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What are backlinks: A Comprehensive Guide

If your business has an active online presence, there is probably exactly one thing you think of day and night: increasing your search engine ranking. After all, it is the holy grail (except sometimes, it might feel like the actual holy grail is easier to find than the top spot in search engine ranking). In such tough competitive environment, you should be using every tool in the arsenal to help you win this war- and that’s why we will be taking some time to take you through the wonderful land of ‘backlinks’. ‘Whats a backlink’, you ask? Don’t worry, we’re here to take you through the whole process!

First of all – what the hell are backlinks?

Think about it as a shoutout to your site from other similar sites- a way of legitimizing your own site/business through recommendations from others in the same field. A backlink to your site is created when an external website is linked to yours. In action, it looks something like this:


They are also called inbound links, or in-links, or SEO backlinks and can have a great impact on your online standing and also the results you see on the search engine rankings. So if you are asking yourself ‘what are backlinks’ know that you’re definitely on the right track!

Why do I need to worry about backlinks?

Simply put? Because once upon a time, Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided so.

In the 90s, when high speed internet was just a gleam in CERN’s eyes, Page and Brin realized that if they had to build a search engine that gave relevant results of businesses and pages that are actually good, as opposed to ones that just stuffed the site with the right keywords, they will have to rely on ‘word of mouth’. On the internet, this would mean measuring the website’s popularity based on how often it was mentioned in other sites. It was this idea that revolutionized the search engine market, and a little website called ‘Google’ was born out of it.

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We know what you’re thinking- great history lesson, but how does that have an impact on why I need to build backlinks to my page? Let’s see:

  • You’ll be the biggest name in the game: Google’s algorithms consider popularity of the link on your domain as one of the biggest elements when it comes to ranking. In fact, a study done by Copyblogger shows that this is the single largest element of Google’s Ranking Algorithm- at 23.87%.


Here, the backlinks will contribute to the popularity of your domain and brand by putting your name out there, and increasing your exposure. This will result in an increase in web traffic, and definitely an increase in your page ranking.

  • You’ll be the authority: You can see that the second largest chunk in the Google’s Ranking algorithm is held by ‘Trust/authority of the host domain: having good quality backlinks will tell the search engine crawlers that your domain is the authority in the field (think of it this way: you’ll always choose the pizza place most of your friends recommend and hold it as the gold standard). The more the search engines consider you to be the authority, the higher your ranking (and that’s how you inch closer to the holy grail).
  • Linkages with social media: You might be aware that Google has been laying some emphasis on integration of SEO in social media as well- and one great way of doing that would be through backlinks. You can add this as a part of your social media marketing strategy, and use the backlinks to help the followers of your page spread the word about your brand. Not only will this increase your reputation, it will also increase the traffic to your page.

Okay, I am sold: what kind of links do I build?

Now that you know why you need backlinks, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty: what kind of backlinks you need to build, and how you can build them.

Here’s the first principle: ‘quality over quantity’. There was an era where sheer numbers could have pulled you through, but now, the level of refinement required from the link building process has definitely increased.


  • Pure saturation. The number of websites has increased quite a bit- and the higher saturation levels mean that the quality required of each link has also increased, if only to keep up with the competition.
  • Google’s algorithm has changed (and as the single largest dominator in the world of search engine ranking- you’ll have to understand what Google requires of you, and do all that you can to meet the standards). A few years ago, Google noticed that the number of fake backlinks to sites had increased, in the mad scramble towards higher SERPs. The solution they came up with was to create crawlers that can detect the right kind of links.

So, the importance of backlinks has not faded away over the years- as the Copyblogger survey shows, it is more important now than ever. However, the focus has shifted from a number of backlinks to quality backlinks. This is where the concept of ‘white hat’ or ‘black hat’ links come into the picture. White hat link building is a strategy that is Google approved, and the Black Hat strategy is almost universally frowned upon.

In a way, this is great news for you! Link acquisition is a time consuming and costly process- and if you’re only focusing on numbers, you’d be spending a lot more money and time, for lower results.

By focusing on good quality SEO  backlinks, you’ll be lowering your initial investment, and increasing your returns (we know- it sounds almost too good to be true). Now, don’t take us wrong: focusing on a small number of high-quality backlinks is also a lot of work, one that requires you to abide by a few rules.

4 Rules for Building Quality Backlinks

1. Never sacrifice on relevance: Is it too much of a reach? Google is not going to like it. There’s absolutely no reason why you should sacrifice on relevancy when it comes to link building- it is a cardinal rule. Google determines relevancy of domains based on three things: the theme of the linking domain, the content on the linked page, and the relevance of the backlinks that actually link to the domain.

So, for example, if your page talks about wedding décor ideas, your backlinks should come from wedding planning sites, or wedding supplier sites, and the page that links back to your domain should definitely be related to wedding décor ideas.

