Whether it is an art of a science, there are a lot of people involved in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) trying just to figure out just what Google wants to get a website higher in the Google Search rankings. Obviously, the higher up in the rankings you are, the greater the likelihood of you getting more visitors to your site, and the greater the potential for revenue from your bricks and mortar or online business. However, the reality of the situation is that the bulk of people searching for something on Google rarely go past the first page (meaning the top 10 links in most cases) and very few people indeed venture beyond the third page of search results. For all intents and purposes, SEO is a race for the first page of Google - nothing less!
So, how do you get on the first page?
Over the last few years there have been a number of Google updates that have changed the SEO landscape. The 'Panda' and 'Penguin' updates shifted the emphasis to the quality of websites and user experience, culminating in Google's much publicized April 21, 2015 update (nicknamed "Mobilegeddon") which recognized how import mobile usage now was to user experience. Despite the changes along the way, the one thing that has remained consistent throughout the changes is the need for 'backlinks'.
What is a 'backlink'?
Wikipedia suggests a 'backlink' is "any link received by a web node (web page, directory, website, or top level domain) from another web node". Let's say for instance you have a web hosting website and a new law emerges regarding the need for data to stay within the United Kingdom (or any other country). The law itself is long and cumbersome, so rather than rewrite the whole item, you highlight the name of the law (for instance, the "Web Hosting Act") and add a link to the relevant page on Legislation.gov.uk (or wherever the information may be). Google recognizes that the link you have added exists, and the site you link to is given kudos (for want of a better word - some people call it "Google Juice") for the term you highlighted (in this case "Web Hosting Act"). The more websites that link to the same page with the same (or similar terms), the higher the website goes in Google search rankings for that term. So, if in the same way, if you can get backlinks in a similar way to your website, the higher it goes in Google's ranking.
Why are 'backlink's important?
In the early days, Google placed great emphasis on backlinks, assuming that sites with masses of backlinks must have been important, and elevating their position as a result. However, SEO 'experts' soon caught onto this, and very soon websites were buying backlinks just to boost numbers. At that stage the 'quality' of backlinks became important. For instance, if an educational organization linked to your website, the assumption was that your website must have something relevant or of importance to the education sector. As a result, getting links from '.edu' websites became very big business, and Google again revised their link policy to penalize sites that had been 'over-optimized'.
Which is better: "Nofollow" or "Follow"?
Despite the slightly murky history of backlinks, they are still very relevant to people want to raise the profile of their websites in Google search. There are 2 types of backlinks know as 'follow' or 'nofollow' links. The type of link is differentiated in the html written for each link.
Originally, a 'follow' link was regarded as more of an endorsement of a website. Supposedly, a 'follow' link was added when a website author was completely sure of the website he was linking to as a source of 'authority' on the topic being discussed. This acted as an instruction to Google to go and review the website being linked to. A 'nofollow' link didn't carry the same level of 'trust'. It was basically instructing Google not to review the site being linked to.
Of course, once again the SEO community twigged and everyone who ever requested abacklink requested a 'follow' backlink, to the extent that Google updated its algorithm to recognize too many 'follow' backlinks as being evidence of a site being over-optimized. This forced millions of website owners and SEO people to look up the links they had received, contact owners, and this time request 'nofollow' links.
This is what a 'nofollow' link looks like in html:
<a href="http://findukhosting.com/" rel="nofollow">FindUKHosting</a>
A website should really receive a blend of 'follow' and 'nofollow' links, probably erring towards a greater number of 'nofollow' links. But rather than going out of your way to 'manufacture' links, your focus should be on developing website content that website owners and developers would naturally want to link to. Google penalizes websites that have masses of links to pages with substandard content because again, this is evidence of a site being over-optimized. However, what is also important to remember is that, theoretically, a 'follow' link will help push your site up the Google rankings, but a 'nofollow' link could also send visitors to your site. If you have a business, that is the end game.
Which are the best sites to get backlinks from?
Imagine if the BBC website did a story on the topic your website covers, and linked to your site as a result. Imagine if a news outlet like the BBC offered your website a 'follow' link. The result could be enormous - a well-respected, 'authority' website, was actually considering your website as an authority on the topic being reported. Of course, Google would have to take note of that. The closer you get to links from organizations like the BBC, the better they are.
The chances are though that the BBC would only provide a 'nofollow' link to your site. However, that link might well drive thousands of people to your content. The number of visitors who visit a website is also one of the factors that contributes to a website's ranking, so obviously, the more visitors the merrier!
Can I buy backlinks?
These days buying backlinks is a waste of money - Google are onto you. As we mentioned earlier, content is king and if you have something of quality on your site that is noteworthy or newsworthy, people WILL link to it. Using video alongside text is always a good idea - people have a tendency to share videos as well as link to pages where they appear.
How can I speed up the process?
To cut the process shorter you might contact websites to see if they are interested in your content. For instance, if you are a web host, you could contact FindUKHosting.com (link to http://findukhosting.com/) to see if they might be interested in doing a review of your products and services. In addition, you can write articles for websites in return for a link, but be careful how many you do - this might come under the category of guest blogging and that sites that give or receive too many links from guest bloggers might well be penalized. See here for more.
Be creative - again, for instance, if you are a web host, contact some of the companies who provide the technology you are using. Perhaps they will do feature on their customer - you! Of course, the quickest way to get links is to get in the news. If you do something innovative that nobody has ever done before (at least in your area), make some noise - contact the local newspaper and get them to run a story on you. For instance, if your company employs some interns for the university summer holidays, that might well be newsworthy. Your local paper and its website might run a story on you as a local benefactor of students. That type of advertising, and those types of links can be priceless!