Inbound Links (Backlinks)
Having links from other websites to yours is a critical part of search engine optimization. As well as the obvious bonus of having people follow these links to your site, inbound links provide the following benefits:
- Search engine robots follow links between websites. The more inbound links you have, the more often robots will visit your site.
- Many search engines count links to your site as "votes" for you. They assume that if lots of websites link to your site it must be high quality. Page Rank is Google's system of counting links.
The general rule is that the more inbound links you can get, the better. Getting more links should almost certainly be near the top of your priority list when optimizing your site.
Important: Before you start trying to acquire inbound links, read this page and take heed of the warnings!
Check for Inbound Links
You can use search engines to find out how many inbound links you have. For example, with Google, enter the word link: followed by your URL to see a list of all websites which contain a link to your site. Try it here with www.cnn.com or enter your own URL:
Note: Google only returns a selection of inbound links — it doesn't show all links to your site. Other search engines have the same feature and may provide more comprehensive results. Each one works a bit differently — visit any search engine and look for "Advanced Search Options" for more information.
The best way to get inbound links is simply to create web pages which other webmasters will want to link to. These are known as natural links — the type of link which is created purely to increase the usefulness of the internet (in an ideal world all links would be natural). Natural links have many advantages:
- You don't have to work to acquire them (except creating the content in the first place).
- They are free and you don't have to reciprocate the link.
- The links will be diverse, with different anchor text.
- The referring pages tend to be similarly themed (this is likely to become more important in the future).
If you are lucky you will attract enough natural links to give your site a boost. However most websites need to make an effort to acquire inbound links. You must be very careful about this! There are many ways to create links to your website — some of them are acceptable and some aren't. If you use the wrong methods, search engines may detect this and penalise you severely.
Acceptable Methods of Acquiring Inbound Links
These methods, used sensibly, are all good ways to acquire inbound links:
- List your website in directories.
- Contact other websites with similar themes to your and ask for a reciprocal link.
- Use your URL as part of your signature in discussion forums and newsgroups. Don't overdo this — keep your signature brief and never spam forums. Make sure you are genuinely contributing to any discussions and not just posting for the sake of displaying your signature.
Unacceptable Methods of Acquiring Inbound Links
There are no official laws or rules about what is unacceptable linking, but the following methods are widely accepted as being a very bad idea and likely to damage your rankings:
- Free-for-all link pages and link farms. These are websites which allow you to post your URL freely without being part of any structured or useful directory. Link farms exist to benefit the linked websites rather than any person trying to use the links. Search engines hate link farms, and participating in some of them may cause your site to be banned from certain search engines.
- Buying links. Some websites sell links from pages with a high PR value. These can be very effective but they are frowned upon and search engines such as Google have been known to identify and blacklist the websites involved.
To have any real chance of being noticed by the search engines you need at least a handful of inbound links. Without any links at all you will be at a serious disadvantage. The more genuine inbound links you can acquire, the better your search results will be.
Next Page: Advanced Search Engine Strategy