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Backlink vs. Referring Domain: How Do They Compare?

Two terms are particularly relevant in SEO—backlink and referring domain. You may be wondering how a backlink compares to a referring domain or if they’re the same thing. We break down what you should know about the two terms and their SEO implications below.

What is a Backlink?

A backlink is a hyperlink that points from one site to another. You can have multiple backlinks from the same web page or website.

If a site links to your content as a backlink or hyperlink, that site is a referrer domain. The specific page on the site linking to your content is the referrer URL.

Each backlink to your site can be like a vote of confidence to search engines that what’s found there is high-quality. That’s why backlinks play a role in SEO. Backlinks frame your site as being authoritative enough that others want to cite and share it.

To sum up, an external backlink is the hyperlink used by another site when referencing content from your site that’s authoritative or shareable.

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What is a Referring Domain?

A domain is the unique descriptor of an organization listed in a URL. A referring domain is a domain from which backlinks are coming.

The referring domain can be compared to a phone number. The backlinks are how many calls you get from that specific phone number.

When you’re looking at website analytics, you may see the number of backlinks and referring domains associated with it.

You can have multiple links from one site, but since they’re coming only from a single referring domain, it’s not good for your backlink profile usually.

You want to see the ratio of referring domains compared to backlinks. It’s not great, for example, at least as far as SEO goes, to have a lot of backlinks but few referring domains. That means you have a fairly weak backlink profile.

You may be hit by Google for having bad backlink practices if you have just a handful of referring domains but hundreds of backlinks.

This is going to impact your page rankings.

When a site has a lot of backlinks and a relatively low number of referring domains because often, this means you’re using a paid linking scheme like a private blog network.

Blog networks are increasingly being de-indexed by search engines. If you’re connected to a network that gets de-indexed, it’s going to affect your rankings.

Why Are Referring Domains So Important in SEO?

We talked about this briefly above, but referring domains send signals to search engines about your quality and credibility on your site.

Google looks at different factors in the assessment of backlinks, including the linking domain and source quality and relevance. The context of the placement is important, as is the page where the backlink is.

According to Ahrefs, nearly 91% of pages that don’t have referring domains don’t get Google organic search traffic. When you don’t have good-quality domains linking to your pages, you are going to be losing out on traffic opportunities, as well as potential engagement and sales.

If you have hundreds of websites linking to your content, search engines are going to make you more visible.

Getting links from any referring domain isn’t enough. You should make sure that referring domains are relevant to your niche and themselves high-quality, trustworthy, and authoritative.

How Can You Get More Referring Domains?

To start getting more referring domains, you need to figure out what you’re already doing well. You can analyze your site and find your pages with the strongest backlink profile. To assess the strength, look at the domains with a high-authority score.

When you do that, you can begin identifying content gaps. Content gaps can be based on your top pages.

When you’re creating content, take your time and ensure that it’s extremely high-quality. Use data, insights, and statistics that are going to be sharable and linkable. For example, publish case studies, or create both in-depth posts and infographics. Infographics with key data or actionable information always tend to do well when it comes to getting more backlinks.

One of the most important things you can do for SEO is to make sure that you’re optimizing your link-building strategy. Without a strong link profile with many referring domains, it’s going to be very challenging for your site and content to rank.

Google continues to emphasize the importance of relevant, well-researched, and high-quality, in-depth content, and sites linking back to your content are a big part of that.

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