Backlinks are important; there is no doubt about that.

Google has never revealed a complete list of search engine ranking factors in a particular order. However, from different announcements and studies, we know that backlinks are the top 3 search engine ranking factors (content and RankBrain are the other two search engine ranking factors).

All webmasters, content marketers, and SEO experts fully understand the value of backlinks. However, most of them are unsure of what constitutes a good, powerful backlink that propels their website in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Without understanding the differences between a good backlink and a backlink that would get your site penalized is critical. Additionally, when it comes to creating a link-building strategy, you need to be 100% sure of the types of backlinks that you should pursue and the ones you need to avoid.



In this blog post, we are going to highlight the differences between good backlinks and the wrong ones that get your website penalized.

For the sake of this article, we would divide backlinks into three categories:

  • Tier 1 (the best backlinks you can generate for your website)
  • Tier 2 (bad backlinks that you should avoid as much as possible)
  • Tier 3 (The absolute worst of the worst. These backlinks would get your website penalized by Google and other search engines)

Let’s begin.

Tier 1 Backlinks

There are specific qualities that make a backlink into a “good” backlink. However, if you want to keep it simple, remember this simple rule:

Any backlink that comes naturally to your site from a relevant and authoritative source is, more often than not, a good backlink.

This is also known as ‘organic link building’.

Organic link building propels you higher in the search engine results pages and makes your website more authoritative and credible in the eyes of search engines. However, organic link building is also the toughest and most time-consuming way of generating backlinks. That’s why so many SEOs turn towards spammy and “easier” ways to do that.

Let’s highlight a few different types of tier-1 backlinks.

Editorial Backlinks

Editorial backlinks are the most common type of tier-1 backlinks. In this form, a journalist, publisher, or a blogger creates a link back to your website from a credible source (publication or a well-established blog).

One common aspect of this type of link-building process is that it all happens organically and naturally. For instance, you wouldn’t even know about the journalist creating a link to your website until it’s done. They do it only because they are so amazed by your website and the content you have on it.

This is the purest form of backlink that Google and all the other search engines absolutely love!

Relationship-Based Backlinks

Relationship-based backlinks is a slightly tweaked form of ‘editorial backlinks’. In this form, a personal relationship leads to the backlink-creation process.

This relationship could be built through an introduction with a journalist, blogger, or content contributor. After identifying a source that provides genuine value, the blogger creates a backlink to your website.

The important point to note here is that even though the backlink is created because of some sort of a relationship with the blogger, it still has to have the same amount of value and genuineness into it. Otherwise, the backlink won’t be effective.

Guest Blogging

Although not as powerful as it once was, guest blogging is still a very genuine and powerful way to generate high-quality tier-one backlinks.

Recently, Google has cracked down hard on guest posting websites that were using this technique just for creating backlinks, instead of providing genuine value to readers. Remember that the primary purpose of guest blogging isn’t to create backlinks. It is to provide genuine value to the readers of that blog.

The best strategy would be to only treat guest blogging as a way to expand your brand and reach a larger audience instead of building backlinks. Consider backlinks as a byproduct of guest blogging — not the primary gain.

Niche Directories

I know what you must be thinking.

Directories? Aren’t directories the bane of SEO?

Well, you are right. General directories are dead and must be avoided at all costs. However, niche directories are different, and they can be a great source of generating powerful backlinks to your website.

Niche directories, especially when it comes to local SEO, can be a valuable source. Here are a few high-quality niche directories:

The tip is to make sure you write different descriptions that visitors would find useful. Do not automate directory submissions as they may result in spammy-looking backlinks. The same word-for-word descriptions approach is exactly what Google hates and would penalize.

Tier 2 Backlinks

Tier 2 backlinks are the types of backlinks that you should generally avoid. They don’t add a lot of value to your organic rankings, and we expect that Google will eventually devalue them in the near future.

It’s okay if you have a chance of creating lots of these backlinks with minimal efforts, but in our experience, time spent on tier 2 backlinks isn’t worth that much.

Guest Posting at Scale

Successful guest posting takes a lot of time and effort. However, there are some who write a post, get it published on a website, then “spin” the content, create dozens of modified versions, and get them published on different websites to acquire backlinks.

As you can imagine, credible websites won’t accept such rehashed content. So they get in touch with low-quality and often irrelevant websites that have nothing but dozens of ads on their webpages.

The problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t do your brand any favors. Secondly, it creates an easily identifiable pattern that Google can track with artificial intelligence. Therefore, this strategy is best avoided.

Header, Footer, and Sidebar Links

Links coming from headers, footers, and sidebars aren’t valuable for Google. This is why sitewide links should be avoided.

Tier 3 Backlinks

Tier 3 backlinks are the worst of the worst. Building these types of backlinks will get your website penalized in the search engine results pages.

Let’s see some of the common tier 3 backlink types.

Paid Links

Even if it is on a very small scale, buying links is still a horrible idea that you must avoid at all costs.


Because let’s face the truth. Even if a website owner is just selling a couple of backlinks to you, it’s fair to assume that they would be selling a lot more backlinks to a lot more people. That gets you involved in a network you don’t want to get into.

Google’s algorithms can easily identify paid links. If you are dealing with the same network, they will count you as a culprit, too, even if you bought just a few backlinks.

Comment Spam

You can create thousands of backlinks with comment spam, but it is not going to help you in any way possible.

Most backlinks coming from the comment sections are no-follow, which means that they don’t add any organic value. However, they could still get you penalized with a link-based penalty.

Additionally, spamming the comment sections of other websites can easily piss off other website owners, who would be happy to report you to Google.

General Directories

As mentioned earlier, General Directories are mostly spammy and should be avoided. As long as someone is willing to pay their fee, they would allow anyone. That’s just another example of paid links.

And because they are easily identifiable, it’s also easier for Google to track any paid links coming from such general directories to your website.

Backlinks from Irrelevant Websites

Backlinks from irrelevant websites used to be in the tier-2 backlink category. However, after the Google Penguin update, we had to demote them to tier 3.

Backlinks are created to websites because they add genuine value to the readers of the first website. Keeping that in mind, you can imagine that a link coming from a drone-related website to a divorce lawyer’s website doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Stay from backlinks that come from non-relevant websites, no matter how easy it is to acquire those backlinks. Google Penguin specifically targets websites with too many backlinks from non-relevant websites as can be seen in the following chart.

Final Words

Backlinks are important. They make your website more credible and authoritative in the eyes of search engines and propel your web pages higher in the SERPs.

However, it is also equally important to pay attention to the types of backlinks you are generating. Not every backlink will help you in search engine rankings. The bad ones would even get you penalized.

Ideally, you should only go after the tier-1 backlinks and avoid the tier-2 and tier-3 backlinks.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. You can also use our free Backlink Analyzer Tool to learn more about the links that are directed to your website.