Why are backlinks important for SEO?
Before we dive right into it, I’ll start of with a little bit of history to put things into perspective.
I started to get interested in SEO about 10 years ago. Back-in-the-day things were pretty clear, the more links the better the rankings. With links and especially anchor text being such a obvious mayor ranking factor in Googles algorithm, opportunities where there to abuse it.
And so we did!
Yes I was taking part in every sort of link related spam tactic imaginable, to exploit this loophole in the algorithm. And those of you who where already active in SEO around this time where probably too, because it was just to obvious to ignore..
But then Google came along with a cute fluffy penguin update as an answer to stop the madness and striking fear to the harts of all webmasters around the globe. Besides the direct effect this update has had on the web, the physiologic effect has probably been mush bigger and resulted into people being pretty cautious when linking out. I great move to my opinion, but let’s not forget the power of links in 2017…
Why are backlinks so important? (1) Because Google says so!
Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google answered this, when asked the question:
“We heard that RankBrain is the third-most-important signal contributing to results now. Would it be beneficial to us to know what the first two are?”
“Yes. Absolutely. I can tell you what they are. It’s content and links going into your site.”
In the past Google told us that backlinks are a very big big part of their algorithm.
Question: “Is there a version of Google that excludes backlinks as a ranking factor?”
“We don’t have a version like that, that is exposed to the public, but we have run experiments like that internally, and the quality looks much worse. It turns out that backlinks, even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really big win in terms of quality of search results. So we’ve played around with the idea of turning off backlink relevance and, at least for now, backlink relevance still really helps in terms of making sure that we return the best, most relevant, most topical search results.”
Why are backlinks so important? (2) Because research shows it!
Research 1: Are Links Still a Powerful Ranking Factor? (New Study) – Stone Temple Consulting
Stone Temple Consulting recently conducted a research to study the correlation between external links and rankings using data from the MOZ API. (the same API which fuels my backlink tool). The research they did was based on earlier studies by MOZ and Searchmetrics.
Correlation according to MOZ and Searchmetrics:
The correlation by both previous studies and the results by Stone Temple Consulting mainly differ from each other because the methodology used to calculate the correlations.
Read the full research: https://www.stonetemple.com/links-remain-a-very-powerful-ranking-factor-study/
Stone Temple Consulting used blocks (1-10, 11-20, etc. ) in combination with normalised totals to get to a more accurate correlation score.
Explanation from Stone Temple Consulting:
I continued to use the normalized totals of the links, but grouped them in ranking groups of 10. I.e., I summed the normalized link totals for the top 10, did the same for ranking positions 11 to 20, 21 to 30, and so forth. I then calculated the correlations to see how they looked in terms of what it would take to rank in each 10 position block.
Both correlations are really high and approaching today’s reality, where external backlinks still play a mayor role in Google’s ranking algorithm.
Research 2: How to Rank Number One in Google: A Study of 1 Million Pages – Matthew Barby
Matthew Barby (Head of Growth & SEO at HubSpot) researched the value of backlinks, anchor text and a couple of other on-page elements.
He used data from Accuranker en Ahrefs to conduct his large scale research for which he analysed 1 million pages.
A summery of the most important findings:
- On avergae 23% of all links on the first search results page in Google point to the number #1 result.
- The number #1 result gets on average > 186 external backlinks coming from unique domains than the number #5 position.
- The number #1 result has on average 5,42% external backlinks with an matching anchor text.
Read the full research: https://www.matthewbarby.com/ranking-in-google/
Why is there so little attention for linkbuilding?
There multiple reasons why link building doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Link building has a history
As briefly discussed in the first paragraph, link building has been a pretty manipulative factor in the past which resulted in all kinds of spam (blog, forum, social media, link farms etc.).
Link building isn’t easy
For a lot of webmasters and in-house online marketeers link building is a daunting slow task, bringing little to no rewards.
For online agencies linkbuilding is also a difficult product, because of the simple fact clients like to see immediate results. And where with technical and content related changes you make adjustments relatively fast. When doing link building your dependent on others. Which makes it a lot harder to make an impact prediction on forehand.
For some, Content Marketing is the new link building which is a nice evolution, but in reality most marketers focus on writing the content and getting social exposure. And they forget there is more to content marketing than just publishing an article and sharing it on Facebook.
If you’re taking a closer look at the way search engines work, it’s pretty obvious why backlinks and anchor text still play a big part in their algorithm:
- The internet is build on content and links.
- Search engines use these links to crawl and index the web.
- Adding a link to a web page, takes much more time and afford compared to sharing a link on Facebook or Twitter.
Backlinks are still a very important factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. Make sure you pay enough attention to link opportunities when they arise and be proactive. Don’t just wait for people to link to your content, start focussing again on building relations and links, to get your content the exposer it deserves.