After Google’s thousands of algorithm updates, backlinks still remain some of the most important factors in bringing your website to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
However, there are different types of backlinks, each with different levels of importance.
Today, we’ll talk about the importance and types of backlinks — including what to add to your link-building strategy and which ones to avoid.
Knowing all these may be the difference between your website getting a high page ranking or being de-indexed by Google.
A backlink isn’t just a regular link!
Instead, it’s a link from other websites that redirect readers and Google to a specific web page on your own site.
In this section, we’ll define the importance of backlinks in search engine optimization (SEO).
Backlinks are also called incoming links or inbound links, which are links from one website to another.
You can think of backlinks as “votes” on how useful and credible your website is. The more votes you have, the higher the search engines will rank you on their SERPs.
However, your position on the SERP also depends on the quality of your backlinks. In fact, one top-quality backlink will easily outperform a hundred low-quality backlinks.
On top of that, having too many low-quality backlinks might cause Google to penalize your site.
Google has confirmed that having a strong backlink profile is one of the top three most important search engine ranking factors.
Backlinks are votes from other websites telling Google they trust your website. The search engines will recognize that your content is worth linking to, so they’ll place it higher on the SERP.
Search engines can also quantify whether your backlink is high-quality or not. Because of that, you may realize there’s a difference between the benefits of guest posting for SEO compared to having an editorial backlink, for example.
Aside from thinking about where your outbound links will lead your readers, you should also put some thought into your anchor texts.
Ideally, the anchor text should contain your target keywords so both Google and the readers already have an idea of what to expect when clicking on that particular link.
Backlinks contain what’s called “link juice” — which is the amount of authority or value that a website passes to the web page it’s linking to.
That juice helps increase the authority of the website it’s linking to. The more juice a site receives, the more it signals to Google that the content is relevant and useful in a certain niche.
The search engine will then reward that page by ranking it higher in the SERP. Other website owners further spread this juice throughout their sites by having a good interlinking strategy. This can help pull their other web pages up in the SERP’s eyes.
To reiterate, not all backlinks have the same quality or importance. The different types of backlinks can be classified into different tiers according to their quality.
We’ve quickly discussed these different tiers so you know which to aim for and which to avoid completely.
Tier 1 backlinks are the best backlinks you can get for your website. You can get these through organic link building.
Basically, this includes any backlink that comes naturally to your site from relevant and authoritative sources.
The good news is that organic link building makes search engines acknowledge that your site is authoritative and credible in a certain niche. Thanks to that, you’ll get to rank higher on the SERP.
Unfortunately, tier 1 backlinks are the toughest and most time-consuming to generate. Nevertheless, they’re very rewarding to have on your link profile.
Below are a few examples of these backlinks.
- Editorial backlinks
- Guest blogging backlinks
- Niche directories
- Relationship-based backlinks
- Press releases
You should generally avoid Tier 2 backlinks. You can create many of these backlinks with little effort, but they usually don’t really add value to your organic rankings.
One example is guest posting at scale. This means you publish an article, then spin that content into multiple modified versions and try to get them published on other websites to acquire backlinks.
The problem here is that websites with high authority don’t like rehashed content.
Other examples are listed below.
- Header links
- Footer links
- Sidebar links
Tier 3 backlinks are backlinks you should avoid at all costs since they will get your website penalized by search engines.
That’s because these links don’t give anything of value to the content you’re adding them to.
Below are a few examples of tier 3 backlinks.
- Paid links
- Comment spam
- Irrelevant directory links
- Backlinks from irrelevant sites
Differences in Quality and Trustworthiness Among the Tiers
The main idea behind a backlink is that websites link to a web page that’s useful and credible in regard to a certain niche. Backlinks are divided into tiers according to how relevant they are.
For instance, an editorial link is a tier 1 backlink since it’s normally generated when high-authority sites like Forbes link to your site. They may be hard to accumulate, but they’re very valuable.
On the other hand, tier 3 backlinks are easy to set up since you don’t have to work hard for them.Comment backlinks let you create thousands of backlinks by spamming them. These aren’t placed in a way that tells Google that your links are valuable, so Google will penalize your site.
Before we start comparing guest posting and niche edits, among other types of backlinks, let’s first talk about nofollow and dofollow links.
These two don’t have the same SEO value, but it’s important to have a healthy balance between them to have a natural-looking backlink history.
Nofollow links are links that don’t pass link juice to the website you’re linking to. That’s because the nofollow attribute tells Google not to follow the link or count it as a “vote” for the linked site.
These kinds of links were originally made to combat spam and low-quality links.
Essentially, nofollow links are ignored by search engines — because of that, they’re less valuable and don’t directly contribute to a site’s SEO value. It’s alright if you don’t check how many of them you receive.
However, nofollow backlinks can still drive traffic and increase visibility.
You can add the nofollow tag to a hyperlink’s HTML code, so Google knows the URL’s destination site shouldn’t be given your “vote.”
Dofollow links are the default “forms” of backlinks. They are counted by Google since they pass juice to the site they’re linking to.
