Link Building 101: What is a Backlink?

To begin this Link Building series we'll look at the structure of inbound links, and the elements of backlinks that affect your search engine rankings...

What is a backlink?
Backlinks are incoming links to a website or web page. In the search engine optimization (SEO) world, the number of backlinks is one indication of the popularity or importance of that website or page.

In basic link terminology, a backlink is any link received by a web node (web page, directory, website, or top level domain) from another web node.

Backlinks are also known as incoming links, inbound links, inlinks, and inward links. -source

As you can see a backlink is the same as an inbound link, or incoming link, and is basically a hyperlink pointing from one page to another. That includes links within your site (internal links) or links to and from other domains (external links).

Link Building 101: Understanding the Terminology

Your link building strategy is a big part of web page optimization, and getting individual web pages (or blog posts) to rank well in the major search engines - particularly Google. For effective link building, it's important to understand these 4 elements - and how they are used to determine your rankings.

Link Popularity

Link Popularity refers to the number of links that point to your site, from other sites. This is considered in the ranking criteria because popular sites, or well-written content, should naturally attract inbound links.

Each inbound link is counted as a vote. The more votes you have, the more search engines consider your site a quality source in their ranking algorithm.

Link Reputation

Not all inbound links are created equal. The quantity and quality of your inbound links will determine how well your site ranks. Link Reputation defines the quality of your links, and is based on relevance.

Relevance is determined by both the Anchor Text linked to your URL (see next section), and the relevance between the pages that are linked.

In a natural setting a pet site may link to a cat site or a dog site. This is considered a relevant link. An unnatural connection would be that same pet site linking to a casino site, which is obviously not relevant.

Just as society judges you by the company that you keep, major search engines judge your web pages by the company that they keep… or the pages that they link to and get links from.

Anchor Text

Anchor Text is the word or phrase linked to your URL, or web page. This text defines the page that it links to, both for human eyes and for search engines. Ideally you will use the phrase you most want that web page to rank well for in the major search engines, and also a phrase that compels real people to click through and read the page.

As an example, this is Anchor Text: how to write a blog. That phrase tells Google that the page is all about how to write a blog. Using this phrase as the Anchor Text makes this page more likely to rank for that phrase.

Here is how you create a hyperlink with Anchor Text:

Google PageRank

This is an algorithm by which Google measures the relative importance of individual web pages. What most people know as PageRank is the little green guage in the Google Toolbar.

This PageRank feature in the toolbar shows a ranking from 0 to 10, zero being the lowest measure and 10 being the highest. This is not actual PageRank, and so is often referred to as Toolbar PageRank (TBPR). The toolbar does not necessarily display current or accurate data. See: Google PageRank: Tool or Marketing Gimmick?

My advice: Ignore TBPR when link building, and obtain any quality link from a relevant source that has the potential to send targeted traffic to your page.

Actual PageRank is the algorithm that Google uses to rank web pages. It is a complex algorithm, but we know it combines both Link Popularity and Link Reputation to determine how well any give page ranks, and for which search terms.

Google Describes PageRank: PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B.

But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important". -source

Nofollow Attribute

The name of this link attribute is somewhat misleading as it doesn't instruct the search engines not to follow the hyperlink, but rather not to influence (or pass PageRank) to the linked page.

This attribute was designed by Google's Matt Cutts and Jason Shellen (of in 2005, and was designed specifically to deter comment spam on blogs. It basically gives no weight or influence to outgoing links.

While this is Google's invention, Yahoo and Bing also respect this attribute - though each search engine seems to interpret it differently. See: for more in-depth information, including how to include the attribute in a link and charts on interpretation.

Since your objective in Link Building is to increase your ranking score, you would naturally avoid inbound links with the NoFollow Attribute. That said, numerous case studies have been done by professional SEO's and many of them report this attribute as "suspicious". Links with the NoFollow attribute showing up as backlinks in Yahoo Site Explorer, or in Google Webmaster Tools for example.

My advice: Ignore the NoFollow Attribute when link building, and obtain any quality link from a relevant source that has the potential to send targeted (human) traffic to your page.

