Your website is up and you’ve started the hard work of trying to increase your organic traffic.

You’re learning the ropes of SEO and think you have all the on-page work down, but now you face the hardest part: building backlinks.

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What Are Backlinks?

A backlink is any link on another website that points back to yours. 

Backlinks are one of the most important components of SEO (search engine optimization). Google’s algorithm is carefully designed to try and deliver the most authoritative, valuable results in every search a person does. To do that, the search engine algorithm weighs a number of different ranking factors all meant to help determine how credible each website and webpage are. Using a link building strategy helps to boost your organic marketing efforts and is one of the influencing factors that contributes to your search engine ranking. 

Each time another website includes a link to yours, it’s like telling their visitors that there’s something useful on your website. It’s an endorsement of the content on the page. When a lot of websites with authority link to the same page, Google sees that as an indicator that what’s on the page is valuable. 

Generally speaking, websites gain authority in the search engine’s eyes by having more backlinks. And the more authority a website has, the more valuable backlinks on that website are for the website being linked to. 

For any website owners that care about SEO, backlinks are the main currency of the web. In other words, if you want to improve your SEO, you need to know about backlinks.

9 Types of Backlinks

You know what backlinks are now and you’re ready to go out and get them. As you start to work on your strategy, you may be thinking the more the better, right? Not so fast. Not all backlinks are created equal. 

To build backlinks effectively, you need to understand the different types of backlinks and the relative value they have for your brand.

Dofollow Backlinks

When someone adds a link to a webpage, by default, it will be a dofollow link. That means the search engine algorithm will see the link and count it toward the authority it assigns the website. For a link to have any direct value in how the search engine algorithm measures the website, it must be a dofollow link.

Nofollow Backlinks

Many of the backlinks around the web are dofollow, but in some cases, websites opt to tweak their HTML to label a backlink nofollow. This is a simple change that involves placing rel=”nofollow” in front of href in the HTML code. 

Why would a website do this? There are three main reasons websites use nofollow links:

  • To combat comment link spam – This is the reason the nofollow attribute was created to begin with. Lots of black-hat link builders were spamming websites with comments meant purely to gain links. By giving websites the option to make all links in the comment section nofollow, websites could avoid inadvertently endorsing spammy websites because of links included in the comments.
  • To alert Google to links they’ve paid for – The other main use of nofollow links is for signaling to Google when a link on your website is from an advertiser who paid for the placement. Since ads are legitimate, but paying for links is against Google’s guidelines, this gives websites a way to continue making money from ads, while staying in Google’s good graces. 
  • To avoid having to vet all the links included on the site – Originally, nofollow was meant for the two cases above. But several major websites have opted to make all links on the website nofollow, presumably to save them the trouble of figuring out if every link published on the site is to a high-quality website they’re OK endorsing. For website owners who publish a high quantity of content from a lot of different sources, this is a way to cover their bases when implementing a link building strategy. 

Nofollow backlinks can still have value for your website by introducing your site to new visitors and sending organic traffic your way. And some SEO experts are convinced they deliver some SEO value as well. But for anyone working on building backlinks, understanding the distinction between dofollow and nofollow is important.  

Directory Backlinks

These are one of the easiest legitimate types of backlinks for businesses, especially local businesses, to get. Directory listings such as those for professional organizations, local Chambers of Commerce, and review sites like Yelp and Google My Business almost always offer the option of including a link to your business website. 

google my business example of directory backlinks

You can easily build links by listing your website on legitimate review and directory sites, and joining relevant professional groups that include a directory. 

Brand Mention Backlinks

Anytime another website mentions your business, that’s an opportunity for a backlink. Often bloggers that talk about your products, business publications that cover your business news, or third-party websites that mention you in reviews or product roundups will include a link to your website when they mention your brand. 

A common link building tactic is to find brand mentions around the web that don’t include a link, and reach out to the website owner to ask them to add one. 

Industry Publication Backlinks

These are a valuable type of link that can be earned through PR and guest posting. This includes any link to your website that comes from an online publication in your industry. An example of this would a company that sells gardening supplies earning a link on the Better Homes and Garden website. These are challenging to get, but worth a lot to your website (especially if they’re dofollow).

.Gov and .Edu Backlinks

Backlinks on .gov and .edu website are notable because many SEO experts are convinced they’re worth more on average than .com or .net websites. This isn’t an absolute rule—gaining a link on a .com website with a lot of authority is probably better than a small and largely unknown .edu website. But they’re valuable enough that many SEO consultants put special effort into finding legitimate ways to earn a link on these types of sites.  

Blog Backlinks

Between business blogs, personal blogs, media blogs, and entertainment blogs—a lot of the backlinks on the web live on blogs. Blog backlinks are often easier to build than some of the other backlink types we’ve described, but how valuable they are depends a lot on the blog. Any blog that covers topics relevant to your industry and has a high SEO authority is a worthwhile target for building backlinks. Blogs that have few readers and don’t have much of a reputation, or those in completely unrelated industries, aren’t usually worth your time. 

Some common strategies for building blog backlinks are through guest posting, contacting bloggers to share valuable resources relevant to the topics they cover, or being an expert source for a blog post. 

Forum Backlinks

Forums are a popular type of website that allow users online to connect with each other and form a community. There are thousands of forums online that focus on a wide array of topics—from business industries, to product-focused forums, to fan forums about an entertainment property. Because forums are made up of user-generated content—any member can post—it’s easy to create forum posts that include links.

If you’re strategic in how you build forum backlinks, meaning you don’t overdo it and only publish in high-quality forums when you have something useful to add to the conversation, this can be a good link-building tactic. But as with anything that’s easy to do, forum link building is easy to abuse. If you do it badly, you’ll create low-quality links that make your website look worse to the search engines. 

