Every time you type a keyword or phrase into your search bar, you set off a complicated behind-the-scenes sequence of events that ends with your search engine results page (SERP). In less than ½ a second, search engines like Google analyze your phrase, compare it to millions of different web pages, and present you with the most relevant results. This fact is even more astounding when you consider that leading search engines like Google process over 63,000 searches per second, day in and day out.

So how does Google decide when you search “curious kittens,” for example, that you want to watch this video from Animal Planet more than you want to buy this jigsaw puzzle? Many factors contribute to determining SEO (search engine optimization) and SERPs. And those factors are constantly changing to keep pace with advances in technology.

Still, one of the most important pieces of your SEO strategy should be backlinking.

“The first DA80+ backlink is the SEO team’s white whale.”

If you’ve done your homework, you’ve likely heard of backlinking. For many startups, obtaining the first DA80+ backlink is the SEO team’s white whale. But what is a DA80+ backlink, how does it impact the effect of backlinking, and why is a high quality backlinking strategy the key to stellar SEO rankings?

Let’s start with a quick overview of linking

Linking is how computers navigate from one website or webpage to another. Look back on what you’ve read so far in this article. You’ve encountered both external links (links that take you away from Savy’s website, and to Animal Planet’s video), as well as internal links (links that take you to another Savy page).

You can further categorize links into backlinks (incoming, inbound, inlinks, or inward links) and outbound links. Essentially, backlinks are links to your site, from another site. Returning to our “curious kittens” example from above, the links to Animal Planet and Serious Puzzles are outbound links for us, but inbound links, or backlinks, for them. Similarly, when someone places a link to your blog on their site, it’s an outbound link for them, and an inbound link for you.

Backlinking refers to off-site or off-page SEO. In other words, it’s the work you need to do outside the realm of your own web pages to ensure your brand gets noticed.

Backlinks carry a lot of weight

In fact, according to Moz, links (both domain-level and page-level) may account for up to 40% of your site’s ranking. Why do they warrant so much attention? According to Brian Erskine, a Forbes contributor and the Director of Client Services at BrandYourself.com, “Each link is a little vote of confidence from another site that tells the search engine your content is valuable.”

Of course, not every vote gets weighed equally. Consider this scenario. You’re looking to hire a digital branding agency. You’ve narrowed it down to two options. One agency has ten reviews from unknown strangers, and the other has two heavy-hitting celebrity reviews. Which would you trust more?

Search engines weigh relevance in much the same way. One backlink from Forbes magazine will greatly outweigh numerous backlinks from smaller sites and companies.

Domain Authority plays a crucial role in determining the weight of a backlink

Domain authority (DA) is Moz’s domain ranking score. Using a proprietary algorithm, the score rates sites from 1-100 by measuring natural links, links to the site, links from the site, and the quality of those links, along with other metrics. Sites with high DA are considered experts and experts show up higher in SERPs.

Remember that white whale we mentioned before? Getting a backlink from a DA80+ means that the company linking to your content has ranked at least 80/100 on the Moz domain ranking scale. For reference, sites like Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Forbes, and CNN all rank in the mid-high 90s when it comes to domain authority.

What to focus on in developing your backlink strategy

Considering the importance of backlinks in how your site ranks on SERPs, there are a few key things to keep in mind as you and your SEO team develop a high-quality backlink strategy.

Quality over quantity

We’ve already mentioned that quality is better than quantity when it comes to the type and number of backlinks you receive. Again, would you rather get mentioned in a 14-year-old’s blog post, or make the front page of HuffPost? This same quality-over-quantity mandate holds true when it comes to your content.

If you want an industry heavy-hitter to link to your site, it must be worth linking to. Frequent, fluffy blog posts with little substance (though they feed the content monster) are unlikely to warrant much attention from experts in your field. One long-form, thoughtful, well-written blog per week will serve you much better than daily, shorter blogs.

According to Neil Patel, one of the world’s foremost marketing experts, something as simple as an original infographic could become a valuable tool in building backlinks quickly.  

Remember relevance plays a role

Based on we’ve outlined so far, a backlink from Forbes should be more valuable than a backlink from John the Plumber, right? Right. Unless you’re a plumber or plumbing supply company. Relevant, topically-related links may carry more weight than links from irrelevant sites with high domain authority.

According to an article by the Search Engine Journal, “The most effective link you can get is one that is from a highly relevant, highly authoritative, topically related site. Any combination of those factors is also likely to be helpful for you in some way.” So even if you don’t get the DA80+ you’re angling for, a highly-relevant backlink will still contribute to driving site traffic.

Because relevance plays a role, make sure the content you’re producing is industry-specific and provides unique value to others in your industry.

Be patient. Consistency is key.

Building quality backlinks takes a lot of time and effort. This isn’t a one-and-done operation, but an ongoing strategy. Not sure where to start? Keep in mind that business address listings on Google, Yelp, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yellow Pages, and elsewhere count as backlinks. Plus, they help customers find your business!

You can also visit Yoast for a comprehensive list of advanced link building tactics, or consider partnering with a digital agency like Savy to learn more about boosting your SERP rank.