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The Ultimate Guide to Website Backlinks

Brand3 Team  •  September 7, 2023

Backlinks are one of the most critical elements of SEO success. These inbound links from external websites to pages on your site serve as votes of confidence that boost your authority in the eyes of search engines. The quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to your content can significantly impact your website's search rankings, referral traffic, and overall online visibility. 

This comprehensive guide will explore backlinks, why they matter, strategies for acquiring quality backlinks, and real-world examples demonstrating the power of leveraging backlinks to elevate your digital marketing efforts. With strategic backlinking, you can dramatically enhance your website's search performance. 

Interested in elevating your brand's online presence but short on time? Get the essentials with our quick brand tip on backlinking.

What are Backlinks?

Backlinks are links from one website to a page on another website. Imagine you're reading an article on Website A about the importance of data analytics in shaping customer experience.

In the article, a hyperlink leads you to a comprehensive guide about customer journey mapping on Website B. In this case, Website B gained a backlink from Website A. 

Search engines like Google use complex algorithms to decide how to rank pages in search results, and website backlinks are among the key factors considered. The algorithm does more than count backlinks; it evaluates their quality based on various criteria, which we cover further down. 

Most content management system (CMS) platforms offer built-in settings to manage hyperlink attributes when adding backlinks to your content. These settings typically allow you to easily specify whether the link is 'dofollow,' 'nofollow,' 'sponsored,' or 'ugc,' giving you control over how search engines interpret the link. Let’s take a look at what those attributes mean.

What are DoFollow Backlinks?

Ever heard of 'link juice'? No, it's not a drink – link juice is an expression that describes the distribution of backlink equity through hyperlinks. 

DoFollow backlinks pass link juice or SEO value from the linking page to the linked page. In the case of our previous example, the linking page is Website A, and the linked page is Website B.

These website backlinks are strong indicators of the linked page's quality and relevance. They give search engines the green light to follow the link and count it as a vote of confidence in the linked page's favor. 

What are NoFollow Backlinks?

NoFollow backlinks include a rel="nofollow" attribute in their HTML code. This attribute tells search engines not to give link juice or SEO equity to the linked page. A NoFollow backlink serves as a kind of 'don't consider this for ranking' signal to search engines. 

Initially, the NoFollow attribute combatted spam and prevented abuse, particularly in comment sections of websites and forums where users could easily create low-quality backlinks to their sites. 

Over time, the NoFollow attribute became widely used for paid links, sponsored content, and other links that website owners don't want to endorse or pass authority to. 

NoFollow backlinks don't generally contribute directly to your website's search ranking, but they can still offer value in other ways:

  • Traffic: NoFollow links can still direct people to your website when clicked.
  • Visibility: Being mentioned on high-profile websites, even without the SEO benefit, can enhance your site's credibility and exposure.
  • Natural Link Profile: Having a mix of DoFollow and NoFollow links makes your link profile look more natural, which search engines prefer
  • Potential for DoFollow Links: A NoFollow link can serve as an initial point of contact or relationship between websites, which might lead to DoFollow backlinks in the future.

What are Sponsored or Paid Links? 

These links are purchased from a website owner or publisher to appear on their site. Unlike organic website backlinks — naturally occurring and freely given – sponsored links are part of a financial arrangement. Businesses often buy these links to improve their website's visibility and potentially boost their search engine rankings. 

Search engines like Google have specific tags for sponsored links to distinguish them from organic links. This distinction helps to maintain the integrity of search results, ensuring paid strategies don't influence the relevance or quality of information provided. 

Thus, sponsored links usually come with a rel=sponsored attribute, signaling to search engines that the link is paid for and shouldn't pass link juice like organic backlinks do. While sponsored links can drive traffic and increase visibility, they don't carry the same weight as DoFollow backlinks.

If you're considering a sponsored link strategy, check that it aligns with your overall marketing objectives and complies with search engine guidelines to avoid penalties. Always focus on delivering genuine value to your audience rather than simply seeking a quick SEO boost.

What are UGC Links?

UGC stands for User-Generated Content, and UGC links need the attribute rel="ugc". This attribute tells search engines that since the link is user-generated, it might not have undergone the same level of scrutiny as the content on the website itself. Consequently, search engine algorithms don't typically weigh UGC links as heavily as DoFollow links.

In community forums where users can link to other sites in various threads, the forum software might automatically tag this outbound link with the rel="ugc". If you manage a platform allowing user-generated content, it's good practice to automatically mark outbound links with the correct attribute to guarantee you're following search engine guidelines. 

