In this article, the third of a seven-part series, I will explain what backlinks are and why they play an essential role in developing web traffic to office product resellers' websites. Put in the simplest terms, backlinks are hyperlinks installed on a website that links back to a page on an independent third-party site and, due to their influence on search results, are often described as the "Holy Grail" component of search engine optimization. As I'll explain, there are two critical aspects: the number of links and the quality of the links.
The Series Index & Links to Access
- Part I - Domain Age and Authority
- Part II - Website Grade
- Part III - Backlinks
- Part IV - Traffic Ranking
- Part V - Social Shares
- Part VI - Social Authority
- Part VII - Conclusions
I'll continue to publish this series over the next couple of weeks to provide information and more fully support the support I presented in my article, "How the Office Products Industry Has Failed the Resellers."
Backlinks are powerful because they're created by an independent third party who perceives the content on the site they're linking to be sufficiently relevant and valuable that they want to facilitate sharing it with their audience.
Backlinks should not be confused with outbound or internal links. While a backlink to one site cannot exist without an outbound link from another, outbound links do not carry as much weight in search engine results as backlinks. Think about it this way, the owner of a website could sit down for a weekend and build a thousand or more outbound links to reputable third-party sites, but, to attract a similar number of the high-quality back (or inbound) links is entirely dependent on successfully marketing an area populated (and continually updated) with high-quality content that others voluntarily elect to link to. Because of this voluntary aspect, it should be obvious why search engines reward backlinks more than they do outbound links.
An outbound link is a link from your site to another, so it's essential to understand that a visitor clicking on an outbound connection will be directed away from your site. Because of this dilemma, building outbound links may seem at odds with the inherent objective of keeping visitors on your site. So, for the outbound links to have value, they must point to relevant, original, and high-quality content you believe will be helpful for your audience. As a best practice, they should be set so they open the target content in a new browser window to avoid closing and replacing your site in the user's browser.
Remember, an outbound link from your site represents an inbound link to the destination site. At the end of the day, summing the global total of all outbound links and subtracting the sum of all inbound links, must equal zero. If no one was prepared to build an outbound link then there would be no inbound links.
An internal link is a link between pages on your site. A well-structured site should include links between the pages that encourage a visitor to embark on a "journey" through the site from one piece of relevant content to another. Each link must have a start and an end, so just like the external links, the total of the internal "launch" links (outbound) minus the sum of the interior "destination" links (inbound) must equal zero.
The quantity of backlinks (or inbound links) to a website is a simple link concept, as it's precisely what it implies. Generally speaking, the more inbound links to a website, the better. However, the quality of those backlinks is essential as inbound links from irrelevant or untrustworthy sites are more likely to be a negative factor in search engine results than positive.
Inbound links with "do not follow" instructions have no value to the website hosting the linked content and do nothing to improve the domain authority. However, relevant content should motivate high-quality "do follow" inbound links that search engines reward.
The quality of backlinks may be a little more complex of a concept to grasp. There are two main components: the relevancy of the link and the domain authority of the site the link originates from.
It must be remembered that you have no control over the links that point to your site, and if, for some reason, your site attracts links from irrelevant or disreputable sites, then it will harm your SEO rankings.
By way of example, in the office products industry that we focus on, a link from, say, Clover Imaging Group (an essential aftermarket supplies manufacturer) to an office products resellers site would constitute a relevant link. However, while perhaps authoritative, a link from Macy's department store would not be appropriate. Irrelevant links will not increase domain authority or improve search engine results performance.
Services exist, such as those provided by SEMRush, that allow you to discover and work off "toxic" backlinks. As a last resort, for those links an originator will not take down, a submission can be made to the Google Disavow Tool, to ensure unwanted links are ignored by their search engine algorithms.
As I explained in Part I of this series, domain strength primarily comes from the quality and quantity of inbound links. A high domain strength indicates authority, and links from domains with high power, help build authority at the sites they link to.
Although an "external" link-building strategy should involve both inbound and outbound links, for the inbound component to be successful, you must create content that other reputable sites are motivated to link into. In other words, if you fail to accomplish the requirements for establishing a world-class website, as I explained in Part II, you will fail to build high-quality inbound links because there will be nothing of value for third-party sites to link to. If you fail to make high-quality inbound links, you will fail to develop your domain strength. If you fail to build your domain strength, then you will never rank well in search results, and your website will stay buried in the hidden depths of the internet, remaining a useless asset for the business it was intended to serve.
It should be clear that search engines reward authoritative sites with higher placements in search results. This reward mechanism is designed to motivate owners to optimize their sites, allowing them to join a virtuous circle of activity that links an ever-expanding network of places. These sites can then collectively continue to build their domain strength, enabling them to expand their influence or "reach" and attract more qualified visitors.