External links – what are they and what are they for?
We tell you why external links are needed, what they are, and how not to harm your site with link promotion.
One of the effective ways to promote a website is the use of external links; they affect the ranking of the resource and its authority. They can raise it to the TOP 10, and if used incorrectly, force search robots to ignore the resource. To prevent this from happening, you need to understand how link promotion works.
What are external links
An external link is a path to a page on one site located on a page on another site.
In an ideal situation, this is a recommendation for the user to go to another page with useful content. The more recommendations, the more people come, and the higher the search engine ranks the site, because it considers it to be of high quality and reliable.
In reality, in order to increase the link mass, webmasters buy backlinks, which are needed only to transfer weight, and traffic from them is rather an additional bonus. Search engines struggle with such methods of promotion, so simply placing as many backlinks as possible to raise it in the search results will not work.
First, let’s understand the terminology.
External links can be incoming or outgoing:
- Incoming (reverse) or backlinks (backlink) – links that lead to your site from other resources;
- Outgoing ones are those that lead to other resources from you.
Within a site, links can also be incoming and outgoing, but relative to a specific page.
Link mass or link profile is a collection of indexed links that lead from other sites to yours.
Donor site or donor domain is a resource on which a link to another site is installed.
The acceptor site or acceptor domain is the resource to which the link leads.
In this article we will use the term “external links” to mean external incoming links.
How links help with SEO
Promotion with backlinks is one of the aspects of external optimization , that is, actions outside the site.
Growth of positions in search results
For search algorithms, backlinks are one of the parameters for evaluating a site, but only if they are posted on trust resources that are similar in topic. The better the link profile, the higher the site ranks in search results. In the case of low-quality donor domains, the opposite effect may occur.
Backlinks can generate traffic if they are placed on resources with a live audience.
Transitions alone are not enough – it is important that users follow the link and stay, view and interact with the content, and go to other pages. If they leave quickly, this will increase the site’s bounce rate and its position in the search results will decrease. Search robots find links that have no clicks at all and may consider them spam.
Relevance by topic and keywords
When one site mentions another, similar in topic, the second’s rankings for targeted queries increase. In the past, webmasters would place links on unrelated sites simply to gain links. Now this will have the opposite effect.
Search robots analyze anchor and near-anchor text , as well as the theme of the entire page, even for links that do not convey weight.
A highly simplified example:
You have an online store for gardening supplies. Some website about house plants referred to one of your products in an article about fertilizers. The search robot will analyze the link, find a connection between the content and conclude that the page with this product should be shown for queries related to fertilizers.
Irrelevant links are much easier to get, but they will not be useful and may even cause harm. More relevant links mean better rankings.
By posting links to other resources on your page, you can contact their owners and ask them to mention you in return. This way you will receive relevant links and traffic, and increase awareness.
Search engines consider this a prohibited method, so it is important that the links can be explained logically – indicate the source of the news, give an example of a product or service, provide a link to instructions.
Static weight – link evaluation indicator
Static weight is a conditional value that determines the authority of a page, the result of comparing the quantity and quality of its incoming links. One page can convey another weight through a link. Previously, this was the basis for ranking documents on the Internet. Google had PR (Page Rank) until 2014; Yandex had the TCI (Thematic Citation Index) until 2018.
Page Rank was calculated as follows: Google interpreted a link from page A to page B as a vote of A in favour of B. Not only the number of votes was taken into account, but also the quality of the voting pages. The indicator was abandoned because webmasters began to use various manipulations to bring the site to the top of search results.
But links are still ranking factors. For example, in the EEAT Authoritativeness indicator, that is, the authority of the site, among other indicators, it also implies link mass.
For Yandex, when calculating TCI, the thematic proximity of the acceptor site and donor sites was important. The number of links to a resource itself also influenced the indicator, but the sum of their weights was more important. With an external link, one site shares some of its static weight with another. The larger the page’s CB, the greater the share that it could transfer.
The TCI indicator no longer works, instead it is now the SQI (Site Quality Index), which is based not on the link mass, but on the usefulness of the resource for visitors.
However, according to a study by Ashmanov and Partners, link mass is still important for promotion in Yandex.
What are the links?
Links can be classified by origin, openness and closedness, presence or absence of an anchor, that is, text that contains the link.
