To start this post, we have one hard and fast rule here at bloggersSEO. Don’t build backlinks.
Stay with me for a minute. I know you probably just gasped loudly – after all, you’ve been swamped in the past with “”good info”” telling you the ‘quickest & best way’ to get traffic and improve rankings is backlinks, right? We see it all day, every day. One of the hardest things we do is fight the misconceptions around backlinks, and trust me, it’s a tough slog.
We’ve seen it all before, and I’m sure more than a few nasty emails will land in my inbox from those that disagree – the ‘backlinks are the only way’ camp are pretty loud, so take a moment to tune them out. Not for me, for you. For the sake of your blog. You’ve heard their argument, now hear mine. You’re a grown adult with your own reasoning and logic skills, and you deserve to hear both sides of the story to make an informed decision about what techniques are right for YOUR blog.
So, what ARE backlinks?
Backlinks are simply links back to your blog! There are two types: the good, and the bad.
‘Good’ backlinks happen naturally. These are backlinks that live out in the wild. They’re autonomous and exist with no ulterior motive. They occur when someone genuinely recommends your blog to their own readers – you haven’t sought them out simply for a link or paid them off.
Say when you guest post on another blog and include a link to one of your own (related!!!) pieces in the text, or your author bio links through to your site. Maybe you’re mentioned in an article & your blog is referenced and linked to. Even your readers sharing your content with their own networks is a ‘good’ backlink. While that’s not the FULL list of ways you might get natural backlinks, you need to think about the INTENT behind each example – your content, your views and your voice are being shared with others. The ONLY reason your blog is being linked to? So readers can find more of what you have to offer – more context, more knowledge. To benefit HUMANS.
‘Bad’ backlinks are the ones you hunt down. If you’re going out of your way to find sites where you can drop a link, or you’re leaving comments on other blogs trying to poach readers… you’re not doing yourself any favours. Google themselves have said that backlinks are taken into account nowhere near as much as they used to be (think like a teenie tiny fraction) and we’ll get into why soon. So spending time on getting more and more backlinks, simply takes time away from other, more practical ways to grow your blog!
Why we don’t bother building backlinks
Notice what I left out just when I mentioned good backlinks before? Google. Humans (your readers, FYI) do not care about what Google thinks. You know who does care? Bloggers who aren’t focusing on the right ways to grow their blog.
That might sound a little strange coming from SEOs whose entire job focuses on Google, but there’s one small piece that bridges the gap: Google is CONSTANTLY trying to replicate the human experience and deliver the best experience possible. It doesn’t serve itself – so if humans hate something, Google does too. Take slow load times for example! Really, we don’t care what Google thinks – we care what HUMANS think – and it just happens that the two are very, very similar.
Rather than growing your audience and building your brand, building backlinks means you’re throwing valuable time away on potentially (definitely) meaningless links. As a blogger, you’ve got a thousand things to do, and each task deserves to perform at it’s best. So spend your time working on your overall SEO, rather than building backlinks – and each and every post will have a better payoff for it.
On top of that, guess what bad backlinks bring: bad traffic! Whether it’s bots entirely throwing of your Google Analytics stats, or spammers, or… that’s about it. REAL humans don’t tend to get to your blog through backlinks you’ve actively built – because they either appear on spammy sites that don’t even make sense so readers could never even find your link (plus they’re SO bad they don’t even rank), or they can see straight through your thinly veiled attempt to relate your post to someone else’s.
Right now, you’re probably thinking “I’ve heard SO much about backlinks, if it’s outdated, where is it all coming from?!” – and you’re perfectly right thinking that. The reason other SEOs still push backlinks is because of a lack of innovation and drive to deliver great websites. Think of it like bodybuilders – number one, they have to keep changing the ways they increase muscle as their body gets used to certain techniques. And number two, they’re always looking for new and better ways to achieve results. Poor SEOs aren’t doing this, and they just keep pushing what they “know” works – without realising it doesn’t actually work anymore, and that there are so many more effective ways to grow your blog with WAY less effort.
Backlinks worked 20 years ago and now, they don’t. It’s time to embrace change and find new, more useful ways to grow your blog. It’s a simple as that.
The Beginning of Google
Waaay back in 1990’s when the internet was becoming a thing, Google was born – and with it, came the rise of backlinks. At the time, backlinks are what separated Google from any other search engine on the market. Google took into account when one site linked to another, and it was considered a ‘vote’ for that content – if another site was recommending it, it must be good, right? And that ‘recommended’ post got a little bump to its rankings. More recommendations, more bumps.