There are other types of backlinks, but these primary backlinks are important to know because they are each identified by specific attributes that clarify your relationship with the linked page to Google and other search engines.

Why Are Backlinks Important?

Incorporating website backlinks is a cornerstone of any successful SEO strategy. They have multiple purposes — improving rankings, driving traffic, and establishing authority — collectively contributing to better visibility and higher credibility online.

Backlinks serve as endorsements from other sites, signaling to search engines that your content is worth sharing. High-quality backlinks from authoritative sources can significantly boost your site's credibility and search engine rankings. 

Moreover, when someone reads an article or blog post that links to your site, they may click to find out more. This referral traffic can be highly targeted and can increase the chances of user engagement and conversion. 

How Many Backlinks Should a Website Have?

The number of backlinks a website should have is a very common question in the SEO world, and it doesn't have a straightforward answer. It depends on several factors, such as the website's age, the industry it operates in, and its goals. 

This article from link-building service FATJOE does a great job of delving into the intricacies of this question and whether you should even be asking it. You're welcome for the backlink, Joe!

Remember, quality backlinks trump quantity; a few high-quality links from authoritative and relevant websites will impact your rankings more significantly than dozens or even hundreds of low-quality links.

Backlinks SEO Strategy

The importance of backlinks in SEO can't be overstated. They are pivotal in improving website visibility, driving traffic, and enhancing credibility. 

However, not all website backlinks are created equal. A well-thought-out backlinks SEO strategy must consider domain authority, page authority, and anchor text.

What is Domain Authority (DA)?

Domain Authority (DA) is a metric developed by the popular SEO tool Moz. The DA score, which ranges from 1 to 100, gauges a website's likely success in search engine ranking. A higher DA score suggests a better chance of ranking well on search engine results pages.

The score is calculated based on factors like the number and quality of backlinks and domain age. Getting backlinks from websites with high DA scores is more beneficial than those websites with low DA scores. 

What is Page Authority (PA)?

Like DA, Page Authority (PA) is another Moz metric scored from one to 100. However, while DA measures the ranking potential of entire sites, PA gauges the ranking potential of individual web pages.

When strategizing for website backlinks, aim to get links from pages with a high PA, as they can positively influence your rankings.

What is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink — generally blue and underlined — that links to another webpage or a different section of the same website. Anchor text helps search engines understand the subject matter and relevance of the page being linked to.

As a result, it's crucial to use descriptive and relevant anchor text when creating backlinks. However, over-optimized anchor text with keywords can lead to penalties, so maintain a natural and varied anchor text profile.

When linking internally, we recommend using all or part of the H1 title for the internal page. For instance, at Brand 3, we have another blog post about increasing search rankings titled "Search Engine Rankings: Getting on the Front Page of Google" — Here, the anchor text is the complete title. 

This approach offers a clear cue to both users and search engines about the linked page's content. But remember, variety is key; don't hesitate to diversify your anchor text to make it natural and relevant.

What are SEO Backlinks Examples?

Understanding the theory behind website backlinks is important, but seeing real-world implementation can help clarify their role and function. Here are some illustrative examples of various types of backlinks commonly used in SEO strategies:

  • DoFollow Backlinks

A marketing blog publishes an article on "Best Marketing Strategies for 2023" and includes a link to your article about content marketing, providing readers with additional resources.

  • NoFollow Backlinks

You publish a guest post on another blog in your industry. While the blog agrees to link back to your website, it uses a "NoFollow" tag because it's their policy for all external links or perhaps because the content is somewhat promotional.

  • Sponsored or Paid Links

You run a pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaign that links to your website, and the ad platform marks this link as "Sponsored" to show that it's a paid connection.

  • UGC (User Generated Content) Links

You host a forum on digital marketing techniques, and one of your members shares a helpful post about SEO tools that includes a link to an article. If you’re following best SEO practices, you would have set your forum up to automatically tag this link as “UGC” to indicate that it originates from content created by users rather than you or your editorial team.

By recognizing these examples in practice, you can better understand how backlinks function and how they can fit into your broader SEO strategy.

What Backlinks Should You Avoid?

When building a backlink portfolio for your website, here are some types of backlinks and strategies you should avoid:

  • Low-Quality Backlinks

Links from spammy or irrelevant sites or sites with low domain authority can negatively impact your search rankings.

  • Too Many Reciprocal Links

Excessive link exchange ("I'll link to you if you link to me") can appear manipulative and result in penalties. While some reciprocal linking is natural, avoid making it the core of your backlink strategy.

  • Link Farms

These are websites created solely to host backlinks. Search engines can easily identify these and may penalize websites that participate in link farming.

