How important are backlinks to your Google rankings?

I am a huge fan of MozBlog and, in particular, their whiteboard Friday’s. To me, they are the SEO Mecca for anyone in the industry. Google also pays close attention to what they say and recommend because they are such a leader within the SEO industry. Because of that, they sometimes gloss over reality in order to avoid angering Google, but overall they offer excellent advice on how Google’s algorithm works and also where they think Google could be trending with their future algorithmic updates.

When I sat down for this post, I went looking for an old whiteboard Friday post from earlier this year that talked about the value of links within Google’s algorithm. It’s a hot button topic within the industry between borderline black hatters from forums like WarriorForum and white hat purist from Moz. I’ve frequented both areas to keep me well informed between how things should work and the way things actually work. The white hat tactics definitely work, but only if you have thousands of dollars each month to dedicate full-time staff towards “doing it right” and the real world of much smaller budgets along with the pressure to get those rankings at any costs. There is little in between, unfortunately and I’ve had to do SEO both ways in order to meet certain demands. Obviously, I prefer the right way to the cheap way, but the real world doesn’t always care about the right way…

So, just how important are backlinks?

To put it simply, very important. In fact, Google’s entire algorithm was built around them. Google even experimented with removing links from their algorithm entirely and found their search results were terrible, so if you think they will go away entirely then you are sorely mistaken. Instead, Google has slowly been transitioning away from links by eroding their value through updates like Panda and Penguin. Panda focused more on internal linking and over-optimized websites, while Penguin went after external backlinks.


What Google is doing is including additional signals for ranking that, when combined with backlinks, provide the most relevant search results possible. This is the key word here: relevancy. A website owner should strive for the most relevant backlinks possible, by worrying less about anchor text and more about the relevancy of the content of the website linking to them. Getting backlinks from websites that closely match your website’s industry or topic of discuss, the better that backlink is going to become as Google continues to update its algorithm.

Right now, the reality is that relevancy doesn’t matter as much as the anchor text and PageRank of the links you are getting. This is why black hatter SEOs are so focused on getting those links, because they work today. Right now. However, anyone paying attention knows what Google wants and is working towards, so its only a matter of time before their activities blow up in their face.

My own SaaS app, Rank My Keyword, is borderline black hat. If it wasn’t for a users ability to target specific categories of blogs, it would be outright dangerous to use. Even so, because it essentially comes down to “buying links”, it definitely violates Google’s rules. However, the only way people with small budgets can effectively get SEO done is through violating those rules, so let’s not play high and mighty in that regard. My advice to those with small budgets is to play this dangerous game with great levels of caution. I do this by not violating all of the rules, so I would suggest practicing extreme anchor text diversity, high quality unique content and focus a good portion of the budget on brand keywords. This strategy has allowed me to weather all of the update storms that Google has created for the black hat community, but still, I would much rather be doing high quality SEO work. However, I’ve found the market for that is less than 10% of the business out there.

In the future, I see an SEO landscape where backlinks are still the most heavily weighted ranking factor, but it will shrink to a point where its barely more relevant than your own website’s content and internal linking. As Rand Fishkin said in his Whiteboard Friday below, that is likely 5-10 years away.

How should you do your own SEO?

google-panda-backlinksThere is a specific way to rock your own SEO that will always work. First, publish great content. So far, after less than a week, I’ve written over four thousand words of awesome content that people would find useful today, tomorrow and a year from now. It has been easy to do given its all related to what I know best. By pushing out great content, writing for your readers and linking internally in a natural way, you will avoid Panda destruction forever. Google will never penalize a normal website that isn’t overrun with “SEO tactics”. If you focus on SEO more than your readers, you will end up having to deal with an angry panda.

A big part of his is how you structure your blog posts for maximum SEO effect without readers even noticing you did so. This will help your on-page SEO to the point where after a year or so of consistent blogging you will begin to find a wealth of visitors from Google’s search.

Another big factor is social media networking. Google checks all of those metrics of shares on major social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. If you are savvy enough to get Google’s Authorship going, then you will find a huge benefit to leveraging Google Plus for your blogging efforts. The community is smaller, but those that use Google Plus tend to be far more technical and much more into web interaction than places like Facebook or Twitter.

The more interaction you get from social signals, the better your website will do within Google’s search results. So get out there and promote yourself.


I think Rand is spot on in his analysis about links. He is right that its really difficult to earn legitimate backlinks, which is why so many SEO professionals focus on link buying because link earning is so difficult in certain industries. What people fail to realize is that earning links isn’t as difficult if you focus on building your authority in that specific industry. Earning links is so much easier when people are seeking you out for information that pertains to their own professions. The problem is, that takes a ton of time and few businesses have the patience for it.

All of Rand’s “What should SEOs do?” are things I do for all of my own projects and those clients able to fund that kind of effort. Good stuff and well worth the watch below.

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