There’s a lot of confusion about linking from one website to another – Is it good, is it bad or doesn’t it matter anymore?

If it’s done properly, it’s good.

If it’s done artificially, simply to cheat Google and other search engines into thinking that a webpage is more important than it actually is, it’s bad. Yes, there used to be a time when you could simply buy links to your website and watch it climb the rankings – you can’t anymore, so don’t do it.

What Is a Backlink?

When Sir Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea for the World Wide Web his vision was that of a vast number of individual web pages linked together so that anyone could follow those links and find what they are looking for. If any particular page, rich with interesting and useful content, accumulated a large number of links from other websites then that was a sign of that page’s quality and value to those who visited it.

They expressed their satisfaction with that page by creating that link – in other words, it was an authentic, genuine link that said “I found this page useful regarding this subject, here’s a quick way to find it” – and a link was born. That link had tremendous value because it was someones genuine opinion that the web page in question was useful and worth visiting.

Now, search engines like Google face a bit of a dilemma. Let’s imagine that someone is researching local car repair garages in order to get some work done. They carry out a Google search for “Car Repairs” and see something like this:

car repairs london - Google Search

Why is it that the result for appears above the one for Why is listed below both of the above?

Why is this? How does Google decide which website to show in which position?

The answer to that is a closely guarded secret, very few people know how the calculation is made. This is known as Google’s page ranking algorithm and there is a very good reason why it is kept a secret.

Consider this, if everyone searching on Google found that they were being shown pages of results that were not really all that relevant, they would lose confidence in Google as a source for information. Since Google obtains most of its revenue from the various advertising products that it operates on this page and elsewhere, it cannot afford to let people lose confidence in it’s relevancy and impartiality.

Google’s objective is simple – to show the person carrying out the search the most relevant pages of information to the search criteria.

The website owner’s objective is equally simple – to make sure that Google knows what his or her website is all about so that the search engine can show it in an appropriate position when a suitable search takes place. If it were possible to manipulate the results such that a particular page was shown – even if it was not relevant to the search being made – then users would not be able to find what they were looking for, and may go elsewhere.

But that is exactly what happened – website owners discovered that by increasing the number of links to their website pages Google would place more weight on their website and show it above others with broadly similar content. Therefore it was possible to manipulate the search results and get a poorer quality webpage above one which might have better quality information, but fewer links.

This was the case for quite a long time but then Google began to tidy up its toys and amending it’s search ranking algorithm to distinguish between good quality links and those which had been procured simply to inflate a page’s ranking in the search results.

Other tidying up was done to identify webpages that contained little or no actual information, or which included information copied from someone else’s page. Pages that were simply lists of links to their sites, probably put there in exchange for payment or to try and gain a commission, were also downgraded in Google’s ranking formula.

These tidying up exercises were given names, Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird etc and are being constantly refined in order to improve the quality of the pages Google shows when someone carries out a search. Many people interpreted this as Google saying that links are bad – but that’s a mistake. Only artificial links, purchased to cheat the system are bad. Genuine links, gained as described above, are a sign that someone thinks a page is valuable in terms of its content and those are to be encouraged.

Because backlinks are so important to the prosperity of a web-based business, or any business that uses its website to support its activities, like any other aspect of a business – they have to be managed.

To help you with this we have put together our Link Management Guide – you can read it here or download it to your computer for future reference. In it we describe how to make sure that your website is “clean” as far as Google is concerned and how to keep it that way whilst, at the same time, enjoying the benefit of good quality Google-friendly backlinks from genuine sources.