The art and science of search engine optimization is a procedural drama, where you start with the Crime Scene, aka the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and try to determine just why. Why does it rank in that particular spot?

What’s the motive? What’s the cause?

You can of course start with the body itself, the web-page being ranked having numerous details and clues. But this didn’t happen in isolation.

You’ve got other suspects, and everyone’s “reputation” to consider. Of course, that reputation “signal” that’s used by search engines is actually hypertext links.

What can search engines like Google divine from such signals? How do they use the specifically linked text, or the context of that link? How does it balance the number of links and the “quality” of those links?

What can these amateur sleuths known as SEOs learn by reviewing all the pieces of information that links can provide? Backlinks are a wealth of information, so let’s break it up piece by piece and determine the potential use cases for each little bit of backlink data.

Use the number/quality of links as a proxy for “authority” needed to rank for that keyword term.

“You have x links, competitors have Y links, you need z links to have a hope of ranking for this keyword”.

What made Google unique? It wasn’t the first search engine, but it was the first to use links as a signal of “authority” for pages/sites.

“These are the links your competitor has, these ones are ones we want to poach/emulate”

You can ROUGHLY use the number of referring domains sending links to the sites currently ranking on the homepage as a BROAD SKETCH of how much “authority” your content will need to rank.

Why all the qualifiers? Because it’s never simple, there’s going to be some content that has other signals that’s sent it to the front page. But, it’s an “okay” place to start.

Here’s what Google says about rankings and clicks. “Anchors” are a foundational part of hyperlinks, conveying relevance in a useful format for Google to parse.

There’s a couple of useful ways to look at your links. You can look at your the anchor text, the blue clickable text like this, because Google and other search engines certainly do. Previous iterations of Google algorithm had to be updated because spammers found they could shift rankings by hitting large numbers of anchor text in their links.

Pay attention to what content pieces you’ve written that’ve gotten real links and how others have linked to them, they may not be what you expect!

Use A Review Of Your Links To Identify How Hard You Need To Work & Identify Strange Or Dangerous Patterns In Your Links

Pay attention to what content pieces you’ve written that’ve gotten real links and how others have linked to them, they may not be what you expect!

I’ve unfortunately seen clients with WordPress instances celebrate because they just got a bunch more beautiful links out of the blue. However, that boost in links was because his site had been hacked, dozens of pages were created and received links from OTHER hacked sites. Not every link is golden.

Use Backlinks To Current Ranking Articles As Hit List For Outreach

This article ranks for the same keyword phrase we’re targetting with our new article. Here’s that page’s backlinks, let’s reach out to those sites and see if they’ll link to us too/instead.

Links are a cornucopia of competitor insights! Who links to your competitors, why they links and how they got those links are all clues to the most effective method for building links.

Use a competitor research tool that can give you a list of all of the links that domain has right now, and you can dissect that corpse and use it as a grocery list.

How To Use Links For Business Intelligence Purposes

Business intelligence

Let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on in your competitors’ business.  What are their partnerships?  Are they hiring?  Who are their vendors or customers?  What causes do they support?  Link mining as business intel.

Nicole DeLeon

You can identify if perhaps competitors are mostly using outreach to ask to post guest articles or generating infographics. There’s fantastic competitor information to be gathered by reviewing the link profile of your organic and direct competitors.

These are the most commonly utilized link building strategies in your space.  We can do those too OR we can pursue other / harder / better links by building better content and not being lazy.

Nicole DeLeon of Northstar Inbound

Don’t just look at the links though, look at the anchor text and the pages being linked. Find common values that these bloggers found worthy of mentioning in a link.

All these sites link to the same type of pages, let’s see if we can find words or phrases they have in common so we can build a footprint to find more prospective link targets.

Nicole DeLeon

When these sites publish content, similar content appears on all these other sites and also links back.  Let’s see if we can identify other syndication networks.

Nicole DeLeon

Categories: SEO

Jeremy Rivera

Jeremy Rivera started in SEO in 2007, working at Advanced Access a hosting company for Realtors. He came up from the support department, where people kept asking "How do I rank in Google" and found in the process of answering that question an entire career. He became SEO product manager of, went "in-house" at Raven Tools in Nashville in 2013. He then worked at several agencies like Caddis, 2 The Top Design as an SEO manager and then launched a 5 year freelance SEO career. During that time he consulted for large enterprise sites like Smile Direct Club, Dr. Axe, HCA, Logan's Roadhouse and Captain D's while also helping literally hundreds of small business owners get found in search results. He has authored blog posts at Authority Labs, Raven Tools, Wix, Search Engine Land. He has been a speaker at many SEO conferences like Craft Content and been interviewed in numerous SEO focused podcasts.