Backlinks are incoming links to a webpage from another webpage.
They are, fundamentally, what turns pages into web-pages: they are the links, the lines, the plumbing that joins sites together. Without links, there would be no web.
When you see them in that context, it’s not surprising that these are pretty important for SEO, right? Scratch that – they are massively important. Massively.
In the past, backlinks were the major metric for the ranking of a webpage. A page with a lot of backlinks tended to rank higher on all major search engines, including Google. This is still true, although Google and other search engines have been refining their approach to backlinks – quality has now overtaken quantity and it’s no longer simply a matter of getting as many links as you can.
The importance of backlinks cannot be overestimated. Link building is hard, but vital to the success of your website.
“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” – Oscar Wilde
The other benefit of backlinks
Before the internet and the World Wide Web, we had backlinks – we just called them “word of mouth” and many people will still tell you that this is the most powerful kind of marketing there is.
Getting a backlink isn’t just about getting SEO benefits from that link; it’s also about getting traffic through that link. If you can get a link to your website in front of more people, some of them are going to click that link.
More links = more traffic, even without taking into account SEO.
OK, so how many of these backlinks do I need?
Sorry, there is no “magic number” of backlinks.
The more backlinks you have the better as long as those backlinks are coming in from sites that make sense in context and are relevant to your site.
What the hell does that mean? Let’s try an example.
Eggs, milk, cheese, and a locksmith
You have a website where you sell eggs, milk, and cheese. Links from other sites about food and drink would make sense, right? A link from a locksmith’s website, by comparison, makes no sense at all. It’s pretty unlikely that that link was created organically, e.g. without any kind of interference or unnecessary influence, and so we’d call that one out as a backlink that isn’t relevant and is therefore worthless.
There’s a chance, of course, that the locksmith website did have a genuine reason to link to the eggs, milk, and cheese site and this is where context comes into play. If the locksmith’s website contained a post about putting locks on a new warehouse for the eggs, milk, and cheese site then that would have context, even if the site itself wasn’t that relevant. I’d expect this link to have low value, but it may pass some small value on to the site that it is linking to.
What the World Wide Web looks like
If you ever had to make a mindmap in school, that’s what the world wide web is supposed to look like – one topic linked to another related topic, with subtle changes from page to page eventually linking disparate items.
You may be only six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, but your website probably isn’t. Sorry, Kevin.
Quality trumps quantity with backlinks – although personally, I don’t think you should be making a choice between one and the other. What’s wrong with having a large number of high-quality links?
Answer: Nothing. It’s just a pretty hard thing to achieve.