Are Backlinks Good for Rankings? Nope.
Last Update: Dec 31, 2019
There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding SEO (Search Engine Optimization) these days and I wanted to spend a few minutes offering those that are confused or those that have frankly, been totally misinformed/misguided, some real clarity.
The most common and the most talked about is “backlinks”. Companies, internet marketers and "gurus" still seem to be pushing the idea of backlinks. Many other marketers say to avoid backlinks at all costs.
Which is correct? Who should you believe and what sort of weight should you put on your backlink activities (in terms of time), if any.
I want to offer my perspective and hopefully this will save you a lot of time and energy and it will most certainly lead to much higher rankings going forward in Google and other search engines.
Are Backlinks Good for Your Website Rankings?
The answer. They USED to be.
Prior to a massive Google Penguin update in 2014, a decent part of the Google ranking algorithm based their rankings on backlinks to your website.
Google made a very foolish assumption about "inbound" links to websites, but there were definitely grounds for doing this. They figured that if your website had links coming to it from other very popular websites online, that your website is also a popular and valuable website...thus they should rank you higher.
The problem with this is that backlinks were and continue to be easily cheated. There were companies and little outsourcing jobs you could purchase to get an incredible amount of high quality backlinks for very cheap.
As soon as any aspect of Google’s algorithm can become gamed, it impacts the QUALITY of their search results. Thus, the quality of Google’s SERPS was no longer reliable and it was causing quality issues in terms of the experience for Google users.
Google acted quickly and swiftly to this. The 2014 Penguin update literally WIPED many entire businesses off the face of the earth that were relying solely on backlinks to get their rankings (traffic). I know many folks first hand that were impacted by this.
I personally loved the update as did MANY members here at Wealthy Affiliate. I experienced DOUBLE the traffic overnight when this Penguin update was rolled out because I didn’t rely on backlinks then, and I sure as heck would never be foolish enough to waste time on backlinks now.
Are backlinks required? Do you need them for your business, will you benefit from backlinks?
The answer to all of these is NO.
Contrary to any level of logic and common sense, there has been talk from many deemed “authorities” sites in the industry that backlinks are still completely relevant. One such quote was brought to my attention more recently as "groundbreaking" information.
“....three of Google's most well-known ranking factors are link-related: 1. the number of links pointing to your site, 2. the anchor text of those links and 3. the authority of those links.”
This could not be further from the truth. You can rank without ANY backlinks, in fact, if you are spending your time trying to get backlinks to your website, you are wasting your time.
Google has granted a close to ZERO NET VALUE (in terms of rankings) for backlinks.
Why? Because it doesn’t make sense to make something important that can be easily gamed and manipulated by grey and black hat marketers (people that trying to find temporary holes in algorithms like this for their own gains).
Some companies will try to reverse engineer sites that are getting good SEO rankings and see that sure, they do have backlinks. The problem with this sort of analysis is the fact that any QUALITY content is naturally going to get other websites linking to it, because well, it is quality content. It was the content that got these sites their rankings.
Also, there are many automated scripts and programs that will link to you. In some cases, competitors will think that they can KILL your website rankings by doing negative SEO and mass backlinking campaigns on your site. It does NOT work.
So When it Comes to SEO, What Should You Focus On?
So if you aren’t going to be focusing on backlinks, what should you be spending your time and energy on. There are SIX things that are the most critical aspects to SEO that you should be investing ALL of your SEO attention to moving forward in 2018.
They are as follows.
- Your Content Quality. Content is king/queen! You have likely heard that statement and the actual quality of your content is and should always be the core focus of your SEO activities. Google is a search engine which delivers content.
They are looking for the best content and every algorithm update they make is in effort to find and deliver the best content to its users. That is their business, that is how they make money. Create thorough, helpful and informative content. That is the basis of SEO. Cheap out on your content and you are going to have an unsuccessful SEO journey ahead.
- Targeting Keywords. Every page/post you create should have a certain level of keyword “intent”. That is, you should be putting emphasis on certain keywords within your content.
I always recommend that your target keyword be somewhere within your title, within your first paragraph and then as you write your article, write NATURALLY. There will likely be more occurrences of your keyword naturally within the rest of your content...that is fine. Just don’t STUFF keywords, that is bad.
