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What are backlinks?

Backlinks are hyperlinks leading from one website to another. In other words, if a website links to another website, that website has a backlink. Backlinks are one of the strongest ranking factors used by search engines to determine the website authority and its organic position in search results.

backlink scheme

History of backlinks

In the past, SEO was entirely about backlinks. The more backlinks you had, the higher were your positions in Google.

Many webmasters, marketers and SEO specialists abused this imperfection which led to link farms, reciprocal linking and other manipulative link building techniques.

In 2012, Google launched the Penguin algorithm update to prevent these situations. Before the update, the search results were highly influenced by the link volume, not by the quality and relevancy.

The point was to “reward” websites with natural, authoritative and relevant backlinks with higher positions in the SERP.

Why should you earn backlinks?

Backlinks remain one of the most important ranking factors as they indicate the popularity and quality (trustworthiness) of the website. Creating a strong backlink profile is one of the most important parts in the SEO.

Generally speaking, the terms “backlinks” and “link building” are the biggest buzzwords in the world of SEO alongside with keyword research.

Search engines use backlinks as a navigation among websites. They explore new websites and estimate their authority based on the authority passed from the links.

Anchor text

The anchor text is a very important part of the backlink. It’s an indicator for search engines what is the website about. Therefore, it influences rankings for the keyword used as the anchor text.

anchor text example

There are many types of anchor texts:

  • Optimized with keywords (“best pizza”)
  • Brands (“Pizza Hut”)
  • Branded terms (“Tasty pizza by Pizza Hut”)
  • Generic (“page”)
  • Naked URLs (“”)
  • CTAs (“click here, “read more”)

Quick tip:
Don’t over-optimize anchor texts. Too many optimized anchors will not positively influence your rankings. What’s more, they look unnatural, so it may cause a penalty by Google.

How to earn backlinks – link building techniques

Thanks to the Penguin algo update link building is no longer about earning as many whatever backlinks as possible. The whole process is now a bit more complicated. There are many actionable techniques, trick and tips to earn backlinks.

These are just a few of them:

  • Create linkable content
  • Guest posting
  • Email outreach
  • Paid backlinks
  • Skyscraper technique
  • Link from forums, Q&A sites
  • Write testimonials
  • Affiliate program
  • Replicate backlinks of your competitors
  • Broken link building
  • Brand mentions
  • Link exchange
  • Content syndication

Quick tip:
Make sure to check our checklist of 60+ link building techniques or read the case study featuring 7 link building techniques by Nightwatch.

Dofollow vs. nofollow backlinks

Dofollow backlinks pass the authority of the referring website to the linked website. Search engine’s crawlers count these links and their anchor texts.

Nofollow backlinks do not pass the authority. They are indicated by using a tag rel=”nofollow” in the HTML code. Google does not transfer the authority or anchor text of nofollow links.

An example of a dofollow backlink:

<a href=””>anchor text</a>

An example of a nofollow backlink:

<a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>anchor text</a>

Dofollow vs. nofollow ratio

There is nothing like an ideal ratio of dofollow and nofollow backlinks. Generally speaking, the majority of backlinks that are acquired naturally are dofollow ones.

When it comes to link building campaigns, you may differ the type of backlinks you are primarily interested in. Of course, earning a relevant dofollow backlink is the best you can do.

On the other hand, if your main goal is to generate a lot of referral traffic, the link doesn’t have to be dofollow.

Backlinks vs. referring domains vs. referring IPs

Since backlinks are about quality rather than quantity, it’s good to see behind the numbers. The number of backlinks is not the only metric you should care about.

Why? Because not all backlinks are from unique domains. It can easily happen that hundreds or even thousands of backlinks are from a single domain!

These are sitewide links and their contribution may be questionable, or at least lower when compared to single links. Sitewide links are placed in footers, sidebars or blogrolls.

You don’t need to precisely calculate the backlinks vs. domains ratio or domains vs. IPs ratio. A single check will be enough to evaluate the link profile health, possible PBN (Private blog network) or spammy backlinks.

Here is a quick example

Let’s say this is a link profile of a website:

Backlinks: 10,000
Referring domains: 5,000
Referring IPs: 200

In the ideal scenario, the ratio 2:1 (10,000:5,000) will be perfect, but in the real world, it’s not natural when we are talking about thousands of backlinks.

Another thing is that 5,000 domains are hosted on 200 IPs. Yet again, a very suspicious ratio. It’s possible that many of these referring domains are hosted on the same IP address. Therefore, it’s possibly a PBN.

You can check the ratios in many backlink tools or competitor analysis tools such as LinkMiner or SiteProfiler.

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