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?
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!
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.
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,