Backlinks are a huge part of SEO. Not only do good backlinks provide more organic traffic and boost your search results, but they can also be the foundation of dozens of other SEO techniques.

However, before you can properly focus on your search engine ranking potential, you need to understand what backlinks and referring domains actually are.

Without a decent understanding of referring domains and backlinks, it can be extremely difficult to understand how many SEO best practices work – which grinds your link building efforts to a standstill.

What are Referring Domains?

Any websites that link to your own site are referring domains. The term “referring domain” is simply shorthand for any site that appears in another site’s backlink profile.

When a new site links to you, it becomes a new referring domain. It is as simple as that.

Why are Referring Domains Important?

Many SEO tactics rely on you being able to get more referring domains from high-quality websites. These high-quality referring domains (and backlinks) form the basis of how you increase your rank on search engine results pages.

In other words, more backlinks and referring domains generally mean more SEO success – but not always.

While all backlinks and referring domains have some kind of SEO value, you need to choose the right referring domains and backlinks to get the best results. Simply having more referring domains is not always going to lead to better SEO potential in the long term.

What are Backlinks?

Backlinks are the links that are being used by referring domains to connect to your site. Whenever there are websites linking to you, that is a backlink.

Domains that link to you transfer some of their domain authority, aka “link juice.” This is a measurement of quality used by most search engines and can directly influence your SEO.

Backlinks and referring domains go hand-in-hand, and a site’s referring domains will naturally always include backlinks as a result. However, just like the domains, getting the right backlinks is important.

How are Referring Domains and Backlinks Helpful?

Search engine optimization mostly focuses on a single core purpose – ranking higher for relevant searches on search engine results pages.

In simple terms, this means making your site more appealing to search engines so that you appear for relevant search topics more often. Doing this provides more brand awareness, more traffic, and often a snowball effect that lets your site keep growing and growing.

Backlinks and referring domains are a huge part of how this system works. The relevancy, quality, and number of referring domains and backlinks you have pointing at your site influence your search rankings.

Having many referring domains related to one topic means that your site will appear more often for related searches as long as your site itself is also relevant. This is the entire baseline of how SEO works and something that is extremely important for websites in any niche.

How to Check Referring Domains On Your Site

You can view your site’s current list of referring domains in any tool that offers a referring domains report, such as Google Search Console.

Anything that can break down how many backlinks you have can serve this purpose since all you need is a list of which sites link back to your own and how they do it.

A link report like this does not just tell you how many referring domains and backlinks you have but also shows you the exact web pages and often the keywords they use for the links.

Note that these do not generally include internal links, which are links that come from within your own site. Sites linking to themselves do offer a very minor SEO boost, but not anywhere near as much as more links from other sites.

Are All Backlinks and Referring Domains Good?

One of the most important things to know about referring domains is that many referring domains can be effectively useless.

A good referring domain needs to fit into four core categories: it needs to be relevant to the target website, come from a good source of content, point to another relevant piece of content or pages on your website, and use a good keyword.

Remember: Google wants to serve users sites that are relevant and useful. This means that having more high-quality backlinks that support your site’s niche is important because this falls in line with what Google considers worth ranking highly.

The difference between referring domains that Google likes and dislikes comes mainly from relevance and quality. If one site is better overall compared to another, Google search rankings will weigh that higher in the algorithm.

Relevant Referring Domains

Referring domains have the biggest SEO benefits when they are relevant.

For example, if you run a furniture store site, you want to get links from sites and web pages that are focused on furniture.

The more specific you can get, the better. If you have other websites writing articles about a specific product and linking to your page about the same product, you will get even more of an SEO boost than simply using something generic.

Google and other search engines penalize any content that is not relevant. Simply getting links from any irrelevant external websites you can is the quickest way to end up with huge SEO penalties.

Referring Domain Content

Links from high-quality sites have a bigger impact if they come from relevant content.

In general, most links from other websites will be embedded into content. This could be a blog post, an article, or even a list of partners on web pages about a business’ recent work.

The content makes a difference here. High-quality content that is relevant to the audience and the business will have a greater boost to your backlink profile.

Referring Domain Target Content

Having links from high-quality websites means nothing if you are pointing it at bland target web pages.

It is important to make sure that high-quality backlinks are going to worthwhile and relevant content. Nobody wants to click a link on an external website and arrive at an article that has nothing to do with the link or the original page.

Not only would choosing irrelevant target pages on your website harm your SEO potential, but it might also mean that your backlinks are made much weaker or even penalized by Google itself.

Referring Domain Keywords

Keywords are the specific words that you are trying to rank for in SEO. No matter the number of backlinks that your site has pointing at it, each one has a keyword or key phrase associated with it – usually the anchor text that the link has been attached to.

