Google has made it their mission to crack down on sites that try to “cheat” their algorithm and game the system. In fact, they created a series of updates (Penguin) aimed at penalizing sites that have “shady” backlinks, and marketers that are using what Google considers to be blackhat techniques.
The problem is that the list of link building techniques that Google is penalizing never seems to stop growing. And after thousands of webmasters had their sites wiped off of Google’s search results after Penguin updates, people have started to question whether or not you should even focus on getting backlinks. This post in my Mythbuster series focuses on the million dollar question: do backlinks still matter?
The Purpose Of Backlinks
At its most basic level, a backlink’s purpose is to serve as a way to link one site to another. Google sees backlinks as a “vote” of approval. If I give a backlink on my site to Rebekah Radice’s site, it signals to Google that her site is relevant. More specifically, it tells Google that her website is relevant to the topic of the page I’m linking from. In the case of the link in this post, her site would be seen as relevant to SEO and marketing.
Back in the day, using backlinks for SEO was purely a numbers game. Having thousands of backlinks pointing to a website could get the site ranked at the top of Google, no matter how low quality the sites the backlinks originated from were. This created problems for obvious reasons, since people could easily manipulate the search engines by creating a bunch of spammy backlinks from awful, low quality sources.
- Article directories
- Spammy blog comments
- Low quality guest posts
Fast forward to today, after plenty of updates to Google’s algorithms, and the focus is now on quality instead of quantity. For content marketers, this shift has been great. Content marketers focus on building amazing content that gets shared naturally and subsequently gets linked to. In other words, content marketing leads to earned backlinks, rather than “created” ones, which is the way it’s supposed to be done.
Earning Backlinks vs. Building Backlinks
Backlinks are definitely still important. But the way they’re used has changed a lot. Like I mentioned, at one point it was all about creating the most backlinks pointing to your site as possible. Whether it was from low quality article directories, spammy blog comments, or other valueless methods. However you could create them, you did. That was link building.
With content marketing, and the actual proper way of getting backlinks for your site, you earn links. This is is when you create a blog post, infographic, video, or other pieces of content, and people naturally link to it because they found the content helpful or informative. There are plenty of other legit ways to get backlinks, but we’re focusing on content here. Obviously we can dig a lot deeper into the topic, but I just wanted to provide a brief overview of the difference.
Focus On Quality, Not Quantity
With the algorithmic changes Google has been implementing to target “shady” linkbuilding (Panda), their main goal has been devaluing low quality links. Now more than ever before, the quality of the sites linking to you is very important. I’d argue that it’s even more important than anchor text (the text used in a backlink).
Again, this is another measure that really puts an emphasis on producing high quality content that people want to link to. Big sites like Mashable, Huffington Post, Problogger, and others don’t want to link out to low quality sites. It hurts their brands and doesn’t provide their audience with the quality they want to deliver.
Backlinks DO Matter
Don’t fall for the whole “backlinks don’t matter” myth. They do matter, and will continue to matter. Why? Because they are one of the best ways that Google has of determining the relevancy of a website for different search phrases.
What has changed however, is the approach that marketers and businesses have to take towards getting links. It’s no longer about trying to “build” links. It’s about earning them through adding value and creating amazing content.
You’ve heard my take on the issue, now I want to hear yours. With the way search engine optimization works today, do you think backlinks still matter?