Referral links – Don’t get obsessed with search rank

Are Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) the be all and end all of your SEO campaign? Are you obsessed with that No1 spot? Always checking to see if you’ve moved up a slot for your chosen keywords? Are you overjoyed when you move up a spot and slide into depression when your ranking slips?
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Like you, we probably spend far too much time worrying about where we rank and not enough effort creating good quality referral links.

Well maybe it’s time to ease off and think about referral links?

Referral links, or backlinks are, according to some industry experts, the most important factor in SEO. A link to your site basically means that someone has said “hey, this content is interesting enough for me to want to link to it”. A link from a good quality referring site is probably worth more than a hit on a search engine.

For example, say you were running a website selling aquatic shrimp and Pets at Home added a link to you on their site. The benefits of that referral link are huge and you may get more conversions to sales than if you showed up in a search on Google for “shrimp for aquarium”.

Similarly, visitors referred from your local Aqaurium shop’s website might spend more than someone who found your website on Google because the referring website lends authority to your site.

So will any referral link do?


You are looking for links from good quality, trusted websites that are relevant to your content. One thousand links from automotive sites will not do your shrimp business any good! Ten links from relevant websites are worth far more. So much more since on the 22nd of May 2013, Google rolled out Penguin 2.0, an update to their search and ranking algorithm which penalised unnatural & manipulative inbound links.

What this means is that Google is targeting businesses who have been building huge numbers of links from non-relevant or poor quality sites. Companies across the world who had been employing SEO agencies or an intern to spam links to their website suddenly saw their sites being penalised and losing ranking.

What makes a poor referral link?

  • Links on poor quality sites
  • Sites that aren’t relevant to your business or content
  • Paid links
  • Keyword rich links
  • overly optimised links

How do I check my referral links and how do I know if I’m being penalised?

Log into your Google Webmaster Tools and in the left hand menu select Select Search Traffic and then Manual Actions (we’ve written a blog post about this before: Has Google penalised my website?) If you don’t see anything then you are ok. If you do then you need to look into the issue further.

An excellent site for checking your backlinks is it’s free for up to 5 searches a day and gives you a wealth of information about who is linking to your site.

Use ahrefs to check your referral links

The free version only gives you so much information on backlinks but you can quickly see which domains are linking to you and their domain rank which is a score of how trusted they are. If you spot a lot of links from untrustworthy sites then it’s time to try and get rid of them.

Google Webmaster Tools also shows referring links but we find the website to provide more indepth information and to be easier to use.

What makes a good referral link and how do I get them?

You should be thinking of referral links as sources of traffic and not just a way of improving your search ranking. If your content is interesting enough, the referral may get picked up by other sites, syndicated and repeated on Social Media sites, all adding to the potential traffic.

Write good quality, relevant and preferably unique (but this can often be difficult) content on specific topics that people will be searching for and wanting to read. Then you want to share this on Social Media sites: Tweet about it, Post on Facebook, add it to StumbleUpon and post on Google+.

It’s no longer about link building but earning links…

Long, informative posts are now seeing benefits since Google’s ‘In-Depth Articles’ Algorithm Update a few weeks back which is boosting in-depth content so it may be worth writing longer posts between 1000-2000 words.

You should also consider some way of allowing others to quickly and easily share this on their favourite Social Media sites. We use the Flare Plugin but others are available and these make it easy for readers to quickly share your content which has the benefit of increasing your audience and also creating referral links!

Allows users to easily share your content

Within a month of writing more content we have seen our traffic rocket as our articles get picked up by other sites and the number of referral links increases. As an additional benefit we have also seen our organic search traffic rocket by 250% and that’s not to be sniffed at.

Now when we log in to Google Analytics our traffic sources pie chart is starting to look a lot more healthy but there’s still work to be done on increasing the referral traffic. But at least we don’t have to worry so much if we drop a spot in the search results pages as our referral traffic is now providing 34% of our total traffic.

Google Analytics Traffic Sources

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