In this article, the third of a seven-part series, I'm going to explain what backlinks are and why they play such an important role in the development of web traffic to office products resellers websites. Put in the simplest terms, backlinks are hyperlinks installed on a website that link back to a page on an independent third-party site and, due to their influence on search results, are often described as the "Holy Grail" component of search engine optimization. As I'll go on to explain, there are two important aspects, firstly the quantity of links and secondly, the quality of the links.
The Series Index & Links to Access
- Part I - Domain Age and Authority
- Part II - Website Grade
- Part III - Backlinks
- Part IV - Traffic Ranking
- Part V - Social Shares
- Part VI - Social Authority
- Part VII - Conclusions
I'll continue to publish this series over the next couple of weeks with a view to providing additional information and more fully supporting the argument I presented in my article, "How the Office Products Industry has Failed the Resellers".
Backlinks are powerful because they're created by an independent third party who perceives the content on the site they're linking to, to be sufficiently relevant and valuable that they want to facilitate sharing it with their audience.
Backlinks should not be confused with outbound or internal links. While a backlink to one site cannot exist without an outbound link from another site, outbound links do not carry as much weight in search engine results as backlinks do. Think about it this way, the owner of a website could sit down for a weekend and build a thousand or more outbound links to reputable third-party sites but, to attract a similar number of high-quality back (or inbound) links, is completely dependent on successfully marketing a site populated (and continually updated) with high quality content that others voluntarily elect to link to. It's because of this voluntary aspect that it should be obvious why the search engines reward backlinks more than they do outbound links.
An outbound link is a link from your site to another site so, it's important to understand, a visitor clicking on an outbound link will be directed away from your site. Because of this dilemma, building outbound links may seem to be at odds with the inherent objective of keeping visitors on your site. So, in order for the outbound links to have value, they must point to relevant, original and high-quality content you believe will be helpful for your audience. As a best practice, they should be set so they open the target content in a new browser window in order to avoid closing and replacing your site in the users browser.
Remember, an outbound link from your site represents an inbound link to the destination site. At the end of the day, summing the global total of all outbound links and subtracting the sum of all inbound links, must equal zero. If no one was prepared to build an outbound link then there would be no inbound links.
An internal link is a link between pages on your site. A well structured site should include links between the pages that encourage a visitor to embark on a "journey" through the site from one piece of relevant content to another. Each link must have a start and an end so, just like the external links, the sum total of the internal "launch" links (outbound) minus the sum total of the internal "destination" links (inbound) must equal zero.
The quantity of backlinks (or inbound links) to a website is a simple link concept to understand as it's exactly what it implies. Generally speaking, the more inbound links to a website the better. However, the quality of those backlinks is very important as inbound links from irrelevant or untrustworthy sites are more likely to be a negative factor in search engine results than positive.
Inbound links with "do not follow" instructions have no value to the website hosting the linked content and do nothing to improve domain authority. However, high-quality, relevant content should motivate high-quality "do follow" inbound links that search engines reward.
The quality of backlinks may be a little more difficult of a concept to grasp. There are two main components, firstly the relevancy of the link and secondly, the domain authority of the site the link originates from.
It must be remembered that you have no control over the links that point to your site and if, for some reason, your site attracts links from irrelevant or disreputable sites, then it will harm your SEO rankings.
By way of example, in the office products industry that we focus on, a link from say Clover Imaging Group (an important aftermarket supplies manufacturer) to an office products resellers site, would constitute a relevant link. However, a link from Macy's department store, while perhaps authoritative, would not be relevant. Irrelevant links will not increase domain authority or improve search engine results performance.
Services exist, such as those provided by SEMRush, that allow you to discover and work off "toxic" backlinks. As a last resort, for those links an originator will not take down, a submission can be made to the Google Disavow Tool, to ensure unwanted links are ignored by their search engine algorithms.
As I explained in Part I of this series, domain strength comes in large part from the quality and quantity of inbound links. A high domain strength is indicative of authority and, links from domains with high authority, help build authority at the sites they link to.
Although an "external" link building strategy should involve both inbound and outbound links, in order for the inbound component to be successful, you must create content that other reputable sites are motivated to link in to. In other words, if you fail to accomplish the requirements for establishing a world-class website that I explained in Part II, then you will utterly fail to build high-quality inbound links because there will be nothing of value for third party sites to link to. If you utterly fail to build high-quality inbound links then you will utterly fail to develop your domain strength. If you fail to develop your domain strength then you will never rank well in search results and your website will stay buried in the hidden depths of the internet remaining a useless asset for the business it was intended to serve.
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It should be clear that search engines reward authoritative sites with higher placements in search results. This reward mechanism is designed to motivate owners to optimize their sites and thereby allow them to join a virtuous circle of activity that links an ever-expanding network of sites together. These sites can then collectively continue to build their individual domain strength which, in turn, enables them to further expand their influence or "reach" and to continue to attract more and more qualified visitors.
If you missed my eight-part series on the office supplies aftermarket tipping point, please check out my new eBook, it's just published, it's FREE, and it contains a thorough examination of the office supplies industry and a path to the $20 billion growth opportunity for independent resellers.