Inbound Links (Backlinks)

Backlinks are external links that lead to your web page(s) from elsewhere on the web.

They may be placed on affiliates’ websites, search engine websites, business directories, other people’s blogs, news-feeds and many other places. Some of which boost your SEO and others may hurt it.

Backlinks are what makes your website discoverable by your target market. Without those links, no-one will be able to find your website through any kind of search function, or from any other source other than if they know the website address already and enter it into their browser manually.

Without backlinks from somewhere, your site can also never really gain rank in Google.

  • ‘Followed’ links allow Google to pass through rank credit from the source page
  • All backlinks can boost your traffic by allowing users to visit your site
  • A strong backlink profile can indicate to Google that your site is trusted


Google doesn’t want people to artificially build backlinks to their websites. They would prefer that all links were earned for having awesome shareable content – but frankly that’s impractical or unaffordable for many businesses because it requires a level of content development that many can’t afford.

So building links is against Google’s recommendation. We agree – don’t do this unless you are aware there is always some risk in doing so. The best thing you should do is create and share awesome content through content marketing strategies and earn links as a by-product.

How to Build Backlinks

One of the easiest ways you can get links to your site is through a search engine submission, but I’ll cover that in Step 10 of How to do SEO. The purpose of this Step is to give you some ideas on how to gain links from places other than search engines.

Links can be built through many methods. This page only covers a few of them.

Technically, ‘building’ links is an unnatural process which is discouraged, but most sites will find it very difficult to gain links ‘naturally’.

The difference is that unnatural links are ones that you specifically try to create.

Natural links are ones that other people create for you because you have great content and they want to link to your page to share it with others.

It’s very easy to get a penalty from Google for building unnatural links, so you have to be careful how you go about building them.

If you prefer to hire SEO services from someone like us to give you further guidance, you can consult with us on an hourly rate, or hire our services to manage the lot for you.

Business Directories often provide some way that a website owner can create a new listing and a link back to their website. This might be the first place you try – but be careful.

There are many different kinds of business directory, and not all of them can be trusted with your information, so when deciding which business directories to use, consider these points:

1. How well recognised is the business directory as a source of valid and trustworthy information about local, national or global businesses? Stick with big names that you and other people have heard of.

If you find one that looks dodgy, it probably is.

I won’t give specific examples here because I don’t want to influence you with my own opinion on the directories that I use, but the kind of places I recommend are ones that often rank very highly in Google for all sorts of searches, like telephone directories or national business organisations that match the right verticals in which you operate.

2. Does the business directory allow anyone to add a listing without the listing first going to a moderator?

If it by-passes a moderator, then the directory is likely to have quite a lot of poor quality listings in it. Try to avoid those, because it may be seen as a ‘bad neighbourhood’ by Google and negatively affect your site.

3. Does the directory cater for your genre?

It’s best to list your website in a directory that either caters solely for your genre of website, or has a category section that caters for the genre. This is because of contextual association.

You should be listed on pages where other content is about the same subject. See Step 7 of How to do SEO about contextual linking to read why the content of the page being linked from can affect the assessment of the page linked to.

When listing in a business directory, you can usually get away with having the same business description on each and not run into any content duplication issues. This is because of the rest of the context on the business directory is likely to vary enough anyway.

You usually have just a short section where you can add your own business description, so be prepared to write some great copy that includes keywords, some sort of benefit for users if they visit your site, and a call to action.

Just like writing Meta Descriptions, these are opportunities form you to leverage the directory’s search engine rank to gain a spot in search engine results with a great piece of content that will read well in the search engine results (in the Meta Description snippet section).

To find some business directories, try Googling for businesses or services that you yourself might want and scroll through the results. If you find several websites that keep coming up for vastly different searches, then these might be the directories you could list on.

You can also participate on other people’s blogs to gain links to your site, but only do this if the blog is popular or trusted as a source.

Blog sites that are not visited, not trusted, or have little content in them are not the places I’d recommend. The blogs should also relate to your genre, or to the genre of the page you want to link to in your site.

For best practice, be prepared to thoroughly read the blog article and engage in the topic.

If you are doing this solely for SEO, then stay away. Your SEO targeted comments will probably not be appreciated by the blog owner. You should have some value to add to the blog, and getting a link is your reward for sharing your insightful view on the subject or article.

Affiliate linking is another way to get links to your site, where a business affiliate of yours may place a link on their website, but only ask for these if it’s relevant to send some of their site’s traffic to you.

They offer little SEO value if they are reciprocated (when you link back to the same site), because Google then sees the link as being unnatural – it’s a result of a business agreement, not because your site offers value per se, even though it might well do so.

If you have a network of different businesses linking to each other, it’s unlikely any of them will get an SEO benefit from the practice.

