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

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

February 17, 2011 in SEO Evolution

backlink-data2-329x215When 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 – backlinking.

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.

  • Chris Halliday 12:30h, 17 February Reply

    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.

  • Chris Halliday 15:34h, 02 March Reply

    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!

  • Kai Hulshof 09:34h, 16 March Reply

    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!

  • Lou 17:28h, 27 April Reply

    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.

  • doug u 21:27h, 11 September Reply

    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.

  • Patrick Steil 04:45h, 16 December Reply

    Do you consider blog commenting another valid way to get proper backlinks?

    Patrick Steil
    patrick@churchbuzz.org http://www.churchbuzz.org

    • Chris Adams 21:01h, 19 December Reply

      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.

  • Why an Optimized Content Strategy is Crucial for Social & Search 09:04h, 28 February Reply

    [...] Marketing Strategy Approach: For long-term success with your SEO and social media strategies, build out your backlinks by producing and distributing relevant fresh content such as optimized press releases and blog [...]

  • Why an Optimized Content Strategy is Crucial for Social & Search – Today Breaking News For you 09:33h, 28 February Reply

    [...] Marketing Strategy Approach: For long-term success with your SEO and amicable media strategies, build out your backlinks by producing and distributing applicable uninformed calm such as optimized press releases and blog [...]

  • Why an Optimized Content Strategy is Crucial for Social & Search | | Wapfa Team International BLOGWapfa Team International BLOG 08:33h, 29 February Reply

    [...] Marketing Strategy Approach: For long-term success with your SEO and social media strategies, build out your backlinks by producing and distributing relevant fresh content such as optimized press releases and blog [...]

  • Anastasia Koltai 15:15h, 05 March Reply

    Thank you! So, if I understand right, now when I add my site name below I will write site/about, where is an information about me. And this would be the right anchor text.

  • swanie 18:51h, 01 May Reply

    If the J.C. Penney story is true, doesn't that open the flood gate to negative SEO – throwing spam links at your competitors' websites?

  • NYParrot 20:19h, 24 May Reply

    Super helpful info! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Harvey 05:51h, 23 December Reply

    Just don’t do any automated crap, it never works. Business directories can be a good place to start for backlinking.

  • Raju 11:43h, 18 May Reply

    I really like your article, specially SAD story :), normally I read your most of post for SEO, I am not seo expert but I am trying to learn these stuff. Now a days SEO is king of your online bussiness, any way, thanks for your great post.

  • Umesh 14:16h, 23 May Reply

    I am blogger and this post gives me a very fair idea about backlinks. Thanks for such a nice post.

  • SF Media 16:35h, 02 July Reply

    Thanks for a very informative article. Its amazing how many SEO’s do it badly and have a negative impact on there clients rankings. We all know why, to save time and money, and because in the past it was a quick fix for better rankings. The updates this year have really changed the game, thankfully for the better where white hat SEO is concerned.

  • Boni 22:19h, 07 July Reply

    This was very interesting for me because I’m a newbie on backlinking, thank you krista.

  • jhonb 10:28h, 19 July Reply

    nice post, keep posting

  • Mobile Website Design in Wiltshire 13:21h, 25 July Reply

    I will never buy backlinks as you do not know what you are getting. I will rather contribute to other peoples work and this way you will get free and genuine backlinks. By the way, thanks for your article. It was great reading your thought.

  • Steve V 17:28h, 03 August Reply

    Krista, cool post on back linking. I found the story about JC Penny very interesting. I have found the best strategy to get back links is to comment on posts and offer advise on related forums.

  • Sonny Krout 21:12h, 08 August Reply

    Thank you for the information you provided in this article. it is very helpful. I do my own SEO and have been climbing in the ranks using just this method of backlinking. Its working very well so far.

  • jamika 18:25h, 29 August Reply

    This was so helpful. What i like about it most is that it was so easy to understand. You have a fan for life.

  • Rajeev Singh Paweria 14:18h, 07 September Reply

    I loved the article the way you explained backlinks. I was always reluctant to hire so called seo companies doing only backlinking and claim to make your site no. 1 on google, and funny part is when I asked to bring them 2500 visitors to my site in 3 months, they just refused.

    If a seo company making your site no. 1 on google, its not difficult to bring huge traffic to your site at least 2500 visitors in 3 months. Am I wrong?

  • yawar 20:04h, 22 September Reply

    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.

  • Katie 19:41h, 04 October Reply

    Thank you for a wonderful article!

  • bk 11:50h, 05 October Reply

    great article really helped

  • Peter 09:58h, 30 October Reply

    Great post!
    Very useful! I’m glad you added the “Don’ts”

  • JohnHoggan 18:41h, 29 November Reply

    How would you start with organically building your website profile on the web from scratch? What would be a good first step?

  • Kath 01:25h, 04 December Reply

    Many thanks, Enjoyed the article very much. Does anyone know if Google penalizes a site that lists 75 suburbs on their home Page? My competition Says: ‘We are only 30 minutes drive from the following suburbs:’………. – then lists almost every suburb in our City… Is this allowed?

  • Diseño logos 11:25h, 28 December Reply

    Seo must be done carefully nowadays. Diversity and steady backlinking. And links from good sites also!