Search Engine Friendly, Effective Link Building

Not all links are the same. But instead of worrying yourself over things like NoFollow and ToolBar PageRank, for effective link building you only need to ask yourself one question:

If Google did not exist, would this link make sense in my marketing strategy? How and where (and with what Anchor Text) can I best place a link to get highly targeted traffic to my page?

Keep those questions in mind as you consider your link building strategy...


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About Lynn Terry

Lynn Terry is a full-time Internet Marketer with over 17 years experience in online business. Subscribe to ClickNewz for the latest Internet Marketing trends & strategies, Lynn's unique case studies, creative marketing ideas, and candid reviews...moreΒ»


  1. James Holmes says

    Lynn -

    This is an excellent post and I feel you have hit the most relevant points. I spent time last week in the Stomper Net community researching the subject of in bounds links. Your post really solidified much for me.

    My thought is that consistency and patience are fundamental, write content worthy of attention and add value adding comments to the post of authority blogs in your niche and you will be successful.

    Thank you for your continued leadership and amazing content creation!


    • Thank you James. I agree that quality content goes a long way, but that content needs to be marketed as well. And while blog comments count for inbound links, there are limits there - and you also need variation to your links. We'll be covering that in the series, with creative ways to get a variety of quality backlinks.

  2. Teen Blogger says

    Great Post Lynn.

    I really thought that this post was helpful to get to know more about link building. I'm currently already doing these steps, but still wanted to know more about it and I think you did a quality job to provide the information.

    As no follow doesn't give any link juice, it does give traffic to your blog if done well.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  3. Great intro to the topic. Looking forward to the rest of the series, as this is one of the areas where I believe you can get a good return on time invested.

  4. Free Article Directory says

    Solid post Lynn.

    What are your thoughts on Google removing Pagerank from their webmaster tool? I know they have been trying to divert webmasters attention from PR for a long time, as this may be the first step.

    PR can be manipulated, just like any other measurements, however so many developers believe that PR was one of the best forms of measurement when it came to quality/authority of a websites. With one quick look at the green bar, we summarized a website. (which I dont think is right)

    Just wanted to hear your thoughts on this.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  5. Lynn,
    You've done it again. Taking the potentially complex and saying it so simply it hits you between the eyes. Keep at 'er. This is good stuff.

  6. Have you got any super tips for finding sites that are relevant? I've been using Google Blog Search, but I'm wondering if there's a more efficient way. I feel like I'm making it more complicated than it needs to be this morning.

  7. Leigha Baer says

    There you go again with some excellent information! Your timing couldn't be better either as I need to do some promotion of a this new site.
    As always, thanks for all you do and thanks too for the backlink πŸ™‚


  8. If I comment on another blog, how do I link back to my site. It was said on the webinar not to link back to my home page, but how do I not in this instance? Like right now, how would I link back to anything other than what I have?

    • Hey Stephen,
      Does my blog show you as logged in, or does it give you the option to fill in your name, email and URL every time you comment? It's the "name" field where you would put the keyword phrase, but that is really frowned upon by bloggers. The URL field is where you put the link you want to link out to. You can put any URL (link) you want there. I like to interlink related content, so even when I use my name in the Name field (and as the Anchor Text) I usually link to a related post on my own blog.

      This is not as effective as doing a pingback to a related post, though. I'll have a post coming up on that in this series.

  9. Lynn,

    Great Article! A little backlink trivia.

    In 1996 while at Stanford Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a search engine project known as Backrub. They called it this because how heavily "Back links" were factored in their search algorithm. After about a year they were using up too much bandwidth at Stanford so they had to move the project off campus.

    A little over a year later they decided to change the name to Google. And I think you know the rest.


  10. my experience has been that if i specifically go hunting for β€œdo follow” links it becomes a very boring and tedious task where as if i just have a bunch of blogs in my google reader that i enjoy reading and then leave appropriate comments with my target keyword / anchor text in mind i’m going to enjoy the experience more and am therefore likely to do it every day and it seems to work well for me in terms of natural search rankings also

  11. Hey Lynn,
    Great article (as usual :))
    I have one question around anchor text - I have noticed that when I have been building incoming links from a variety of backgrounds and targetted sites that I may have been penalised in some way for optimising the anchor text and not varying it enough to look natural.