Sharing content through article submissions can also bring a lot of links to your site, especially when the article is re-shared by others.

It’s very hard to write great articles like this that get shared. Hire a copywriter if your business can benefit from this strategy.

Your copywriter should be skilled in writing SEO copy, which differs to print copy. You’ll need to write about something that provides some element that makes it valuable or entertaining to others, like through humour, or by being highly informative.

There are many businesses that will manage article submission for you, but be aware there are also many who do this very badly and may end up gaining you a link penalty. If you’re unsure what to do, get professional advice.

Social Media Sharing works along a similar way to article submissions, in that it can gain a lot of links but only if you can appeal to the crowd and get re-shared by many others.

If your article isn’t one like that, chances are that you get just one or two shares or links from it. The social media platforms you are probably aware of already are these and many more:

  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram

Something you may not be aware of:

Links from most social media platforms and also many other sites are tagged with the rel=”nofollow” element.

This is an instruction to search engines to not pass through any page-rank power from the linked-from page to the link-to page. Search engines will be prevented from visiting your page through this link, but they will arguably count this link as part of your overall link metrics.

To find evidence of these links and acknowledgement that Google has discovered them, view the section in Google Search Console called ‘Links to Your Site’. It’s doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting an SEO benefit from them.

Link Paramaters

Tips to gain links in the most natural way possible are:

Acquisition rate: Build them slowly, don’t hire someone to build 10,000 overnight. You might get a quick positive result, but you’ll probably be punished for it soon afterward by Google Penguin and will find it very difficult to get rid of the bad ones afterwards.

Variety: Gain lots of different kinds of links from different sources, even a few from sites that really aren’t that great. A spread of links looks more natural, a huge bias one way might get you a penalty.

Follow / Nofollow profile: Get a mix of ‘followed’ and ‘nofollow’ links. That makes it look natural too. Only the followed (by search engines) links pass page-rank power to your page. If the page-rank power on the linked-from page is lower than your own page-rank, it will still count as a positive ‘vote’ but might not benefit you much otherwise.

I always try to find links that are from pages with page-rank that I aspire to reach myself. That means the linked-from pages are usually ranked higher than mine on a global scale.

You should try to do that too.

Natural vs Paid: Be careful to avoid getting links from places that want to charge you for the link. Google is good at figuring out which sites are in the business of selling paid links – and links on those sites are clearly unnatural links where payment is the only reason a link exists.

These are probably not regarded by Google as positive votes. A few paid links might have to be off-set by hundreds of natural ones to look ‘normal’.

Growth: Grow your link profile over time. A few here, a few there. No stress. Take it easy. It’s a natural process. It’s better to slowly build up to a few hundred or even a few thousand. That takes time.

Natural growth is exponential – meaning you might wait ages for the first few, but after a few years of marketing your content, your link growth could be massive because there will be so much more content in your site to share. If you only have 5 pages in your website, natural link profile growth will be unlikely.

Destination: Link to more of your pages than just your home page.

If your sub-pages are more relevant for a given link source, then link to the sub-page. It’s better to spread your links across a selection of your key pages than it is to send all links to just your home page.

After all, your home page may well have less content on it, and is often not the first page someone sees in your site.

For the average website, about 50% of all traffic starts at the home page. The other 50% enter the site on your other pages. Spread links among your linked-to pages in the same pattern to make them appear as natural as possible.

Relationship: Make sure your backlinks carry a topical relationship from the linked-from site to your linked-to page.

Link Detox

May website owners have hired SEO services in the past in which large scale link-building campaigns have taken place as part of those services.

Only some (if any) of those campaigns accounted for the possibility that they would be seen as potentially toxic by search engines in the future.

Our campaigns are designed to be conservative against any future changes in Google or Bing search algorithms, because we don’t want to create problems for our clients in the future, we want our clients to have long terms benefits from our work which we think they’ll want to rave about later!

No provider of SEO services can give any cast iron guarantee of future-proofing, but I’m confident we’ve got the formula just right.

If you are having trouble getting your site to rank, or you lost rank at some time in the last few years, then there’s a good chance you have been hit with a ‘Penguin’ penalty from Google. You need to do what you can to remove old toxic links that are now damaging your page’s ability to rank.

Use Google’s Search Console to discover what links exist to your pages, and use that as a starting point to do a clean-up. Figuring out which links are toxic and which links benefit you is the hard part – and I’d recommend our services to help you with that, because some fairly complex research has to be done to identify which is which.

Once you have cleaned up as many unwanted links as possible, you can also disavow bad links using Google’s Disavow tool.

Again, you must be able to select the right ones to discard. Getting rid of all of them or picking out the wrong ones might make the problem worse. After any disavow process, expect to have to wait 3 months or more to see any recovery.

Do not attempt a link detox yourself without getting some professional advice first.