- LSI WIthin Your Content. These are keywords that are semantically related to your main keyword. For example, the keyword “diet” would semantically relate to “lose weight”.
When you write naturally, it is obvious to Google. The LSI (Latent Semantic Index) score of your content will play a big role in terms of your overall ranking and will actually lead to rankings under many other search terms. The moral of the story here, write naturally.
- Engagement/Comments. Dialogue within your content is a strong indicator that people are actually reading your content, that it is of high quality. People will engage in content that they enjoy, that they trust, and often times content that already has comments and dialogue within it. You can leverage the SiteComments platform.
- User Experience. Google focuses a good deal of it’s time and energy determining whether or not a website is a quality user experience. Some things that it is focuses on are web page load times, does it work on a mobile device (responsive), the UX design, how easy the content is to read/interpret, content length, and structuring of your content.
- Your Overall Website Authority. This will happen over time. As you build out a website in any niche, you are going to gain more and more authority naturally (assuming you are doing so in a way that focused on quality). Consistent content creation, consistent engagement within your content, and TIME are what will lead to website authority. With effort, you can really start to have authority breakthroughs around the 3 month mark.
So at the end of the day, there is going to be conflicting information online about techniques and strategies. Different companies with different motives are going to push their latest “idea”, technique or in many cases, they are tied to an tool/services that no longer works (in this case, anything related to backlinks).
To build a very successful (and high ranking) website online, you do not need backlinks.
Quite the contrary. In fact, if you are wasting energy on getting backlinks, which have next to no value in your business. You are taking away from time that could have been much better invested on other things. Like content. Like user experience. Like engagement.
If you focus on the stuff that matters and you avoid trying to “trick” Google into giving you rankings, you have a long term SEO strategy.
If you have any questions about backlinks or SEO or would like to offer any feedback/experiences that you have had over the years, please leave your comment or questions below.
Thanks for this insightful article, it really made me think deeply.
I assume you didn't get backlinks during your early days, right? I'm pertaining to the time that you took 3+ months to earn your first commission online. You just created high quality content consistently with targeted keywords and as a result, Google ranked you high in search results.
I just want to know because that's the current path I'm taking now, and I want confirmation that I'm doing it right. I do believe in the integrity of Google and the training here inside WA, the reason why I'm following your advice.
I disagree respectfully. Today, (and things do change rapidly in the SEO world) I do believe that quality back links matter a lot. A close friend of mine works at Google in California and verified that back links are indeed one of the top factors the system looks at. The reason is that their machine can now spot paid for back links or cheats.
The point is simple. If a much larger established, trusted, high traffic niche site lists your website link (back link) on their Pages/Posts....real live people who are reading their stuff on their site are surely going to click your link and come to your site. That is the point of it.
Therefore, I disagree that focusing time on back links is a complete waste of time. I just dont see that as the case, but the numbers will have to be the final evidence of course. I am testing this theory out now and will update for anyone that cares:)
I believe in back links, but not buying 20,000 on Fiverr of course. I am meaning that in addition to all the other factors you must include in your sites like quality, relevant, keyword, etc. to rank high, YOU MUST ALSO contain back links if you wish to rank even higher than you would with out any.
Google has made it "clear" over the years MANY things have an impact on rankings, then they have gone against those very ideas. We already saw this with backlinks 3 years ago, wiping out an incredible never of businesses that relied on backlinks for rankings.
Can "natural" backlinks help, sure. But manufactured backlinks are Google's ongoing battle, PBN's are getting absolutely crushed, and if you are chasing the next backlink hole and you are not accruing these as a result of your content being great, it is going to naturally wash out.
That is my argument and across the breadth of industry, I see the contrary happening. People that focus entirely on captivating content and building out an authority site (without backlinks) are getting incredible rankings.
The thing is that these folks will RETAIN rankings, because Google is after one thing and only one thing. Content. Their business was built off of delivering the most relevant, highest quality, most engaging, and accurate content. Every move in the ranking algo side of things is going to be in direct correlation to this.
# my case study
I am totally agree with Kyle, i have made a website and was reviewing a very new xiaomi smartphone and was able to get top ranking in google without even a single backlink (My site hardly 2 month old.)
In my opinion, the thing all the people miss is that "timing". If you are the first one to write on a particular keyword, you will get the top position in the google., after that high authority sites have only one option " to write a better lengthy content" to steal your position.