    Is this likely to happen when I only have about 10 links all from different sites back to one page? (More links to the site generally and more to other pages too).

    I am using WordPress and was experimenting between posts and pages - the posts do the rank and tank thing you described in an earlier post and the pages (with the optimised links) did really well for a bit (top 10 in Google) then dropped to the 300 mark!

    Not really sure what is going on, just worried that I have caused myself a problem! Have been using Market Samurai to track everything.


    • 1. Yes, you need to vary your anchor text. Otherwise it could throw up a red flag that you are trying to manipulate the search results (ie over-optimization). Variation is key in your link-building strategy.

      2. If you get a good variety of inbound links, to either posts or pages, and continue to get new links to those pages now and then over time, they will hold their rankings. The "rank and tank" effect happens even without many links because Google considers blogs to be time-based news/topics. But enough solid links will tell Google it should stick.


    • Scott Lovingood says

      Andrew - I am not Lynn πŸ™‚ but will take a shot at answering your question.

      1) Google tends to rank you fairly high when your content is new and fresh. They seem to give a heavy weighting to newness while Bing/Yahoo/Aol weight age more heavily. In the early days of your content's life, Google using on page SEO to judge how to rank it.

      2) After it starts to age some, Google starts looking at off page SEO (incoming links, etc). It will fluctuate up and down over a few weeks while they determine where it should be. I had a post that was top 10 for Stock Market Prediction when it first came out. I was pretty shocked to say the least as my traffic jumped on it.

      3) Then over the next few weeks it would drop 100s of spots and then bounce back. Up and down like a yo yo. Now it seems to have settled down and is currently sitting at spot 7 for Stock Market Prediction.

      SEO people call it the Google dance. Just keep building links and you will see it settle down soon. Good luck with your site.

      • Scott Lovingood says

        Missed Lynn's reply to this. I had loaded the page early in the day and just got around to reading and commenting on it πŸ™‚

  12. Excellent primer! πŸ™‚

    Would love to see some uncommon backlinking ideas too... πŸ™‚

  13. Lynn,
    thanks for this informative post.
    Regarding the nofollow attribute I want to add that it was not only used to deter comment spam, but also for Pagerank sculpting. In the past you could prevent PR leaking from your site to external sites. Recently Google updated it algo (and treatment of the Nofollow tag) in so far as it is more a quality control than a PR control. Nowadays the nofollow tag is seen as an indication that you do not vouch for the quality of the site you link to.
    Regarding passing PR it works like this: When you have ten links on a page, whereof 3 are nofollow, the PR passed to the other 7 links is about 1/10th of the pages PR and the nofollow links don't get any PR passed (in total 3/10th of PR is wasted)
    In the past it was so that the nofollow links didn't receive their share of the PR, but the dofollow links would have gotten 1/7th of the original PR

    • I stay up on the SEO news, and am aware of all the strategies & tactics, including "PR Sculpting" - but these things always tend to come and go whereas great content and quality links remain a stable SEO strategy...

  14. Backlinks are really essential in SEO. It will also help your blogs to get a higher google page rank. The more backlinks you have, the higher the PR you will get.

    • John Glass says

      "The more backlinks you have, the higher the PR you will get."

      Dear Essay Writing,

      This is more or less an outright lie as google has punished many sites from having to many backlinks at linkfarms or other reputably webpages. Quality backlinks with relevant anchor texts combined excellent content is the key to success.

  15. It's all becoming more clear as I keep moving through this series of posts. So it sounds like I shouldn't even worry about that no follow stuff when linking out to affiliate products or should I? I'm still confused about that but don't want that to stop me from moving forward. Didn't use it at all in the past when linking out but haven't seen it make a difference with the ones I have done recently so who knows.

    • You can use the Nofollow Attribute on outgoing affiliate links within your content, as a "safe measure". But honestly, I have not done it myself and link out freely. And while I might have higher PageRank if I did (?), it certainly has not affected my rankings or traffic...

