What Is Backlinking, And How To Do It Effectively

Calgary search engine optimization services & conversion optimization services

SEO should be at the forefront of your website's traffic building strategy. Backlinking is extremely important in SEO, and so you may be wondering; what is backlinking, and how should you do it.

Organic search is one of the few ways to get good traffic for free – however, it probably takes the most work of any of the traffic building methods. For that reason alone, if you’re going to do it, make sure you’re doing it right.

You’ve probably heard by now that “backlinks” will help you appear higher in search results – so today, I’m going to explain what backlinking is.

There are hundreds of other factors that can affect your appearance in the search results, but backlinks are widely regarded as one of the most important.

What Is Backlinking And How To Do It

To help you out, I’ve written this pretty extensive guide. In it, I’m going to cover every aspect of backlinking and why it’s important for search engine optimization (SEO).

Let’s start with the basics;

What is a backlink?

A backlink is any link that points to one page, from another page. For example this link is a backlink for SmartBlogger.com.

Backlinks can be internal or external. Internal links are those that link from one page of your website to another page within your website. External links are those that link from a page on your site, to a page on someone else’s site (or the other way around).

Backlinks can also be incoming or outgoing. Incoming means they are coming from a different domain to your domain, and outgoing means they are going from your domain to another domain.

Pretty simple right?

Formatting your links

You’ll notice that most anchor links have some “text” that displays instead of the actual URL – this is called “Anchor Text”.

When creating a link, you have several options options;

  1. Use the URL as anchor text – this is called a “Naked Link”. For example https://gotopshelf.com.
  2. Include some text that tells people what they’ll see when they click the link. For example Go Top Shelf.
  3. Wrap something else in an <a> tag to link it, such as an image.

The anchor text is not just for people however, it is also key for search engines.

The different types of backlink

There are two other key distinctions that you should take into consideration when creating your links, and those are the “dofollow” and “nofollow” attributes.

This post explains the difference in full – but essentially, dofollow means that search engines read it as a link, and nofollow means that they won’t. That’s really as much as you need to know for now!

Now that we’ve (briefly) covered the different types of links that can be used – now let’s get into how that affects you.

Why do backlinks matter for SEO?

Okay, here’s the REALLY important part.

One of the ways that search engines, such as Google, figure out how useful your page will be to searchers, is to see what links other people have pointed to your content.

This helps them to figure out what your page is about, and also gives them a way to judge whether your site is Expert, Authoritative and Trustworthy.

Google is a popularity contest.

Think of each link to your blog as a “vote” for your site. BUT the important thing is that it’s not about how many votes you have; it’s all about the quality.

The weight of the “vote” you receive is dependant on a few things;

  1. The popularity of the site the link is coming from (based on their "votes").
  2. The amount of links you receive from each voter (less is more).
  3. The anchor text used in the link.
  4. Whether the website they’re coming from is relevant or not.

It used to be the case that every link was an equal vote. No matter where it came from, or how popular either site was.

That is no longer the case. 1 link from 100 domains is better than 100 links on 1 domain – provided the domains you’re getting links from are relevant and authoritative.

The next thing to think about is your anchor text. Naked links are all well and good, they serve their purpose… but do they tell Google what your page is about? Not really.

That’s where keywords come in.

What is a keyword?

Keywords, are the phrases people type into Google in order to find something. That’s the simplest way I can put it!

So, it would make sense, that you need to let Google know that when someone types in “what is backlinking and how to do it” that Google should send them to this post.

The way we make this blatantly obvious to Google, is through the use of keywords in our pages, and occasionally in our links.

Keywords can be used in a variety of ways – but right now we’re going to focus on only the backlinks.

The way keywords are used in backlinks is through (you guessed it) the anchor text.

Why is the anchor text important?

The anchor text is the key indicator for search engines to understand what a link points to.

Just like when you use anchor text to tell people what they’ll find when they click on a link, you can do the same thing to tell Google.

The key difference is, Google’s robots will take what you use as an anchor link and use that to figure out what you’re linking to.

If you use a keyword in your anchor text, it MAY help you to rank higher for that specific keyword.

BUT – pay attention here – do not spam links or keywords as anchor text. Try to make sure your links are varied (when possible) and aren’t always the same.

It's important to note that you should always use anchor text that is useful to people, and is not just for the purpose of manipulating Google. Google has an advanced algorithm and can spot spammy, or manipulative links a mile off.

You’re not normally going to be in control of your links. But you can check what links point to your site and if you find someone linking inappropriately, you can contact them requesting changes (more on this point later).

If Google thinks you’re being spammy, or that it’s just you and your buddies trying to trick the system, they’ll slap you with a penalty quicker than you can say “SEO”.

Why are the sites your links come from important?

In the Google popularity contest, as I mentioned before, not all links are created equal.

You want your links to come from sites that are already doing well in the popularity contest.

When popular sites send a link your way, they’re vouching for you in a way that brings you a boost in the searches, but won’t effect their rankings one bit.

What does have an effect on their rankings though, is exactly what effects yours – links from other authoritative sites.

It’s a continuous chain of power, whereby each site that passes on some of their “link juice” doesn’t lose any of their own through passing it on.

When people refer to “link juice” that’s exactly what they’re referring to – the power passed on from one site to another through backlinks.

So how do you know if your links are coming from the right place?

How to check your incoming backlinks

The best way to check your backlinks is through an SEO analysis tool.

There are lots out there, but I recommend Majestic, AhrefsMoz or Linkody.

These services can tell you all of the links that point to your site (or any site for that matter) – but they also tell you exactly where they are from and to, and if they’re dofollow or nofollow (amongst other things).

They also grade domains with different metrics to gauge the likelihood of them ranking well on Google – this site explains these in full. Take these with a pinch of salt though, as they are essentially only a “quick stat” for your reference to indicate how authoritative a domain is.

So how do you actually use all of this information to backlink effectively?

This seems like a lot of information to take in – especially for a beginner – so I’m going to break it down in simple terms for you here;

Good things to do

  1. Link to other sites – you won’t lose any "link juice", and your link receiver may see some benefit.
  2. Format links properly to include appropriate anchor text that describes the link and is useful to users.
  3. Make a conscious effort to gain new links from relevant domains – more links are good, as long as they’re relevant, authoritative and not repetitive.
  4. Try to make sure the links that you get are dofollow so that search engines take them into account.
  5. Use keywords where appropriate and encourage linkers to use relevant (useful) keywords.

Bad things to do

  1. Do not spam backlinks. Don’t make your own backlinks – Google may not be full blown Artificial Intelligence just yet,  but it’s not stupid either.
  2. Do not use naked links on your site. Make sure every link has anchor text so that you’re telling Google what your link is all about.
  3. Paying for links. Never pay for links, Google hates it and you will be punished.

Why you should link more

As you’ve probably realized by now, linking to other sites doesn’t hurt your site.

Most site owners check their incoming links fairly regularly, and if they see that you’ve linked to them, they’ll likely check your post out and maybe they’ll even return the favour.

Linking to other relevant sites also shows Google that you’re comparable to the pages that you’re linking to.


If you’ve got this far, you probably know what backlinks are and exactly how to put them to use.

Hopefully this is enough to answer the question of “what is backlinking, and how to do it effectively”.

And, if you liked this post, if you found it useful; why not spread the link juice love by linking to this post?

Got questions? Ask them below!


Tom Watts

Tom is the proud Owner of Go Top Shelf in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He's a seasoned blogger who writes about all things related to online marketing, web design and SEO. Feel free to ask him anything!


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