Friday, 24 July 2009

Everything you need to know about Inbound Links for SEO

This article has since been incorporated into The DIY Guide to SEO, an in-depth explanation of the entire SEO process.

Most of us have some awareness of the importance of external inbound links in SEO (Search Engine Optimization). As a general rule of thumb, inbound links are good.

From the search engine's perspective, a link back to a page on your site is a vote of confidence in the content it contains. The more 'votes' you get, the better your site must be.

When a search engine is assessing the relative value of a site, it looks at the number, reciprocation, quality, speed and context of inbound links.

The Number of Inbound Links:

There are 2 factors to consider when looking at the number of inbound links...
  1. Overall volume
  2. Number of individual domains
A single site might generate a vast number of links back to yours. These links will all originate from the same domain (the main part of a site's URL - for example: Having a large number of links from a single domain isn't going to help much. What you need is a large number of inbound links from different domains.

You can find both the number and quality of inbound links to your site with this free backlink analyser. The resulting list makes for very interesting reading.


If I link to your site and you link back to mine, it's clear that something is up. Either we've made a deal, or you're using a link exchange program. Search engines discount the value of reciprocal links.

Swapping links isn't the way to get to page one of Google. It's a much better idea to focus on securing a one-way inbound link from a quality site.

The Quality of Inbound Links:

Not all inbound links are created equal. For example, Google assigns a PageRank score to every site on the Internet. The higher the score, the more value a link conveys.

There many ways to find out what a site's PageRank score is. My favourite is via the Google Toolbar. Click the link, and install it to your browser. Then activate the PageRank score in the options...
  • Click the 'Settings' menu on the far right-hand side
  • Select 'Options'
  • Click the 'More' tab and check (tick) the PageRank option
Once it's up and running in your browser, you'll see the PageRank score displayed for every individual web page you visit.

Contextual Linking:

In addition to the quality of an inbound link, search engines also assess their context. This context is taken from the link's anchor text (the clickable text in a link). For example...
The first example isn't contextual, because the clickable text doesn't relate to the page it links to. The second is contextual, because it relates directly to the content of the resulting page.

You can shape Google's view of what a page is about by paying attention to the anchor text in a link. If it contains an important keyword phrase, Google will start to associate that phrase with the page. Naturally, the page you're linking to must also have that keyword in the title, headline and content.

This is where focussing on a single keyword pays off. Rather than trying to get a site or page ranked highly for several keywords, pick one and use it to build inbound contextual links. It's important you include a variety of non-contextual and alternative links too. Your link building must appear natural to search engines.

The Speed of your Link Building:

If your site picks up 1,000 inbound links overnight, search engines will regard that as suspicious. This is why it's essential that your link building take place over a period of time. That way, it will look like people out in the world are linking back to your content (i.e. growth appears natural).

This is almost certainly a reaction to link farms and other such sites that promise to get you many links in a short space of time. You're better off doing this yourself, adding one new quality inbound contextual link each day for 2-3 months.

How to find sites that can give you Quality Inbound Links:

The main challenge in securing quality inbound links is finding good sites. This free backlink checker does an excellent job (they could easily charge money).

Simply enter the keyword phrase you're interested in, and click the button. It searches the web and returns a list of likely candidates (i.e. fit the keyword phrase and appear to allow you to add a link back to your site). You can then visit any site you're interested in by clicking it's link.

Not all these sites will be suitable, but a surprising number are. It's likely there will be too many to deal with all at once, so save the web page to your desktop. That way, you can work through the list over time, adding one new inbound link per day.

NEW INFO: You can take this strategy one step further by entering a targeted keyword in Google, and note down the URLs of the top 3 sites. Then visit Backlink Watch and enter these URLs. It will display a list of sites from which you can get back links, and that are already helping your leading competitors.


SEO Birmingham said...

IMO if the links are one way in nature then it may not hurt you by any means if they are huge in numbers too.

Wayne Davies said...

Thanks for your comment.

A very large number of links from a single web site may hinder SEO activity if the search engine bot decides the site is a link farm. See this comment from Google's webmaster guidelines.

George said...


Good resource and thanks for your sharing.

Incidentally, why do you say that reciprocation will compromise on the SEO?

Wayne Davies said...

Thanks George,

When 2 sites link to each other, it acts to cancel the 'vote' of trust. Put another way, it's seen as collaboration for mutual gain rather than an honest expression of support for something good.

If I link to the DIY Guide to SEO, I'm saying I like this thing (which I do). If the DIY Guide links back to me, it looks like we simply swapped links.