      Most of the time I just blog and link, blog and link - and keep on going.

  16. I am so glad you decided to do this series. It is such a valuable piece to the ranking puzzle and there are so many facets to it.

    Thanks for the great info. I look forward to the next installment.

    Deirdre J.

  17. Minisite Design says

    Great article Lynn..

    @Angie, I have several blogs, and a few have a great PR, and I link out to different sites/pages/blogs all the time, and it seems my pagerank has kept getting better (but over a few years time)..

    Oh, and I don't use the nofollow attribute, although I have the option via Platinum seo plugin. I have tried it for a while, and didn't see much difference.

    I think maybe after your site/blog is established, and you have a good amount of backlinks to your site, you can relatively link freely to sites without 'nofollowing'.

    Just my experience..

  18. Lynn,

    Great information. I've been trying out a service call LotusJump gives you a list of potential sites where you can set up links to your site based on your URL and keywords you input. It's not perfect but it speeds up the process.


    - John

  19. Hi Lynn, great post on link building basics. There's a lot of "no follow" debate and I agree with your stance of "obtain any quality link from a relevant source that has the potential to send targeted (human) traffic to your page."

  20. Hey Lynn,

    Great Post!!! I'm really glad you touched on the NoFollow attribute. I have been going crazy trying to find blogs to follow that are in my niche that don't have the NoFollow and it has been really difficult.

    I guess I will stop putting so much time into trying to find these and just comment on blogs in my niche.


    • Blog commenting is good, but Pingbacks are better (details coming soon in a new post), but even better than both are links within the actual content area. If you're spending a lot of time commenting on blogs with nofollow attributes in the links, your time could be better spent doing guest blogging and/or article marketing.

      Not that blog commenting isn't good, it is - but if you're counting every minute, do the things that count the most. Stay tuned because we're going to discuss quality of links next. πŸ˜‰

      • Well, I will be anxiously awaiting your next posts. I am slowly starting to see how this all works and how it can really help my sites.

        Question for you on guest blogging. My wife has had someone inquire about a blog post that she has on her blog that they would like to put on their blog as a guest post. What is the best way of going about this, since she has already posted it on her site? Thanks for the help.


        • I would reply and encourage them to write a response to her post, or quote a few pieces from her post and add their own comments to the topic in their own post. Doing that, and including a link to credit the source (her post) will create a pingback on her post... and give them better results all the way around. See if you can educate them in that direction in your response to their request.

  21. Very good, thorough post. I agree with your comments about the Toolbar PR, and actually think people focus too much on PR altogether.

    One thing that I've found frustrating is exchanging or paying for links, only to find that the link is no longer active weeks or months after I've received it. I created a free tool to that automatically verifies if your backlinks are still live. It also tracks the PR of the linking page, price paid for the links, contact info, and more. I'd love to get some feedback on the tool. It's free, but does require a link for use. You can check it out at

    • Thanks Jaron - will check it out.

      Personally I don't do link exchanges and very rarely purchase links, as I prefer high quality one-way links. But every now and then I run a paid buzz campaign so this could come in handy for that.

  22. That was the best explained definition of link building I've come across. Thanks!

  23. Thomas McEvoy says

    I always learn valuable stuff from your posts and feeds. Are you using the Free Wordtracker or paid Pro tool?

  24. Lynn,

    While I feel like I am starting to get the hang of this there is just SO much to learn! Did I read somewhere else on your site that you are coming out with a book? If so, does it explain all of this material from A to Z? Thanks so much for all the wonderful and insightful information that you provide for us!


  25. Lynn,

    what an excellent resource your posts are. Having just set up a new site I have pretty much exclusively used your common sense and understandable advice you give. It makes excellent sense to the uninitiated and expert alike. Go for that book!!!


  26. Yes I think it's definitely a good idea to consider 'what if Google didn't exist'. We can get so caught up in what is the best procedure to follow that we do nothing at all in the way of link building. Providing quality content and relevant posts will surely be a good start in this age of spammy low quality comments which show themselves to be so over time.

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