Are Backlinks Still Important?
The short answer to this is yes. Great article let’s go eat. Well not so fast.
As an internet marketing consultant we get asked this question all the time and it seems like every client or prospect now a days knows the importance of backlinking in some form or another.
Like anything in life, in order for something to be considered reputable, it must hold one thing in common amongst everyone else, and that is “trust”. What makes a $10 bill worth $10? It’s just a green piece of paper that has “10” written on it instead of “5”. But in the end, that paper is no different from any other green paper that has numbers written on it so why is it worth so much more? Mainly, it’s because we as a society have decided to agree together that any pieces of these particular green paper notes are acceptable to trade for goods that we want or need. This prevents me from having to struggle to obtain bread if the baker doesn’t want to accept my funky purple shades. His loss.
The same principle holds true for the web universe. A site is generally ranked on over 200 factors as far as Google is concerned, and among those factors is backlink authority. That is to ask, how reputable are the websites pointing to your website? And also, how reputable are the websites pointing to those websites? So as it has stood up to this point, it’s pretty fair to say that backlink profile has been generally considered to be nearly half of the equation to ranking well in Google with the other half being on and off page optimization. But is it still the same? If not, for how long?
Matt Cutts was recently asked about backlink importance on his Google Webmasters channel in YouTube. His response was essentially, yes, but the more important question we should be asking is, how relevant is the content for the user of this page?
With the recent Panda and Penguin updates, throw Hummingbird in for good measure, Google has indeed shifted the importance from backlink reputability towards content strength and relevancy. This does not mean that backlinks will become obsolete, it just means that it no longer matters if you have the most authoritative links pointing to your site if you don’t have quality content for the user to consume.
The key with content though is not simply to have enough of it. The winning formula seems to be having a strong distribution plan to allow that content to be found because after all good content is only good if it’s discoverable. Chad Pollitt does a great job of illustrating this point in his article “Content is King, But Distribution Is Queen And She Wears The Pants”.
In the end, backlinks will always play some role in the algorithm. People generally want to discover and consume goods & services from people who are endorsed. It’s hard to see Google ever completely getting away from this. But as search continues to evolve, we should place our bets on content being the king of our domains for now.