Why are backlinks important?

Short answer - credibility. Long answer - read below...
Content & HARO Manager
Published on 
March 6, 2023
Updated on 
September 18, 2023
Posted in 

In addition to interesting, thoughtful, SEO-optimized content, backlinks are how Google determines how authoritative and trustworthy a page is and, therefore, where it should rank on the search engine results page. 

The power of backlinks to your website is beyond dispute when it comes to increasing organic traffic. Take a look at one of the case studies we did use a client’s 5000% increase in their target KPI thanks to the traffic boost they got from our link building efforts. 

Your Links and Your Ranking Are Correlated

There is definitely a significant correlation between how many domains link to a page or website and the amount of search traffic it receives. 

Reason #1: Links Imply Confidence

Google likes links because links imply a vote of confidence. When one website links to another, the algorithm interprets that as the source site’s confidence in the destination site. 

This is logical because when content creators and website owners are trying to create value for their audience, they will typically only link to content that provides something worthwhile–a statistic, a good example to buttress a point they’re trying to make etc. 

The reason why backlinks are important, therefore, is that Google sees them as a good proxy for “quality” and, therefore, a fundamental part of the PageRank algorithm. 

There are a lot of ranking factors, but backlinks are indisputably a big part of the SEO equation. 

Reason# 2: Backlinks Impact Your Business in a Variety of Ways

Are a website’s backlinks important for SEO?, Yes, but they are worth building for a bunch of reasons.

They help generate traffic

When you get incoming links to your site on pages with a lot of traffic, it increases the chances of someone clicking through to your site. 

They are good for brand awareness

The more incoming links back to your site, the more opportunities people have to learn about your brand. This is especially true if you are getting “branded” links (links where the anchor text is the name of your business). 

They help you network

Backlinks, in addition to being an important part of how a search engine evaluates your site, are also a good way to network with people and websites in your industry.

You might get a guest blogging opportunity out of a backlink or someone interested in discussing a joint marketing effort based on what they like about your site.

The Big Caveat: Not All Backlinks Are Created Equal

Please don’t take the above sections emphasizing the importance of backlinks as our endorsement of trying to get as many links as possible, point blank period.

Some types of backlinks are much better than others from an SEO perspective. A link could even straight up harm your site. 

A link from a directory, social media, a new website and blogging websites like Medium are not going to confer much SEO value. 

Then there are backlinks from places like link farms and Private Blog Networks that the algorithm views as SEO manipulation

You need to build links that Google is going to like and steer clear of linking practices that could get you penalized (and potentially even deindexed). 

What Constitutes a Good Backlink? 

Now it’s time to delve into link quality. There are several things to look out for when it comes to high authority backlinks and linking practices. 

A search engine likes editorial links

The links that pass on the most SEO value are usually editorial links (those given without solicitation) from authoritative publications.

For example, if you were in the cybersecurity niche and Norton or Microsoft thought one of your blog articles was quality content and helpful enough to link to in one of theirs, that would be a very high authority link. 

It’s hard to get the attention of a website like the Washington Post, Wired, Tech Crunch, etc.–big established sites or industry blogs with a lot of traffic and high domain metrics.

And even when you do, the backlink often comes in the form of a nofollow link. 

Naturally, when they do link to another website, the assumption from Google is that it is a link pointing to quality, therefore, passing on a lot of authority and SEO value.

You don’t need links from the biggest, most quality websites in order to build a solid backlink profile, though. Any site with good metrics that provides you with a relevant, natural link is good for your SEO. 

Additional Qualitative Factors

In addition to the backlink itself, there are other factors that determine whether search engines consider your links quality backlinks. These include the anchor text used to place the link as well as the type of link.  

The Anchor Text

This refers to the highlighted text in an article that is used for the hyperlink. This text is what Google uses to infer what a destination page is about and it’s part of good SEO. 

Here is an example from this very article of the use of anchor text: 

If you click on the hyperlinked text in the above example, you will be taken to a location on the destination page that deals with low quality “spam links” whose intention is PageRank manipulation.

Not that Google needs our link, but if it was to some other site’s article, Google would appreciate the contextually relevant and informative anchor text. 

While you can’t control the anchor text other sites choose when they link to you organically, you can if you’re writing a guest post. 

Dofollow vs nofollow links 

Another backlinks power factor is whether links have been marked as “nofollow” or “dofollow.”

Nofollow links are those that a website is instructing Google not to crawl. While this type of link still leads to the destination page, they are not nearly as valuable from an SEO standpoint as dofollow links.

This is because these backlinks are essentially telling Google “don’t pass on my authority and trust in this case.” 

Dofollow inbound links, on the other hand, are backlinks that pass on the full authority and confidence of a site to the destination page.

These are the links you want and, when vetting link building opportunities, the ones to chase after because they have the most valuable impact on ranking. 

A good way to spot a nofollow 

Will Search Engines Like Google Rank You Without Links? 

People sometimes ask us “why do backlinks matter so much” if I can rank in Google without them.

Yes, you absolutely can rank without backlinks (provided you do a bunch of other things right– speed, internal linking), but they are still very important for SEO.

You will almost certainly struggle to rank for anything that isn’t low competition without a decent number of backlinks.

These terms that allow you to rank without link building tend to be low competition for a couple of reasons. 

They either have low search volume, meaning they don’t have a lot of traffic potential or they are low value. What this means is that even if they do have some traffic, any visitors to your site are hard to monetize.

