What Are Inbound Links and Should Your Site Have Them?

Christy Walters


April 26, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

white arrow on teal brick background to represent inbound links

Search engine optimization (SEO) has many parts that work together to help your site get noticed online. One of the most important, and most confusing, SEO aspects is linking. Google and other search engines don’t release step-by-step guides telling you how to link to get maximum results for your website and content. You have to figure it out on your own. Luckily, we’re breaking down the mystery of inbound links, giving you the tools you need to spot high-quality links and reviewing how to build a good backlink profile that’s a hit with search engines:

What Are Inbound Links?

Inbound links are hyperlinks that take people from another website to yours. When someone clicks the highlighted anchor text, they leave the domain they’re on and visit a page or piece of content on another domain. SEOs also call inbound links “backlinks” for certain purposes. The links get the name “inbound” because they’re coming into your website. That’s in contrast to outbound links, which leave your website, or internal links, which stay within your domain.

The History of Inbound Links

In the early days of the internet, sites that had the most inbound links ranked the best on search engine results pages. Because it was all about quantity, not quality, webmasters and content creators started using spammy link-building practices to increase the number of inbound links that point to their websites. When this trick started to skew search engine results, Google had to rethink how it viewed inbound links and how the algorithms responded. 

Today, Google and other search engines care more about the quality of inbound links to a site rather than the quantity. You can have a lower link volume coming to your site if the sources that do provide inbound links are high-quality, relevant, and authoritative to your brand or industry.

Qualities of a Good Inbound Link

Not all inbound links are made the same. Some help your SEO while others can harm it. Here are the qualities of a good inbound link to look for when you’re reviewing your backlink profile:

It Comes From an Authoritative Website

A link from an authoritative site is one of the most important types of links you can earn. Authority sites have clout and thought leadership status in their industries. They’re regarded as the best references when people are looking for information in a niche. If these sites provide inbound links to your website, both searchers and Search Engines see this as a recommendation for your content. If the trustworthy sites trust you, then they can too. 

Related: What Is an Authority Website and Why Should You Create One?

It’s Relevant to Your Brand

It’s important to earn authoritative inbound links, but they should also be relevant to your brand and content. For example, a shoe retailer with a blog might not benefit much from an authoritative link from the American Heart Association. But it could benefit from an inbound link from the American Podiatric Medical Association. Podiatry is more relevant to the work a shoe retailer does than cardiac medicine. 

The contents of the site linking to yours matter to search engine bots and crawlers. Too many irrelevant inbound links, even authoritative ones, can downgrade your site in the eyes of a search engine.

It Uses Proper Anchor Text

The right anchor text helps search engines and searchers understand the relevant connections between your website and the one providing the inbound links. The purpose of anchor text is to explain to searchers and search engine bots what they’ll find on the other website or web page when they click a link. If your anchor text isn’t descriptive enough or it’s misleading, this can hurt your trust with searchers and your reputation with search engines.

It’s Diverse

While each inbound link is unique to your site, when you put all your inbound links together in a backlink profile, you should have some variety. All your links shouldn’t come from one or two common sources. There should be some variety in the sites that link to yours and their purpose or content. For example, if you run a personal training website, a diverse backlink profile may have inbound links from sites like:

  • Health food or recipe websites
  • Gyms or recreation facilities
  • Other personal trainers
  • Athletic equipment companies
  • Client blogs or social media accounts
  • Athletic clothing or accessory retailers

This type of diverse backlink profile shows search engines that you gain links naturally, rather than working with a few other websites to manipulate links to all of your domains.

Why Should You Care About Inbound Links?

Inbound links are one of Google’s biggest indicators that your site is authoritative and produces high-quality content. Even with all your best SEO efforts, if you’re not collecting relevant inbound links you’re not going to see the results you’re looking for. Other benefits of earning and collecting inbound links include:

Better Search Rankings

Although Google changed its algorithms to focus more on link quality rather than quantity, sites with a higher volume of authoritative inbound links still increase your chances of ranking higher on search engines. The more inbound links you have that meet all the good qualities, the more you signal to search engines that your site and brand are an authority on a specific subject. Search engines don’t treat all inbound links the same. They’re just one ranking factor to determine how your content places on a search engine results page (SERP).

More Web Traffic

When your site ranks better in search, you have more of a chance to increase your organic traffic. Since most people only view the first page of results for any query, if your content appears there, you have a better chance of getting clicks. Inbound links are also common for helping you earn referral traffic. Referral traffic is any web traffic that you receive from people clicking referral links on a third-party website.

Earning referral traffic helps increase your audience reach. It brings people to your website from other relevant, authoritative sources that may never have encountered your website or content otherwise. The amount of referral traffic you can receive from each inbound link depends on the size and popularity of the link source site.

Related: What Is Web Traffic and Why Should You Track It?

Increased Brand Awareness

When your audience sees your brand name more often, they become more familiar with it. Brand awareness can come from seeing your company’s website in search and finding inbound links to your site on other domains. More brand awareness increases the chances that audience members may return to your company when they’re ready to make a purchase or when they need more high-quality information from a trusted source.

New Business Partnerships

Earning more inbound links to your content can also help you develop business partnerships. Even with natural link curation, you may notice certain sites that link to your content often. These could signal potential content or even product and service partnerships your company could form. If another brand already links your content and recommends it to its audience, that company may be worth working with in the future on different joint ventures.

Why Do Content Developers Avoid Collecting Inbound Links?

