“Backlinks aren’t that important, concentrate on quality content.” You’ve surely heard/read that sentence many times in the past years if you’ve been following SEO news. While concentrating on quality content is a good advice (I’ll explain this in detail), ignoring backlinks is the worst advice you can get. Keep reading and get the whole story, plus tips for higher ranking in search.
The Backlink Findings
Just in the past few days 2 independent sets of research results on Google’s ranking factors were published by SearchEngineLand and Backlinko. The results were called surprising as they undermined all what was believed to be true for Google’s search algorithms.
The ideas that quality content is the dominant ranking factor together with RankBrain and backlinks is being seriously challenged by the latest findings.
According to Backlinko, backlinks are the single most important ranking factor. Their study, covering over 1 mill Google results, found that the number of high quality backlinks pointing to a specific page have the strongest correlation to first page positions in Google search.
The next strongest ranking factor was the site’s overall link authority, basically all backlinks pointing to different pages on your site.
So, in short, the two factors strongest related to high ranking in search are backlinks and… backlinks again.
A site’s topical authority and content length are respectively on 3rd and 4th position, marking the importance of content as a ranking factor.
The research team found, in fact, that such factors as local search, diversity of results, and in-depth articles can influence ranking and make backlinks a little less important. However, the study confirmed the highest overall correlation between backlinks and high ranking in search ever reported.
Why Quality Content is Important
So, now you’re thinking, well, then I’m just going to focus on building links…
This is, though, exactly what you shouldn’t do and what Google’s been warning webmasters against on many occasions. You shouldn’t misunderstand this, as many do, making it sound as if you’ll get punished for building links. You won’t (as long as you do it in a sensible way). And you’ll get the bonus for all the quality backlinks you manage to get.
The thing is that focusing only on link building might hurt your ranking, meaning that you’re unlikely to rank high in search for low quality content only based on backlinks (even though Soutmeloud.com claims it can totally be done).
My advice is, however, to avoid cheating practices and the reason is that they can work but only short term. It doesn’t make any sense to invest time and possibly money in empty link building as you’ll one day have to face the fact that you – as one person – can’t compete with tons of real followers that share your competitors’ quality content.
Instead, try to deliver value via content. Give your target group something they want to read and share. Remember that you’ll not only get many backlinks this way, you’ll also lower your bounce rate, which is yet another important ranking factor.
Remember also that the 3rd and 4th ranking factor established by the first study, quoted here, were your site’s topical relevance and the length of your content.
While I never really connect length to quality (yes, a lot of smart things can be said in a very few words), Google obviously does. With an average of 1800 words per article for the top ranking results (see Backlinko’s study for reference), Google makes it clear that in-depth content – in their simplified understanding of it – will be preferred as better match to queries.
The other important quality signal Google uses for content is topical relevance (translated into the new trend, topical authority). Explained in a few words, this means that it isn’t so important that a stand-alone article is of high quality, as Google is still not able to truly evaluate that the way humans do. The way Google evaluates content is site-based, that is, whether the site as an entity focuses on a certain topic.
In the real world, there might be many pros and cons of creating a very topic-focused site but when it comes to SEO, this is what you should be doing.
All in all, you should try to create quality content based on Google’s understanding for it, if you want to rank high in search. You should write long articles, extensively covering the topic at hand, and you should try to work very focused in order to get acknowledged as topically relevant by Google.
When that’s done, you should focus on backlinks.
As Stone Temple concludes, “When you aren’t facing page relevance or quality issues, links can, and do, continue to significantly impact rankings.”
Get Backlinks for Higher Ranking in Search
When you can confirm that your content lives up to Google’s (and your target group’s) standards, you should really start thinking about increasing the visibility of your content. Backlinks are, of course, the best way to do it. They not only boost your pages’ ranking in search but also serve as multiple gateways for potential site visitors making your content easily accessible.
Even though there’ll always be a large portion of backlinks that you can’t control (e.g. organic backlinks via shares and mentions), you can achieve a lot by strategically planning your link building activities and understanding what you’re aiming at with every single link you generate.
One of the most popular link building strategies is guest blogging and it’s a good one to get in touch with new potential followers. By guest blogging – on a site relevant to your field! – you get the chance to demonstrate your skills and proficiency. They’re indeed your strongest marketing tools for self-promotion. Show how good you are and remember to invite people to check out more of your posts on your site.
Needless to say, if you’re looking for an easy and fast solution, this isn’t it. It requires that you really put an effort in a guest blog post, that you really know what you’re talking about, and that you can offer the same quality on your site.
Another great way to get backlinks is to do some research and find websites or blogs that are relevant to your field. You should then contact their owners and offer one or another form for business:
- you can highlight the value that your posts will deliver. For example, if you’re writing about fishing, you can offer a shop for fishing equipment to introduce you to their site visitors. Both the shop and the site visitors will benefit from it: site visitors, likely fishing enthusiasts, will surely enjoy some good tips on fishing; and the shop will possibly experience a boost in sales due to the need for better or more equipment that your posts created while revealing the secrets of fishing.
- you can offer to try out and write a featured post about a service or product the company offers that your site visitors might be interested in – in return for a link to that post.
- you can offer to carry out a study comparing the company’s and their competitors’ products and services, carry it out as promised, and post it on your blog or – if the company is interested – directly on their website, linking to your site.
- you can also get in touch with other bloggers from fields relevant to yours and agree to work together by mutually recommending each other to site visitors in cases where it will be beneficial to them.
- you can also pay to get the desired backlinks. I’m not talking about black hat SEO, I mean that you simply advertise via sites close to your field. Whether it will be a classic commercial or maybe a sponsored blog post, is up to you.
- If you offer a service or a product, you can contact bloggers writing about your field and invite them to test your product/service in return for a featured post and a backlink.
Tip: Choose carefully whom you work with! Choose always sites relevant to your field as this will strengthen your topical relevancy score and will make it possible to attract new followers. Work only with established sites as backlinks from low quality sites or such with low rank can hurt your site’s authority!
The third way to get high quality backlinks is to make it as easy as possible for site visitors to share your content on social media. While social media shares don’t count as backlinks, they are a great way to reach new potential followers. By increasing the traffic to your site, you increase also the chance to get more backlinks by getting mentions.
You can increase the social visibility of your site by creating a social media page for it and inviting people to follow you. Due to algorithms, you’ll never really be able to make sense of, your posts on social media won’t be seen by as many as you hope – and advertising is rarely a good solution as it directly annoys people – but this is still a good way to make your content easily accessible.
If you need even more inspiration for your backlink strategy, take a look at this post on 7 sure steps to building quality backlinks.