Understanding Backlinking for SEO: The Do’s and the Don’ts

Krista LaRiviere SEO 37 Comments

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When I talk with prospects and clients our conversations usually include standard SEO topics such as keyword phrases, content strategy, competitor analysis, social media, analytics, and the one topic that ‘links’ all these together – backlinkingThe do's and don'ts of backlinks.

That is, incorporating keywords into backlinks, writing press release content with backlinks, out-backlinking the competition, using social media as a backlinking source, and of course measuring backlinks with analytics. Why is backlinking so important to your organic search strategy?

Google’s algorithm places a heavy weighting on the number of websites that are referencing (or linking back to) your website.  These are backlinks or inbound links. Google’s logic is pretty simple: if other sites are referencing your site, then it must be a relevant and trusted site with relevant content.

But it isn’t so simple. The backlinks to your site must be:

  • high quality, relevant links freely given based on editorial judgment;

as opposed to:

  • low quality, spammy, irrelevant links, links from untrustworthy sources or traded links.

Backlink 101: Structure and Definitions

Here are some basics that will be helpful:

1) What is a backlink?
On this web page – http://business.financialpost.com/2010/12/08/canadas-most-innovative-companies – there’s a backlink to http:www.gshiftlabs.com.

2) What is anchor text?
The anchor text for the backlink is “gShift Labs”. (The text that you actually click on.)

3) What is domain value?

Google places a value on a backlink source. So the source “financialpost.com” would have a higher value than say “thebarrieexaminer.com”.

Now that we know this, we can talk about the do’s and don’ts. Here are some things to think about:

Backlinking for SEO: The Do’s

1.     Be consistent. Google wants to know that you are committed to your backlink strategy and Google’s algorithm can detect if you’re not committed. For example, if you have 59 backlinks today and overnight you have 15,000 (because you bought backlinks from a backlink farm) you will likely be penalized, which will negatively impact your ranking.

Google wants to see that you are adding a consistent number of backlinks to your web presence over the course of a normal time period. For example, 5 to 10 backlinks per week, every week or 50 backlinks per week every week.

2.     Optimize your anchor tags. An anchor tag with the text “Click Here” or “Read More” is pretty useless to your SEO efforts. Instead try to optimize your anchor text with keyword-rich content that matters to you. For example, if one of your top keyword phrases is “orange party dresses” then you’ll want to create anchor text based on this phrase and have it link through to a web page that is also optimized for that phrase.

Note: It might not always be possible to control the anchor text for your backlink.

3.     Unique domains. Google wants to see that you have a strong variety of domains in your backlink inventory. If all your backlinks are coming from one source it is a signal that your website probably isn’t all that relevant.

4.     But, how do I add backlinks? If you feel dumb asking the question you’re not alone. How should you go about building backlinks? It is really about producing content. You can produce content by:

a.      Issuing regular press releases through a syndication service such as PRWeb.com or MarketWire.com.

b.     Blogging on trusted third-party websites with links back to your website (when appropriate).

c.      Getting your website added to relevant industry portals and directories.

Backlinking for SEO: The Don’ts

1.     Don’t buy links unless you really really understand the company that is selling the links to you, the quality of the links and the risks associated with the potential outcome of buying those links. Talk to an expert or get a second opinion before committing to such tactics.

2.     Don’t trust any SEO Professional or Agency that promises a #1 organic ranking. A #1 organic ranking is completely impossible to guarantee because there are so many external variables beyond the control of the SEO Professional. Variables such as Google’s always-changing algorithm and competitors’ websites just to name a couple.

3.     Don’t be afraid to ask your SEO Professional what their backlinking strategy is for your web presence. Or better yet, tell them you want a backlinking strategy outlined, before it is implemented.

Now I’d like to share one really sad SEO backlinking story with you.

The Sad SEO Backlinking Story

J.C. Penney hired a SEO firm to optimize its website for organic search. To make a really long sad story short, Google ultimately penalized J.C. Penney’s rankings after it was determined that the SEO firm hired, implemented backlinking tactics that Google considers “black hat” or unethical. The initial outcome of these unethical backlinking tactics was a #1 rank for a variety of keyword phrases that matter to J.C. Penney.