Thanks again for this, Kyle!
However , I need to get clear on something.
Let's say someone has a site for university graduates doing a gap year or two, and looking for short-term housing solutions.
Would a link to a housing info site in a particular region be considered a backlink?
Thanks so much, just need to get my understanding straight☺
Hi Therese if you are linking to a helpful resource that will help your readers that is good for SEO, it's not a backlink, backlinks are links you build somewhere else, so they link to your website, Google Penguin will get angry and will bite your site if you build backlinks in a spammy way the worst part your site may never recover, Right Kyle?
Thank you for this post, Kyle. I think the key takeaway here is create GREAT content. No amount of backlinks are going to help rank you (in the long term), if your content sucks.
For example, I see sites on page 1 that have no business being there from a "good content" perspective. A quick look at their RD profile, and it has low-quality-PBN written all over it. So clearly, the links are making it rank and not the quality of the content.
In a case like this, it is very easy for Google to take one look at the content and de-rank it because it actually sucks, regardless of it's link profile.
Not everyone is capable of creating "great" content which is ultimately why some people succeed and others fail.
I do believe, however, that if you have good quality content, putting it in front of influencers in your niche is a good idea for various reasons. Good quality, solid links from a site that has a ton of traffic and good authority - whether it's a ranking factor or not - gives your site some automatic "authority". It also gives you a good idea as to whether your content is really "great" or only great in your own eyes.
If you've a fantastic resource about >your niche
I got to play devil's advocate on this one. Not that I am focusing much of my time on building links. In fact, I dedicated 98% of my time on just creating quality content. But, don’t you think having a handful of authority links from Moz 90+ sites that are ranking on the first page of Google hold some SEO value?
Really looking forward to what you have to say on this!
I happen to side with you on this topic. Untill I see real evidence of either side im not writing it off.
I´m getting ever more curious about this: yes backlinks, no backlinks, a few backlinks .... Which is it?
I'm with Tessa! As you can see from my last WA post where the first piece of advice I was given regarding my dilemma was that I have no backlinks. Is there any rhyme or reason to Google's rankings?
You don't need to put any effort into backlinks to get first page rankings. I have proven this and 1,000's I have worked with prove this over and over again with their authority sites.
The people spouting that benefits for backlinks are those that are selling their backlink services.
Put your emphasis on creating quality, engaging and share worthy content. If you do this, you will naturally get the best type of backlinks, the ones where people actually share your content (which will happen).
If you are manufacturing backlinks, you are more often than not wasting your time and it wasn't long ago where complete businesses (a 100,000's of them) were wiped off the face of the earth because of their emphasis on backlinks to drive their rankings.
Google doesn't rank links, it ranks content. Remember that.
Thanks Kyle. Do you have an explanation why one of my articles is nowhere to be found in google (it is 2500+ words). When I enter the keyword a bunch of garbage shows up on the first page. Nothing even close to my article. Many WA members chimed in on the discussion and that is where I was told it is because my site doesn't have any backlinks.
I then started thinking maybe it is because its a page and not a post. I am really not sure what to do to get this article even in the first 3 pages of google. I have quite a few more like it. They are in depth articles that for some reason google doesn't seem to like.
Also, you might want to think about getting more comments on the post that are not showing up on the first page of Google. Can take several months of getting comments, but it shows Google the post is being updated.
Ok, thanks, Kyle. You probably saved me from spending 3-4 thousand on links. I will just focus on content and will not put any effort at all on links :)
It actually has 28 comments. More than some of my higher ranking articles. This is why I am so confused. That particular article has everything it is supposed to. SEO optimized, 2000+ internal and external links, images that are optimized and comments.
Hmm, Let's see if I get this: first, write a post and post it on your website and get comments. Then, later, update the post and get more comments. And then keep updating and keep getting new comments?
Send me a PM with your keywords and the article I will give it a closer look and see if I can find any issues.
GarenArnold, I am not sure if you are talking to me or Tessa. If it is me then we have already pm'd about the article the is frustrating me so much!
Sure! I am going to make a few changes to it this week and resubmit the article to google. I'm wondering through if it matters that it's a page and not a post. Maybe I should make a post. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Could matter. Possibly some user engagement would help. Really want to look and see if I see anything that might be problematic.
