Backlinks are one part of how Google and other search engines decide which websites to show when people search for something. Let’s look at what they are, how to get them and how they can affect your small business.
Backlinks and SEO
“Backlink” is search engine optimization (SEO) speak for a web “link” that goes “back” to your website. It’s as simple as this bit of text that links to Frontier’s small business homepage.
Backlinks used to be a bigger part of how Google’s algorithms decided which websites were worth showing. This meant that shady SEO (known as “black hat”) link-building tactics—where someone was paid to post a website link on thousands of forums, low-quality websites and comment sections—were a way to get traffic.
Things, however, have changed a lot. Google now ranks websites based on four factors: relevance, quality, usability and context. Google’s ranking algorithms use the information on your website, how well maintained and updated it is, whether it’s usable on mobile platforms and countless other proprietary bits of information—including what sites link back to it—to decide whether or not to show your website for any given search.
For a more detailed explanation of these factors, check out the guide below to improving the Google ranking of your business.
Are backlinks important?
High-quality backlinks still matter and are a great clue to Google that you have the kind of website that might answer searchers’ questions—but backlinks can’t be looked at in isolation.
For a link-building strategy to matter at all, you need a good, modern site to link to. An ancient website from the early 2000s that won’t load on an iPhone or one with loads of dead pages is a big red flag for search engines, no matter what sites link to it.
You also need to make sure your site has the information that searchers want to find. If you run a pizza place, you want to have your menu, open hours, contact details and location listed—and kept up to date. If this information isn’t there, search engines won’t know when someone searches “pizza near me” that your website is what they need to see.
Also, before exploring backlink-generating strategies and other more advanced forms of SEO, make sure you’ve done the basics like setting up a Google My Business page and asking your regular customers to leave you good reviews. These can boost your ranking a lot quicker.
How to get backlinks
All right, you’ve got a snappy and snazzy site set up, you’re listed on Google My Business and you’re ready to start generating backlinks. There are two big things you need to remember:
1. Quality beats quantity. A single great backlink is better than a dozen mediocre ones. A thousand bad ones will harm your ranking.
2. Google likes backlinks in the right context. A local pizza blogger linking to your pizza place in a roundup of the best pizza restaurants? That’s an awesome backlink. A photographer likes your pizza and links to it on her website? That’s not going to help you too much.
This means that your backlink strategy needs to be aimed at getting good, relevant backlinks, rather than random, possibly shady ones. Some of the best ways to do that are:
- Reach out to local journalists and bloggers and invite them to a press, promotional or charity event. Stay in contact and become a go-to source when they want to talk to a local business owner.
- Write opinion pieces for local newspapers and websites on law changes, local politics and other newsworthy topics.
- Create stories by talking to your customers and reporting anything interesting. Are pizza sales up? Down? Or particularly pepperoni-heavy? This kind of content might be exactly what a local newspaper or neighborhood site would want to talk about.
- Ask your suppliers or biggest customers to link to you on their sites.
You’ll want to focus on sites that focus on your local area because, for the most part, coverage will be easier to get and lead to valuable backlinks.
Is getting backlinks worth it?
Over the past two decades, Google has gotten pretty good at sorting the good and relevant websites from the bad and irrelevant. It’s not really possible to trick search engines into ranking your site higher than it should be—at least not without a lot of time and money on your hands. It certainly can’t be done by paying some dodgy service for backlinks. Those kind of links are more likely to get Google to penalize you and de-list your site!
Strong backlinks, on the other hand, will help your Google ranking. If you have an opportunity to be active in your local community and get a few that way, it can only be good for your business. Over time, your efforts will pay off and your website will get more organic search traffic—and you’ll hopefully get more clients.
However, you also have to assess how much of your time you’re prepared to put in. If you’ve got a business to run, Google ads might be a more efficient way to get new customers.