Nofollow, or closed links
Nofollow links are used to mark the page of another resource, but do not share link juice with it.
The Nofollow attribute appeared in order to not transfer weight to links from comments on forums and from other content that was difficult for the site owner to control. Search robots did not take these links into account. Over time, webmasters began to close almost all outgoing links in order not to receive sanctions for them, so the link connections of resources became difficult to analyze. Since 2020, Google takes nofollow links into account when ranking a site – it checks the anchor and text around it, as well as all page content to assess relevance, but weight is still not transferred to them.
There are two more attributes:
- Sponsored – this is how the advertisement is marked;
- UGC is a marking of user-generated content.
More information in the article How nofollow, sponsored and UGC links affect SEO
Dofollow, or open links
These links differ from nofollow in that they transfer weight. Dofollow does not need to be set if you link to some unpopular resource, for example, when indicating the source.
When purchasing links or submitting a guest article, you may want to discuss the type of link with the owner of the donor site.
In one of the articles, we described in detail what nofollow and dofollow links are , and how many of them should be on the page.
Anchor and non-anchor links
Anchor (from English “anchor”) link is the text that the user clicks to go to another page.
Another definition is that a link anchor is the text placed between the < a > and < /a > tags .
In html code it looks like this:
<a href=”https://sitename.com/ru/”>Anchor text</a>
If possible, do not use exact entries, this will serve as a signal that the link has been purchased.
In this tool you can check how many links there are on a page.
Conduct an SEO analysis of a website page in a couple of clicks.
You can learn more about anchors in Google Help under Link Spam.
Anchors can be commercial, that is, in addition to the main key, they can contain the words:
Non-anchor links are links inserted into content in the form of general phrases – “here”, “there”, “here”, “by link” or in the form of a URL.
We wrote an article about anchors, here it is: https://pr-cy.ru/news/p/8215-polnoe-seo-rukovodstvo-po-ankornym-tekstam
They can also look like branded queries – website address, company or service name in different cases, in transcription, maybe even with errors if users constantly distort the name. For example, the brand name Wildberries is often written as “walberis” or something similar. In the service industry, you can use the name of the specialist.
Brand anchor with incorrect spelling
Another option for non-anchor links is links from images. If you do not fill in the meta Alt tag, such a link will be safe from the point of view of sanctions for spam in anchors.
A safe link profile has something like this:
- 60-80% non-anchor links;
- 20-40% with anchors.
Where to get backlinks?
There are several ways to get backlinks:
- Natural growth.
Natural links can be difficult to obtain and almost always take a long time, especially if the site is small and not very well known. Honest webmasters write articles, try to create viral content and get into collections.
Buying and renting
Search engines consider buying and renting to be prohibited methods, but in fact, almost everyone does it. If you choose this route, it is important to choose your donors carefully. Here are some basic evaluation criteria:
- General website indicators – Trust Rank, Domain Rank. Can be checked in our domain analysis tool;
- Subject – a site about gardening can post a link to a seedling store, but not to an online English school. The theme of the site as a whole should be clear;
- Geo – choose donors in the same country, or better yet, in the same region;
- Domain age and history – it is better to be placed on sites that are at least a year old;
- Traffic – the site must be lively, with an ever-growing audience;
- Security – make sure that the resource is not under filters;
- SEO characteristics – titles, meta tags, number of keys in content, indexing;
- Technical characteristics – 4XX errors, low loading speed;
- Placement on link exchanges – if a site actively trades links, it is better not to place your own on it;
- The quality of published links – on the pages of the selected site there should be no blinking links or backlinks to dubious resources;
- The ratio of external outgoing and external incoming links – a strong gap in favor of outgoing ones indicates the low quality of the site;
- The highest quality and most authoritative pages on a site – which pages on a site bring the most traffic and where users stay the longest.
Before posting, make sure the quality of the donor sites. The free Bulk Domain Checker can check indexing, domain age and ending, traffic, link count, and other metrics to help you make a decision.
Perpetual links are paid for once and placed on the site until the end of its life. They constantly bring traffic and weight, if the donor domain does not lose authority and position over time, they usually look organic in the content of the pages and are the least suspicious for search engines.
