There is much discussion online about backlinks and how to get them, and we certainly cover that here on this blog, but first I want to answer the question, “What ARE back links?”
What are back links? – An example to explain
The easiest way to explain what back links are is to just give you an example. Let’s say I want to reference the wikipedia page about backlinks then I would create a link to the page, like this. The text ‘like this’ is an HTML link and if you click on it a new window or tab in your browser will be opened to the wikipedia back about backlinks.
So any page on the Internet can link to any other page. Notice that the link has a direction – the page the link comes from and the page that the link is going to. This is important.
The link I just created can be thought of as an outgoing link to wikipedia from this page that you are reading. However, for the wikipedia page that I linked to, that link is coming in and another way to write that is that it is a page which is linking back to the wikipedia page which is where the term “back link” comes from.
So, we know what back links are, so what?
The reason we want to know what back links are is that they are an incredibly important factor in the ranking of web pages in Google and other search engines and understanding what they are can help us create them effectively.
When you type in some search term into Google (this could be any search engine, but I’ll use Google for the purposes of examples in this article) it runs a very complex algorithm on the billions upon billions of web pages in its database to come up with search results that it believes are the most relevant to the search term that you typed in.
There are some obvious factors such as the title of the page. The title of this article is “what are back links” so if you were to type that into Google then it would at least know that this page is somewhat relevant to the search. However, there are probably thousands of other pages on the Internet that answer this question and will have the search term in their title, or at least a very similar one.
There are many ranking factors on the page that are taken into consideration but its entirely possible that many people could create a web page with extremely similar content that have all been optimised the same way for a particular search phrase so how does Google decide how to rank them? That’s when off-page factors come into play.
What are off-page factors?
Off page means literally anything that is not contained on the webpage itself. For the most part this means backlinks. You see in the eyes of Google when a page creates a backlink to another page then it is rather like a ‘vote’ for that page; it’s a way for the webmaster to say ‘hey go look at this page, it contains useful information’.
In a similar way, ‘social signals’ such as tweets, Facebook likes, Google +1’s etc are also taken into consideration and are off-page factors but we’re getting a little off-topic here. Let’s get back to the back links…
Google looks at the total number of backlinks that a page has, and also the total number of backlinks that the domain on which that page is found has. It then examines each one of these backlinks for many other factors such as relevancy and the authority of the page from which the backlink originates.
For example, in the backlink that I created above, this page is all about explaining what backlinks are and I am linking out to the Wikipedia page that is also about backlinks. So when Google sees that link it will notice that the two pages are on the same topic and will think ‘hey this is a really relevant link.
On the other hand, what if there was a link on a gardening blog pointing to a page about dog grooming. Not so relevant… Google still sees the link and counts it but perhaps it will not give it as much importance.
How to get started with back links
There is an absolute ton that could be written about what constitutes a good back link, how to build backlinks, how many you should be building, and when and much more but these are beyond the scope of this article.