Things have changed since then. Back in 99, we didn’t backlink because we thought it would improve Google rankings – we did it because we thought the linked site was great content and would help the reader. Think of it like peer reviewing – Google was a complex computer in its early infancy and was taking cues from humans as to what consisted of a good or bad site. This was before the internet was widely accessible and widely misused.
Back in the day, backlinking could be a practical and effective technique of improving rankings. Today, backlinks aren’t completely ignored by Google – they’re still acknowledged, but barely. What they DO do, however, is play a large part in Google’s vast quality algorithms that allow Google to assess and understand your site, it’s content, and how it might best help a user.
So what does that mean for you, and your backlink building strategy? Well, if Google sees your site is linked to by good quality relevant sites, that’s great. Smooth sailing, no problems – and no changes. IF however, it sees hundreds of links from poor quality sites or sites that have been marked as spam, it could HARM YOUR RANKINGS. That’s right, the never-ending stream of advice telling you to ‘build backlinks, build backlinks!!’ could be doing you damage and holding you back from your real traffic potentials.
It’s all part of Google’s ever-evolving algorithm that aims to deliver the best content to readers, and can’t be swayed by attempts to beat the system. This is why we LOVE the Google algorithm – it’s SO different to Social Media algorithms, in the sense it constantly wants to improve the user experience, not line its own pockets.
Why backlinks are useless
Nowadays, Google has complex algorithms that constantly update (hundreds of times per year) to quality check and deliver the best, most relevant content to their readers. After 20 years as the leading search engine, and they’ve learned a lot. They’ve distanced themselves very, very far away from where they started, simply because a ‘recommendation’ from another site isn’t a great measure of quality and is easily manipulated.
When Google launched, backlinks were a practical way for humans to help humans – and then, everyone got wind of the power of backlinks. Why wouldn’t you create 100 extra ‘votes’ for your site if you could? Someone else is gonna do it anyway, so you may as well do it too and show Google just how good you are, right?
Well yeah, you’re right, but it doesn’t lead to a stable or reliable system – think of it like currency and inflation. If you have $100 and I have $1, there’s an obvious difference. If you have $10,000 and I have $100, still a big gap. But as these numbers grow and grow, eventually they become meaningless, and you’re paying for petrol with a million dollar note. If everyone has hundreds of backlinks, they become worthless.
Change your mindset
The real question is do you want backlinks, or actually to increase your traffic? The answer is nearly always traffic – but misinformation leads many, many bloggers to believe backlinks are the best way to achieve it. In theory, backlinks aim to bring in traffic – supposedly traffic from Google and increased organic results (bah-bow) or traffic from your audience browsing on other sites (those bad, spammy click farm sites? Yeah right).
If you’re after traffic, there are SO many other important ways to build it – best of all, they’re MORE EFFECTIVE! Simply working on your SEO will increase your rankings naturally, and improve your readers experience on your site. You’ll have a happier audience, continually growing when people find content that’s relevant to them – and they’ll naturally want to share it with others.
Our very own Nikki had Facebook traffic in the 50,000 range each and every month. Without SEO, her organic traffic was much less. One round of bloggersSEO on her site and her organic traffic increased from 30,000 to easily 150,000 – WITHOUT a backlink strategy. So what changed? I can tell you Nikki DIDN’T spend weeks building backlinks. Instead, she focused on creating great content, building her audience and implementing simple SEO. She helped show Google what she was all about, and was quickly rewarded for just a small amount of work.
If you’re already seeing positive traffic to your blog (no matter how much) from Facebook or another platform, you don’t need backlinks – people already know who you are, and your brand recognition is building. Now, it’s time for phase two – increasing your organic traffic. Ideally, this runs alongside your initial work, but we’ve seen many bloggers be lead astray by backlinking strategies and confusion about what they should be focusing on first.
If you’re in the business of tricking Google, build backlinks. But here’s a little tip for you – you can’t. They’ve got somewhere in the range of 10,000-15,000 engineers stopping the great backlink backlash of ‘99 happening again. Totally kidding, but they’ve definitely got THOUSANDS of people watching your every move. You can’t slide anything past Google.
We’ve seen INCREDIBLE results from our SEO work without ever building backlinks – we threw that idea out of our minds over a decade ago. We’re not shy about it, and we’re advocates for everyone to follow in our footsteps. YET, we still rank sites across the world without backlinks – bloggers, solopreneurs, family businesses. Online shopping giants, your favourite chains and multinationals. All at #1 without backlinks.
Good afternoon. Thanks a lot! Great article.