In the early days of Google’s ranking algorithm, it was all about numbers. The more backlinks you had, the better your website ranked. As a result, SEOs would do everything they could to get more links to their sites.
Luckily, the industry has moved on from those days. As Google’s algorithm becomes more and more “intelligent,” the role of backlinks has evolved. Quantity doesn’t matter nearly as much as quality, and building backlinks has become a thoroughly nuanced process.
Google uses many different ranking factors when judging a website and it’s hard to know what to focus on when performing SEO. So, let’s take a look at the role of a backlink in 2016, and explore just how important they are.
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Video: Backlinks explained
The importance of any single backlink is largely determined by its quality.
You can think of your website’s backlinks as references on a resume. You wouldn’t want a scam artist as a reference in real life, and you don’t want low quality websites to link to your website on the Internet. Poor quality backlinks can negatively affect your website’s position in the SERPs.
On the other hand, high quality backlinks are extremely coveted. A high quality backlink is one from an authoritative site ranks well itself, like the New York Times and similar publications.
Similarly, backlinks from .edu and .gov websites are generally considered more powerful than those with .com or .net top level domains.
Maintaining a natural backlink profile
A “natural” backlink profile refers to having a normal mixture of do-follow and no-follow backlinks, as well as having links from a variety of sites.
If every single one of your backlinks is do-follow, that’s a possible red flag to Google. It could mean you bought backlinks, are trading backlinks, or are participating in any other practice forbidden by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
In other words, maintaining a natural backlink profile simply entails refraining from black-hat linkbuilding practices. A typical website that grows backlinks organically and through proper outreach will naturally garner a healthy mixture of no-follow and do-follow links.
From Google’s lips to our ears
In a rare turn of events, we’ve recently had explicit confirmation from Google itself regarding the search giant’s many ranking signals. According to Andrey Lipattsev, one of Google’s Search Quality Senior Strategist, the top three ranking signals for Google’s search algorithm are: Backlinks, content, and RankBrain.
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While he didn’t distinguish between backlinks and content as being first and second most important, what matters is that we now have confirmation that backlinks are either number one or number two in Google’s eyes.
So how important are backlinks? The answer appears to be “very important.”
While Google is definitely moving towards a more “quality content over all else” algorithm, backlinks are just as important as they always have been, at least for the time being.
Is it possible to rank well without backlinks?
Every digital marketer has this thought at one point or another. Still, the vast majority of the time, backlinks are required in order to rank well in the SERPs.
That being said, there are two circumstances when it is possible to rank highly with few or no backlinks.
The first is if your website is in a very specific, low-competition niche, or if you target extremely unique search queries. Ranking well for a keyword becomes much easier if there is little to no competition.
Secondly, it’s possible for single pages to rank well without backlinks if the website itself has a solid backlink profile and is already trusted as an authority by Google.
However, the former circumstance applies very rarely, and the latter requires a robust collection of backlinks in the first place, making it a rather moot point.
So, for all intents and purposes, it is not really possible to rank well without at least a few solid backlinks to lean on.
Looking to build backlinks for your website?
It’s often not terribly difficult to build a few backlinks, and even to build one or two high quality backlinks. However, it can be extremely difficult to build the kind of backlink profile needed to approach that #1 SERP position.
At WebFX, we know backlinks. Our expert team of Internet marketers has years of experience building backlinks for our clients, and we’d love to do the same for you. We practice what we preach, and our own website is a testament to our link building prowess. We know exactly what it takes to give your website a true boost in the search engine results.
Contact us today for more information or a free quote!