Are Backlinks Still Important for SEO? Well, Not Really

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Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a murky, unclear, vague sea of ambiguity, especially regarding the issue of inbound links. Are they really still important for SEO?

Inbound links (backlinks) are some of the most talked about factors in any SEO discussion. These simple links to a site used to be the chief metric on which sites were ranked in Google, and are still a major concern for webmasters everywhere.

All around the web, you can see various link-building services, many costing more than a pretty penny. If you ask these companies, backlinks are still the most important ranking factor you can use. But the question is, are they?

No, they’re really not.

This is sure to be a controversial answer, especially for the people who are used to the link-building sites. But for a multitude of reasons, backlinks are basically unimportant nowadays, and I’ll show you why.

Let’s debunk a popular misconception!

The Problem with Backlinks


To put it simply, backlinks are links to a site. Innocent enough, right?

Wrong!

For quite a long time, backlinks were the end-all be-all of search engines rankings. All you had to do was buy/create a few thousand links and watch yourself rank on page one of Google.

In theory, it makes sense. If your site had a lot of links leading to it, it must be popular, right? It would have authority!

But the truth is, backlinks were (actually, they still are) heavily exploited. You can find people literally selling 1000 links for a few dollars. Hell, on Fiverr, you can apparently get 100,000 links for $5!

fiverr cheap backlinks
It should be called Sixfiftyfourer in Canada! Hire these guys and watch yourself plummet.

So it’s obvious that backlinks are easily abused. The fact that these jobs are still here after the Penguin update (see below) blows my mind.

There are actually people who think that paying a few bucks will guarantee a ranking on Google!

Now, those Fiverr guys aren’t scammers. They do give you all those links. But the question is, where?

Most of the time, links are just dropped into random websites and blogs. A link to your beef cooking blog could be posted on a Disney.com comment section, or worse, a PETA.com comment section.

There are also hundreds of thousands of sites created for the sole purpose of being a link dump. You can imagine that these sites wouldn’t lead to that much traffic.

But it does (well, did) lead to a nice ranking on page one, which did guarantee traffic. A metric so easily played understandably hurts search engine results, so Google did what it usually does to keep the quality up: release an…update.

Google Steps In


By 2012, Google had decided to get rid of black-hat linkbuilding and paid links in general. So it released a huge update to its algorithm, named Penguin.

Google Penguin attacked the websites relying on backlinks for traffic. To put it simply, it razed millions of domains to the ground. We’re talking scorched earth here. They buried those black-hats good.

scorched earth in iraq
Visual representation of the damage Penguin wrought on SEO.

No longer was it possible to spend a fiver (lol) and get a high ranking. Over the next few years, Google launched newer versions of Penguin, each affecting additional websites and queries.

Now, you have to rely on your content to get ranked. Great content, content that readers enjoy, will get ranked highly, and the bad content that used to be held up by backlinks is pushed to the side.

However, you’ll still find clowns like those Fiverr guys who insist that backlinks are the magic bullet.

They’re after your money, because they know those links will only raise your ranking for a short while. After that, Google penalizes you and send your site to the bottom. And if you repeat the mistake one too many times, you’ll be de-indexed(!) entirely.

With this in mind, I can safely say that backlinks are no longer necessary for a good ranking. I know many people who get ranked above giants like Apple and TechCrunch with zero backlinks.

After years of having them be one of the heaviest factors, Google made backlinks one of the lightest ones. Can you blame them after seeing how easy it was to work the system?

Luckily, there are other, more reliable ways to ranked. You don’t even have to lose another $5!

The New SEO Heavyweights


I wrote “new” in the headline, but it’s been 2 years since the last Penguin update, and 4 since Penguin was born. You’d think people would have caught on by now.

The best way to get ranked, the most surefire method of getting noticed, is to have great content. That’s literally it. Of all things, Google wants quality content for its search results pages.

Help, entertain, inform…it doesn’t matter. As long as people use it, you’re guaranteed to rank.

As you write more and better content, you’ll naturally get more traffic and increase your site authority. Authority takes time to acquire, but it’s worth the trouble, and Google knows that, which is why it’s emphasizing it.

It also shouldn’t go without saying that targeting keywords is a necessity. Everyone knows that, but some people overdo it. Don’t stuff your posts with keywords.

Google also gives weight to site speed, ease of use, and engagement after Penguin.

Do Backlinks Matter at All Now?


I wouldn’t say backlinks are useless. They’re just not needed anymore.

As your content is read and shared, it’ll get backlinks naturally, from impressed readers. Those are the backlinks you need, the ones that money can’t buy.

Google still takes backlinks into account; it just knows if a link is relevant and real. If this post about backlinks shows up on Forbes, it wouldn’t really matter to Google, because my link wouldn’t be relevant. Well, as a Forbes reader, I can say they’ve been all over the place lately, so maybe it would. You get the point.

But if it showed up on searchengineland.com, I would score a major boost in rankings, even though the Forbes link would probably bring in more traffic.

All in all, if you’re having trouble with link-building, just forget about it entirely. You can’t expect to pay for links and benefit from it. Those backlink sites may claim to give legit links, but it’s all a farce. Focus on creating quality content, and the links will come.

