Are Backlinks Important for SEO?

Backlinks are probably the number one thing that SEOs care about. They find new ways to build backlinks and increase the authority of the site in the eyes of Google. 

But are backlinks as much important as they used to be? Or there is something else that is not being told?

Toward the end of this post, you will understand everything related to backlinks. Whether you should focus on them or not, and what you should focus on. 

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Backlinks used to be important back then because they help distinguish a good result from others. But as they become more manipulative, they don’t carry the same significance. Backlink will be less important as Google care more about the user experience and a lot of other factors.

A hyperlink that connects two different websites together is called a backlink. 

If one website is linking to another website, then you can say that it’s a backlink. 

For Example, if this website (Packted) gives out a link to Wikipedia, then it’s a backlink. 

Similarly, if Wikipedia links out to Packted, then it’s a backlink. 

Here is a visualization of how it looks:

Backlinks are also called External Links, or just links. They are one of the ranking factors which Google uses to rank content in Google searches. 

In SEO, backlinks are considered votes. 

Just as the political party with the highest votes gets to make the government, the (kind of) similar concept is applied to backlink.

The theory is that the page which has the highest number of backlinks gets to rank higher in the results (or SERPs).

Here is a visualization of the same:

This was the basic definition of what backlinks are. Now, let’s understand…

The backlinks used to be a HUGE factor for ranking. Algorithms like PageRank were specifically made for judging the backlink quality. And as PageRank is an important factor for ranking, backlinks also become one. 

I have found a Stanford paper from 1998 that discusses the importance of PageRank and backlinks. Here are some of the points mentioned:

  • Links were also called citations
  • “Indeed, many of the web search engines have used backlink count as a way to try to bias their databases in favor of higher quality or more important pages.’’
  • “Generally, highly linked pages are more “important” than pages with few links”
  • “Based on the discussion above, we give the following intuitive description of PageRank: a page has a high rank if the sum of the ranks of its backlinks is high. This covers both the case when a page has many backlinks and when a page has a few highly ranked backlinks.”
  • “The original goal of PageRank was a way to sort backlinks so if there were a large number of backlinks for a document, the “best” backlinks could be displayed first
  • “PageRank can help the user decide if a site is trustworthy or not.”
  • “The intuition behind PageRank is that it uses information which is external to the Web pages themselves – their backlinks, which provide a kind of peer review. Furthermore, backlinks from “important” pages are more significant than backlinks from average pages. This is encompassed in the recursive definition of PageRank

Similarly, here is an article from Web Confs (2006) discussing the importance of backlinks:

“The number of backlinks is an indication of the popularity or importance of that website. Backlinks are important for SEO because some search engines, especially Google, will give more credit to websites that have a good number of quality backlinks, and consider those websites more relevant than others in their results pages for a search query.”

Further, they wrote:

“A search engine considers the content of the sites to determine the QUALITY of a link. When inbound links to your site come from other sites, and those sites have content related to your site, these inbound links are considered more relevant to your site. If inbound links are found on sites with unrelated content, they are considered less relevant. The higher the relevance of inbound links, the greater their quality.”

When we think about the things that have been said above, it becomes clear that backlink was the “hero” back then. 

Google gave priority to links and more to “quality” backlinks. 

So it is safe to understand why people are so obsessed with making links.

The Importance (and Benefits)

Backlinks are important because they can help you get higher rankings in SERPs and can help your website become authoritative. 

The first and foremost reason why backlink is important is that they can help you become more credible and authoritative. 

This is because if a more authoritative site mentions your site, then your site will become more credible in the eyes of Google. 

For example, if a site like SEMrush or Ahrefs mentions Packted on their site, then Google will view Packted as more credible. 

This makes more sense when you think of links as votes. If a site has more votes, then it will be more authoritative in its industry (or niche)

The second thing is that Google discovers new pages via links. And this helps Google find new pages. Essentially, backlinks can also help in the URL discovery process. 

The next thing to note is that if your site has a backlink from an authoritative site, then it can send you a good amount of traffic. This type of traffic will be called referral traffic and it can help you attract a new audience and increase your brand awareness. 

How many Types does it have?

Mainly, there are four types of backlinks: No-follow, do-follow, sponsored, and UGC. Each type serves its own purpose and is used to indicate a different type of link.

Let’s understand each type of link:

  1. No-follow: The rel=”nofollow” attribute is used when you don’t want to associate your site with the website you’re linking to. This was mainly introduced to get rid of comment spamming. 
  2. Do-follow: The do-follow link is the one without any attribute. That means, it doesn’t include any nofollow, sponsored, or UGC attributes. This kind of link tells Google that this link is trusted and you can give it credit (or PageRank or some like to say link juice). This is the standard link type and when everybody aims to build links, this is the type they’re looking for cause it sends authority to your site
  3. Sponsored: The rel=” sponsored” is used when you’re exchanging money in return for a link (also known as paid links). This can include any kind of promotional activity and it helps google to understand the relationship between the two sites. 
  4. UGC: The rel=”ugc” is used to signal Google that a particular link is not created by the editor of the page. Sites that are UGC, like social media and forums have this kind of attribute. You can also enable this attribute if you have enabled comments on your blog. 

Recommended Reading: What is the Difference Between Nofollow and Sponsored Links?

When talking about backlinks, they can either be editorial links (placed naturally), editorial links made manually, or self-created links.

Let’s understand each in a little depth. 

  1. Natural Links: Natural or editorial links are the ones that you earn naturally (just by creating content). These are the links you get without doing any outreach. People link to your content because they think it is unique and can help the users. For example, suppose someone links to this page because they think this post can help their users, or this is an excellent resource. So that will be a natural link.  The content which gets the most natural links is link baits. Essentially, they are either large studies and data-centric posts or a fresh new perspective on regular things. 
  2. Manual Links: These are the links you earn by outreaching different websites. The aim is to get the links within the content and that’s why they are a little tricky to earn. An example of the manual link is me outreaching out to a website to replace their old link with the new article I created. Strategies like broken link building, HARO, link bait, and link reclamation are some examples of manual link building. 
  3. Self-Created Links: As it sounds, the self-created links are created “by oneself”. The catch? Anyone can create these links. They are the lowest-quality of links. Examples include links like classifieds, article submissions, social bookmarking, profile creation, and more. Out of these three types, these ones are nofollow links (in most cases), cause they are not special. Anyone can create them. 

Whenever you’re building links, I would suggest aiming for natural links. This means you should aim to create content that is unique and link-worthy. Apart from that, you can also go through the manual link path. But dont invest your time and resources into self-created links. They will do more harm than good on your site.  
P.S. I have done a study and found out that when a company hires an agency in India, most of them create self-created links.

Final Thoughts

Even though backlinks are a huge part of the search, they might not have a whole lot of value in the future. Because as you see, google puts user experience above everything. And this means that backlinks will not be a ranking factor in the upcoming time. 

To give you proof, here is a video from Google:

To summarise, Google says that backlink as a ranking factor is way less significant than it was several years ago. And Google is very smart to detect unnatural (self-created) links. Their ranking systems are more robust and they don’t care about backlinks as much. 

So instead of focusing on backlinks, maybe we should focus on creating a better user experience for our users. 

That’s it for this post. If you want to get in touch, you can DM me on LinkedIn, sent me an email, or join our Discord server!

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