more natural if backlinks are coming in a variety of different forms (articles, videos, blog comments, etc) and from a variety of different IP addresses (basically from a diverse range of geographic locations). Another measure that should be taken to ensure a natural looking backlinking building is ‘link velocity’ or speed at which links are created. Red flags can be raised at Google and the other search engines if links are being built in the thousands per day, and at irregular intervals. Backlinking should be made slow and steady and gradually increase with time.


To finish, it’s important to note that just because you create a backlink does not mean that it will be found by Google and registered as an incoming link to your website. A backlink has little SEO value if it is not picked up and indexed by the search engines. In order to make your backlinks easily found, it can be a good idea to ‘backlink your backlinks;’ creating a sort of ‘link wheel’ or ‘pyramid.’ Another far simpler method is to ‘ping’ your links using a free sing service, such as Ping Goat. Pinging your links simple tells the search engine that there has been an update to a particular webpage, and to crawl the site to index new changes.

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