Bottom-lining it: why are backlinks important?

If you are after low-competition keywords, then you may not need backlinks.

“May not” being the operative words here because you still have to compete with sites that are doing things like technical SEO as well, if not better than you and who are also building links. 

If you are after the juicer, more competitive keywords in your niche, it will be hard to do without link building efforts and good backlinks. 

SEO companies like Ahrefs have done plenty of case studies backing this up: 

Even With Quality Backlinks, Google Doesn’t Guarantee Anything

At the end of the day, search engines don’t promise us lowly site owners anything, even if we build a good backlink profile.

Backlinks are vital for SEO and part of what Google uses to determine where your site should fall in the SERP rankings, but it is far from the only deciding factor. 

Google plays this information very close to the chest, so, for all intents and purposes, it’s pretty much impossible to know with certainty how much anything factors in, backlinks or otherwise. 

Depending on where you get your information, there might be more than 200 factors

The Consensus is That Links Matter

Most SEOs, however, agree that some combination of content, high authority backlinks pointing to your domain, search intent and page experience (layout, speed, internal linking etc.) are what make or break your SEO success. 

If you want to rank, you need to do good search engine optimization, which means you have to satisfy as many of the Google metrics as possible, not only quality links. 

As you continue on your journey to better-optimized SEO, ask yourself the following questions. These are questions that can help you think like search engines. 

Does my page provide what the searcher is looking for (searcher intent)?

This might just be the most important SEO factor because Google’s objective is to provide a person using its search engine (you, me, anyone) with the most relevant content for each search term. 

A page needs to include the information a searcher is looking for, and if it doesn’t, it’s highly unlikely Google is going to put it in front of people, regardless of how many backlinks the page has. 

This is why it is important to always create content and keyword optimize with search intent in mind in addition to content that will get links. 

Ask yourself “does my page contain information that is going to be useful to whoever is searching for the keywords I’m optimizing for?” 

This doesn’t just mean the information that you have on the page, but also the quality, relevance and authority of the outbound links on your page.

An outbound link is one that takes the reader to content on other websites that provides value to your content experience. 

How to Establish Search Intent

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to establish search intent.

All you need to do is search for your keyword(s) in Google and see what kind of articles and websites appear at the top of the SERP. These are ones that Google has determined meet a searcher’s intent. 

These are websites that have been deemed to have met searcher intent well for the given terms. They have been given a good ranking because of this. 

Is my Page optimized?

In addition to having content that satisfies a searcher’s intent, you also need to make sure that your website content is optimized for the search terms in question.

There are a number of important optimization factors. 

This is a screenshot of a SurferSEO optimization panel. 

Correct keyword use. are you using keywords in your posts that people are searching for and using them in the correct places?

Content length: Are your posts the right length? Generally speaking, you should try to match the post length of the content that the SERP has already placed at the top of the rankings for your search terms. 

Number of paragraphs. The top ranking websites will have articles that contain a similar number of paragraphs. 

Heading usage. Are you using headings that break your content down in ways that a search engine likes? Try to match (perhaps not word for word) the headings being used on pages that are already ranking well on the SERP. 

Using tools like SurferSEO and Rankmath can help you better optimize your content by providing suggestions using examples from pages that already rank well. 

What is My On-Page Experience Like?

Google is increasingly considering user experience as a foundational part of SEO and has started using your site’s coral web vitals to gauge what kind of experience it offers to visitors. 

It uses four tests to measure how your page loads and how fast.

The Largest Contentful Paint

How long it takes for a page’s first content to appear. This could be your feature image (especially if it’s in PNG format) or an embedded YouTube video. 

First Contentful Paint

This refers to how quickly the main content of a site loads.

Some of the things that influence your First Content Paint (FCP) include slow server response times, unused or inefficient CSS, slow font load time and script-based elements above the fold.

First Input Delay

First Input Delay refers to the amount of time between a visitor’s first interaction with your site and the browser’s response.

This first interaction could be clicking on a link, tapping on a button, or using a custom, Javascript-powered control. 

Cumulative Layout Shift

This refers to how much content moves from when a visitor first arrives on a site and the page fully loads. Things like web fonts can cause layout shifts when the browser adjusts its calculation for the amount of space needed for different content to load fully. 

When you run your pages through the Core Web Vitals tool, PageSpeed Insights, Google evaluates your site using the above metrics (and some others) and gives you a score out of 100. 

A website like Amazon, of course, has amazing page speed metrics: 

Anything 90 and above is considered good. It also helpfully provides you with a breakdown of where your weak points are and what you can do to improve the various metrics.

It’s important to bear in mind that speed won’t make or break a website in terms of the algorithm. Even great websites like Hubspot, for example, that don’t have great speed scores, clearly are doing amazingly: 

If you have a good backlink profile, great content that satisfies search intent and is SEO optimized, and provide a good page experience, you will very likely start to see your pages rank. 

Once Again, What Is The Importance of Backlinks?

Backlinks are important because they are a vital piece of the PageRank puzzle. Quality backlinks from relevant, reputable sites with good domain metrics pass on authority that is taken as evidence of your page’s value. 

Do this well while also attending to the other important ranking factors, and you have the recipe for a successful site. 

Building backlinks the right way takes time, effort and money, and we encourage you to get in touch with an experienced, reputable link building service that strategically builds valuable, Google-friendly links. Let us show you why backlinks are important. 

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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