Their main disadvantage is their high price. In addition, you will become dependent on the owners of donor sites – you may lose money if the resource on which the link is placed falls under sanctions. It may also be deleted or the owner may change, who will not comply with the agreement and will delete the link.
Rented (or rented) houses are placed for a period of time. They are paid by the day, month or year – depending on the agreement with the owner of the donor site. They are easy to manage – if the tasks change, you can refuse the rental. The choice of donors is usually larger than for perpetual links.
At the same time, there is less likelihood of natural transitions – rental links are usually placed in inconspicuous places: the footer or to the side of the content. If the optimizer does not monitor when the payment period ends, then there may be pauses in the operation of the link, the so-called blinking – this is a negative factor.
We wrote about how to buy links and not harm the site in another article.
How to save money when purchasing
Backlinks are usually purchased on exchanges and through special services. As a rule, this is a turnkey service – you select sites, and the owners of donor sites or intermediaries do the rest. You can try to reduce the cost of the process:
- Write your texts
Usually an article is written to post a link. If you want to reduce the cost, write the texts yourself or hire a copywriter. This may be cheaper than if the articles are prepared by the owner of the donor site;
- Collaborate directly
The link exchange, like any other aggregator, makes money from commissions from users. Often on the site you can find the administrator’s contacts, contact them and buy a link without a commission.
These are links that appear without your participation. The point is to interest users and owners of other resources so that they mention you on their websites, forums or social networks.
Another option is to get links that look natural. For example, offer your product or service for review, write instructions or a case study and ask to be featured on thematic resources. We wrote about where else to place a link to a site for free and not receive sanctions in one of the articles. The process is long, but brings good results.
A natural link looks like this:
- The theme of the donor site is similar to yours;
- The anchor is harmoniously integrated into the test, contains partial occurrences of keys or a link without an anchor;
- The link was published with the article, not added later;
- There is live traffic;
- There are no other references in the document or they are placed appropriately.
Placement of links on the page and nesting level
In addition to the indicators of the donor site, it is important to consider the level of nesting of the page with the link and its location on the page.
- Page nesting
The closer the donor page is to the main page, the more weight it will transfer. Specify how many clicks the user must make to get there. There is an opinion that there should be no more than three clicks;
The best option for link location is the main content, text. Such links are more significant for search robots and visible to users. It is worse to be placed in the footer, sidebar and other blocks.
How many backlinks should a site have?
There is no perfect link profile formula that suits everyone.
The easiest way to figure out how many inbound links you need is to check your competitors. Find sites that are ranking for your keywords and check who is linking to them. Consider real competitors, and not catalogues, aggregators or large sites like Avito; you still won’t be able to beat them in the search results. If your business is regional, check competitors in the same region rather than similar resources across the country.
You can check your competitor’s link profile in our website analysis service .
Enter your competitor’s URL and go to the “Site Links” section. There are three reports: New Links, Top Links, and Most Cited Pages.
In the “Top Links” report, you will see links that can be sorted by Link Rank or Domain Rank – the quality of the domains on which they are installed. If resources with competitor backlinks are suitable for you, try to negotiate so that you are also mentioned.
How to promote a new website?
Immediately after indexing the site in a search engine, you can begin its internal optimization. To do this, you should choose the crowd. These can be links on forums, in comments, etc. In moderation, crowd links reduce the likelihood of getting sanctioned, and for Google, crowd links look like the most natural type of link.
With a correctly defined target audience, promotion with crowd links will help you earn initial traffic in a few months.
Why don’t the links work?
This is almost always due to two main problems: link quality and site quality. If everything is fine with the links at first glance, check the site itself: relevance and optimization of content, loading speed, security, behavioural factors. A poorly optimised website cannot be brought to the top of search results by any number of links.
Another possible reason for sanctions is the so-called link explosion, when a site suddenly has a lot of links. This in itself is not a problem if the backlinks are high quality. For example, Google’s Penguin filter can recognize link spam and ignore it, so a few random dubious backlinks won’t harm your site. But this will attract the attention of the search robot, and if it turns out that most of the donor domains are dubious, you can get a manual filter.
How to disavow unnecessary links?
If any of the backlinks bother you, you can disavow them using a special tool in the Search Console.
Create a document in txt format and add a list of URLs from which you consider inappropriate links.