This can be confusing, we know. However, there are some tools that can help you identify the relevance of your backlinked site- for example, Trust Flow, by Majestic SEO.

2. Authority sites will always be your friend: So, let’s stick with the wedding analogy. You’re now looking for caterers for your wedding- and you get two recommendations- one from your aunt, who’s a wedding planner, and has planned countless weddings for your own family, and one is from your 16-year-old nephew. Whom would you trust?

The same applies for backlinks as well. The authority of the site from which you got your backlink definitely plays a part in determining your ranking. Want to know how you can determine the best authority sites for you? We’d recommend using third-party backlink checker tools such as Ahrefs or Majestic (note: these are third-party recommendations, and we do not have any direct linkages with the same).

3. Choose the active sites: It’s always better to get backlinks from websites that are active and have real traffic (after all, it’s only beneficial to build backlinks with a site that people actually visit). Since this would require digging into the web traffic for other sites, we recommend using tools such as SimilarWeb, or SEMrush.

4. Make sure to avoid spam sites: You are the company you keep: and if your website is linked to shady websites, the Google algorithm would definitely make note of that. When link building, focus on getting backlinks from sites that are popular and trustworthy (if you see the words ‘online poker’ or ‘click here for free games’ anywhere on the site, leave immediately).

How to build my backlinks?

Now, you know what kind of backlinks you need to build, and why. Here’s the time for the tough part: learning exactly how to actually build these links you need.

  1. Learn what Google wants: If there’s one thing you’ve learnt from this post, it is probably that Google dictates the entire game. That’s why it is necessary for you to stay on top of the game, and be updated on what Google’s current algorithm is, and what their search engine ranking mission is for the upcoming years.
  2. Develop a strong site architecture: When people come to your site, it has to be easy to navigate. This will ensure user-friendliness, and will make external sites want to create a link to your page.
  3. Have the right kind of content: Your SEO strategy will always be incomplete if you don’t focus on the content that you’re putting on the page. A great site architecture and the best backlinks will be completely useless if you don’t have relevant content on the page to hold all of this together. As Lee Odden from TopRank Marketing puts it, ‘Content is the reason search began in the first place’. It should be a strict rule you follow: to build backlinks only to sites that have optimized content.
  4. Know what the audience wants: To build a solid link-building strategy, you need to know your target demographic (their age, gender, location, education, interests, etc.) so that you can develop the right kind of content for the demographic, and focus on building backlinks with sites that they are more likely to visit. Don’t know the target demographic for your site yet? A tool like Quantcast could come in handy.
  5. Do it slowly: It might be tempting for you to publish your site, and immediately start developing backlinks for the same. However, if you do this too quickly, it might raise red flags in Google’s algorithm. A better way to do this would be to publish useful content on the site, and index it first. This will give you the authority you need before you start link building. A simple way to index your page would be through Alexa, or even by using social media.
  6. Foster connections with other sites: You can do this by writing regular press releases about your business and any new services/products you’re coming up with for local, national sites, or even PR sites. You could also write guest posts for other blogging platforms, where you can organically link back to your page.
  7. Add editorial link building as a part of your strategy: This is almost like the end game, and it can take a long time (after all, over 2 million blog posts are published daily). However, editorial links from authority sites can definitely elevate your backlink strategy to the next level, so this is something you should focus on. How can you achieve this? By consistently developing good, shareable, and relevant content, and promoting the same through other sites or even social media.

Beware the pitfalls: Mistakes to avoid while building backlinks

Building quality SEO backlinks can have quite an impact on your search engine marketing strategy, but as we have said (and we reiterate now), this is a process that will take a long time. Of course, there are plenty of people who do not have the time or patience to wait, and have developed shortcuts to ‘hack’ this system. Just be aware that most search engines are aware of these tactics, and while you might end up spending a lot of time and money on these tactics, you will definitely not see the results.

So, what should you be avoiding like the plague? Things like:

  • Purchasing backlinks in the hundreds and thousands from a directory site, or public networks (Google will catch this immediately – believe us, it is not worth your time).
  • Adding excessive numbers of outbound links to specific pages (no real webpage needs dozens of
  • backlinks- only add them where necessary).
  • Adding backlinks to pages that are irrelevant (no matter how much you love Kindle ebooks, if it is not relevant to your wedding décor site, Google will reject it as fake).
  • Pushing backlinks through comments (remember how angry you get when you’re trying to read a story posted on Facebook and there are countless comments peddling random websites?)
  • Using automated link building tools, where you won’t be able to personalize the links you’re building in a relevant manner (this includes tools like Ultimate Demon, SENuke, for example).

Ready to venture forth into the world of backlink building? What has your journey been like so far? Let us know at 

Author avatar
Mayank Gulati