How did the SEO firm accomplish this? They paid to have thousands of backlinks placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the Web, all of which lead directly to JCPenny.com. (New York Times, Dirty Little Secrets of Search, February 12, 2011.). In a nutshell, “paid-for backlinks”. The worst part is that the client, J.C. Penney, was unaware of the unethical practices the SEO firm was employing to achieve the high organic rankings. Bad SEO firm.

Once it was brought to Google’s attention that the J.C. Penney website was attempting to game Google’s search algorithm, Google began manual actions against JCPenney.com, essentially decreasing their organic rank.

“At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for “Samsonite carry on luggage.” Two hours later, it was at No. 71. At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for “living room furniture.” By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.” (New York Times, Dirty Little Secrets of Search, February 12, 2011).

Moral of the Sad SEO Backlinking Story: Keep your SEO ‘white hat’ or you will be penalized by Google and this will negatively affect your business. A strong, effective backlinking strategy is a marathon, not a sprint.

Comments 37

  1. Chris Halliday

    Hi Krista,
    A name from the past has contacted you! (recall: old friend of Chris A) I truly love your posts and am in the process of SEO for my site. I've done all the relevant directories, PR at prweb.com and pr.com, and published about 12 blogs over the past 1-2 weeks. Do you have any other suggestions? Look fwd to hearing from you.

  2. Chris Halliday

    Hi K- me again. Question for you, if you will. I recently pruchased articlebot with the intention of mass submission of original material, primarily to get backlinks. Is this a bad idea (ie. black hat)? Should I get a text spinner and will that be enough? Any advice would be great. Cheers!

  3. Kai Hulshof

    Is the post you mention, "Getting your web site added to relevant industry portals and directories." Does Gshift provide a list of these trusted portals and directories? Our client, http://switchvideo.com, has been submitted to the most obvious ones, but we'd like to maximize the backlinks we can provide them through this strategy. Thanks!

  4. Lou

    Great article. There are so many things that go into an effective back linking strategy that it boggles the mind. Especially for a newbie like myself.

  5. doug u

    This is a good read something our company follows. We strive to be number one in our local area under roofing, remodeling and painting contractor categories and are some days then other days we are on page 2 or 3. it requires constant work and actually staying on sites that are relevant to your industry.

    1. Chris Adams

      Blog comments should be considered social engagement signals rather than traditional backlinks. Google is looking at these signals and they are being used to determine relevancy / authority of your web site. Keep commenting on blog posts or sites that are keyword relevant to your industry.

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  9. Alan Walker

    After reading your post I can conclude that there are somethings I am doing wrong. I have posted lots of backlink of my old site to many untrusted sites. Thats why my site gone down in search engines and I have started a new site.

  10. Brian Brijbag

    Greta article! Prior to this, most of what I had read was all about purchasing backlinks and I thought Google would be smarter than the spammers. This post helped put me at ease because there is no shortcut. You mentioned portals and directories. Can you expound upon that? Which ones are most effective?

    Brian Brijbag

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  12. Paul

    I do not entirely agree with the statement “the back-links to your site must be high quality, relevant links freely given based on editorial judgment”. The links instead need to be relevant to the page context and add value to the user.

    When I moderate guest posts on my website , I do not ask myself “is this high quality content”. Instead I ask myself “does this add value to the user”. The difference is subtle. High quality content is likely to have no spelling mistakes, but low quality content might still be useful to the user (even with spelling mistakes). Google is currently focusing more on providing value and answers than only providing high quality pages.

    Take that into account into your backlinking strategy. Oh and submit a guest post to my website.

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  15. Shoaib Akram


    I think you share something genuinely and great content. We always use white hat SEO. And we create a goals for building quality backlinks. Guest posting and social media is a great source for quality backlinks.

  16. Shoaib Akram

    Hi Krista,

    Well, I think you describe the amazing definition of backlinks. We all know quality backlinks building is very hard nowadays. But we still using traditional way such as guest posting and Social media .

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