What is a backlink? It’s really very simple. Anytime another website places a URL link on their site that links directly back to your site, it’s called a backlink. Why are backlinks important? Because they help bring people to your website, but also because they help boost your site’s search engine standing.
Backlinks have always had some bearing on how well a site ranked in search engine result pages (SERPs). However, in the early days, the algorithms were not designed to take into account people trying to cheat the system.
One way this was done was by loading up on backlinks from sites that had nothing but links on them, and no content of any real relevance. These sites quickly became known as link farms and were used by webmasters to increase the ranking of their multiple sites.
In addition to this practice, webmasters often created one web page specifically to house reciprocal links. This was called a links page. It was used by people building reciprocal links to better leverage their site in search engine results. But these pages provided no real content. Often, reciprocal links were even exchanged between sites that had no direct relevance to each other. So, in a links page you might find a link to a golf site when the website hosting the link had to do with furniture. It obviously made no sense to reward this type of behind the scenes ranking manipulations!
A reciprocal link is a type of link where two sites have an agreement to link back and forth to each other’s site or blog. It’s a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of arrangement. If one site offered corresponding content on the same topic as another, this kind of linkage would make sense. But link building in this way was eventually used to try to game the search engine rankings, and was eventually frowned on by Google and the other search engines.
Guest Book Links
It is common for people to sign a guest book when they attend someone’s wedding or funeral. Back in the day, internet guest books were a common form of leaving comments or thoughts about a website. Just like a printed guest book, you would say hi, leave your comment and your name, and add a link to your website. Anyone could sign the guest book and leave a link, so of course there was no relevancy between the site and the site is was linking to.
Next came 3-way links. Once the search engines caught on to the reciprocal links, people came up with 3-way links to try to beat the system. In a 3-way link, a person would link to a website, and the owner of that website, instead of linking directly back, would link to the first person from a different website that he or she owned. That way, there was no direct line between the two links. But again, the links often had no relevance to the website they came from. Why would a site about cars link to a site about bracelets?
Starting to Improve
As time went on, people came up with more and more ways to try to game the system. Google was one of the first major search engines to start looking at how to reward good quality links that had relevance and added content to a site instead of rewarding the savvy, but somewhat unscrupulous practices of cheating the search engine results with backroom deals and black hat tricks.
They kept using backlinks as a determinant of reputation, but also strengthened their algorithms to look for specific higher quality links and to penalize links from link farms and other black hat maneuvers.
All this from just some simple links to your site? Yes! Things have changed, and the search engines continue to adjust their algorithms to find the good and weed out the bad, so they can provide users with the best possible content.
Today, you need to know which factors determine the value of a link. A quality backlink depends on the anchor text in the link, the page title of the page linking to your site, the reputation and quality of the site linking to your website and the method used to create the backlink.
You need to know the differences between the different types of backlinks, and understand how to get the best mix of types to get the most traffic to your website.
Beware, though, because there are some pros and cons to each kind of backlink, and if you use them incorrectly or in the wrong combination you could end up actually lowering your search engine ranking by mistake.