What the Hell is a Backlink?


‘I just got a backlink!’
‘Oh no. Are you ok buddy? Want me to have the kids while you get down the clinic?’

Bursting with pride your agency tells you they’ve earned you three backlinks that month. A couple of them fire guns into the ceiling; another sets off a firework in the corner.

Yep, it’s celebratin’ time.

But while the corks are popping, you’re thinking ‘what the hell is a backlink?’.

Someone mentioned SEO ranking, another person talked about referral traffic…

You run a garden centre. You’re at home with perennials and shrubs. To you a high traffic site is the car park on a May Bank Holiday.

Why can’t they leave the jargon at the door and tell you plainly what it all means?


Stand back.

We have loaded party poppers and we’re not afraid to use them…

In this article:

  1. So What is a Backlink?
  2. Why is Getting a Backlink So Important?
  3. When 100 is Greater Than 1,000
  4. Things to Aim for with a Backlink


collection of laptop computers


So What is a Backlink?

It’s simple, really. A backlink, or inbound link, is when someone links to your site. For whatever reason – your blog, your services, because there’s a picture of a really rare type of telegraph pole in the background of your CEO’s picture – someone has seen fit to add a link on their site that goes straight to yours.

Conversely, if you link to someone else’s site they have a backlink from you.

Ok, so what’s good about them?

Why is Getting a Backlink So Important?

Generally speaking, sites with more backlinks get ranked higher in organic searches. Higher ranking means more traffic, more traffic increases your chances of converting that traffic into paying customers.

A study by leading SEO expert Brian Dean at Backlinko found that:


Pages with lots of backlinks rank above pages that don’t have as many backlinks. In fact, the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10.


But this isn’t the only benefit of backlinks.

google on a laptop computer

Search Engine Ranking

Using Google as an example, its algorithm patent of 1997 was based on the idea of scientific papers giving authority to each other. In science if a piece of research or study is considered good other scientists would cite it in their own studies.

Google took this model and created its PageRank algorithm. When a website links to another site it’s like a scientist citing a good study. It is a vote of confidence.

A link on a site tells Google’s spiders (the bots that crawl the pages looking for the best content to deliver to users) that the page it is linking to has some content that’s, er, worth linking to.

So, as part of optimising your site for search engines, if your site gets more of these votes of confidence, Google will see it as an authoritative site and deliver it more prominently on results pages when a person types in a relevant search query.

Links alone won’t make you number #1 on Google, but along with other factors such as high quality content, page speed and user experience it’s considered one of the most important areas.


Getting Found

Google visits popular pages more often than less popular ones. So if you can get a link on a popular page you stand a better chance of getting found by the spiders. In turn if the spiders find you quickly through another site, your own website pages can get ranked quicker too.


More Referral Traffic

There is a saying, or a theory or something in marketing that goes like this:

“Traffic, traffic, conversion…”


It basically means that first you get the traffic, then you try to convert the traffic.

And what links from other sites can do is get you extra traffic. Traffic that you then have an opportunity to convert into a sale.

Even if the site links you with a ‘nofollow’ tag (a piece of code designed to stop Google’s spiders following the link. It’s used among other things to prevent a potential Google penalisation), you can still get traffic from it and internet users can still discover your site by clicking the link. All is not lost.

Your job is to make what they find when they do click, the best.


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Now For a Backlink Worth Getting… When 100 is Greater Than 1,000

So, do you go out and get backlinks from every corner of the web? No.

You need quality backlinks, that are organic and definitely not paid for (Google has addressed the proliferation of rotten, paid-for links and trying it this way will probably hurt you).

Link equity (the value of passing reputation and authority through links) counts everywhere. It’s not just your site you need to consider, but the reputation of those linking to you, and those linking to them… you need links from sites that themselves have a reputable history of links. If a high quality domain links to you then links to a load of spam sites, it can affect your ranking.

Google will look at the site as a whole and the backlinks on that site too.

What’s more, the quality applies not only at page level, but at domain level too (your website address). If the domain that links to you has good authority it will be seen in a better light than websites pointing to you that are low quality (links from low quality websites means Google might think you have some cheaty link-buying strategy in place).

Search specialists Moz found that a low quality page on a high quality domain was better than the other way round.

One hundred good link is usually better than 1,000 low quality ones

So if you get loads of low quality backlinks from poor-quality sites it can do more damage than good.

A few poor links won’t hurt, so don’t worry if you link to a site whose own link building strategy takes a sudden downward turn. But low quality links should be an exception, not a rule. When it comes to links 100 good links are better than 1,000 poor ones.

Google also seems to rank links higher on the page better than those lower down.

Things to Aim for with a Backlink

So what generally makes a good backlink, one that’s worth your time and effort chasing for it?

The linking domains that haven’t linked to you before – the more domains you have linking to you the better it seems Google likes you. Getting loads of links from one site simply diminishes the power of each link after the first one.


  • Links are from trusted and authoritative websites – perhaps an obvious one but if the website you have links from is an authoritative and trusted site, that link should deliver great value. If the site was created for the purpose of building links and is full of thin spammy content, the link will not have value.
  • Your keywords or phrase is in the anchor text – there is a point where you can have too many exact match keywords linking to you (Google filters out sites that have been built entirely on exact match keywords). Generally though, you want the words in the clickable link to be the keywords you are trying to rank for.
  • The linking site is related to your topic and relevant to your site – if you sell flowers and you get a link from a site that sells pet products, Google will raise a pixelated eyebrow. Why, it asks, would such a link occur? There is potentially no relevance between flowers and pet products, so that link could be an attempt to cheat the system.


We mentioned ‘#nofollow’ earlier, so to reiterate if the incoming link is a ‘#nofollow’ link Google won’t follow it (although sometimes it does). But it won’t give the page it links to any SEO equity. Visitors may still click the link and find your company anyway, so these links aren’t a total waste of time.

Think about it like this:

if you got the link without much effort it may not be worth having in the first place


404 error page on a laptop


Final Thoughts

So, hopefully now you know what the hell a backlink is.

But how do you get them? There’s a myriad of ways to get links… from contacting companies and asking outright to sending bloggers free stuff in the hope they write about it and give you a link in return.

You might try scouring the web for relevant 404 error pages (a 404 error is when the content or page linked to can’t be found) and asking the sites linking to them to link to you instead. You could find outdated content in your industry and ask anyone linking to it to link to your up-to-date content.

A robust link-building strategy will have these and many more ways to get links (we won’t go through all our strategies here so if you want to know more just give us a call). But good quality links don’t come easy. When you create unique, high quality and relevant content, you are giving people what they need and yourself the best opportunity of getting organic links. And remember Google really likes organic links, not paid for ones.

What could you achieve with better backlinks and more of them?