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Are Backlinks Really so Important?

I think people seem to obsess too much about their backlinks, ignoring other quality signals that are more important.


Edited: 2019-12-15 18:44

Backlinks in SEO

Occasionally I like to keep an eye on discussions in the SEO world, even though I am not hugely interested in the subject. Nevertheless, some things are just obvious if you have been working with content for a long time.

Beamtic is my attempt at creating a quality tutorial site, with little work done at external SEO. In spite of this, I have still had pages rank 1. a few times, and I have also had several pages that ranked in the top 10. It does not really matter to me how any single page ranks in the moment, as I view my SEO efforts as a long-term process. There is also fluctuations in rankings, and I do not really expect to rank number one for competitive phrases when other pages also provide value.

I find the obsession with linkbuilding in SEO communities rather unnecessary, and it can quickly kill a white hat discussion before it even gets started. Often there seem to be an expectation that SEO involves either manually placing links on other websites, or buying them from link brokers and SEO agencies. You can not even take part in a SEO related discussion, without blackhatters attacking you for advising against linkbuilding techniques. They simply do not seem to care whether white hat techniques work or not.

Quality signals

Quality signals, SEO

In reality, there are many other quality signals used by search engines to rank pages, and generally older pages will tend to have accumulated more of those signals. It should be common sense, really.

This goes both for external links pointing to the page, and for, other, on-page quality signals. Sometimes it is also just a matter of being the first to write about a subject, as it will often be easier to gain recognition for it.

You have to remember that ranking any single page is not just going to be about keywords and backlinks.

Viewed from a technical standpoint, ranking is a process. It has to involve a lot of work on your site UX, internal navigation structure, and how pages are linked together. Including rich multimedia content in the form of as images and video might also count as "quality signals".

Basically anything that gives the user what they want, and improves the user experience of your site is a potential quality signal to search engines. This does not necessarily mean that they will pick up on them, but chances are, if you are able notice them, search engines also will pick them up and use them when ranking your pages.

Related content sections

related content sections, SEO

Having too many articles in a "related content" block could hurt rankings, because it might not add much value to a page, and in some cases it might cause users to ignore such sections, similar to how ad-blindness develops as a response to irrelevant ads (and maybe just ads in general).

I see a lot of websites that place these blocks on their pages, and it often seems to be completely random what content appears in them.

If you really care about such "related" sections, then you should consider using Adsense's "Matched Content" unit instead, since Google is probably in a better position to show customized content like this.

Note. These sections might also be labled as "you may also like", "see also", and "similar".

One of the bigger problems is, when you have "short" content on pages, and then include a lot of "related" articles, the text content syndicated in relation to those link-blocks (descriptions, titles) might actually manage to swift the topic of your page away from your focused keywords.

Another thing that might harm your site, related to this practice, is infinite scroll pages. These are basically pages that allow the user to continue reading a related article after finishing reading the one loaded via the current URL. I personally find that infinite scroll confuse me a lot, so I could not dream of using it on my own site. It feels like the article you are reading suddenly continues into another subject. It is both unintuitive and bad for UX in my opinion.

Placing relevant internal links

Internal links, SEO

I have found that internal links can be a strong quality signal on a page. Not just the links alone, but the content they point to.

For the type of site that I am making with Beamtic, internal links will usually point to other relevant articles, which can help the reader better understand a given subject.

The way I have implemented this, is by making a simple "tagging" system to organize my content into categories. This allows me to easily fetch related content, which might be relevant to the subject of the article.

A disadvantage of organizing my content in this way, is that each tag also creates a unique tag-URL, and usually the content on these pages will be very "thin", as they will primarily consist of links. I have tried to solve this problem by also writing a custom description along with custom content on each tag page, but it is still a challenge to make individual tag pages rank decently. I also would not really expect the tag pages to rank well, since the content on them is mostly links.

Images and Video

Multimedia such as Images and Video in SEO.

While creating multimedia rich content and using images and video, will not by itself make your page rank better, it may serve as a quality signal by making your page stand out more to search engines and visitors.

I personally aim to include at least one image in all of my tutorials on Beamtic, and I am in the process of updating old content with images. Ranking is a process, and what might not rank well yesterday, might start to rank today. Do not just give up on old content if the information is still relevant to users.

Videos seem to get a ranking boost in Google, so that is also something I am focused on. It even seems you can use YouTube to host your videos, and at the same time benefit from traffic on YouTube itself.

Occasionally, I have even seen that videos hosted on YouTube show up with another site as the URL in the SERPs.

Focusing on Linkbuilding and Backlinks

Linkbuilding, SEO

When participating in discussions about SEO online, linkbuilding will often be one of the most prominent topics that pops up, and often without mention of other, more important, ranking factors, such as simply creating great content and UX.

Focusing on purely linkbuilding and backlinks is just too narrow minded, and it will probably expose a website to more volatility in its rankings, since it might be more sensitive to search engines updating their algorithms because of an overall lack of quality.

It is interesting that you can not really mention these other things without getting down voted, and this is in spite of those things being far more important in the long term.

Maybe people do not really care about quality?

Long content often outrank short content

Long-form content, SEO

Writing a long article might help when trying to outrank shorter content from competitors. Not only will you often times have an easier time ranking for your targeted keywords, you will also get more traffic on long tail keywords.

Writing longer articles takes more effort, and a good article can actually take several hours to write, not to mention that you should also keep maintaining your old content. Owning a website is not easy work. It takes a lot of time to update old articles, while also writing new content, and taking care of all the technical aspects.

In very competitive niches, one of the whitehat techniques that we can try, is to write more long-form content, this is content that is typically more than 1000 words in length, and it may also include images and videos to further enrichen the content to the users.

The problem with very long content is, you might loose many of your readers before they finish reading an article. Long-form is also no guarantee that you will outrank a competing page, but it is just one of the things I would try, to test the competitive strength of competing pages.

Personally, I really do not enjoy long-form content, and whenever I encounter a news article in long-form, I will usually click away instantly. I just do not have the time or patience for it.