Feel free to offer any other suggestions you may have. Why don't you PM me so we don't continue adding to this thread with something unrelated.
Hi Tanja posts rank better than pages matter of fact none of my pages are ranking on Google and I have never seen a page ranking on Google .
Interesting. Thanks. I do have pages ranking in google, but not on the first page like I would like. They are on pages 2, 3 or beyond. I wonder if it would make a difference at this point if I changed them from pages to posts. I did that once when I accidentally created a page that should have been a post. I used a plugin to make the change but can't remember which one.
I was browsing through the comments here and noticed what you said Hilali about post ranking better than pages. I believe they rank the same. You just use post and pages for different types of content.
Pages are more factual. Information that isn't really going to change. Blog posts is more your opinion about whatever information you are writing about.
And has far as which ranks better for me?
I have one website where one posts gets about 80% of my traffic.
BUT, I also have another website where 80% of my traffic comes to a page.
Both post and page have been ranking in the top 3 of google for over a year with the keywords that I used.
My post ranks in the top 3 for a low hanging keyword but still gets good traffic. And my page ranks for a high volume keyword that gets 1,000s of searches every month.
As you build out your site it's probably good to have a mix of both pages and posts. That's what I do. Like I said. Depends on the content you write.
Just thought I would chime in and let you know.
Thanks Brandon. That is what I assumed (there should be no difference between a post or page ranking). I worked very hard on these pages, and in my professional opinion on the content the information I shared won't be changing anytime soon, which is why I set them up as pages.
But they are nowhere to be found in google. I have even reindexed them after making some changes. They have lots of comments, good keyword placement and I link to these 3 specific pages often from other articles on the site.
There are also links on my sidebar that go to these pages.
So I am at a loss.
Hi Brandon, thanks for your response I heard before that posts rank better because Google thinks pages aren't updated like Posts but that's not true, just did a search and found that Google doesn't care about if your content is on a post or page, if it's good it will rank good, thanks for the update Brandon and have a good day.
I can understand your frustration of your hard worked pages not Ranking on Google. There's definitely some content that I wrote that could've sworn was the best thing ever written and didn't rank for squat.
But also remember,
Not everything you write will rank. Even the greatest content writers can't rank for every keyword they choose.
But that doesn't mean those pages won't ever rank.
It might just take a year instead of a month. It's starting to happen with some of my content that I wrote a year ago.
It also can depend on your competition in your niche and how much content you actually have in your website.
10 post, 50 post, 100 post?
That amount of content you have makes a huge difference on how quickly and how many keywords you rank for.
Also have to take in consideration of how old your website is?
Point is there are numerous amount of variables to tanking your content but the more you write the more keywords you'll rank for(: even keywords you wouldn't have thought of.
No problem, and every time you update a page you could always just let google know it's been updated by using "fetch as google" in google webmaster tools
Hi Kyle. I've been having massive difficulties trying to get my articles and blog posts into the first page in google. Despite all what you've said above and I've done exactly that, I've been having really slow progress. 6 months into it, I have only 1 article (low traffic one) on the first page among 60 and that's it. I think the 3-month mark is kindof a myth, maybe a year is a more logical time-mark. This is my website: noviceguitar.com , if you could look around and try to spot anything bad, why it isn't working as fast as you've said it would be, would love to hear about that from you. Thanks
Elias, if you ask Kyle this personally, I would ask you to post the answer.
I would like to know as well.
It would be good to know ALL the criteria to getting indexed to the first page.
I did notice that your site doesn't load quickly. I know google can frown on that.
But you have a very appealing site, really nice. SO I don't know how much of a problem that is.
Wishing you well, Mary
Hey, bud I would say that you are actually doing GREAT.
I looked up your site using Ahrefs which is a backlink and competition analysis software.
I attached a screen shot of the keywords you are ranking for (only a fraction of the 450 you are ranking for)
While they may not be the exact longtails that you were going for right away. It is driving you organic traffic.
I am sure once you get out of the Google sandbox you will out do them.
Other than soundbrenner review that gives me 1 - 2 traffic on average every day without converting, nothing else is on the first page so I don't see how I'm doing "great" but thanks for the encouragement! :)
Unless you have stuff on google first page you don't really have a business
Hey Just clicked on your website, it looks excellent! Great Job!
You can do few things to skyrocket your articles and make them rank high fast.
