The world of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a complex one, and there are so many specific terms that any SEO professional needs to know that it can be difficult to keep them all straight in your head.

These technical SEO terms include referring domains and backlinks, two very important ranking factors that you need to know about.

They may sound very similar, but there is an important difference between referring domains and backlinks.

We are here to help you get this all sorted out so you can create smarter and better search engine optimization strategies and get your website rising up the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

So, if you are wondering about the difference between referring domains and backlinks, read below for all the answers.

We will explain referring domains vs. backlinks and explore exactly what each of these factors is and how you should use each one to support your website’s SEO ranking.

Referring Domains VS Backlinks: The Short Version

The difference between backlinks and referring domains is a very important one. In short, a backlink is a link that points from an external website to your own web page, driving traffic and link juice to your website.

A referring domain is the website on which the backlink is hosted. So, referring domains contain backlinks: one referring domain can contain multiple backlinks to other websites.

Let’s look into referring domains vs. backlinks in a bit more depth.

What Is A Backlink?

The first part of understanding referring domains vs. backlinks is wrapping your head around what a backlink is.

The good news is that this is relatively straightforward. A backlink is just a hyperlink that connects two websites. They are also referred to as inbound links.

There are several different types of backlinks. Links are typically embedded in text, and the words that make up the link are referred to as anchor text.

Backlinks may, however, be integrated into images, buttons, and various other website elements.

Backlinks are the most important method through which website crawlers such as Google navigate the web.

They navigate from page to page by using backlinks and make use of the anchor text on the referring domain to determine what each new page they visit is about. This is why anchor text is essential for SEO.

Backlinks can drive more traffic to your website, as well as pass link equity (otherwise known as link juice) from linking sites to your web pages.

Backlinks are regarded as one of the most significant ranking factors since they function similarly to recommendations.

When a high-quality website endorses your website, Google interprets it to suggest that your website is similarly thematically relevant and trustworthy. More backlinks, and specifically more high-quality backlinks, show Google that your website is more trustworthy.

There is no limit on the number of backlinks your web page may receive, and multiple backlinks pointing to your page from the same site are possible.

A single backlink is created when one webpage links to another webpage, so if that website links to ten different pages on your website, it provides ten backlinks to your site.

However, only certain types of links are considered backlinks. Internal links are links between pages on your own website. These are not backlinks, as they are not coming from an external site. Only external links can be backlinks.

How Do Backlinks Impact SEO?

Backlinks are regarded as a vote of confidence in your high-quality content by search engines such as Google. That means that having more backlinks shows the search engines that more people trust you.

If the search engines recognize that other websites trust your web page, they will put your web pages higher up in their search rankings, meaning that you appear higher up in the results when people search for relevant terms.

That is one of the most important ways that organic search traffic can be increased, bringing in more organic traffic to your website through searches. Links also bring in referral traffic, so they are a win on every level!

Why Does Backlink Quality Matter?

It is essential to distinguish between high-quality backlinks and bad backlinks while developing an effective link-building strategy. Bad backlinks can be detrimental to your credibility and should be avoided.

Google now considers the quality of your links rather than just the number of links leading to your website. This is because the link building process has been exploited and manipulated in the past, and Google is trying to prevent future exploitation from bad factors.

A backlink’s authority and quality is determined by a number of factors. The first major factor is the importance of the web page that provides the connection.

A backlink from a page covering the same topic as your website is far more useful than a link from an irrelevant page.

The anchor text of the link is the second factor. Because search engines utilize this language to assess the content of a website, it is preferable if the link provides descriptive anchor text specific to the link rather than a generic phrase like “click here.”

Including a relevant keyword in the anchor text of a link can be very effective, but it is all too easy to over-optimize links and receive a Google penalty.

What Is A Referring Domain?

The next major part of the referring domains vs backlinks puzzle is understanding what a referring domain is.

A referring domain is a website that has a link to yours. Referring domains are used to show Google the relationship between entire websites, whereas backlinks just show Google the relationship between pages.

To be more specific, if a website connects to your page from one of its pages, the connection is referred to as a backlink, and the website that includes that backlink is known as a referring domain.

Backlinks are counted differently from the way referring domains are counted. While a website might provide hundreds of backlinks to your site, it only counts as one referring domain.

