The Evolving (and Still Effective) Role of Backlinks in Search Engine Optimization


Although backlinking strategies vary greatly, most marketers still agree that they’re essential for an effective search engine optimization campaign. In this article, we’ll cover the current role of backlinks and how you can get impactful ones for your site.

The correlation between backlinks and ranking

You’ll hear arguments that either backlinks are totally ineffective or the secret key to SEO. Both, as you can imagine, are somewhat exaggerated.

Let’s block out the noise and just focus on the facts. According to this Econsultancy study, the correlation between backlinks and rankings is significant, even if it’s slowly declining:

“The correlation between the number of backlinks that pages have and their ranking positions is 0.28. This is still fairly high, but it has been declining since 2013. And we expect this trend to continue. Overall, while pages in the top 30 search results tend to have significantly more links than in previous years – the gap between those in the top position and the rest is narrowing.”

Google has made it well-known that it’s not a fan of backlinking strategies, hence the slow decline of their importance. Still, they’ll continue to play a role in the future because they tell a lot about thought leadership and website credibility.

Backlinks and context

The real problem is that businesses started spamming backlinks all over the Internet. Because these had no real value, Google condemned the strategy.

Today, the most important thing regarding backlinks are the context in which they’re created. This Entrepreneur article explains that a backlink without context is essentially worthless:

“With barriers to entry lower than ever — and more websites competing for eyeballs — simply placing links with no context and no attention to the quality of the site where they are placed is a recipe for failure.”

So, what’s a case where context makes a positive impact? Imagine someone browses your website and comes across original research. He later writes his own article and links to your site as a source. This example will enhance your SEO because it shows to both search engines and users that your website is relevant and credible.

The path to quality backlinks is filled with good content, clear web design, and complementary SEO practices.

Own your niche 

An easy way to avoid getting out-of-context backlinks is to focus on your niche. This is how you’re most likely to get your site used as a source anyway.

This recent Search Engine People article explains the importance of working within your business’ niche. According to the article, when you reach out to someone, you should first mention their own content before including yours:

“Remember when you make contact, it is always a good idea to give some positive reinforcement to the author before suggesting your content. Something like “Just read your article ______ and found it to be very interesting especially since I have a website in a similar niche. Feel free to check out my website at _____ and share with your users if you think it would be helpful to them.”

This is just one of the unspoken rules of SEO. Nobody likes the guy who runs around promoting his own content and nothing else. If you want to get other site owners to check your content out, then you first need to read and compliment theirs. This, of course, will be most effective when you’re both working within the same niche.

Anyone who says backlinks don’t matter is either talking about the (very distant) future, lying, or just not fully informed. As long as they’re in the right context and related to your niche, backlinks can have a considerable impact on your rankings. To talk more about search engine optimization, or anything else, contact us today.

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