Spammy Backlinks

The different types of links described above have different levels of value when it comes to how much they’ll help your website’s SEO. But this is the category that not only won’t help you, it will actively hurt you. Google’s algorithm penalizes websites that have a lot of spammy backlinks pointing to them. 

backlink spam warning in google search console

This category includes paid backlinks, links in low-quality or irrelevant directories, and spammy forum or comment links. Basically, if a link is unlikely to deliver traffic back to your website, it’s probably spammy. Google gets better everyday at recognizing which backlinks are built using SEO schemes that are only about gaming the algorithms, so if you don’t want to get penalized, avoid any tactics that feel sleazy. 

How Do I Get Backlinks?

Unlike the parts of SEO you can do on your own website, which you have control over, link building requires getting other people to add your link to their sites. That makes it a lot harder. 

How to get backlinks in ways that are legitimate and white hat is probably the biggest question in SEO. We mentioned some link building strategies in passing in talking about the different types of backlinks, but there are a number of legitimate techniques a business can use to get relevant backlinks that are both good for SEO and for driving new traffic to your website. 

eCommerce businesses can build links by offering free products to bloggers for review, sponsoring industry events, and publishing original research (bloggers love linking to statistics). Local businesses can earn links by working with local charities, hosting local events, and giving out awards.  And any website can potentially earn links by creating useful content that’s good enough that other websites want to link to it. 

Building backlinks requires creativity, but there are a lot of tactics worth trying that won’t get you blacklisted by Google. Just make sure the links you aim for are actually valuable to your audience and the website you work with. 

Backlink FAQs

That covers most of the basics about backlinks, but you may still have questions about how backlinks work. Here are answers to some of the most common questions. 

Why are backlinks so important?

There are two reasons backlinks are important, even though one of them gets a disproportionate amount of attention:

  • They signal to Google and the other search engines that your website is authoritative and should rank higher in the search results. They’re widely considered one of the most important SEO ranking factors. 
  • They help new people learn about your business and drive relevant traffic back to your website.

People spend a lot of time focusing on the first benefit, which definitely matters. But the end goal of SEO is making your website easier to find for the people looking for what you sell. A good link that shows up in a relevant context can help with that part, even before you consider the extra SEO authority it provides.  

What is backlink anchor text?

Most of the links you see around the web show up as a few words underlined in blue. To follow the link, you click on the words. Those words are the backlink anchor text. 

example of optimized anchor text

Google pays attention to the anchor text of your backlinks. Along with the keywords you use on the page, it uses the anchor text to better understand what your page is about. When a backlink on a high-authority website uses the anchor text you want the page to rank for, it’s an SEO jackpot. A link that uses different anchor text than the keyword you’re targeting is still valuable, especially if the wording is related to your target keyword, but it’s not worth quite as much. 

What is an example of a backlink?

There are examples of backlinks all across the web. In this blog post alone, you can find two examples of backlinks to other websites in the Nofollow Links section: 

  • One to a page on with the anchor text “several major websites”
  • One to a page on the SEMRush website with the anchor text “some SEO experts”

We are linking to these pages from the HostGator blog, so while these are backlinks for SEO-Hacker and SEMRush, they are actually outbound links on our site.

Quality content often links out to content that in some way supports or expands on the points being made in a piece. That creates opportunities for a more passive type of link building, where by simply creating content of value, you gain links from bloggers who use your content to illustrate their point (as happened in both these examples).

There are also examples in this post of something that’s distinct from a backlink, but looks similar at first glance: internal links. The link with the anchor text “How to get backlinks” in the section on the same topic is a link to another blog post on this website, which makes it an internal link. 

Internal links are another important part of SEO, but different from backlinks. They’re valuable because they’re an opportunity to use relevant anchor text to further signal to Google what a page is about, because they help create connections between different pages on your site, and they drive traffic to other parts of your website.  

What is a bad backlink?

A bad backlink is any link that comes from a low-authority website, or that signals to Google that you’re using spammy link-building practices. Google doesn’t just pay attention to individual links separately, it also notes when your backlink profile shows a pattern that suggests you’re trying to game the system. Any backlinks that suggest that kind of pattern are bad badlinks.

Can backlinks hurt your site?

Yep! Many websites have been penalized due to having spammy links. You could incur a Google penalty that essentially blacklists your website. Or you could drop suddenly in the rankings due to an algorithm update that catches more of your low-quality links. Either way, you lose traffic and visibility, and recovering can be difficult. It’s important to only seek out quality, relevant backlinks. 

What is a good backlink?

A good backlink is one that comes from a website that has SEO authority and covers topics relevant to your website. SEO tools provide information on how much authority different websites have, so you can tailor your link building efforts to those that are worth it. The best backlinks don’t just deliver SEO authority, they also deliver relevant traffic to your website. 

How can I remove backlinks from my website?

If you made the mistake of hiring a black-hat SEO firm in the past and realize that you now have a lot of low-quality backlinks that are hurting your website, you can take steps to disavow them. SEO tools will help you identify the low-quality links out there that are hurting you. Then you can use Google’s disavow links tool to remove them from your backlink profile so Google no longer counts them against you. 

Building Backlinks is Hard

If reading up on what backlinks are and how they work has you overwhelmed, don’t worry. You don’t have to do all the work of learning different backlink strategies and executing them all on your own. If you hire the skilled SEO consultants at HostGator, they can use their years of experience to identify the backlink opportunities most valuable to your brand and earn you those links.  Contact our team today to learn more.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.