Why inbound links to a website are crucial for SEO

Inbound links and SEO have a symbiotic relationship, so it’s important to maximise the number of external links to any personal or corporate website

Thursday, 30 September, 2021

It’s remarkable to think that search engine optimisation didn’t really exist twenty years ago.

Back then, companies still paid to appear in Yahoo’s search results, while Google was a struggling company advertised for sale at just $1 million. Nobody was willing to buy it.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without search engines. They’re the librarians and gatekeepers to the internet, and 90 per cent of first-time site visits originate from search pages.

More specifically, they originate from the first page of a Google or Bing search. Around 95 per cent of searches end on page one, with people following one of the first ten results.

Venturing onto the second page of search results is a rare event. And if your website is ranked 45th, it might as well be ranked 4,500,000th.

This first-page dominance led to the concept of search engine optimisation – SEO for short. An entire industry has evolved around getting websites onto that coveted page one.

And while there are many factors used by the search engines to rank websites in descending order of relevance in response to certain searches, one element deserves particular attention.

The missing link

Google and Bing’s automated web crawlers are constantly studying every aspect of public websites, assessing a variety of elements on each one.

When was it last updated? Do certain terms (known as keywords) recur regularly? Does content load quickly? Will it display just as clearly on mobile devices as on desktops?

User behaviour also plays a part – how many times people click onto different pages, how quickly they depart and whether they return again later.

One of the less widely-known factors influencing SEO performance is the presence of inbound links to a website from unrelated platforms.

An inbound link is a clickable hyperlink to website A, located somewhere on website B.

Despite the need to retain their own audiences for as long as possible, B’s owners consider A sufficiently valuable to direct people to it, even though they might never return.

From a search engine’s perspective, only a genuinely useful resource would be worth taking that risk. Whatever A’s content is, it must be valuable to B’s audience in some way.

The relationship between inbound links and SEO was briefly threatened by link farms – low-quality websites packed with bulk-bought hyperlinks.

Today, link farms have largely been driven out of existence by search engine blacklisting, restoring the connection between inbound links and SEO.

How do I generate inbound links?

In truth, it’s not easy.

If a stranger emailed you and asked whether you’d add a link to their website on your own site with no benefit to yourself, it’s very unlikely you’d agree.

However, there are ways to persuade other website administrators or owners to add inbound links and SEOify your website:

Offer to create guest content. Content generation (itself key to improving SEO) is an ongoing challenge. Offer to write free blogs or articles in exchange for an inbound site link.

Enter into partnerships. If your website contains a link to the company that designed it, the design agency might promote your site in return if you do some work for them.

Register on directories. These need to be legitimate, rather than the aforementioned link farms, but many directories welcome adding more company details onto their databases.

Exploit social media. Every time you publish new online content or introduce new product lines, add inbound links from every social media platform you hold an account with.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!