How Do Backlinks Influence Search Engine Rankings?
Why Are Backlinks Important For SEO?
You might have heard that backlinks are important if you want your site to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), but what are backlinks exactly? And why are they so important for influencing higher search engine rankings?
Search Engines And SEO
Let’s start with a brief explanation of how search engines work and how search engine optimization (SEO) can make the most of them.
Google is the most popular search engine by far, and likely will remain in that position for the indefinite future. Additionally, most other search engines work similarly to Google. We’ll be using Google as our primary search engine example in this piece.
When Google provides SERPs for a user search query, it prioritizes entries based on two main points of consideration: relevance and authority. The relevance of a given webpage is calculated based on how significant it is to the user query. For example, if a user is searching for “cheeseburgers,” Google will only consider websites with content related to cheeseburgers in some way.
The authority part of the equation is what we’re interested in. Among webpages that mention cheeseburgers, Google wants to prioritize the most trustworthy entries to rank highest. In other words, the pages with the most authority rank higher and get more attention. It calculates authority based on links; a simplified explanation is that sites with more links (and better-quality links) will always rank higher than their counterparts.
Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Penalties
Google utilizes an algorithm known as PageRank to evaluate the subjective authority of indexed web content. Within this system, links are considered in context; links pass more “authority” if they come from high-authority sources. Authority is calculated at both the domain level and the page level; a website that earns lots of links overall can have a high domain authority, allowing all pages within that site to rank higher. Individual pages can also have high authority, ranking higher on their own if they have lots of links pointing to them.
However, building links is not a guarantee of success. Google implements many features to evaluate the integrity of each link, ensuring that webmasters aren’t gaming the system by scrutinizing the quality and “naturalness” of links on the web. For example, if you build links that aren’t relevant or valuable to readers, or if you seem to be spamming links, you could end up getting hit with a penalty rather than increasing your rankings.
This is why most search optimizers embrace the help of a backlink checker. A backlink checker tool allows you to carefully review your existing backlink profile, determining where your links have been built, what kind of authority they’re passing, their current relevance, and how they fit with the rest of your backlink profile. From there, you can remove problematic links before they create issues, you can make adjustments to your current links, and you can make plans for how to build links in the future.
In a perfect world, you would be able to naturally attract all the links you’d ever need to increase the authority of your website and the pages within it. Your content would be so great and your brand would be so reputable that people all over the world would build links pointing to you; from there, your rankings would increase naturally.
However, in reality, even the best content sometimes has issues attracting links on its own. If you want to increase your website’s authority, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands with a link building strategy.
Some practitioners err on the side of caution and attempt to attract links as naturally as possible. They build relationships with other content creators and publicize their best work on social media. This is a perfectly valid approach, but it can be a bit inconsistent.
More reliably, practitioners often lean on the power of offsite link building. Here, the idea is to write and publish valuable offsite content, with the help of external publishers. Each piece of content contains a single link back to a valuable piece of content on your own site. Over time, you’ll build your reputation as an author and you’ll get more familiar with the ebb and flow of SEO, meaning you’ll be more likely to work with bigger and more authoritative publishers.
The Bottom Line
Backlinks influence search engine rankings by making domains and individual pages seem more “authoritative,” or trustworthy, in Google’s eyes. You can attract backlinks by writing incredible onsite content, or by building links to your own content in a backlink strategy you’ve developed. Either way, you’ll need to incorporate backlinks into your SEO strategy if you want to keep rising in rankings, and you’ll need to be careful not to attract a penalty with bad or unnatural practices.