What Is a Backlink part 2 – Optimizing External Links

Now that we know the answer to the question, “what is a backlink?” let’s talk about some ways to make the most of the links coming into our website from blogs, online publications, and other websites.

Before diving into how to optimize backlinks, here’s another method for discovering websites that you may want to have link to you.

  1. Do your keyword research
  2. Go to Google and search for your top keyword phrase(s) – turn search personalization off
  3. Copy the URLs of your top competitor(s)
  4. Use a Link Discovery tool to see who is linking to your competition


Sample Link Discovery Tools

There are other link discovery tools available as well, these are just a few to get started with.  Now that you’ve identified websites that you’d like an inbound link from you can reach out to the website owner, and make the request. Make it a highly personalized request and let them know that it benefits them as well; they are providing access to quality content for their visitors and Google likes that.

If someone links to your site from one of their blog posts or a  page on their website, you can’t control what they link to or what type of link they use.  However, when you’re reaching out to new contacts you can ask them to use text that you provide to describe the link.

The words associated with your link is called anchor text and you want incorporate your brand as well as keyword phrases into the link text.  Link text carries more weight than normal text and so incorporating keyword phrases within the anchor text (as long as you don’t overdo it) can help boost your SEO efforts.  Just make sure that the keyword used in the anchor text is relevant to the content of the page you are linking to.

It’s also a good idea to build links to pages deep within your site and not just your home page, you want to take visitors directly to the content that relates to the link and not make them look for it from the home page.  This is a good way to tell Google what the content of the target page is based on text used in the link.

Types of Links and Anchor Text:

"panda and penguin"It’s important to incorporate diversity into your link text and try and get links from a lot of different domains.

April 24, 2012 will go down in history in the world of SEO.  That was the day Google released the Penguin update.  I have no idea why they called it “Penguin,” but it was created to address some less than ethical practices related to creating backlinks.

It’s often referred to as the “over-optimization” penalty and it targeted spammy link schemes, most of which was related to the overuse of keywords in anchor text.

Link building should be done over time and happen as naturally as possible.  If your website has no links today and has 1,000 links tomorrow, that’s not natural.  If the anchor text in every incoming link is identical, that doesn’t look natural either.

There are a few people who would disagree with me when I say that the Google Penguin update is good for SEO.  It puts the emphasis back on authority and reputation and quality of a site that is linking to yours and not the number of links pointing to you. This really isn’t a change from the original intent behind using backlinks as a measure of a websites popularity. Quality SEO strategies have never incorporated link  building schemes that included things like buying links, Penguin just helped to clean up the neighborhood.

One final thought on the question, “What are backlinks?”  Backlinks are also important because they are a way to increase “link juice,” or in other words they create more reasons for Google to rank your website.  Websites pass along this link juice when they cast a vote by creating a backlink, these votes can help to increase PageRank, which is a score that represents the importance of a page on a scale of 1 – 10.

If you get a a link from a page that has a good PageRank some of that “link juice” or PageRank importance is sent to your page and can help to increase your PageRank.  What this also means is that not all votes are equal.  Generally speaking, an inbound link  or “vote” from a page with a score of 8 is going to count more than one from a page with a score of 3 as long as there is a high level of relevancy between the words used and the content of the page .

Backlinks and PageRank are only part of the equation when it comes to how the deck is shuffled and which links are displayed on the search engine results page.