Backlinking is an SEO powerhouse, and yet it often fails to receive the credit it deserves. At face value, the concept seems simple: link two related pages via anchor text. In reality, however, there’s a lot more to inbound links than meets the eye.
These days, backlinks function a lot like social proof for search engines. They signal that other websites approve of your content. Based on this, search engines infer that your website should be prominently featured on result pages.
The result? Dramatic improvements in website visibility and credibility. This can lead to an upward spiral, in which better rankings generate more backlinks, which continue to foster better SEO. Over time, this promotes greater brand awareness and more effective lead generation.
That being said, not just any backlinks will prove beneficial. Success is only possible with the right backlinks at the right time and in the right location. Relevancy is key. Links that come across as unnatural can actually have the opposite effect, leading to dramatic penalties.
To illustrate the value of relevant, high-quality backlinks, we’ve highlighted several of the specific ways in which they contribute to today’s most effective SEO strategies. Keep reading to learn why backlinks matter — and why relevancy matters even more.
Relevant Backlinks Promote Greater Visibility
Backlinks play a central role in helping search engines find content. Once search engines follow backlinks to new pages, they crawl the content to reveal all links. From there, search engines can continue to follow these links and discover pages that otherwise might be missed. Backlinks facilitate more effective crawling, which ultimately allows for enhanced indexing and a greater likelihood of being prominently featured in search engine results.
Further visibility may arise from referral traffic, in which users discover new websites without search engines — simply by clicking the links they find within the content they are already viewing. Referred by sources such as backlinks, these users may become full-fledged clients or customers if they are properly nurtured. Despite not relying on search engines to find new sites, these users remain impactful from an SEO standpoint, as they play into algorithms by indicating interest and authority.
Relevant Backlinks Improve Credibility
From the search engine’s perspective, backlinks function a lot like votes of confidence. After all, unless they are spammy in nature, links are typically only selected if they lead to websites deemed helpful or authoritative. These votes function as an indicator of website credibility. Without them, it can be difficult to determine whether brands are known or trusted.
Search Engine Algorithms Built Around Relevant Backlinks
If nothing else, strong backlinking should be pursued because search engines demand it. Google in particular cites this as a central component of its algorithm. The search engine’s PageRank system (although no longer public facing) determines how websites are featured in search engine results pages (SERPs). There is no denying that backlinking plays a critical role in determining PageRank.
Google leaders confirm that PageRank and linking indicate the quality of search results, as revealed in desirable attributes identified as Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).
Relevancy Reigns Supreme
It is widely accepted that backlinks dictate SEO, but it’s easy to get caught up in a numbers game. One reality cannot be overstated, however: It is not the volume of backlinks that matters, but rather, how relevant these are. Numerous backlinks will accomplish little if they do not ultimately lead to websites that are somehow related to the original page, and more importantly, helpful for the user.
Don’t Forget Outbound Links
While earning quality backlinks is a natural priority, links that lead to other websites also matter. If links feature quality anchor text and send users to high-authority sites, the perceived value of the original website will receive a quick boost. Outbound links increase content value by adding depth. Google’s John Mueller explains, “Links help users to find out more…and to better understand how your content is relevant to the questions that they have.”
Over time, a strong outbound strategy can also lead to more inbound links. This is a common solution for building powerful relationships with other websites, which, by linking to one another, can have a mutually beneficial impact on SEO. As with inbound links, however, the goal must be relevancy. Packing a page with outbound links will not make nearly as big a difference as providing a few, high-quality links that genuinely benefit users.
Harness the Power of Backlinks
Strong, strategic backlinks are a must for any modern SEO strategy. All backlinks must be relevant — and they must indicate credibility.
While there is no one correct way to score the best backlinks, well-rounded SEO initiatives should help. These should emphasize high-quality content that resonates with targeted users. Achieve this, and relevant, impactful backlinks are sure to follow.
Author bio: Aaron Wittersheim is Chief Operating Officer at Straight North, a digital marketing company. He helped startups, middle-market, and Fortune 500 companies improve organizational structure and grow through his expertise in process conception, task automation, technology, and internal project management.