Understanding the value of referring domains in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is crucial to maintaining high search engine rankings and building online authority. The quality and quantity of your referring domains make a difference in your SEO efforts. Here’s why:

Links are not measured with equal weight. This means two hundred backlinks from one website is not automatically better than one hundred backlinks from different referring domains. You need to acquire a sizable number of unique referring domains to get more traffic sources, unique site visitors and page views.

Confused? Fret not. In this post, we explore the significance of the quality and quantity of referring domains and how you can leverage this SEO metric to boost your digital presence and establish brand credibility. We discuss:

•  What is a referring domain
•  The difference between backlinks and referring domains
•  Why referring domains are essential SEO ranking factors
•  How to get more referring domains

Use this guide to create a solid backlink profile. Read on and discover more opportunities to boost your search engine rankings and connect with your target audience.


What Is A Referring Domain?

Referring domains, also known as “linking domains,” are external websites that direct visitors to your site. These domains contain backlinks that drive traffic and views to your specific web pages. Let’s look at this illustration to better understand what is a referring domain:

In this illustration, you can see several referring domains with varying numbers of backlinks linking to a single website. This picture depicts how external websites drive referral traffic to your domain.

Your website may acquire several referring domains and these domains may contain one or more backlinks that point to your target web pages. In some cases, your website may also be considered a referring domain, if it has links that direct visitors to external websites.

For example, Site A (external website) is considered a referring domain if it has one or two backlinks referring to Site B ( your website). Regardless if you receive multiple backlinks from Site A, it is still considered one referring domain for your website.

On the other hand, 10 different websites linking back to your page are considered 10 different referring domains. Note that you cannot control the number of backlinks per referring domain. Some websites link back to your page for the sole purpose of adding references to their content.

Some people mistake backlinks and referring domains as being similar SEO ranking factors. This is understandable since identifying external backlinks vs referring domains can be confusing at first. But don’t be mistaken.

How is a referring domain different from a backlink?  Let’s discuss.


External Backlinks Vs Referring Domains

Backlinks are incoming links from a referring domain to another site. These are links embedded in texts, images, videos, buttons or other page elements. Backlinks are evaluated based on relevance, domain authority (DA), site diversity and link location, among other factors.

Referring domains, on the other hand, are websites containing one or more backlinks that point to another site. You may receive multiple backlinks from the same domain. At the same time, you may also have multiple referring domains linking back to your website.

In this example, we can see that SEOblog.com has approximately 1.6K+ referring domains and about 30K+ backlinks. A single referring domain may have hundreds or even thousands of backlinks directing to your website.

An extremely high number of backlinks from a single referring domain, however, can be considered a negative SEO practice or black-hat link building strategy. In this case, you need to analyze your backlink profiles to avoid getting penalized by Google.


How To Check Referring Domains And Backlinks

Now that you know the difference between external backlinks vs referring domains, let’s tackle how to check each SEO metric using Ahrefs dashboard.

To check referring domains, follow these steps:

1.  Got to Site Explorer
2.  Enter your domain name
3.  Click on Referring Domains

In this example, we can see that the top referring domains of SEOblog.com are:

•  en.wikipedia.org
•  bit.ly
•  reddit.com
•  medium.com
•  elegantthemes.com

This means these websites have the highest domain rating (DR) among the top referring domains in the database. Domain rating shows the strength of a domain’s backlink profile on a 100-point scale, with 100 being the strongest.


Why Are Referring Domains Important In SEO?

Referring domains, aka ‘ref domains’ or ‘linking domains,’ are crucial for SEO if you want to bring more traffic onto your site and impact your website’s ranking,” said Thrive’s link building manager Claudia Cruz.

Referring domains are traffic sources that send signals to search engines and online users of your web pages’ quality and credibility. According to Cruz, Google looks at several factors in assessing the quality of backlinks. These include linking domain, source quality and relevance, the context of your placement and the page where the backlink is posted.

If you want to acquire more organic traffic, backlinks from top referring domains are crucial. A study by Ahrefs showed that approximately 90.88 percent of pages without any referring domains do not get organic search traffic from Google. Without high-quality referring domains linking to your target web pages, you are losing out on potential traffic, engagement and sales.

A good backlink strategy consists of building unique links,” Cruz added. “A new backlink on a fresh domain is a great way to build your authority. This is because a second link on the same site will not pass page rank as your first link did.”


Are Referring Domains SEO Ranking Factors?

Yes. Referring domains are SEO ranking factors. In fact, these are considered to be high-impact ranking factors that make a difference in your search optimization efforts. Google counts each referring domain as a vote of confidence from other websites. This means having hundreds of different websites linking back to your web pages gives your website an upper hand.

However, this does not mean acquiring links from just any referring domain. The goal of your link-building strategies should be to obtain top referring domains that are:

•  Relevant to your niche market
•  Trustworthy
•  High-quality
•  Authoritative

So how do you acquire high-quality referring domains to ensure online success? It all starts with your content marketing and link-building strategies.


