Demystifying Backlinks vs Referring Domains

by | July 04, 2023

If you’re at all familiar with the SEO space, you’ve probably heard of backlinks and referring domains—you may have even heard these two terms used interchangeably. This tends to spark the question: are referring domains and backlinks the same?

Not quite. While they are certainly related and are understandably confused with each other, SEO experts understand the difference between backlinks and referring domains.

If you want to become one of those experts, we’ve got you covered. This article will go over the main differences between referring domains vs backlinks (plus some of the best tips in the industry for boosting your SEO with your link game, so stick around!)

What is the difference between a backlink and a referring domain?

Okay, basic SEO concept here: when you want your website to have more DA, or domain authority, you have to prove that it is a trustworthy and reputable site. To build that authority, you need other reputable websites to link to yours—having those other websites linking to yours shows that your website is both useful and trustworthy. We’re telling Google: “Hey, look! This other resource is using content from my website because it’s valuable!”

Backlinks and referring domains both have to do with this concept and help you establish more authority—but again, they aren’t quite the same. The primary difference between referring domains vs backlinks comes down to the purpose and role of each term. Let’s get into some definitions.

What is a backlink? 

A backlink is the actual hyperlink between two websites. They are usually embedded into text (also known as an anchor text) and direct the user to your website. For example, let’s say you have a website that sells eco-friendly water bottles, and a totally different environmentalist website includes a link to one of your product pages in their article about how to help the Earth. That link that sends the user to your online store is a backlink.

You can have multiple links from one website or even a single webpage—each of those counts as a backlink. Links aren’t just hyperlinked to text, either; they can also be found in images, buttons, infographics, and other on-page anchors.

What is a referring domain? 

On the other hand, a referring domain is a website that links to your website—or in other words, it’s the domain you have a backlink from. Backlinks can be links to pages, but referring domains are linking to an entire website. Referring domains are counted differently from backlinks; while it might give you thousands of backlinks, it is counted as one referring domain.

Let’s continue using our previous example. The environmentalist website that has a backlink to your water bottle product page? That website is a referring domain. They could have multiple backlinks that all link back to your site, but they are still just a single referring domain. This is why you will see sites with millions of backlinks, but only thousands of referring domains.

How do backlinks and referring domains impact your SEO?

While both backlinks and referring domains will increase your SEO and domain authority, you should focus more on getting referring domains than backlinks when possible. It will also have a large impact on-site on your traffic! In fact, some say that getting one site to link to you 100 times isn’t half as powerful as getting 100 different sites to link to you once —meaning having a wider net of referring domains is more powerful than one domain providing a lot of backlinks. 

Still, though, both affect your SEO and should be a part of your overall strategy. High-quality backlinks definitely help you rank better in SERPs while the referring domain is often used as the metric to evaluate the link profile and authority of a website. (By the way, you can use our “What It Takes To Rank” tool to figure out just how many backlinks you need.)

How to get referring domains and links to your website

So, we’ve covered referring domains vs backlinks; what’s the key to getting more of both for your website? Here are some of the best ways to get other referring domains and backlinks.

Guest post on other sites 

Guest posting on other sites is a great way to get both backlinks and referring domains. You can typically add a backlink to your website when you write a guest post. If not, you can at least post a link in your author bio. If you don’t have the time or background to write your own compelling content, outsourcing SEO content writing services is a great way to get content that other domains will allow you to guest post.

Create relevant content

When you publish relevant SEO content for your target audience on your own website, you aren’t just increasing organic traffic by ranking well—you are also boosting the chance of getting other sites or pages to link to your content, too. You can also reach out to other sites to see if they would be interested in linking to your content. When it is relevant, well-written, and trustworthy, people are more willing to link to it and work with your brand. 

Create infographics 

Infographics are a great way to get high-quality backlinks and will give other sites more of an incentive to link to your site! Creating an infographic, just takes 3 simple steps:

  1. Find a topic you’re interested in that has a lot of data you can research and use.
  2. Once you have a topic, research statistics and other bits of data from reputable sources and design an infographic around that data.
  3. With your finished infographic, you can submit it to websites like or simply post it on your own website or blog. People love infographics and could post them on their website, on social media, or in other high-traffic areas.

Post on high-quality sites

One thing you don’t want to do is settle for low-quality websites to use as referring domains or backlinks. Honestly, you’ll probably do more harm than good that way. Instead, focus on high-quality sites that are credible and relevant to your brand or niche. Not only will they have more traffic, but their DA will reinforce your own website’s authority.

Competitor analysis

Do you know what great athletes and artists do to improve their craft? They look at other experts in their field and try to learn something from their success. Looking at successful competitors is a solid way to see what you could be doing differently or what kind of backlinks you should be going after. Analyze the link profiles of your competitors to see what links and referring domains they are relying on. From there, you can see about getting your own links from those websites or similar ones.

Broken link building

Broken links are a big no-no when it comes to domain authority—and you may be surprised at how many websites are riddled with them. Find broken links on other sites and offer to replace them with a link to your top-quality site. Doing this is a win-win for both sites!

Reinforce your website’s authority with BASE

Referring domains vs backlinks is a crucial concept to grasp if you want to boost your site’s SEO and organic traffic with a foolproof strategy. You also need to understand the quality and diversity of referring domains rather than just the number of backlinks you can get from a single site—the credibility of other websites and backlinks inform your website’s credibility!

If you want to boost your authority more effectively with relevant and credible backlinks and referring domains, BASE sells high-quality links at a competitive price. Ready for high-end link-building services? Check out our site to improve your overall SEO!



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