1-Get more Comments (Some of your posts have 0 and less than six comments)
2- Share your posts on Facebook Groups and Google + Communities
3- Optimize your old posts, make them better, just grab on a post and think how can I make this post better and more useful? do this for all the posts
Remember Google wants the best results for their users.
If you make an article that is better and more useful than your competitors one, Google will notice that and make it climb your competitor's article in the search results.
These simple things can change everything don't underestimate them.
Hey Elias, checked out your site and it's really great. Lots of information but more importantly you have an authentic authoritative "voice". You know what you're talking about.
I do agree with Mary though, at least from my end here it seemed to load a little slow-ish.
I was atruggling with mine recently as well. It's only a couple months new... but even with everything optimized it was still a little laggy. I originally built it on a premium theme from themeforrest, but was noticing on Google speed tests I was getting low 50's and high 40's depending on mobile or desktop.
I spent all of last weekend rebuilding my site on a studiopress theme after hearing Jay recommend them on his webinar. It's now showing at 70 something /100 for mobile and 88/100 on desktop. It's a real pain, and not a guarantee of course since speed is determined by other things... but it could be an option if you were feeling ambitious. I'm personally much happier with my site and can now focus more on content.
Either way, I think you have a great site.
Just playing devil's advocate here, isn't SiteComments really just a way to "game" the system?
After all, what people are trying to accomplish with SiteComments is the same thing people were trying to accomplish with backlinks and that is to get content ranked in the search engines.
If the comments didn't appear naturally it's kind of the same as not having the backlinks appear naturally...
They are natural, they are comments that are based directly on the dialogue. There is no difference doing this than sending people to your site through an email or through Facebook and saying, please read my article and leave my your feedback.
Same thing, it is absolutely not the same as "gaming". It is real dialogue that is contextual, from real people, reading the content.
In his book, The Art of Social Media, Guy Kawasaki wrote "In our opinion, most search engine optimisation is b*llsh*t. It involves trying to read Google's mind and then gaming the system to make Google find crap. There are three thousand computer science PhDs at Google trying to make each search relevant, and then there's you trying to fool them. Who's going to win?"
Furthermore, he wrote, "Tricking Google is futile. Instead, you should let Google do what it does best: find great content. So defy all the SEO witchcraft out there and focus on creating, curating, and sharing great content. This is what's called SMO: socil-media optimization."
Thanks for the article Kyle! Now I know what your idea of SEO is and since it resonates with what Guy Kawasaki wrote I now have more trust in the WA's courses. :)
That is 100 % true. Indeed tricking Google is futile. The best way is to keep learning until we get there. This is really good and useful advice, Kyle.
Those that black hat their way through business within the SEO world are those that are constantly chasing their tails and chasing the next best thing.
What they deem as the most "important" thing now, will be the one thing you MUST NOT do in the next breath...well, when Google hammers down in their black hat techniques.
If you produce awesome, engaging content and you do so on a regular basis, Google is going to chase after you. That is my approach to SEO and it worked in 2010, it will work in 2020.
That sounds like a book I would like to read! Thank you for your comment on this discussion! I am going to look it up and hopefully tuck it into my library.
Wow! I have been lied to by some of the biggest names in the business. What Kyle says makes sense. I believe he is right on. I am going to act on what he says - or should I say NOT act on getting backlinks. The work required to get honest and good backlinks is the main thing that has kept me from being serious about affiliate marketing until now. Thanks Kyle!
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Love this, Kyle. I just wrote a WA blog on curating blogs, and in my research I found that linking back to the original blogger is a big part of curating. When I wrote it, I think I had the two confused: linking back and backlinking.
I'm concerned with the fact that there seems to be legit curating and gamed curating. I came here and found that people are gaming the system with backlinks. I wonder if the same pertains to linking back to someone else's work, as in "write no content, just put links to other's work into a post," which would be gaming curating.
While those backlinks no longer get the rank increases, does the same apply to "linking back" to someone else's post in the course of curating a blog?
After writing my blog, getting a response, and re-reading your post here, I realize adding a link to another's post is different from backlinks. I guess people used to buy backlinks until Google got wise and they no longer improve rankings.
Since I wrote the blog thinking "linking back" had the same effect, I wonder, can I edit my blog? If so, I don't see how; please advise.