SEO experts worldwide debate how much importance should be attributed to backlinks. Considering Google and the other search engines generally use about 200 ranking factors regarding your webpages to determine which should rank first and which should rank last, it is impressive that one of these factors can take up so much discussion in the SEO community.
Quite simply, a backlink is one website mentioning another website and linking to it. It is not merely referencing the website or it’s web address. It has to be a clickable link using an href attribute within the code. It is the difference between http://www.moz.com and Moz. Even though the first example displays a URL, the search engines do not register this as a backlink. They are usually visually seen with an underline and a different color to the text.
In the early days of search engines, backlinks were everything. Basically, you could launch a website and create a whole lot of links from all corners of the web, and before you knew it, you were on the first page of Google for any keyword you wanted. This was because the search engines were still new and had not crafted their algorithms to the finely tuned instruments of today.
For a while, backlinks developed a bad reputation in the industry and people believed that Google gave less credibility to the use of links. Even today, you’ll find online services that will get you 5,000 links almost overnight. Your website will skyrocket to the upper stratosphere of the search engine results because of a few dozen servers with thousands of useless websites created for the sole purpose of creating backlinks. The trouble is, over the next few weeks your website will fall never to return again.
It’s because Google never gave up on the idea of backlinks; it just got better at qualifying them and utilizing other online signals to determine quality from disreputable tactics. These old methods can not only hurt your rankings, but can cause your domain to incur penalties from Google. Yes, your domain can be penalized and can even be removed from Google’s index if the offense is serious enough.
So enough of these scary stories. Google actually likes backlinks and relies upon them. The whole idea behind them is that they help to tell Google what is good and useful out there. Remember, it is still an algorithm. It doesn’t know that your page describing the best technique for restoring a 1965 Ford Mustang bumper is all that great. But if enough people are talking about how great it is, and thereby referencing that page on other websites, well Google will actually know.
It not only count the number of links, it attributes values to different links. Now here is the tricky part. The valuation of links can be complicated because we don’t completely know how Google rates the value, they won’t tell us. They allude to certain significances, provide best practices and even from time to time mislead us in the industry. There is a never ending stream of research done by SEO companies that publish results relating to nuances of backlinks and what the measurable results are from these subtle differences.