This is why websites with millions of backlinks but just a few thousand referring domains are common. You want to try to get as many referring domains in your backlink profile as possible rather than just getting all of your links from the same website.

Are Referring Domains Important?

Having more unique referring domains is an important goal. How many backlinks you have is also important, but if they only come from a single referring domain, then that will not be all that valuable.

One or more backlinks can come from one website, but the number of different high-quality referring domains pointing an inbound link to your site is one of the most important ranking factors in the entire SEO business.

After you have obtained a single backlink from a domain, each new link from the same referring domain has less of an influence on your SERP ranking.

It is preferable to have numerous sites supporting a page rather than receiving all of your support from a single site, so getting more referring domains with a high domain authority should be a priority.

Is a Referring Domain Authoritative?

A referring domain’s authority is determined by its topical and industrial relevance, as well as by the quality of its own backlink profile. Not all referring domains are authoritative referring domains!

Google indexes web pages in order to collect crucial information such as the content, page structure, and user experience. It evaluates a page’s authority on various topics using indications such as backlinks.

A backlink from a credible, trustworthy site can help your page rank, whilst a referral from a bad or spammy site will hurt it.

Google evaluates the authenticity of each backlink and provides developers with guidelines on deciding if a site is high-quality and trustworthy. High-quality sites are important for this and are the most valuable sort of linking domains for most link building efforts.

This means that you should focus your link building efforts on high-quality websites with a high domain authority or domain rating. A high domain rating is much more important than you might expect!

Why Does The Difference Between Backlinks And Referring Domains Matter For SEO?

Even if you understand how essential backlinks and referring domains are for SEO, you can’t develop a strong SEO strategy if you fail to fully grasp the difference between them.

The key issue that you need to bear in mind is that adding backlinks will not have a substantial influence on your SEO unless you also increase the quantity of referring domains.

Having one site link to you a thousand times is not nearly as effective as having a thousand distinct sites link to you once each.

As a result, your objective should not be to obtain as many backlinks as feasible but rather to obtain backlinks from as many referring domains as possible. Links from the same domain are worth less than links from different referring domains.

You must also understand the relationship between referring domains and backlinks in order to do a backlink audit properly.

You could see a lot of links and assume your backlink profile is amazing. However, if your backlink to referring domain ratio is very high, your link profile is quite poor.

Google may punish you for this type of profile in some situations since it suggests that you might be using unethical link building strategies such as a paid linking scheme or something like a private blog network.

How To Check Backlinks And Referring Domains

Take a look at your present backlink profile before you get too deep into developing an effective link building plan. What other websites are currently linking to yours? What are the most frequently linked pages on your website? And from where are those backlinks originating?

These questions and many other related ones may be answered using a free tool like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, or a premium service like Ahrefs.

All of these are great tools for getting insights into backlinks and referring domains linking to your site.

You can use them to find out which high-quality referring domains are sending incoming links to your blog post and which websites linking are ones you have used for approaches like a guest post or which simply generate backlinks to your site organically.

Using Google Search Console To Check Backlinks

Create a Google Search Console account and submit your domain for verification if you do not already have all of this setup.

Once you have completed that, you are ready to begin looking at the referring domains report.

Scroll down to the left sidebar and click on the links report. You should see two columns in the links report. Let’s go through them one at a time.

External Links

There are three boxes under this column. The first displays which of your pages has the most backlinks.

The second box displays the most frequent referral domains. The last box displays the anchoring text that is most commonly used to link to your various web pages.

If you click on “more” in any of these boxes, you will get more information, such as how many domains are linking to your pages, how many backlinks you are getting from a certain referring website, and how many pages on your site have links pointing to them.

The referring domains report is one of the best ways to get the data you need to fully understand which referring domains are linking to your site and which others you should try to attract links from.

Internal links

This column displays your top-linked internal pages, which are the pages that are most frequently linked to from other pages on your website. Click on this to view a list of all the links.


Having a good link building strategy is important for SEO. You need people to see your site in the search results. After all, referral traffic and guest post writing are only part of the puzzle.

Getting numerous backlinks from reputable sites will make a huge difference to your website’s visibility, so you should focus on getting as many other sites to link to you as possible.

Referring domains and backlinks are different things, but they are closely related.

Hopefully, our post above should help you to understand how websites link to other sites, as well as the language used to refer to these links!