Putting dofollow links on your site means you’re telling Google that they’re not paid backlinks, and you vouch for the accuracy and trustworthiness of the other websites you’re linking to. Because of this, they’re more valuable than nofollow links since they contribute to your site’s domain authority. This can help increase your search engine rankings.
Now, let’s talk about the different types of backlinks.
We’ve classified them according to whether they can positively or negatively affect your site’s SEO value.
Good link-building tactics will take a lot of time and effort — but they’re worth the investment.
After all, they slowly help you establish authority in your industry by having high-authority sites feature your content or link back to your site.
Google will eventually realize that your website is relevant and helpful in your industry, so you’ll get placed higher up on the SERP.
If you’re wondering, “What are guest posts?” they’re an agreement between a webmaster and a guest post author.
The author publishes a relevant piece of content on a webmaster’s site in exchange for naturally putting a link in that blog post that points to their target web page.
The high relevance and effectiveness of guest posting make it well-respected and widely used in the SEO community. That’s also why they’re the most used authority links.
Guest blogging backlinks can be free or paid, depending on what the webmaster allows.
However, not all guest posts have the same value. The more trusted and relevant the website you’re writing the guest post for is, the more valuable Google and other search engines will think your content is.
Sometimes, the webmaster accepts guest posts but doesn’t allow backlinks in the main content.
If that’s the case, you can have guest post bio backlinks.
Admittedly, this isn’t as effective as putting a backlink in the guest post itself. However, it’s still a great addition to your link profile. It tells readers where to go if they want more content from you.
If you’re still making a name for yourself in your industry, you might have to find guest posting opportunities through manual outreach — meaning you contact editors and website owners manually.
If that’s the case, you should deliver your own content that lives up to the level of value you promised in exchange for a backlink.
That’s because if you deliver high-quality content that the webmasters love, they might present you with more guest blogging opportunities in the future.
Link Inserts (Niche Edits)
Niche edits (also called link inserts and curated links) are contextual links that you insert into relevant and already-existing articles that have already been indexed by Google.
These are great tools to include in your strategy since they add diversity, authority, and relevance to the site you’re linking to.
In fact, niche edits can revive a site that’s been hit by a penalty or quickly build relevance to a certain niche.
To begin understanding link inserts in SEO, you should first know that these authority links are similar to high-quality guest posts. However, there are several differences.
- Links are inserted in aged articles.
- These articles may already have an existing backlink profile.
- You can’t control contextual content, although you can choose the anchor text and what link to insert.
- They’re usually cheaper than guest posts.
- You’ll more often than not need to be the one to approach webmasters and explain why you think your link will add relevance to their already-ranking content.
PR link building involves securing valuable editorial links that direct back to your site. Several types of backlinks fall under PR links.
- Press release backlinks – When you make a press release for your business, an article will likely get published by news media outlets. Press releases can create brand awareness, such as introducing a new product or outlet. You can also ask review sites to write about your products or services. However, creating too many press releases can be considered spam.
- Acknowledgment backlinks – When you present another site with a gift, sponsor an event, or send a representative to speak at an event, they’ll normally feature you on their website as recognition. To create acknowledgment backlinks, keep an eye on what events your competitors are getting involved in to give you an idea of what you should do as well.
- Badge backlinks – Create a badge featuring your brand and distribute it to other industry players. They may be businesses that you work with, or you would like to give recognition to. Either way, the businesses you give your badge to can put it on their websites. When they do, the badges will link back to your site.
The website HARO is short for Help a Reporter Out, and it was created to connect journalists with experts.
When you register, you’ll receive daily emails containing a list of questions (divided into categories) that reporters need answered. If you see relevant queries in your expertise that you can answer, reply ASAP but ensure that it’s insightful and easy to digest.
HARO has four subscription levels — while the basic option already gives you three daily emails, the paid options give you more competitive edges.
For instance, the standard plan lets you choose one keyword to filter through media opportunities. You can also create a profile that will automatically be inserted in your pitches. You’ll even get text alerts for new media opportunities.
Admittedly, not all reports will include a backlink to your site when they publish the article. Nevertheless, HARO can still give you good media coverage.
As the name implies, reactive PR is when you quickly seize a chance to gain coverage and links for your site.
HARO is actually one example of reactive PR since answering questions from journalists is an opportunity to gain backlinks.
Below are other examples of reactive PR:
- Commenting on news stories and blogs – Respond to articles about your industry. You can comment something about the article and drop a link to your content or website. However, remember to add value to the conversation rather than just adding your link — otherwise, you’ll sound self-promotional or spammy.
- Newsjacking – Identify breaking news stories and quickly create link-worthy content that connects the topic and your industry. Then, share it through social media and outreach emails to create more interest that can reach relevant organizations and news sites.
- Utilizing social media – Share your content and engage with others to generate interest in your brand, which can eventually lead to backlinks to your site.
- Building relationships – Create a search engine alert for industry-specific terms to identify journalists, influencers, and others who frequently write about your industry. You can contact these people and offer your expertise, eventually earning you backlinks.
