What’s in a Backlink and How Many are enough?

There used to be a time when in order to get page-one ranking on a search engine (Alta Vista was the main one back then) a few black-hat tricks were all that was needed. After all, the Internet IS very democratic; people vote with links and the search engines saw that as a barometer of the worthiness of a site. So if I wanted to be #1 for, let’s say, disgronificators, I could just write the word disgronificator 100 times, in white on a white background, put it below the page, and “Voila! The trick is done!” …as Bugs Bunny used to say (boy am I showing my age). Or, even better, I’d find what the hottest trend is at the moment (let’s say Britney Spears back then), and optimize for her—even though my site had NOTHING to do with Britney! Of course, this led to many dissatisfied surfers who would jump from search engine to search engine, looking for who offered the most relevant SERPs (search engine result pages).

Then there was a new sheriff in town, Google. They wanted to clean up the Wild West and wrote high-quality algorithms. However, even though they are trying to minimize or remove the backlink as a high criteria for relevance, it’s hard to find a new way that will pass muster (read Blogging is the New SEO). So for the relative future, it’s still here to stay—with an amalgamation of quality and original content added to the mix.

Because of this, many people believe that getting a bunch of backlinks is all they need to worry about, and if they DO that, it’s a guaranteed page-one rank. Well, the answer to that is maybe and no. So how do you make the most effective use of links in your plan to get the most coveted position? Great question! There are some things you should know in order to do this effectively.

websitesNot all Links are Equal

Understand that there are different kinds of links: quality, reciprocal, bad and outgoing. Only quality links benefit your ranking; the rest either make it a wash or hurt your ranking. Let’s look at these.

A Quality Link

Understand that Google judges ALL websites by the criteria of quality. It’s not just if the content is good, but also is it mobile ready; is the site easily navigable; what is the overall user experience? So if a website passes this test (yours included) a link coming from it is considered a good recommendation of the site. However, if you get one from a site like this and Google doesn’t deem YOUR site to be worthy, it may not help much at all. So you want to make sure you have a quality site. It will not only help you with Google, it will also help you with visitors. If they like your site, they will recommend it and now it’s a direct source of traffic.

A Reciprocal Link

Many website owners then believe they’re savvy and try to reach out to many websites of quality, offering to put a link on their personal site in exchange for a link to the others. Now, if the other site gets plenty of traffic that IS your demographic, then this tactic is worth doing; because you are bypassing a search engine to drive traffic to your site (another direct source). However, if their visitors are NOT good candidates, you gain nothing from it, as it is seen as two sites working in conjunction. Since this is a wash, if the site is a quality site, I would do it; because you lose nothing with Google, but you may gain awareness from another source. However, remember, if it’s NOT quality—not worth it!

A Bad or Terrible Link

Now, this is where it gets tricky. Many people offer links you can buy as a tactic to reach page one. This is not only a bad idea, it will also cost you money—adding insult to injury. Stay away from charlatans like that, because you don’t know what the overall average of links you will get will be quality. And I’m sure they are great at showcasing their very best links to entice you; however, what they don’t show you are the numerous nothing links you receive to pad the numbers.

It’s these bad links that kill your ranking and can get you on Goggle’s naughty list, which is almost equal to being blacklisted. You see, if a site is nothing more than a poorly designed, badly written blog that is a front for links, Google knows this. Seeing them link to you puts you on the negative end of rankings. If a website with questionable morals, ethics or illegal activity (porn, torrent sites, extremist blogs, etc.) link to you, the effect can not only be rankings so bad you might as well not even exist, it could lead to blacklisting (where you won’t be allowed to be found on their search engine at all.)

While you cannot control who may CHOOSE to link to you, you surely don’t want to encourage someone trying to make a buck to have free reign over who does.

An Outgoing Link

Another bad tactic used by very smart business people is to link to quality sites, in order to have relevant information for THEIR visitors to consume. For instance, if your service is real estate, you may want to link to other sites offering databases, magazine portals or blogs with home-buyer information, certain lenders, IRS info, etc. While linking to other sites sometimes is inevitable, because it makes business sense, the more you link out to other sites, the lower YOUR ranking. Why? Because you are saying that those sites are relevant and you are voting for them; hence your linking record is outgoing, not incoming. So if few or no one is linking to you and you are linking to everyone else, what value are you offering on your site other than being a pseudo portal for other’s information?

This is why you need to have a robust blog, offering original content on the topics you WANTED to link to, so people come to YOU to consume and see what you have to offer, and you’re not sending your people to a possible competitor or to content they like more than what you have to offer. After all, you’re in the business of getting visitors, not giving them away!

So How Many Links are Enough?

black businessmanWhile it’s easy to fall prey to the notion you need hundreds of thousands, depending on your category, you may only need 10 or 20 really quality links to make the difference. For instance, Google is HUGE on local results. Having a few quality backlinks locally can make you king in your town. I had a client who could not be found for doing nails, because her competitor had TWO local backlink reviews! Just TWO!

However, if you have a regional or national platform, you will want to get 10 or 20; you will know by searching for yourself. Now, this is taking into consideration what was written about quality above. You see, it has a compounding effect. If your site is not high quality:

  • Google will ding you regardless.
  • What high-quality site would WANT to link to you and hurt THEIR ranking?
  • What visitor would care to consume your content and refer it?
  • Plus, if it’s not mobile ready (a responsive site), you will lose 60% of possible traffic, as Google will remove you from mobile search results (as of their new algorithm change which took effect on April 21st).

So that’s it! The rules are evolving for a better market for consumers; but webmasters have to wrestle with changes to keep up or lose. However, the overall result is good for everyone. After all, you don’t want someone who doesn’t make the effort and take the time to deliver a quality product to trump you, would you? Moreover, once you are considered quality by the court of public opinion, Google will follow. Therefore, look at your site with a critical eye and don’t be biased because it’s your baby. If you can’t do that, ask a good number of friends, associates and family members to go through it and answer:

  • Do you like it and find it easy, or not?
  • What don’t you like about it?
  • Would you refer it to others?

The answers may be a bitter pill, but if you don’t ask, it can be a cyanide pill instead.

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  1. Mark Otto says:

    Hi Eddie, so far I like your blog. Thorough and missing the hype I see in others. Appears to be straightforward information, which I appreciate. I have a small, relatively new e-commerce business and get many posts from others leaving their website addresses in comments sections for each of the products I offer. Are these the bad links I am reading about that can harm a site’s ranking on Google? I try to eliminate them as they come in by classifying them as spam, but sometimes they are up there a while before I get to them, since that site is not my main focus at this time. Thanks for any insight you can offer.

    • Eddie Velez says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you and I hope you find it helpful! As for the comment links, yes, those are bad links. If you set your site to “Comments need approval,” it won’t hurt you, because they are not being shown until you approve them. And since you mark them as SPAM, it protects you.

      Have a great day and thank you for sharing!


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