One thing’s for sure: you can totally be successful without backlinks.

Got any questions about backlinks? Do you agree that they’re useless? Is Forbes too broad nowadays? Leave a comment down below!

Your buddy in backlinks,

-Makki

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18 thoughts on “Are Backlinks Still Important for SEO? Well, Not Really

  1. Yay! Now I finally understand what back links are and how they harm your website. I always wondered what that was all about. This is a very informative article, thank you! Its all about keywords and good content now, isn’t it! Google also got rid of of the sites with dozens of the same keywords everywhere and will now boost the rankings of the websites of people with low competition keywords. Its a great system now thats improved a lot.

    1. That’s true, Google made sure keyword stuffing was a thing of the past. Combined with the backlink update, the search engine’s quality has gone way up. It’s really a system that benefits hard work now. Thanks for reading Emma!

  2. I think that backlinks are going to definitely help, especially when they’re quality backlinks from awesome sources. But having them isn’t necessarily going to make you rank without them. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have tons of back links, but I average the tenth position on my top content. Working on getting guest posting rolling soon so that I can start generating some good backlinks, but it’s definitely not my priority.

    1. Guest posting is a great idea, provided you can post on sites with authority. Otherwise it won’t be much help. Anyway, it looks like you’re doing pretty well without backlinks, so that’s just more evidence that the updates have been working. So long as you don’t pay for cheap links and naturally acquire some good ones, you’re good to go!

  3. Awesome info Makki, really informative. I’m decently new to internet marketing and have heard about Penguin but never really understood what it did. Rumor has it there were businesses wiped out overnight because they were relying entirely on backlinks to drive traffic and gain search engine results. Lesson learned I suppose.

    I’m glad I came across this because I was considering paying someone on Fiverr TODAY about adding some backlinks and getting a boost in the engines. Would you say that this is definitely a complete waste of money then?

    1. Hey Ryan! You’ve got it right. Thousands of businesses were crushed by Penguin, never to rely on backlinks again.

      Walk away, my friend. Backlink services on Fiverr are not just a waste of money, they actually hurt your site. You’re paying for your demise. Just forget about SEO on Fiverr. Hope this helps!

  4. Thank for your article Makki. I have little knowledge on SEO and back links. I learned a lot more things about back links. I do not know Penguin at all but recently I came across Google ping back link. Penguin and ping are they same?

    1. Thanks for reading Reddy. Glad to see the article was useful to you. Google Penguin is an update to Google’s search engine, and ping backs are simply tools used to crawl webpages faster. You don’t need to use ping back anymore in recent years.

  5. Thanks for the info on backlinks Makki, I had heard that you shouldn’t chase them but I never got around to find out why. Reading this has really helped, and I think it’s only fair that Google has leveled the playing field and rewards those who work hard on their sites and punish those who relied on cheap stunts to artificially boost their rankings.

    1. That’s exactly how I feel Adrian. Updates like Penguin only help the hardworkers. I know how frustrating it was not to rank for good content while seeing trash on the first page. Thankfully those days are over. Thanks for reading!

  6. I kind of gave up on trying to build back-links. I don’t even do keyword research anymore, I just write whatever is on my mind and what I think people will want to read.

    I know I should try to build back-links but I prefer to focus on organic growth and see what happens. Definitely buying these back-link packs is not a good idea!

    Thanks for simplifying this concept.

    Cheers!

    1. Hi Timothy! I also hate keyword research, but I do recommend devoting at least a little bit of time to it. It helps a ton.

      I wouldn’t actually try to get backlinks. I just create quality content and hope it gets shared. You don’t even have to pay backlinks any heed. Remember, stay away from those packs!

  7. While backlinks may not be the main criteria in securing a first page rank, I believe backlinks are still useful, in securing additional traffics to our website. Again, this is not about buying backlinks. What I’m talking about is White-Hat SEO which includes Guest-Posting and some outreach methods which is more of building PR.

    I wouldn’t totally disregard backlinks. It’s just that I wont be spending too much time getting them either. If I have good quality content and I promote my blog adequately, those backlinks would come eventually.

    1. I agree with everything. Guest posting is a great way to get quality links, and having valuable links will indeed help your ranking. My intention with the post was to say that backlinks shouldn’t be regarded very highly. They help, for sure, but it’s not worth it to go out of your way for them. That said, natural backlinks are definitely important things to have!

  8. Great post my friend.

    I have always found the back linking a mystery. When I first started online back linking was huge, but I just didn’t understand it. Now I frankly don’t care as long as my content is good and relevant to my reader. Awesome job man.

    1. That’s pretty much the intention behind Google’s updates. Your only worries should be providing quality content, not getting backlinks. Thanks for sharing, Shawn!

  9. I think backlinks are only useful if they are located on websites with topics related or complementary to your website interest. Of course, these websites have to be renowned. If not it’s like screaming in the desert. I didn’t know you could buy batches of backlinks… It really weakens the concept.
    I guess I’ll keep on writing quality content and see what works or not. Thanks for this information.

    1. You’re right Carolyn. That’s the only way they can help. And it makes sense too. But they certainly can’t boost your site the way they used to. Thanks for reading!

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