What is the greatest challenge that marketers face today?
- Is it creating new and innovative content?
- Figuring out how to accurately target their audience?
- Generating new leads?
- All of the above?
While all these pose as massive challenges for even the most talented marketers, a strong understanding of the strategies behind favourable search rankings can do wonders to mitigate the effects – should you find yourself on the wrong side.
Google has always been notoriously secretive about the methods behind the madness of its ranking algorithms. But over the years, Google has confirmed several factors and SEO strategies that do play a role in ranking.
One of these has been the use of backlinks.
Link signals make up 20% of organic ranking factors. These signals included details like anchor text, domain authority, and quantity of links.
So, are backlinks the real secret to gaining higher rankings in the SERPs?
Well, the short answer is: maybe.
Google has made sure that there will never be a guaranteed formula to boost a link to the top magically. However, there appears to be proof that a backlink strategy could improve your site’s rankings.
1. Backlinks are a Big RankBrain Factor
In 2015, Google confirmed the existence of RankBrain, an intelligent AI-powered algorithm that “learns” what content is relevant to searchers by figuring out the intent of both the content and the query itself.
When most of us type in a Google search, we do not necessarily phrase it as a clear question. Say, for instance, that you type in the phrase, “IT Chapter 2.”
- Are you looking for information on this movie?
- What about theatre times and locations?
- Did you want to see the trailer?
Google’s RankBrain is responsible for determining this intent-based on several factors, such as previous searches as well as other people’s related queries. If you had recently been searching for a nearby movie theatre, then it might assume that you are looking for local viewings in your area.
This complex algorithm uses various factors to determine the reputation of a website, including backlinks. These essentially act like referrals or recommendations. If the backlinks are coming from other trustworthy sources, it gives that website more credibility – or link equity.
Google also uses an algorithm called PageRank to determine a link score based on numerous factors. If, for instance, a backlink is coming from well-respected sources like the Better Business Bureau or a well-known publication like The Huffington Post, chances are it will receive a high score.
Backlinks from websites with substantial traffic numbers can also be highly ranked. There is even evidence that social media backlinks are also considered credible.
In 2014, Matt Cutts said:
“Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it, then we can return that in our search results.”
Ultimately, the point of a backlink is to send signals to Google that your webpage is credible and relevant to a searcher. The better backlinks you have on your website, the stronger the signals you are sending to RankBrain.
2. All Backlinks Are Not Created Equal
A solid backlinking strategy is about quality over quantity. Bad backlinks can knock down your ranking – especially if they are coming from a link scheme or a “link farm” that self generates links.
Since Google is committed to providing searchers with the most relevant and best results, the bots can flag any sites with low-quality backlinks and knock them down in the rankings.
While you may not be using one of these disreputable strategies, the chances are that you could have several backlinks which are doing more harm than good.
Some types of bad backlinks may include:
- Press releases
- Private blog posts
- Blog comments
- Some link services
- Foreign sites
- Links to sites with duplicated content
So, how can you find and remove these bad backlinks?
First, conduct an audit of your current backlink profile. Google offers a Webmaster Tool that will show how many external links you already have so you can determine which ones need to be disconnected based on their rating.
Unfortunately, you cannot always remove these links on your own. You need to contact the website that hosts the link and request that they remove it.
You can use the Google URL removal tool to tell the search engine which links it should “ignore.” This is a temporary fix -as Google will only hide the links for six months. Only the hosting website can remove the link entirely.
Now, in some cases, relying too much on tools when disavowing links can potentially be dangerous. Sometimes a tool will tell you to disavow a link that’s helping your website.
Google has gotten very good at identifying bad links. For example, if you have a bunch of links on adult content sites, Google will more than likely know you didn’t actively build those in an attempt to boost rankings – and will ignore them.
A good rule of thumb when working with link tools is: if a tool is telling you to disavow a bad link, the chances are that Google is already ignoring it. Filtering out bad links usually comes down to your common sense.
3. Be Careful About Your Anchor Text
You can use backlinks to improve your rankings by controlling the anchor text from these external links as much as possible.
The anchor text might be the name of your business or a specific product. For example, on the fashion blog site “Who What Wear”, the article featuring Glossier’s new product link has fairly straightforward anchor texts; including the business’s name and links directly to specific product pages.
However, some sites (especially blogs) will use phrases that are less blatantly promotional and are generally a paraphrase of the content’s title.
Anchor texts can also be naked URLs or generic links like “click here” or “learn more.” They may be a partial match or even an image.
Again, Google is always trying to determine which websites are the most credible. If a site is using a spammy anchor text or ones that don’t seem to match up with your website’s content, it could hurt your ranking – as there is an ulterior motive beyond just providing value to the user.
Unfortunately, you cannot always control the anchor text that other websites choose when linking. But, if you are submitting content or collaborating with another site to create these backlinks, you can request that they use a specific keyword, phrase, or exact match anchor.
Backlinks seem to matter quite a bit to Google, and failing to make them a crucial part of your SEO strategy is a big mistake.
The exact evidence on just how influential backlinks genuinely are is still to be determined. However, there is certainly enough evidence to prove that seeking out the good; relevant backlinks will give your site more credibility and improve its rankings on the SERPs.