  • Arcana Gift Baskets 21:57h, 01 January Reply

    Thank you, your back link information was very helpful, gave us a starting point.

  • Sonu Sindhu 07:26h, 02 January Reply

    I have read your post. Found the intersting story about J.C. Penney.
    I would like to know how to increase our backlinks for my site : http://SeeXtra.com
    It is funny collection of video from youtube and vimeo.But I dont want to buy the backlink as J.C did
    Any idea will be appreciated.
    Thanks so much for this article.

    Sonu Sindhu

  • Albert James 15:01h, 05 January Reply

    really nice post about backlinks.
    I know google changes their policies everytime but this strategy will definitely help us in high ranking in google searches.
    but could you tell me how to optimize other search engines??? I am a blogger and I have 58000 pageviews, most of them are from facebook. please help me.

  • Indiandroid 09:30h, 07 January Reply

    Please explain how to build backlinks as it is tough for me to understand I have visited many websites which explains how to build backlinks but it is tough , can you explain with examples please!

  • Ken K 17:10h, 10 January Reply

    Thanks for this post Krista. I had gotten an email from a company in India selling back links and was looking for more information about this. Your post has been very helpful and I will not buy back links now but will start to work on making them myself for my site, YWR. If you have time to look at my site and have any other help you could provide I would be interested in hearing from you.

  • Dallas Brandt 01:57h, 14 January Reply

    Very helpful article. Do backlinks from within your own domain also count?

  • chopasaurus 17:29h, 17 January Reply

    I spend so much time reading about SEO and back linking but I can never really decide what it is that Google is going to penalize. It really is difficult to have all of your back links be on a relevant content related site. Some people are in a niche that just doesn’t allow a lot of flexibility in this regard. I suspect non-relevant links will still be counted but they will flow less juice? It would be great if Google could be just a tad bit more transparent instead of leading a giant guessing game.

  • Julia Schriber 06:40h, 20 January Reply

    Thank you very much for your article. I am trying to do SEO for a non profit organization. Since we don’t have the funds at this time to hire someone, free advice is really valuable. Thank you!

  • Kevin Dacre 16:03h, 29 January Reply

    I feel like sometimes with the constant changes that the search engines go through, the sites that are sure to survive are the ones that do absolutely nothing and allow things to happen naturally. That’s the ultimate SEO strategy for longevity.

  • Emily Jenifer 09:21h, 01 February Reply

    well said Krista,
    “backlinking strategy is a marathon, not a sprint.”

  • kamran 12:58h, 02 February Reply

    thank you for this article…very informative…

  • Bubble 01:08h, 03 February Reply

    I am looking for any update for SEO 2014. Please share some ideas.

  • oby 13:20h, 03 February Reply

    This is a very useful information and good advice to many webmasters who are being enticed by the tactics of black hat seo. One has a very beautiful website promising to sell millions of back links but his own website is not even known on Alexa ranking and it is not available on google. Watch out webmaster and learn from the example of JC Penny. I enjoy reading your article.

  • Máquina Fazer Pão 12:19h, 05 February Reply

    Thanks for your article on backlinking, have to implement these strategies for myself.

  • Mirela 16:06h, 06 February Reply

    Thank you very much for the interesting article. It helped me understand how backlinks are important for the SEO. I will definitely follow your future articles.

    Thank you!

  • Donald Smith 21:10h, 13 February Reply

    I was wondering how other social media backlinking works and if there’s a book you’d recommend for building backlinks?

  • Rosslyn House Creative 17:26h, 15 February Reply

    Thanks for such an informative post. I wasn’t aware of the JC Penney story, but it will make me think twice in future when considering avenues for backlinking.

  • Dawn Connelly 04:58h, 16 February Reply

    Great article about backlinks. Thank you.

  • SEO Leader 20:08h, 24 February Reply


    I am an internet marketer and blogger as well. i am reading your article, this is very nice. Thanks for this informative post.

    Regard: SEO Leader

  • Samantha Brown 09:49h, 28 February Reply

    Thank you Krista,
    for explaining so many things, sadly my story matches JC Penney, in that my website has be penalised due to bad backlinking that I didn’t understand.
    Im trying desperately to fix this and to be honest don’t know if I can.
    This can be devastating to a small business or any business for that matter.
    Who would you recommend for legitimate SEO work to be carried out?
    Regards Sam

  • Ricardo Gutierrez 08:08h, 02 March Reply

    Thanks to people like you, and the articles you publish, we are able to compete with huge companies with big marketing expenses
    .. Even in other countries.
    I do really appreciate your help, regards from Mexico

    Ricardo Gutierrez
    Evoluo Energia Solar Mexico

  • david 16:36h, 17 March Reply

    does commenting on blogs count as backlinks?

  • Joe Bretz 21:40h, 18 March Reply

    So if we all posted a bunch of our links within this post it would help rank up! A tad of sarcasm here but just curious as well!


  • Jonathan 05:02h, 22 March Reply

    What i don’t understand is that google has a conflict of interest. They want people to spend money on advertising (google ads) – even if you don’t have organic growth. It’s in their best interest to push you down no matter what – because it encourages you to buy google adspace.

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