Practices to Avoid
The more backlinks, the better — as long as they’re high quality, anyway. As such, understanding what a link farm is is important so you can avoid it.
Being involved in a link farm and other black hat SEO tactics can cause your site to be heavily penalized by Google and other search engines.
Below are some practices you should avoid to save your site from penalties.
Forum Links Spam
There’s nothing inherently wrong with posting links to your content in forums as long as you’re contributing to the discussion.
The links you provide should be provided as a resource in case people want a more in-depth reading of what you said.
Spamming links randomly in forums won’t get the results you want. If anything, moderators might even block you or report you to Google.
Comment Links Spam
Similar to forum links, you should only leave genuine comments that add to the discussion. Sharing high-quality blog comments with related links can boost traffic to your site and raise brand awareness.
Meanwhile, spam comments with links will negatively affect your site.
PBNs (Private Blog Networks)
PBNs are a collection of websites whose main purpose is to link to one another to raise the organic search exposure of sites. Because of that, private blog network backlinks are made from an inauthentic network of sites.
The use of PBNs is an advanced link-building strategy that utilizes aged domains with good authority and a rich backlink history and rebuilds them so that they link out to money sites (or sites you want them to link out to).
PBNs give the impression that a site has earned backlinks from other sites in the hope that Google will rank the site higher.
You might notice that a PBN linking site actually doesn’t get a lot of visitors since they don’t rank high in SERPs. That’s because that’s not their intended purpose.
Instead, these aged domains are being used to pass juice onto money sites rather than give credible and relevant information to readers.
Admittedly, PBNs can give a lot of juice to their target web pages. However, this strategy is still very risky as it goes against Google’s guidelines.
After all, it tries to manipulate search engines into thinking a site has a good backlink history despite having irrelevant backlinks. As such, Google can penalize or even de-index your website.
SAPE links are backlinks from a Russian link network that are popular with black hat search engine optimizers. The reason these are a big hit is because they’re said to be effective and hard to penalize. Despite that, it’s still possible for your site to be penalized for buying and selling links.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you know not all backlinks are the same, you may be considering utilizing a guest posting service or signing up for HARO.
But before doing any of that, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions that can further help you create a good link-building strategy.
As the names imply, nofollow links are supposedly ignored by search engine bots, so they don’t contribute to the ranking of the page you’re linking out to.
You can add the nofollow tag in the hyperlink’s URL to transform dofollow links into nofollow links.
Meanwhile, dofollow links are the default forms of backlinks and count toward a site’s page ranking.
If you want to check backlinks, you’ll need the help of backlink checker tools.
For instance, Ahrefs is one of the most popular SEO tools since it gives you abundant data just from the URL of the site you want to analyze.
You’ll see the domain rating and the number of times it’s been linked to. You’ll even see new, broken, and lost links.
Meanwhile, Ubersuggest gives you the link type, anchor text, total number of backlinks to a page, and total number of nofollow links.
Backlink tiering (or tiered link building) involves building backlinks from different sources to your website through a tiered system.
Backlink tiering passes as much juice to your website as possible without accidentally creating an unnatural backlink profile.
There are normally three tiers to backlink tiering, and the flow is as follows:
- Tier 1 backlinks (like contextual and editorial backlinks) point to your main website.
- Tier 2 backlinks (like profile and press release links) pass their juice to tier 1 links, so it’s also indirectly passed to your main website.
- Tier 3 backlinks (like forum and blog comments) are normally nofollow links. Very few of these backlinks will be indexed by search engines, so you’ll need a lot of tier 3 backlinks pointing to your tier 2 links. But be mindful that you don’t end up with spammy backlinks that can negatively affect your site.
High-quality backlinks are tough and time-consuming to get. That’s because they involve organic link building where relevant sites link to your site.
There are several ways you can acquire backlinks.
- Be a reliable source for reporters and bloggers.
- Create linkable assets like infographics, long-form guides, and data-driven studies.
- Make “skyscraper” content.
- Give testimonials.
There are many ways to create backlinks — however, you’ll need to adhere to effective strategies for building backlinks that aren’t black hat tactics.
For instance, offering free-tool backlinks involves offering someone in your industry a tool for free and asking them to promote or review it on their website.
Below are other examples of link-building efforts.
- Guest post links
- Editorial backlinks
- Industry directories
- Press releases
Link schemes like paid links and forum/comment spamming are technically also ways to create backlinks. However, Google doesn’t see them as valuable links. This means they can affect your website negatively.
There are different types of backlinks, and knowing which you should and should not include in your link-building strategy can heavily affect your website’s page ranking.
Organic link building requires a lot of time and hard work, but it’s worth the payoff. You’ll need to consider things like the anchor text, target keywords, and the types of backlinks to include in your strategy.
As such, you shouldn’t turn to paid backlinks or other black-hat SEO tactics. These may be easy to set up, but your own site will be at risk of being penalized or de-indexed if Google catches you.
Instead, invest in white hat link-building services and SEO strategies — like creating high-quality content that can increase high-authority referring domains.