Backlinks Still Matter
I’m a longtime member of Wealthy Affiliate and I think that Kyle and Carson, who run the site, are pretty sharp guys who know their stuff. But Kyle recently published a blog post about backlinks that just has me scratching my head. In this post, he came out and asked, “Are backlinks good for your Website rankings?” and then he concluded that no, they are not, and that you can do just fine by building a site without worrying about backlinks in any way.
Since Google went online in 1998, the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been preoccupied with backlinks, because Google let it be known that they considered backlinks to be a “vote” for a Website. The more votes you have, the more important that Google concluded that you must be, so they heavily weighted their ranking algorithms on a site’s incoming backlinks, and sites with more backlinks tended to rank higher than sites with fewer backlinks.
Backlinks Aren’t Enough
Of course, people found ways to game the system, using a number of artificial methods to increase the number of links to their sites. Many of these were “junk” backlinks from irrelevant domains, but at one time, the only thing that mattered was quantity. Google quickly caught on, and now they disregard backlinks from sites they deem to be of low quality (link farms, adult content, pharma, etc.)
They’re constantly tweaking their algorithms, of course, trying to find the best ways to determine a site’s importance relative to their competition. Their Penguin and Panda updates of recent years refined these changes even further, and today, Google uses some 200 different factors in determining a rank. By most accounts, one of the top three factors is incoming backlinks.
Kyle says they don’t matter. “Are backlinks required? Do you need them for your business, will you benefit from backlinks? The answer to all of these is NO.” He claims that “Google has granted a close to ZERO NET VALUE (in terms of rankings) for backlinks.”
Instead, he says you should be investing ALL of your time in the following:
- Content quality. Create lots of quality content. More is better, and make sure it’s relevant and that it’s content that people will want to read.
- Use target keywords. Be sure to pepper your content with the keywords that are important to your site so that Google will see that your site is “about” those keywords.
- Use LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords – these are keywords that are closely related to your main keywords.
- User engagement. Make sure that you allow comments and that you interact with your site visitors
- A good user experience. Make sure your page loads quickly, is attractive, and is easy to navigate.
- Build Website authority over time by creating quality content on a regular basis.
That’s it; Kyle recommends that you do those things, and do those things only, and eventually, the Google Ranking Fairy will use her magic wand to grant your site top rankings in the world’s #1 search engine.
That’s garbage. If you do that, you’re going to be waiting a really long time for results.
There’s one exception to that.
What’s the exception? Build a Website in a unique niche with little or no competition.
You can do that, and such niches are out there. In 2002, I built a retail Website in a niche that centered around a seasonal product. I had, at the time, the only site on the Internet that specialized in that product and that product only.
My site went to #1 on Google for my primary keyword within 60 days of launching the site. I held that #1 ranking for ten years, until I lost interest in the site and moved on to other things.
If you can find a similar niche, that is, one that has virtually no competition, then yes, you can rank easily without backlinks. Most of us don’t have that luxury and such niches are increasingly hard to find, especially if you’re trying to make money. You almost certainly won’t be able to do that as an affiliate marketer; nearly anything you choose to promote as an affiliate is going to also be promoted by a bunch of other people.
If you’re working in a niche with even moderate competition, some Website is already ranking at the top of the Google SERPS for your primary keyword. If you’re going to compete in that niche, you have to do something to persuade Google that your site is more valuable to potential visitors than the site that’s already ranking in the #1 position.
The best way to do that, of course, is to create more content and better content than what the other site offers. Go do that! Of course, that takes time, and remember – your content has to be both greater in volume and better in quality than the site that’s already ranking #1. If it’s only the equal of what’s there, that is, if your site is every bit as good as the #1 site, but no better, then guess who is going to have the #1 ranking?
The other site. Why? Probably because they’ve got incoming backlinks, and you don’t, and that tells Google that the rest of the Internet thinks that your site is not as important as the other one. That’s the deciding factor, with everything else being equal, and it’s not an insignificant one.
No Backlinks? Be Prepared to Be Patient
A year and a half ago, I created a Website in a fairly competitive retail niche. This is an affiliate site; my plan was to create lots of quality content and then refer my site visitors to a retail site, where I’d earn a commission for any purchases they made.
