What are Backlinks?

The age of the Internet has created about five dozen new languages, or so it appears.  From the ever popular emoticons and texting to the language spoken by web professionals, there are esoteric terms that are important to your business and you may not even know they exist.  Forget about knowing their meaning!  This is true of the term backlinks.

At first glance, backlinks look like English gone wrong.  If someone said link back or linked back it would make perfect sense, but backlinks just looks wrong.  Backlinks, however, are vital to your online presence and growing your business.  Here we revisit a post from February 2011 and delve into the definition and history of backlinks.

In the early days of the internet, sites such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo! did not exist.  There were no search engines as we know them today to aid in navigating the World Wide Web.  That is when backlinks were born.  In those days, savvy internet users and designers would look for links in documents to related documents. In this manner “surfing the net” came into being.

The proliferation of search engines and their dominance of internet navigation have seen backlinks evolve into something much more than just a link to more information.  They have become the life blood and driving force of search engine optimization.  The major search engines rank a page based on the number of backlinks on the page.  The theory is simple.  The more people wish to link to your page the better your page must be.  The more links, the higher the ranking.

The two main types of backlinks in use today are one way backlinks and mutual backlinks.  Understanding what they do and how search engines view each of them is a crucial part in your website design.

  • One way backlinks.  Are links to your site from another site without a link back to the other site.  These are held in high regard by search engines and sites with large numbers of one ways receive higher rankings in results. Local business directories are a good place for businesses to submit their sites to get a one way backlink.  Some good local business directories include:
  • Mutual backlinks.  Mutual backlinks are exchanged by websites.  For example, Jim links to Bob’s website and Bob links to Jim’s website.  Search engines do not rank mutual backlinks as high as one ways so they do not have as much impact on your site’s search engine ranking.

Search engines have these views for a valid reason known as link farms.  Link farms are a large group of websites sharing the same backlinks.  Prior to search engines changing algorithms and becoming more discerning of their rankings, link farms were used to “spam” search engine results.  That is the reason one way links are rated a little higher that mutual links, the mutual links are viewed a little suspiciously.

Backlinks, done properly, are a great way to improve your web presence.  Through discriminating backlinks search engines will start to view your site as popular and you will climb your way to the top of the rankings.  Caution is required that you have more one ways than mutual backlinks on your site.  A site with a large number of mutual backlinks could wind up in the “link farm” category and an innocent site’s ranking could suffer.

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. She has also produced content in San Diego and San Francisco.