backlinks Vs referring domains: 3 important things to know

Hi, I’m Praneeth Kumar.

In this blog post, you will learn backlinks Vs referring domains, the definition and differences with examples, and why you should care about both the metrics.

So without further ado let’s get started.

Here’s a 30000-foot view of the blog post.


This section will talk about all the definitions and differences between both metrics with relevant examples.

What are backlinks?

A backlink is generally a link that passes from one website/web page to another website/web page on the internet.

For example, there are two websites A and B, if website B has linked to website A through text or image. 

This means website A has received a backlink from website B.

Click here to learn why backlinks are still very important?

What are referring domains?

Referring domains in the name itself refers to a total number of unique Websites(domains) that pass backlinks to your website.

Referring domains are unique websites from which pages or posts you get backlinks.

For example, there are three different websites A, B, C.

If website A has received backlinks from B, then Website A has a single referring domain.

Similarly, if the same site A has received backlinks from sites B & C then Website A has 2 referring domains because two different websites are linking to website A.

Difference between the 2?

Think about backlinks like calls and referring domains like each unique phone number,

the more calls you get from each phone number the more backlinks you have, and the more different phone calls you get from different phone numbers the more referring domains you have.

How do you check this?

You can easily check your backlinks and referring domains whenever you do an SEO audit of your website in any given SEO tools like the SEMrush, Ahrefs, Ubersuggest.

Referring domains are generally indicated as RD in most SEO audit dashboards like this,

backlinks vs referring domains

Now that you know what is the definition and the difference between the 2 metrics, let’s have a look at why you should care about these metrics mainly referring to domains.

Why you should care about these?

There are three important things that you need to keep in mind between backlinks and referring domains whenever you are doing an SEO audit of your website.

  1. Backlinks number doesn’t matter much.

confused are you frustrated with wordpress

Normally there are 3 different types of SEO,

  • On-page SEO.
  • Off-page SEO and Technical SEO.

On-page SEO and technical SEO are things you do right on your website whereas off-page SEO is something you do outside of the website.

Off-page SEO largely deals with link building.

Whenever you’re building backlinks to your website, don’t just look at how many links you are getting, what is the anchor text and whether the backlinks are Do-Follow or not.

You should also look at the quality of the individual backlinks that you are getting because,

  • Google does not care how many backlinks you have on your website(it is not my claim, Google’s web analyst John Muller said it)

Google cares about the individual backlinks Quality over quantity.

Whenever you build backlinks to your website,

Google observes different things like,

  • Anchor text of the backlink.
  • Website relevance is linking to your website.
  • Where the link is placed?
  • Content quality of the web page that is linking to your website.
  • A total number of external links of the page which is linking to you.

Depending on all these factors Google will decide whether a backlink is of high quality or not and does it affect your Google search rankings or not.

Sometimes a single high-quality backlink to your website can outrank a website with thousands of low-quality backlinks in Google search.

Yes, you read it right, thousands of low-quality backlinks, google has evolved very much.

You can learn more about the quality of the backlinks versus quantity here.

  1. Referring Domain numbers matter very much.

Before we understand why referring domain numbers are important.

Let’s understand the concept in an analogy.

For Example, assume that today you wanted to go to a restaurant.

You just do a quick Google search to find the nearest restaurants and their reviews.

You have found 2 restaurants near to your locality which is A & B.

Now to decide which restaurant you want to visit, you will look at positive reviews of the restaurant. In this case,

Restaurant A has 15 positive reviews from different people and restaurant B has 5 positive reviews from different people.

Obviously, you prefer restaurant A because it has more positive reviews and it is probably popular because more people have visited and liked the restaurant so it has a higher number of positive reviews.

This is exactly how referring domains work for your website SEO.

Referring domains are unique Websites, not backlinks that are linking to your website.

Each referring domain that is linking to your website is a unique Website that is telling google that this website is good.

Referring domains are like unique votes for a website in Google’s algorithms.

The more of these votes a website gets the better it is for Google and for that website.

Even, Many studies have reported that more number of referring Domains directly correlate with higher search engine traffic.

So, even though the number of backlinks doesn’t really matter but a number of unique referring domains matters a lot.

  1. A wrong balance of backlinks and referring domains can get you a penalty from Google.

penalty in google

If you have a wrong balance of backlinks and referring domains to your website, it can be a serious issue to your website which can potentially lead to a penalty from Google.

For example, if you have a website that has 100 backlinks ( do follow and no follow backlinks but not affiliate and sponsored links ) from 10 referring domains.

It can mean a lot of things to your website,

For example, if you have lots of spammy backlinks from forums, site-wide and social media sites.

Google is going to ignore such backlinks and does not really affect your website much.

But if you have lots of high-quality backlinks from few referring domains. It can look unnatural and fishy to Google.

If it is a private blog network or any link schema if Google can find anything like that on your website. It can get a penalty to your website for sure.

To avoid any penalty you should maintain your backlink profile naturally and maintain a good balance of referring domains with a total number of backlinks.

If you have lots of backlinks to your website from fewer referring domains, you can focus on building quality backlinks from other good websites where you did not get a backlink earlier and increase the referring domain number of your link profile.

These are all the things you need to know about backlinks and referring domains.

With that being said let’s conclude the blog post.

Ending remarks.

There you go I have answered all the things you need to know about backlinks Vs referring domains.

Do comment down what do you think about backlinks and referring domains.

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I will catch you next time till then,

Keep learning and keep growing.