Backlink Relevance

Backlink Relevance: What does it mean, and is it important?

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You may have come across blue-colored texts while reading blogs or articles online. Upon clicking, they redirect you to a different website. These texts are called anchor texts.

These anchor texts contain the link that leads you to another website, which is also called a backlink, inbound link, or external link.

For the longest time, SEO specialists have believed building backlinks is important for SEO. But this belief has been challenged recently in the U.S. vs. Google antitrust trial last year.

Key points discussed in this article:

• Before the antitrust trial between the U.S. and Google, most SEO specialists thought that backlinks were one of the top ranking factors, according to Google. This was proven not to be the case when Google presented a slide that showed their ranking factors from 2017.

• After the trial, one thing is certain: backlinks are not as important as they were once believed to be. Buying backlinks can increase your traffic, but to rank, that alone is not going to be enough.

• There is conclusive proof that it is possible to rank without backlinks too. So, instead of fixating on bringing in backlinks, SEOs should pay attention to the quality of their content and other metrics, also called the “user engagement metrics.”

U.S. vs. Google: The Antitrust trial

Back in September of 2023, Google found itself testifying in front of the DOJ (Department of Justice).

The DOJ filed a lawsuit against Google and 11 other states regarding the alleged use of underhanded tactics to stay the world’s leading search engine.

Google’s Eric Lehman, who put the PowerPoint presentation that was shown at the hearing together, had some really interesting slides. Take a look –

Figure 1

In this slide, titled “User interaction signals,” Google displays the relationships of queries, interactions, and Search results, alongside results for the query [why is the ocean salty]. Specific interactions mentioned by Google:

• Read
• Clicks
• Scrolls
• Mouse hovers

Figure 2

In this slide, Google explains how “each searcher benefits from the responses of past users … and contributes responses that benefit future users.

Google is trying to convey that they follow the principle of induction; the next user benefits from the responses gathered from the previous user. The search results will only get better over time, according to Google at least.

Figure 3

In this slide, Google says, “We do not understand documents. We fake it.

  • “Today, our ability to understand documents directly is minimal.
    • So we watch how people react to documents and memorize their responses.”

Google also provided some insights, emphasizing the importance of backlinks in SEO, in a slide in 2017, which was first pointed out by Cyrus, who proceeded to post it on X (formerly Twitter) –

You can see Google has (or had) three pillars of ranking:

  • Body: The quality of your content, its relevancy, and how simple it is to understand. Things like these maketh the body.
  • Anchors: The text that contains the link to another website is called “Anchor text.” Under Anchors, Google has mentioned “what the web is saying about your article,” which means it takes into account whether other articles are using your content as a credible source or not.
  • User-interactions: How are users interacting with your content? Are they sharing it? Are they sticking around to read the whole thing? Whatever the user does after opening your content is considered user interaction.

So, back in 2017, if you gave links a top 3 spot, it was understandable.

In 2024, it’s not the case anymore. Gary Illyes even went ahead and claimed, ‘It’s not even in the top 3 anymore.’

Understanding backlinks

Let’s understand this with an example –

Figure 1

Image Source: Serpninja.io

Figure 2

Image Source: Hindustan Times

In the first Figure, the link is placed on “largest providers of skilled workers.” Upon clicking, you are directed to another article from Hindustan Times. This is what backlinks are.

Google sees it as a positive thing when crawlers go through different articles that lead to your website, which in turn will help your website position high on the SERPs.

Think of it as a letter of recommendation. When applying to educational institutes for higher studies, a letter of recommendation acts as credibility of the student. Similarly, high-quality backlinks let Google know that your content is good and a credible source of information.

So, naturally, you’d think that a higher number of backlinks equals a higher position in the SERPs, but that’s not the case.

Building Relevant Backlinks

There are three points you need to remember:

1. Quality of the content
2. High Outreach
3. Good relationship

You build relevant backlinks when you tick all three boxes.

Quality Content

Content is the first thing users are going to interact with, so you have to make sure it oozes quality.

Readers should feel moved and should leave with a complete understanding of the topic you wrote. Now, that doesn’t mean you just copy whatever you found on the internet and paste it.

The correct way to go about creating something that is different from the rest is to understand what you are writing about. Understand every little detail, and then explain it in such simple terms that no matter the age group, readers are able to grasp your content.

High Outreach

Okay, so you have a piece of content unlike the world has ever seen. But it’s not going to be of use if your outreach is low.

What I mean by outreach is reaching out to the big players and websites that are already established in your field and doing well. Offering to write a guest post on their website is one of the best ways to showcase your content.

You can also ask for collaboration on a case study, an article, or any content of sorts. This will help you in the long run. When you start interacting with all the players, you get to learn a lot while building a good relationship with them.

Which brings me to my third and last point –

Good Relationship

It’s important to understand the value of a good relationship.

If you have a good relationship with some of the leaders in your industry, it’s going to be a massive help and boost in credibility, after which organic backlinks are likely to follow when you cultivate strong relationships with others, particularly industry leaders.

Remember: don’t build relationships just for the sake of it. Be genuine with them, and you’ll get to learn a lot of stuff.

