Backlinks vs. Referring Domains: What's the Difference?

What are backlinks and what are referring domains? In the world of attorney SEO, these are important terms to know and also understand why the difference matters.

So, let’s define them:

  • Backlinks are the specific links from a third-party website to yours. 
  • Referring domains are the external websites from which those links are coming.
Referring Domains

And, the distinction matters if you’re trying to rank your law firm website – here’s why.

Imagine this: you hired an SEO company to increase traffic to your law firm’s website and help your practice grow. It’s been a while since the contract started, but you just haven’t really seen results.

During a call, the company reassures you that everything is going well and that your project is right on track. SEO takes time, after all, they say.

They even point out that they’ve acquired 1,000 new backlinks to your site!

That’s great, right?

Well, maybe… but you really need more information before you can really know if those 1,000 backlinks are really worth anything. 

Ultimately, it’s not necessarily about the number of inbound links your law firm website has. The number of referring domains pointing at your content carries far more weight when it comes to ranking.

They are! Backlinks are an incredibly important Google ranking factor. Only content is considered to be more important (with RankBrain a close third).


However, just like with content, it’s about quality, not quantity. Quality is complex, and part of it involves taking a look at where a link originates from and how many other links you have from that point of origin.

You can have 15,000 backlinks pointing to your site, but if they’re only from a handful of referring domains, then they just don’t carry that much weight. For instance, getting one link from Findlaw is great.

But with each additional link from Findlaw, the value of those links declines.

Referring Domains Are a Ranking Factor

Why? The more a website links to you, the less important those links become to Google’s algorithms.

It’s the law of diminishing returns. The more one website points to you, the less benefit you get from their links.

Backlinks and Referring Domains

The more backlinks from unique referring domains you have driving referral traffic to your site, the greater the benefit to you.

How Do I Find Out How Many Inbound Links and Referring Domains I Have?

There are a few tools out there – both free and paid – that you can use to see how many links and referring domains a website has. Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMRush are all great options. Neil Patel has a free tool on his website, too. 

You can use these tools to look behind the scenes of your own law firm website or a competitor’s.

Simply enter the URL and click to see the results.

So, the more referring domains you have, the better. Why? 

Let’s say your law firm website has 10,000 backlinks and 100 referring domains. Competitor research shows that another firm in your market has 10,000 backlinks and 1,000 referring domains.

How Google Algorithms Interpret Backlinks and Referring Domains

Google is probably going to rank the competitor above you. 

You have the same number of backlinks, but your competitor has 10 times the number of referring domains. That means there are 10 times as many websites pointing to your competitor’s content.

To Google’s algorithms, that indicates that the content on the competitor’s website is more valuable. 

So, the goal of an attorney SEO campaign shouldn’t just be to acquire multiple backlinks with no regard to where those links are coming from. Instead, a smart link-building strategy involves obtaining inbound links from a multitude of sources. 

The best attorney link-building strategy will involve working to get high-quality links from high-quality, authoritative sources.

The Quality of the Referring Domains Pointing to Your Law Firm Matters, Too

Not all websites are equal. Some are of a higher quality than others.

You can quickly analyze a website by checking its Domain Authority (DA), Domain Rating (DR) scores, or Authority Rating (AR) scores on sites like Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMrush, respectively.

The Quality of the Referring Domains Pointing to Your Law Firm Matters, Too

While not official Google search engine ranking factors, DA and DR offer insight into a website’s quality. DA “shows the strength of a target website’s backlink profile,” while DR “looks at the quantity and quality of external backlinks to a website.”

Moz’s Domain Authority score predicts how likely it is a website will rank. Ahref’s Domain Rating score, on the other hand, scores a site based on its backlink profile. Both scores range from 0 to 100. The higher the score the better. 

Backlinks coming from sites with high DA or DR scores will be of greater value to you than inbound links from sites with lower scores.

To check a score, simply enter the domain (website) you want to analyze into your tool of choice (some are free and some are paid) and view the results.

Let’s say you want to find out if doing a guest post for a particular website is worthwhile. For the sake of this example, we’ll review


As you can see, has a DR of 75 (out of 100). That’s due, in large part, to the fact that it has 283K backlinks coming from 7.22K different websites and currently ranks for more than 450K different keywords organically.

The takeaway here is that is a high-quality site that has a strong backlink profile and is likely trusted by Google.

Having a backlink (or several) from would be advantageous. The fact that a website with a high DR points to content on your law firm website sends great signals to Google.

Factor Backlinks and Referring Domains Into Your SEO Budget

Any SEO agency can get you a ton of backlinks. Not every SEO agency will go the extra mile and create a diverse portfolio of high-quality backlinks from authoritative referring domains – and truly do the work that will make your SEO project a success. 

Getting the best backlinks from high quality sources isn’t cheap. So, your budget for search engine optimization services must reflect that. You can’t expect to pay $1,000 a month and get world-class backlinks (in terms of both quantity and source) in return. 

And remember, backlinks are just one aspect of a holistic approach to SEO. You also need best-in-class content and traffic to justify those links to your website.

Partner With the Law Firm SEO Experts at LawRank

Truthfully, most attorneys don’t know that there’s a difference between referring domains and backlinks. If you’re one of those lawyers and you’ve been working with a digital marketing agency, that’s a red flag. 

Your SEO company should help you understand every aspect of your project. If they’re not transparent about the steps they’re taking to get your law firm to rank, then you should consider whether they’re the right agency for you.

At LawRank, we value communication and transparency with our clients – and pride ourselves on the customer service we provide.

To us, SEO is a partnership – and we work closely with our clients to help them rank in organic search traffic, lead the local pack, and dominate with PPC ads

Contact us to discuss your SEO project, learn more about the best law firm SEO services, and discover how we can help your practice thrive.