  • Paid Links Without Disclosure

Purchasing website backlinks can be risky and is against Google's guidelines unless disclosed as sponsored. Undisclosed links can result in penalties.

There are plenty more backlinks to avoid — James Speyer at Exposure Ninja has a comprehensive list if you want more guidance.

What is “White Hat” SEO and “Black Hat” SEO?

What is commonly referred to as White Hat SEO involves using ethical techniques and strategies to improve your website's search engine ranking. These methods comply with search engine guidelines and focus on creating a positive user experience.

Conversely, Black Hat SEO uses manipulative or deceptive practices that violate search engine guidelines to improve rankings. These techniques might deliver quick gains, but they come with significant risks.

Penalties can severely impact your website's ranking; in some cases, the search index may remove your site altogether. We advise focusing on ethical techniques for a sustainable and risk-free SEO strategy.

How to Get Quality Backlinks

Building a portfolio of high-quality website backlinks is essential for SEO, credibility, and web traffic. Here are some effective strategies for acquiring those coveted links:

  • Content Creation and Promotion

  • Write Valuable, High-Quality Content: Top-notch content is the cornerstone of any backlinking strategy. When you produce insightful and informative articles, infographics, or videos, others in your industry will likely link to your resources.
  • Guest Blogging: Writing posts for other reputable blogs in your industry can be an excellent way to get your content in front of a new audience and earn quality backlinks.


  • Building Relationships

  • Network with Industry Leaders: Establishing relationships with key players in your sector can provide opportunities for organic backlinks. They're more likely to link to your content if they know you and find your material useful.
  • Social Media Engagement: Actively participating on social media platforms increases your online presence and can encourage more external sites to link to your content.


  • Reach Out for Backlinks

  • The "Skyscraper" Technique: Find high-performing content in your niche and create something even better. Reach out to those who linked to the original content and ask them to link to your version.
  • Reclaim Lost Backlinks: If you find that someone mentioned your brand or content without linking to it, reach out and ask for a link.


  • Competitor Analysis

  • Analyze Competitor Backlinks: Use tools like Semrush, Moz's Link Explorer, or Ahrefs to investigate where your competitors are getting their backlinks.
  • Approach Sites Linking to Competitors: Once you've identified where competitors are getting backlinks, reach out to those websites and offer your high-quality content as an alternative to link to.


  • Monitor Your Backlink Profile

  • Tracking Your Backlinks: Keeping track of your backlink profile is crucial. Tools like Google Search Console can help you monitor new and lost backlinks.
  • Remove Bad or Spammy Backlinks: If you find bad or low-quality backlinks pointing to your site, take steps to disavow them through Google Search Console to maintain a healthy backlink profile.


Applying these strategies can effectively build a robust network of high-quality website backlinks that substantially boost your SEO performance.

Real-World Impact of Strong Backlink Profiles

Let's move past theory and look at a real-world backlinking success story from Joshua Hardwick at Ahrefs. Joshua and his team wanted to rank a new page at the top of search results for the keyword "SEO stats." Taking a systematic approach, they researched popular statistics pages with existing backlinks.

They curated the most frequently cited statistics, updated any outdated figures, and assembled a well-organized, compelling page. Using automation tools, they found contact information for potential backlink prospects and sent personalized emails, pitching their freshly minted, updated statistics resource.

The result? They sent out a total of 515 outreach emails and secured 36 backlinks from 32 different websites. The new page now sits at the #1 position for "SEO stats."

What makes this case study especially illuminating is the quality of the website backlinks acquired. Nine of the referring domains had a domain rating of 70 or above. One of the sites contributing to their backlinks receives over 1 million organic visits.

This case study shows the monumental impact a well-planned and executed backlinking strategy can have on search engine rankings. It wasn't just about the number of backlinks but the quality, relevance, and strategic approach to acquiring them. 

Elevate Your Digital Marketing with Website Backlinks and Brand3

Understanding the intricacies of backlinks, their types, and the strategies to acquire them is necessary in the digital age. By optimizing your backlink profile, you're improving your search engine rankings, building credibility, driving targeted referral traffic, and, ultimately, increasing revenue.

At Brand3, we're deeply committed to educating businesses on effective marketing strategies and digital trends. We specialize in creating unique, integrated strategies that align brand, marketing, and customer experience into a cohesive plan.

We're proud to be a trusted source for cutting-edge knowledge, strategy, branding, and digital marketing insights. Schedule a call with us if you're tired of ineffective marketing, unqualified leads, or a brand not doing your product or service justice. We're experts at turning those pain points into opportunities for growth.

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Copyright © 2024 Brand3, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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