The backlinks are used as an important ranking factor in many search engines including giant Google.
A web page which is linked by another website is called a backlink for the linking site. The Google and other search engines take this as a vote or a referral to rank a linking website for a specific search query.
To understand the importance of backlinks consider this scenario in a traditional world. Suppose, you want to buy a mobile phone from a shop located in downtown. There are many mobile shops in that market. You have a few friends who have buying experience from that market. Now, where you will preferably go to buy your desired phone?
You ask friends about the reputation of those shops and ask them to recommend where you should buy for yourself? Five out of ten friends recommends you to store A. The other two friends to store B and three others to store C based at their experiences, customer support etc. Where will you prefer to go?
Logically, to Store A, based on the number of references or ‘votes’. The store A is ranked 1 in your to-visit list. Alternatively you can say, each reference acted as a ‘backlink’ to that store, for example.
Now put that scenario in organic search, the store A site is linked by five other websites. Store B is linked by 2 and store C is by three other websites. As you search your desired model in a search engine like Google, what results google should enlist and at what order? Naturally, store A at 1, store C at 2 and store B at 2 based at the number of links to those stores from the other websites.
Now this is the simplest scenario to understand backlinks and how it works. However, the ranking factor based at backlinks is no more that simple. I will try to explain with the same scenario, so keep reading.
The websites that link to other websites are relevant to each other or not is really important. For example, consider the Store A’s website in above scenario, which is linked by five websites. Are those five websites that link to store A’s site (which is a mobile store) are related to mobile products?
If those are from mobile sector, a mobile phone forum, blog etc. then it will have a positive impact. Besides, if the links are from closer businesses like technology or electronics category that can be relevant. However, what if the links are from health related sites or finance etc. These may also be helpful, however, can be considered low relevant so less impact.
As such backlinks are created by using HTML <a> tag. The <a> tag also supports ‘rel’ attribute that tells the search engines whether this link should be followed for link juice to the linking website or not. Generally, search engines will only benefit links with rel=follow (which is by default) for linking websites.
The anchor text, which is the text used for backlink had been very important before 2012 (prior to Google penguin update). The anchor text is still important, however, to the lesser extent and if not “used” carefully it can harm SERPs.
Basically, Google and other engines read backlinks and store the anchor text as well to measure the SERP of a specific keyword.
For example, if I want to rank well for the “backlinks tutorial” keyword, that points to this page. Then I would like to link my page by backlink tutorial anchor text and that should not link to the home page. Instead, this page’s URL should be linked in order to list Google, Yahoo, Bing to rank this page on top of search results.
<a href=’http://www.linking-site.com’>anchor text here</a>
Links must be natural
There has been a buzzword in SEO community that if “Content is king then backlinks are queen”. These two factors had been considered to be the most important to get better SERPs. As mentioned, most search engines use backlinks as a major ranking factor in organic search results page.
However, the search engines are supposed to give credit to those backlinks that are created naturally, as a result of excellent content. But where there are webmasters and owners who follow legitimate ways to build those backlinks, the others apply black hat techniques to manipulate search rankings.
That included link exchange programs, link buying, article writing in directories only for the sake to get backlinks without taking users perspective, PBNs (private blog network) etc. In those links, generally, the anchor text that were generally targeted keywords to gain top rankings were also used.
As a result, a lot of search positions were taken by manipulators who used illegitimate ways and search engines particularly Google had to take action. Those bad techniques went on until Google introduced its popular update “Webspam update” later called as Google penguin in April 2012 that targeted those websites using link schemes and ‘over optimized’ keywords to gain rankings in Google.
Currently, though strict search engine policies are in place to penalize those who try to fraud search system, backlinks still are taken as an important factor to gain rankings in major search engines.