If you have been learning about Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, you may have come across the term "Backlink". For those of you who have not, you may be wondering what exactly is a backlink, anyway, and why do you need them?
A Backlink, also known as an inbound link, is simply a link from another website to yours. Backlinks are important for SEO because search engines like Google and Bing use them to help rank websites in their search results. Backlinks are something like votes from the web - the more "votes" (backlinks) a site or page has, the more authority it is considered to have by the search engines. There are many other factors that are used, but backlinks are one of the most important. Basically, if you want to show up high in the search results, it is good to have a lot of backlinks.
Now, it's not enough to know what backlinks are, you also need to know what kind of backlinks to cultivate. Not all backlinks are created equal, at least not in the search engines' eyes. Good quality backlinks must be relevant or authoritative. This can mean local links, such as your town's chamber of commerce, business improvement area, or a local newspaper or newsletter. It can also mean links within your industry, such as associations you join, industry blogs or forums, or an industry directory listing. If you like to write, you could write a guest post in a relevant blog, write an article on one of the many article syndication sites, or send out press releases.
Above all, the best way to attract backlinks from others is to provide a useful product or service, and create interesting and unique content on your own website.
There are also types of backlinks to avoid. Links from 'link farms' (basically, a whole website with nothing but links on it) will not help you rank higher in search results, and may even harm your SEO efforts! Reciprocal links, where two site link to each other, mostly cancel each other out. Unless you are getting a lot of traffic from the site, it's best not to bother with them. You also don't want links from any 'bad neighbourhoods', such as gambling, porn or 'spammy' sites - you can usually recognize them when you see them. One other tricky area is paid links. Most of the time you are advised against paying for links, but there are some paid directories that are considered very authoritative, such as Yahoo's business directory. If you are considering buying a link, do some research first.
Hopefully this brief overview helps you to understand what backlinks are, and why they are important. There is of course much more to learn, so check back here often for more articles on this and other related topics.