I wasn’t going to worry about backlinks, My plan was to create lots of epic content. I’d write a 1000-1200 word review or article every day. I’d include lots of photos. I’d optimize the site for SEO until it was shiny. I did that. I don’t work on the site on a daily basis any longer, but I do still add content to the site roughly once a week.
This site has more than 300 pages of content at some 1200 words per page. Yes, I’ve written a third of a million words and hundreds of articles about this niche. It has taken an insane amount of time, but I’ve put all of my efforts into the site itself, rather than in building backlinks. It’s a good site. It looks great and it’s got a ton of interesting reading.
In time, my work has started to pay off. I’m getting lots of traffic from Google for a wide variety of keywords, and not just the primary keyword for the site. I’m getting traffic from a variety of sources for all kinds of long-tail keywords. Last week, I even got my first payment ever from the affiliate program that I’m using to monetize the site. And I’ve done it without making any effort at all to secure backlinks to the site.
So, success without backlinks? Well, sort of. I put that site online eighteen months ago. I got paid for the first time this week. The amount of money was non-trivial, but here’s the thing – I’ve been working on that site for free for a year and a half.
In that time, I’ve had to renew the domain name, and at the time the renewal came up, the site hadn’t earned a dime. Nothing. Zero. I had to make the decision, after putting in hundreds of hours of work and not seeing any results, as to whether to renew the domain name or simply give up. I decided to renew, and it looks like the site will pay off in the long run.
But that’s a long time to wait for results. Fortunately, I have other sites that do produce revenue, but if that were my only site, I’d think twice about building it without putting any effort into getting backlinks to it. Let me be clear – there are backlinks pointing to that site. Over time, if you create good content and add it on a regular basis, other sites will eventually link to you. That takes a lot of time. You’ll see that you can get results in a much shorter timeframe if you actually make acquiring backlinks part of your site-building process.
Proof That Backlinks Matter
I have another site, where I do direct retail. I put things in boxes and mail them to people. That site has been online for 2 1/2 years. The site is attractive and easy to navigate. I have accounts at several social media sites that link to it and I make an effort to stay active on those sites. My site has a lot of good content and a lot of quality merchandise for sale in a niche market.
I didn’t pay much attention to backlinks on this site when I built it, because I have a really good exact match domain name. I thought that might be enough to get good rankings and draw traffic. It wasn’t.
I wasn’t getting much traffic after two years online, so I looked at my backlinks and saw that I had some 250 incoming backlinks from about 35 different domains. That’s modest, but not bad for having made no effort to get more backlinks. About two months ago, I made the decision to increase the number of backlinks, but I wanted to emphasize quality over quantity. It’s not enough to have sites linking to you; you need to have sites linking to you that are in your niche or at least which have content that’s relevant to your niche. It’s the quality of the backlinks that matter. If you have a site about dog training, Google is going to value backlinks from dog-related sites more highly than they will links from sites about cooking or lawn care. So how do you get sites in your niche to provide backlinks?
I used Brian Dean’s Skyscraper method for backlinks, creating some new content that I hoped was so good that people wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to link to it. Then I contacted site owners who were already linking to similar content, and I asked them if they would consider linking to mine. Many of them were happy to do so, and in two months, the number of incoming links has increased from 250 to 5500 and the number of linking domains has gone from 35 to 120.
In that time,traffic to the site has nearly tripled.
Why would any of this make a difference if backlinks don’t matter, as Kyle suggests? Because backlinks do matter. If you own a niche, and have no competition, then you don’t need backlinks. You just need good content. On the other hand, if you have good content, but you also have competition, you need other sites linking to you to show Google that other people believe your content is good and that your site is important.
It’s also not enough to have just any backlinks. You need to have them from sites that are relevant to the content of your site.
Should you focus on backlinks? No. You should focus on creating an attractive, easy-to-navigate Website with quality content that provides value for your site visitors. That should always be your top priority. You should, however, make an effort to get other sites in your niche, or sites that are related to your niche, to link to you.
It’s true, as Kyle pointed out, that creating good content and a good user experience will get you good rankings, and it very well might – on an infinite timeline. Most of us don’t work on an infinite timeline; we have bills to pay and we want to see some income sooner, rather than a year and a half from now, as I experienced recently.
Backlinks still matter a lot when it comes to ranking a Website. Ignore them at your peril.