Difference Between Referring Domains and Backlinks

It's no surprise that search engine optimization (SEO) and link building go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other.

A strong link profile increases your chances of ranking for the keyword phrase you are targeting, which will help drive organic search traffic to your website. The two components of a healthy link profile are backlinks and referring domains. But what is the difference between referring domains and backlinks?

As you'll see below, backlinks direct visitors from one website to another, while referring domains are the websites from which the backlinks come. 

Backlinks are used by search engines to determine the popularity of a website's content while referring domains are used by search engines to determine which sites link to another site.

It is often difficult for beginners to understand the difference between referring domains and backlinks, but both are important for SEO. Knowing how search engines interpret them can help you improve your Alexa website ranking, traffic, and conversion rates.

Difference Between Referring Domains and Backlinks

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Referring Domains vs Backlinks

The main difference between referring domains and backlinks is those referring domains are the websites where your backlinks come from, while backlinks are the actual links from the sites that link back to your web pages. A referring domain could have one or many backlinks to a website. 

For example, if a website has a backlink from the New York Times, then it has one referring domain. If it has a link from The New York Times and Forbes, it has two referring domains. If it has two backlinks from The New York Times, it still has a referring domain.

All backlinks are coming from referring domains, but not all referring domains can provide a backlink to the website.

Backlinks are mainly used to gain SEO advantage.

What Is A Backlink?

A backlink, also known as an inbound link, is a hyperlink that points from an external website to a specific page on your website. You can get more than one backlink from the same web page or site.

Links can be embedded in various elements such as text, buttons, images, etc. When Google indexes a new page on your site, it crawls the links on that page to see if there are other pages to follow.

When backlinks are embedded in the text, the clickable words in the hyperlink are called the link anchor text. Anchor text carries weight in Google ranking. It provides context as to where the link directs the user and what the content is about.

Backlinks are a widely used SEO tactic to improve search engine rankings, increase authority on a topic, and boost relevance to your target audience. 

They are considered one of the most important factors for ranking on Google, according to Ahrefs for keyword optimization.

Impact of backlinks on SEO

Backlinks impact SEO by acting as a vote of confidence for your website. The more votes the better, but the quantity of links is not the only measure that counts. Quality counts too.

The more votes from reputable websites (referring domains), the better your position in the SERPs.

All backlinks are not equal

Backlinks are the bread and butter of SEO. They tell search engines what other websites think of your site. When a backlink is earned, it means that the website thinks your content is valuable to its visitors. 

That's a great reason to build a backlink network, right? 

When done correctly, links can be an integral part of your content strategy - and a great way to improve SEO traffic to your website. 

A good backlink comes from a site that is authoritative or trustworthy. The more authority or trustworthiness associated with that site, the better your backlink will be.

For example, earning links (e.g., through a journalistic outreach) from other websites in the same or related niche as yours can help raise awareness of your website and generate more referral traffic.

But when backlinks don't come from a relevant source, they can hurt a website as much as help it. Search engines can penalize a website for getting too many links from irrelevant sources, not enough links in general, and more.

What Is Referring Domain?

Difference Between Referring Domains and Backlinks

A referring domain is a website that indicates the source from which your referral traffic comes. If you own a website, you want other websites to link to your content.

For example, let's say you run a blog that publishes content about marketing. Jack searches for "marketing tips" and types that query into Google. Jack finds an article on "domain.com" that lists your website as the best blog to follow for marketing tips. Jack clicks on the link and is directed to your website. "domain.com" is the referring domain.

Getting backlinks from a variety of referring domains is a good thing. So why not simply get links from as many sites as possible? It's not that simple.

According to "Search Engine Journal", Google is interested in the quality of your links and where they come from, rather than their quantity. A link from a low-quality website is not the same as a link from an authoritative website.

What makes a referring domain authoritative?

The authority of a referring domain is based on the relevance of the topic/sector and the quality of its own backlink profile.

Focus on getting high quality backlinks from relevant sources in your industry or adjacent industries. If you have a large number of referring domains from highly ranked websites, Google will likely view these links as strong signals of quality and give your website a boost.

How To Check Website Backlinks and Referring Domains?

Now that you know everything about backlinks and referring domains, it's time to evaluate yours.

A few questions may be on your mind at this point: 

- Which sites are linking back to you?
- What pages are the backlinks coming from? 
- What anchor text is used in the links?
- Which of your web pages are getting the most links?

Google Search Console and AHREFs are both essential tools for analyzing and understanding the websites that link to you.

How do I use Google Search Console to find backlinks and referring domains?

The link report in Google Search Console provides a comprehensive overview of backlinks and referring domains.

Once you've created a free account and linked your website, Google Search Console opens to an overview page. Scroll down the left sidebar to find the link report.

Difference Between Referring Domains and Backlinks

Once you open the links report, you will find six metrics related to referring domains and backlinks.

Total External Links: Indicates the total number of backlinks from other sites that refer to yours.

Most Linked Pages (External): Indicates the specific pages on your website that are most linked to other sites.

Total internal links: Indicates the total number of links from your website to other pages on your site.

Most Linked Pages (Internal): Shows the specific pages on your website that are most linked to other pages on your website.

Top Linking Sites: Displays the top referring domains that link to your website.

Top Linking Text: Displays the anchor text that other sites use in the backlink to your website.

Referring domains can be also found in the referral section of Google analytics.

Difference Between Referring Domains and Backlinks

How to use AHREFs to find backlinks and referring domains?

AHREFs is a great tool to have in your SEO arsenal. This tool allows you to check the specific and total number of backlinks and referring domains of a site.

Here's a step-by-step guide to finding the report:

- Log in to your account
- Go to Site Explorer and type in the URL of a website.
- Choose Backlinks or Referring Domains from the side menu.
- A new page will appear with all your results for the site.

Difference Between Backlinks and Referring Domains Summary

If website growth is the ultimate goal, knowing the difference between backlinks and referring domains is essential to achieving high rankings in search engines like Google.

Be sure to check your referring domains and backlinks regularly. You can track both using the free Google Search Console or paid AHREFs. It only takes a few minutes, but it's critically important to your success in organic search results.

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