For example, if you are trying to rank for the keyword “computer repairs,” then you ideally want the referring domains linking back to you to attach their links to that same term.

Keywords are a whole other aspect of SEO, to the point that dedicated keyword research tools exist just to gather them up.

How to Use Referring Domains and Backlinks

The main place that you will encounter backlinks and referring domains is through link building, which is a huge part of SEO overall. When you build links between potential referring domains and your own site, you are gaining some of their authority, meaning better rankings overall.

Each high-quality referring domain that you earn provides additional benefits to your site, so many site owners perform regular link building to gain more links whenever an opportunity presents itself.

Keeping your link profile large and diverse by gaining more unique referring domains ensures higher rankings and allows your site to potentially overtake competitors simply because you have more authority in your link profile overall.

What is Link Building?

Link building is exactly what it sounds like – the process of trying to build new links.

This is done through one of two methods: either naturally gathering more links by creating good content that other sites want to link to or buy them directly from other websites (which Google is not a huge fan of).

The process of link building is its own niche that can get very in-depth, but the entire idea is simply to build more high-quality referring domains into your link profile. This often means taking unique linking opportunities or creating new kinds of content that might gain a huge amount of traction online.

How to Get More Referring Domains

Getting high-quality referring domains can either be really easy or really hard, and it depends on how you approach the issue.

A paid linking scheme that uses a paid referring domains network is easy in theory but costs money and comes with the risk of Google penalizing your site for using paid links. Using organic digital marketing and content creation is a lot harder, but it is the intended way to get more referring domains.

There are a lot of ways to get backlinks from authoritative referring domains, as long as they are willing to accept them. Some common sources of more backlinks from authoritative domains include:

  • Guest posts that another site allows you to write
  • Promotional posts that you have a site’s owner write for you
  • Creating resource content that other sites will refer back to with links
  • Journalistic or editorial articles that reference your business/website
  • Contributions to other sites that give you a way to include a link back to your own URL

Basically, anything that allows you to produce content on another site and include a link is a possible link building method.

Things to Avoid With Referring Domains

While referring domains are a simple concept, there are a lot of unspoken (or often spoken but not heard) rules regarding how you are supposed to use a referring domain.

If you are looking into referring domains, here are some specific techniques or decisions that you should avoid.

Don’t Assume That All Referring Domains are Good

Telling the difference between referring domains that help and harm your site is easy, but many people simply assume that any referring domain must be a good one.

Look at your backlink profile, and be prepared to cull out any from spam linking domains or a web page that does not relate to your site.

Remember that tools and software like Google Search Console can also help with figuring out which links actually matter and which ones may be doing more harm than good.

Only Focus on A Single Referring Domain From Each Site

Only one referring domain link is considered when a site links to you. If you have two referring domains or more from a single referring domain, only one referring domain link will actually matter. If they use the same referring domain, then you basically wasted a link.

Do not try to build more than one referring domain link per site unless the new one would be a substantially better replacement for the original. For example, getting a link from a blog post on the same domain as another major article might be entirely pointless.

Of course, if you are trying to build multiple backlinks for multiple sites or specifically want the inbound links for organic traffic reasons, that is different. Just remember that multiple links make no real difference to the Google search algorithm.

Always Grow Your Number of Backlinks

Unless you are removing some backlinks due to spam issues or lose some due to a site removing some content, you always want to push for a higher number of referring domains if possible.

Check backlinks regularly and never settle for “having enough” – it only takes a few sites going down or closing to wipe out multiple backlinks.

Not all linking domains are going to be perfect, and some might only be average at best. However, if you increase the number of referring domains you get and manage to make them more diverse, you can boost your SEO even further than just sticking to top-tier links.

Don’t Forget Your Target Audience

Whether you are looking for referral traffic, organic search traffic, or just higher search rankings, never forget that your niche and audience are the basis of all high-quality referring domains you receive.

An incredibly valuable linking domain becomes much less valuable if it has no relevance to your site, the target web page, or your actual audience. Tools like Google Search Console can be invaluable for keeping yourself on target.


The difference between backlinks and referring domains is not actually all that far since the two are tied together in a lot of different ways. Overall, if you are trying to build up your site’s SEO potential, then you will need to delve into backlinks sooner or later anyway.

As the foundation of most SEO, getting links from authoritative websites will always be useful. While the difference between backlinks earned by one site compared to another will obviously be dependent on their niche and goals, almost every site worth its salt will use search engine optimization like this.

Just remember to use the right tools for the job. If you’re working on Google search rankings, then options like Google Search Console are the cornerstone of your long-term SEO success.