What Are Backlinks and Link Building?

What Are Backlinks and Link Building?

Backlinks are hyperlinks from one domain to another, most often used to direct readers to original sources of information or related content. They essentially create the “web” in World Wide Web, and you’ve likely already seen dozens of backlinks in your web browsing, just today. Through analytics software like SEMRush and Moz, you can see backlinks that exist on other websites, directed to your own domain.

Because they’re foundational to the internet as a whole, and they’re a natural way of allowing human input to say, “this URL contains important content related to X topic I’m describing on my website,” search engines have long relied on backlinks to build their knowledge of the importance of different domains to related topics. And where search engines create an indicator of site importance, you’ll find SEO. 

Link building is the process of creating a web of backlinks across the internet, which direct to a target site for the purpose of elevating the importance of that site in search results. That importance placed on the referring website is called equity, and a backlink will pass equity from the referring site to the target site, as long as it is not a ‘nofollow’ link. When setting up a link in HTML code, you can assign parameters to the link, specifically the relative (rel) parameter. Two of the most important values for the rel parameter are nofollow (does not pass equity to the target URL) and what’s known as ‘dofollow,’ which is the default state of a link without a rel parameter added. SEOs are most interested in dofollow links, as they affect rankings the most. 

Does Google Still Use Backlinks?

According to Search Engine Journal, it appears Google still uses backlinks in its ranking algorithm, but the importance of backlinks has been diminished over the past few years. Why? It’s easy to create a backlink and black-hat SEOs have taken advantage of that loophole by buying or spamming backlinks on credible sites, muddying the waters around whether the target domains are really important to the topic. And if there’s one thing Google likes to dissuade, it’s SEO shortcuts (because they almost always result in a bad experience for the search user).

Buying backlinks isn’t illegal but it’s frowned upon by search engines and carries significant risk. When search engine bots crawl sites, they cannot confirm a link has been purchased, but they’re increasingly able to identify a “backlink warehouse fingerprint,” or those sites likely to be selling backlinks, or those linking to unrelated content. Rarely are purchased backlinks of any quality and most appear “spammy.” In December 2022, Google announced it had completed a spam link update in an attempt to nullify “spammy” links at scale. Whether purchased or organically spammed, links found to be “spammy” were “neutralized”. 

But enough about bad backlinks. Good backlinks (those that naturally and correctly link to related sources and content) are still an important signal to search engines, just not in the same way they once were. 

How Do Backlinks Affect E-E-A-T?

E-E-A-T is an acronym Google uses to describe how it analyzes pages for quality. It stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, and Google considers these areas important considerations in Page Quality rating. Backlinks are a signal to Authoritativeness, as many links pointing to a page on your site would indicate that page is an important source of information. 

For example, if you run a website for a home décor retailer and publish a blog post that shares a growth trend in the use of paisley prints (15% growth in sales in Q2 and 23% growth in sales in Q3), and then dress up the data with additional info and charts supporting the trend, interior decorator blogs and even some national publications may link to your page when they discuss the “paisley trend” on their own sites. In the eyes of search engines, these quality backlinks would support your authority on paisley and home décor. Through many different backlinks on many different home décor subjects, search engines will see most or all of your site as a leading authority in home décor, pushing your related pages higher in search results.

How To Build Backlinks

It’s easier said than done, but the best way to build backlinks is by creating quality content with original or collected data, information, or ideas, or providing a useful service or tool to users of your site. 

Linkable content can be as easy as filling a hole for searchers by answering common search queries that haven’t been answered yet, or by answering them better. Or as complicated as full-blown academic research and creative web design.

The most common forms of linkable content include:

  • Comprehensive Guides
  • Authoritative Ebooks
  • Complete How-To Posts
  • Checklists To Solve Common Problems
  • Calculators
  • Podcasts

While some of these may spark immediate ideas for your own website — “Hey, our customers would love a calculator to help them estimate materials needed for a renovation project,” — others may require weeks of brainstorming to come up with the right solution. 

Examples of Content That Can Generate Backlinks

Each of these examples has generated significant backlinks for their domains, but let’s take a look at RocketMortgage’s Home Renovation Calculator to see what a little web design elbow grease can do for backlinks.


These are a few of the top referring domains to the RocketMortgage calculator. As you can see, the calculator has garnered backlinks from top publishers, to which the source, SEMRush ascribes high Authority Scores (AS). Some may be nofollow links, but those may be working for RocketMorgage from a PR perspective, as people may still discover RocketMortgage’s calculator through referring domains. And the links are more than likely to grow from here. Once the linkable content seed is planted and starts earning links, more will follow. 

Building Backlinks Through Outreach

Once your site has a collection of helpful content, you can help other site publishers find your content through linkbuilding outreach. This is similar to traditional public relations, where you network with or “cold call” other site publishers and inform them about how your content may be interesting to their site’s visitors.

To perform effective linkbuilding outreach, you should:

  1. Create linkable content
  2. Develop a list of internet publishers and writers who publish content related to your topics.
  3. Pitch your content to them, explaining how your content helps support their current content, or giving them ideas for future content that could use your site as a source. Your pitch should:
    1. Be personalized. The skyscraper model of sending out hundreds of form emails no longer works. You must do research on your subjects and tailor each email to them.
    2. Offer value (Look at your pitch skeptically. Would you see the appeal if a stranger contacted you requesting a link?)
    3. Offer to exchange links.
  4. Monitor backlink software to see if any links have been added.

The success of linkbuilding outreach may not be what it once was, but by putting in the effort to personalize emails and treat outreach as a true networking exercise, you can get your linkable content in front of more publishers who are more likely to link back to your site.

Building backlinks may seem like a long journey, but the SEO foundation they create is almost invaluable. At first glance, you may be tempted to take the easy road, but the more effort you put into building linkable content and building relationships with other publishers, the more likely you’ll be to get high-quality backlinks that will elevate your site in the eyes of search engines.

Ready to start building backlinks to your site? Shoot us a message and we’ll show you how your site can build content that gets backlinks.

Eight Oh Two is a proven leader in search engine and performance marketing focused on driving superior results by leveraging best-in-class technology with the very best in human intelligence. Contact us today to learn how we can help optimize your content and attract potential publishers to link to it. 

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