How To Get More Referring Domains

Link building with a referring domain strategy delivers valuable SEO results, if done correctly. Here are expert tips from Thrive specialists on how to get more high-value referring domains:

1.  Analyze Your Referring Domains Report

The referring domains report will give you a complete list of every domain that links back to your queried website. Once you export the file, evaluate the quality and quantity of your referring domains to determine which has the strongest backlink profile — the more domains with a high-authority score, the better. Analyzing the results of your referring domains report helps you identify more opportunities for link building.


2.  Determine Your Top-Performing Pages and Identify Content Gaps

Identifying your top pages is one of the best ways to map out your next content marketing strategy and link building campaign. Your top pages are the most popular pages on your website, which received the highest number of backlinks.

A high number of backlinks from top referring domains means your content is trusted among other websites and online users. Focusing your SEO strategy on high-quality content and creating more blog posts and web pages that cover relevant topics can boost your link building efforts.


3.  Create Phenomenal Content

The more valuable content on your website, the more links you are likely to get from top referring domains in your industry. The right content marketing strategy can broaden your target audience and referral links, boost your conversions from organic search results and build trust and online authority.

Here are some tips to improve your content marketing efforts and acquire more backlinks from unique referring domains:

•  Publish case studies — these are unique, data-driven content that can help you earn links from industry publications
•  Leverage the niche expertise of your team — tap into their knowledge of industry topics you want to tackle in your content and include direct quotes to boost the authority of your content
•  Publish expert roundup posts — this is one of the most cost-effective ways to earn links from industry specialists and bloggers
•  Turn in-depth posts into infographics — create high-quality infographics that contain actionable takeaways to acquire more backlinks from top-tier publishers and bloggers

Other types of content you can explore are local press releases, expert interviews, whitepapers and eBooks. Remember, build your personal brand and ensure it reflects on your content. In this way, webmasters and online users can easily associate your content with your company.


4.  Boost Your Audience Targeting Methods

Knowing your target audience is the golden rule in SEO. You should understand the information needs, demands and online behavior of your ideal audience to create a clear roadmap for your link building and search optimization campaigns. Otherwise, you’re wasting time writing content and building irrelevant links that won’t yield positive results.

Conduct thorough market research and audience analysis to determine your target audiences’ interests, needs, expectations and core demographics. This will help you target the right keywords and narrow down your link building scope.


5.  Review Your Competitors

Reviewing competitors allows you to weed out link intersect and create a matrix of potential referring domains to get a backlink from,” Cruz said.

First, identify your competing domains. The Ahrefs dashboard will show you the number of unique keywords your competitor has, your common keywords and the intersection graph. Using this data, you can start building your strategy for your website.

Assessing your competition is one way to determine the number and quality of its referring domains. Analyze their backlink profile to find out how they earn more links and rank high in search results. Performing backlink analysis allows you to develop ways to emulate –or even improve– their link building strategy.


6.  Choose Your Ideal Destination Pages

Determine what other websites would benefit from your content, drive potential growth to your website and which sites you want to see your links on.

Link building is not just about putting your guest posts and links out there. It is about choosing reputable, top referring domains and establishing real, meaningful connections. Consider the website’s quality of content, what topics they write about, their site structure and online reputation, among other factors.


7.  Distribute Your Content

After curating a list for potential linkability, reach out to webmasters with your linkable assets, such as articles or infographics,” Cruz said. Guest blogging offers numerous benefits for businesses of all types and sizes. By sharing your expertise on other companies’ websites, you establish your brand as an authority figure. Additionally, it helps you deliver fresh content to their audience.

Aside from blog posts, infographics are also share-worthy content you can distribute to high-authority domains.

Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a free service website you can leverage to build powerful backlinks and get the traffic you deserve. This platform connects journalists in need of valuable information for their articles with sources that can provide what they need.

The concept is simple. You go to HARO’s website, sign up as a resource, then choose categories relevant to your niche and you feel qualified to contribute to. HARO is a great resource to acquire referring domains without sending hundreds of outreach emails.


8.  Identify the Most Reputable and Most Popular Referring Domains

This practice will allow you to determine potential backlink sources that can drive increased traffic to your target pages. The key is to list down domains within your industry and then categorize them based on your area of expertise.

For example, a study by SEMrush showed the most reputable referring domains for U.S. law firms are university portals, news media, press release distribution services and general directories. This means if you have a law firm, these are the top referring domains you want to put your links and content on.


9.  Invest in the Right Tools

Scale your link building campaigns with the right tools. Using prospecting and outreach tools, you can find highly relevant sites where you can pitch your content.

For any off-page SEO enthusiast or link builder, we suggest using tools like Similar Web,” Cruz said. “This tool allows you to mine hundreds of opportunities similar to the identified right candidate for link placement. Plus, it’s a time saver!”


10.  Optimize Your Link Building Strategy

Do your research to develop data-driven, up-to-date link building strategies that can grow your personal brand. More importantly, follow search engine guidelines and best practices on how to acquire more referring domains.

It is important to keep in mind the ratio between the referring domain and backlinks,” Cruz said. We always want to keep the ratio as close to 1:1 as possible. If you acquire several backlinks from the same domain, the value of those additional backlinks after the first placement decreases greatly. A good rule of thumb is having a unique backlink from a high-value, relevant, unique domain. Keep your backlink strategy always fresh!”