Once you have made notable strides in these three areas, you can expect high-quality backlinks to follow. And in that case, you need to start monitoring the process.

Stay vigilant about the kind of backlinks you get, and check your profile regularly. Check the domain authority, relevance, and anchor text diversity.

So, backlinks are still relevant?

Yes, but –

Having quality backlinks from authoritative sources helps Google know that your article is a credible source of information. This is why numerous companies outsource their SEO needs to external agencies.

Previously, content writers and SEO specialists exploited a policy and employed black-hat SEO tactics like link spamming and content manipulation. Since then, Google has adjusted its policies yearly to prevent another exploitation, closely monitoring practices like broken link building.

Yes, backlinks matter, but –

  1. don’t go around collecting low-quality backlinks from sources that have little to no authority
  2. don’t rely on spammy links
I’m not saying backlinks are relevant or irrelevant. I’m saying they shouldn’t be the metric you use to rank high on SERPs. Focus on content and make it the best quality your target users are searching for. When you have quality content, you will slowly start gaining high-quality backlinks. 

Are they important for SEO?

A case study revealed that you don’t need backlinks to outrank your competition! I believe trying to gain them for your website tunnel-visions your goal, which is something you should avoid at all costs.

Let me explain –

Figure 1

Figure 2

Image Source: Ahrefs

In Figure 1, I’ve used the keyword “link building Italy” and highlighted two results.

Looking at Figure 2, you’ll see that Topseos has a higher number of backlinks than Serpninja, but the article from Serpninja is one position higher than Topseos’s article.

And if you pay attention to the domain authority, you’ll see that Topseos’s domain authority is higher!

This example shows you that more doesn’t equal a higher position in the SERPs. The quality of the content is what matters.

So, to answer many of your doubts, backlinks are not a necessity.

Image Source: Search Engine Land.

These replies are taken from Gary Illyes, an analyst on the Google Search team, speaking at Pubcon Pro in Austin last year September.

Focusing on user engagement metrics

An article that’s high on bounce rate and low on dwell time will never do well.

You make content for the users. At the end of the day, if the users don’t like it, they won’t stick around.

Let’s understand this with an example:

You want to exercise at home but don’t know where to begin, so you search for ‘exercises to do at home‘ online.

After surfing through the results for some time, you find two websites that you like.

Website A:

• Contains images/GIFs explaining every exercise
• Simple and easy-to-understand language used

Website B:

• Barely contains one image
• Exercises are explained through texts
• Too many exercises to keep track of

Unless you have worked out before, the first website is what you will select every time. And so will a lot of people who have just started. 

A company such as Google, which has millions upon millions of data just from user engagement, will obviously use it to rank articles! And to be honest, they’d be foolish not to. 

Yes, there are rumors that when Google’s BERT and MUM are completely developed, they might rely less on user engagement metrics, but as of now, the most reliable data Google has is based on user engagement metrics.

Summing it up

SEO doesn’t have a definitive way of going about it.

We have the guidelines; we follow them, and then we pray to the Google Gods that they have mercy on our content and rank it high on Google (or other search engines).

So, the question remains, are backlinks important?

As I’ve mentioned, they are not a necessity. Yes, you can earn backlinks and help your website gain more credibility, but that shouldn’t be your only goal. 

My point is to pay attention to the quality of the content. You cannot create a good backlink profile without good content! That’s like trying to skip steps on a staircase in order to reach the 1st floor faster. 

When you go online, the way people talk about backlinks, anyone new to SEO will assume it’s a must-have, but I beg to differ. 

Also, companies that want to outsource their SEO needs should hire people who specialize in link building. This will allow the companies to have control over the quality of the content that they are producing while the SEO specialists get quality backlinks to your site. 

That is a good SEO strategy. 

FAQs

What’s a nofollow link?

A “nofollow” link is a hyperlink attribute that tells search engines not to pass authority or “link juice” from one webpage to another. It was introduced to combat spammy link-building practices and prevent manipulation of search engine rankings. These links are used in user-generated content, sponsored content, and when linking to untrusted sources.

What are niche relevant backlinks?

Niche-relevant backlinks are hyperlinks from websites or webpages that are closely related to the topic or theme of the linked website, enhancing its relevance and authority within a specific niche. They signal to search engines that the linked site is credible and relevant within its particular subject area.

How do I get backlinks?

You can acquire backlinks through various methods, including creating high-quality, relevant content that others naturally want to link to, reaching out to relevant websites or bloggers for guest posting or collaborations, and participating in industry forums or communities where you can share your expertise and content.  

Gaby Alexander

Gaby Alexander

Gaby is a search marketing enthusiast with a passion for helping agencies improve their ROI through effective link-building strategies. With expertise in Google Campaign Manager, HubSpot Inbound Marketing, and SEMrush, Gaby provides valuable insights and guidance to optimize search marketing campaigns.

Gaby Alexander

Gaby Alexander

Gaby is a search marketing enthusiast with a passion for helping agencies improve their ROI through effective link-building strategies. With expertise in Google Campaign Manager, HubSpot Inbound Marketing, and SEMrush, Gaby provides valuable insights and guidance to optimize search marketing campaigns.

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