Backlinks and inbound links are two words meaning the same thing. Both of these are links from other websites to yours.
This is one of many factors that impact where you show up in search engine results, and probably the most important.
I often describe search engines as being a popularity contest: the more links to you, the higher you go in the rankings.
This part is often overlooked by website owners. After I complete I site, I recommend site owners spend time getting links to their website and continue to work on their site. I can’t tell you how many of them come to me a year later and say “but I’m not getting much traffic to my site”. And I ask: have you spent time getting links to your site or updating it? The answer is always no.
Once your site is made you need to spend time promoting it and working on it regularly (updating content). Or if you don’t have time, hire someone else to promote your website and/or maintain the website.
Not all links are created equal. One or two good links from a quality website (in other words: high ranking) can be better than many from low ranking websites. So while you may do research and work on getting yourself listed with every website out there that will take you, I also recommend spending some money on joining quality sites with good links. For example, we are members of the Better Business Bureau and Dallas Chamber of Commerce. These are quality websites. Additionally, these are sites people are likely to search when looking for our business (especially the BBB).
Consider having your site listed in other high ranking directories such as Local.com, yellowpages.com, and SuperPages.com. Have a Facebook business page. Have your profile on LinkedIn and apage for your business on LinkedIn too.
But don’t stop there. Are there websites that come up frequently when you search for terms related to your site? For example, searches for lawyer and attorney often bring up findlaw.com and lawyers.com. Spending money to be listed in these legal directories could be worthwhile for an attorney.
There are fewer and fewer quality sites out there that are free. So budget for money on directories and other websites related to your site. Budget for search engines too. Even Yahoo charges to be listed in their directory. While their search engine listing is free (the part of the site where you come up when people type something in the search box) they charge to be listed in the directory (the part where you come up when people are browsing by subject).
A key phrase I used up there is “related to your site”. You’ll do better linked from sites that are along the same subject lines as your website rather than from random websites on any given subject. For example, links from websites that are related to web design in some way, or are business directories that have a “web design” category are more helpful to me than links from Job Bob Bubba’s Garage and Bait Shop. The Garage and Bait Shop doesn’t have anything to do with web design, so it’s less helpful to my rankings than if I had a link from a web design blog or web design resource site. So another option is to read blog posts on websites in your industry and leave an on-topic, thoughtful, well-worded comment on posts that allow you to put your website address in your post. Some sites will have a “nofollow” link, telling search engines to ignore your link. But many do not do this and your post can be one more quality link for your website.
Google has an excellent article on inbound links and offers more ideas on what you can do to increase your inbound links. In that article, Google also recommends practices to avoid when trying to gain links.
Remember, once your site is made, it is not “done”. A website is never finished. It is always a work in progress. And your competitors that are ranking higher than you in Google and other search engines probably know this.