Some marketers and content creators are wary of developing or maintaining a backlink profile for their websites. This happens because they’ve heard horror stories about link-building gone wrong. Here are some of the top reasons why marketers may avoid sculpting the best possible inbound link portfolio:

Search Engine Guidelines

As we saw earlier, the history of inbound links has changed from a focus on quantity to quality, and now both, over time. These changes happened because linking as an SEO practice is highly manipulative. Link exchange, link purchasing, and other black-hat SEO practices all skew the results websites get and make it harder for sites trying to earn honest backlinks to rank higher in search. Google and other search engines recognize this manipulation and have strict guidelines that issue penalties to sites that don’t follow the proper channels for acquiring backlinks.

But just like with any other rule or law, sometimes good websites get stuck in Google jail for manipulative link-building. Even when it’s not intentional. The threat of penalties or loss of rankings may be enough to scare some SEOs or marketers away from trying to do any link-building to grow the site’s presence online.

The authority, relevance, and value of an inbound link change over time. A link from a highly authoritative site today may not be as authoritative next month or next year. These changes happen for several reasons. The site that links to yours may receive a penalty or change its content. These factors could make it less relevant or less authoritative to search engines, which would lower its value to your backlink profile. 

The opposite can happen, too. An inbound link that didn’t affect your site much before could become more relevant and authoritative and give your site a boost. No matter which way a link changes, the potential that it may change at all could be enough to make SEOs and marketers cringe. It may make them work with the bare minimum of backlinks rather than trying to grow their portfolios.

Shady Metrics

Many metrics tools boast the ability to tell you if your website has a good domain authority, page authority, or domain rating score based on your backlink profile. These scores are just a prediction of how well your website or content could rank in search based on its backlink profile. But a high domain or page score doesn’t automatically guarantee a high SERP ranking or a quality backlink profile.

Some marketers or SEO professionals may see these readings as vanity metrics or even scams because they’re not direct ranking factors for Google or other search engines. But these metrics shouldn’t turn you away from trying to build a strong backlink profile. And they also shouldn’t be the only metrics you use to track your inbound links.

Related: Domain Authority vs Page Authority: Which Should You Use?

How Do You Find Your Inbound Links?

Plenty of SEO and link analysis tools help you find and review all the inbound links in your backlink profile. Programs like SEMrushAhrefs, and Moz offer both paid and free tools to find all the inbound links that come to your website. CopyPress also has a free SEO and content analysis tool that tells you whether the sites linking to yours are trusted web sources. Aside from assessing your backlink profile, the tool:

  • Shows how your content compares to your top three competitors
  • Reveals content gaps you could fill with new pieces that target what your audience wants to see and your industry is missing
  • Review your best content marketing opportunities to increase your reach
  • Receive a consultation to review and understand your report with additional content marketing recommendations

Each tool may give you slightly different results because they crawl links differently. Using multiple tools may show you duplicate backlinks from the other programs, but each one may also reveal links that the others don’t.

5 Inbound Linking Best Practices

Use these tips to generate more and better inbound links for your website and content:

1. Develop Linkable Content

If you want people to link to your content naturally, you have to make it enticing. Develop pieces that are useful, relevant, and credible for your target audience. One of the easiest ways to develop content people want to link to is to consider the user or search intent for every piece you create. What is someone trying to get out of this piece of content? What can you write, develop, or produce to meet that need? 

Guides, resources, how-to videos, and premade tools are all common linkable content that may help increase the number of inbound links to your site.

Related: 6 Effective Types of Linkable Content and Why They Matter

2. Choose the Right Keywords

Speaking of search intent, you need to make sure you’re using the right keywords so that people can find your content. Even if you’ve targeted the right search intent, people may never see your content if you use the wrong keywords. It’s also important to consider the competitiveness of a keyword before you craft a piece of content around it. High-search volume keywords with low competition are often your best option for inbound links. These keywords get a lot of search traffic, but not many other sources provide content about them.

If another site is looking for a resource for its audience and yours is at the top of the SERP for that keyword, your site is more likely to get the inbound link.

As we said before, the quality of a link changes over its lifetime. With inbound links, this may happen because the site linking to yours changes. It can also be because your site changes. If you move content on your site, it’s important to add a redirect from the old URL to the new one. Otherwise, your inbound links on other sites break and send users to a 404 error page. Tools like Ahrefs can help you find broken inbound links across the internet. You can contact the webmasters for those sites and provide them with new links for updated content to replace the broken ones.

4. Add Visuals to Content

Visual content is some of the most linkable content on the internet. Using images, infographics, and other visuals is a sneaky way to earn more inbound links to your website. While other marketers or content creators may not want to link to your pieces, they may be more likely to share your infographic or your video to go with their written content. It’s common practice online to share an attribution when you share another website’s visual content on yours. This typically comes with a link to the visual’s original publication location on your site.

5. Use Content Promotion Services

Content promotion is a white-hat link-building process that helps you market your brand in digital spaces. The process helps your company build relationships with content partners to get your pieces and links to appear on authoritative, reputable sites across the internet. There are sites out there looking for content that your pieces can fill. And when they do, you get the all-important inbound links to help build your backlink profile.

Your link profile grows over time, especially if you’re doing things right. The more content you create and the more helpful and relevant it is, the more backlinks you’ll get. It’s important to check your inbound links frequently to make sure they’re helping, rather than hurting, your SEO. Ready to develop a plan to get more internal and backlinks for your content? Check out some of these other great CopyPress resources to improve your SEO:

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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