What is it?
Backlinks, also referred to as “incoming links,” are links pointing at pages on your site from other websites. Search engines often treat backlinks as ‘votes’ for a site, so the number and quality of backlinks has a significant impact on your SEO.
Why it matters
Backlinks are a huge part of any SEO strategy. Your website should aim for a competitive volume and quality of backlinks to compete for high search engine ranking.
Link building (i.e. purposely obtaining links to a website) is a large part of effective Search Engine Optimization, especially for new or poorly ranking websites.
How to use it
This test breaks down the most important types of backlinks, with graphs where historical data is available:
- Backlinks – the total number of backlinks to this website
- Followable backlinks – the number of links which are not marked “no-follow”
- Not-followable backlinks – the number of links which are marked “no-follow”
- Text backlinks – the number of links which appear around text
- Image backlinks – the number of links which appear around images
- RSS backlinks – the number of links which appear in RSS feeds, generally blog feeds
- Backlinking pages – the number of unique pages which contain at least one link to this website
- .gov backlinks – the number of backlinks from websites ending in .gov (government websites, which are considered highly trustworthy)
- .edu backlinks – the number of backlinks from websites ending in .edu (educational websites, which are considered highly trustworthy)
What you want here is a diverse range of links. Search engines like Google are high adept at detecting artificial link patterns, such as ten million links all coming from websites hosted on the same server. Most high ranking websites will have an organic range of followable and unfollowable links, links in images and text, and so on.
The most valuable backlinks (as measured by their approximate PageRank) are listed in a table:
These backlinks give a good idea of where your most valued backlinks are currently coming from. If you are testing a competitor website, you can use this information to get ideas for how you might conduct your own link building.
How it works
Backlinks are counted by Ahrefs, a third party. Insites counts the backlinks pointing to the specific subdomain that this website is hosted on, e.g. www.example.com and another.example.com would be counted separately. It is unable to distinguish between backlinks to specific pages, so if your Insites website excludes specific pages they will not be excluded from this test.
The approach used is equivalent to Google – Ahrefs attempt to crawl every significant page on the Internet, and record all of the links they find. From this, they are able to count the number pointing to a given domain.
If a website is new, it can take some time to find links to it. If the website has very few incoming links, there is a chance this test will not find them.
It is not possible to count every possible link from every possible website. Like Google, this test cannot search the whole Internet instantly on demand. Instead it checks an index it has built of the majority of the Internet, which is being constantly updated. As a result, like Google, results will always be approximate.
Also, the number of links reported by different search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo etc) will vary from this count and each other. There is no consensus on how links should be counted.
For example, Google is much pickier at counting links, but the links they do count are of higher value. Among other criteria, Google generally exclude links that:
- Come repeatedly from one website (e.g. in the footer of every page)
- Come from a set of related webservers (e.g. similar / identical IP addresses)
- Come from a set of websites which appear to reference each other exclusively
- Come from sites that reciprocate the link
- Come from blacklisted websites
- Come from brand new websites
- Come from websites filled with some user generated content (e.g. Wikipedia)
- Are invisible or nearly so (e.g. white text on white background)
In effect, Google are very good at eliminating most of the common tricks for generating artificial links, which people have used to trick search engines in the past. All link counts use some variation of this approach, and these approaches are usually kept secret.
Therefore, you should not consider this test an absolute metric, but a relative one. You can use it to say website A has more links than website B, but you shouldn’t ascribe precise value to a specific number of links. The value in this information is in how it compares with other sites, not how high the number is.
How to improve your backlinks
You should always be gaining more quality links to your website (see link building).
Once a website has reached a certain critical mass, it should usually gain respectable backlinks all by itself. At this point, your main concern will be building backlinks around specific and desirable keywords.