The State of Backlinks

Lately, many smaller, more frequent Google algorithm updates have been addressing off-page elements and how websites are being referenced and connected using backlinks. Backlinks, by their simplest definition, are created when one website links to another. They represent an important component of off-page SEO in that signal to search engines that others vouch for your content. The more links that lead to your website, the more valuable a search engine will consider its content and the higher ranking potential your content has.

The tricky part is that not all backlinks are created equal. As the Google algorithm becomes more sophisticated, the more it differentiates between the quality and value of certain backlinks. Five or six years ago, there was a time when backlinks were being purchased indiscriminately in giant open marketplaces. In an effort to drive a higher volume of linking, many companies were buying a lot of low-quality backlinks rather than earning inbound links from trustworthy, high-authority sites. When Google exposed this practice and began to change how it rewarded different types of backlinks, it negatively impacted the companies that participated in the practice of buying low-quality links (even though nearly everybody was doing it).

So today, the value and proper usage of backlinks have become more challenging to determine. If you ask Google, the answer to whether you should utilize or purchase backlinks is often a flat “no.” However, Google has also indicated that they are clearly aware that purchased backlinking is happening. In fact, Google has shown that they are using their own analysis of backlink usage to distinguish which ones are useful for determining the authority and quality of a webpage, meaning backlinks, even purchased ones, can still be a viable tool that can have a positive impact on a website’s SERP ranking. So, the real question is, what is considered acceptable in the realm of backlinks? Where is the line in the sand between beneficial and detrimental? It all boils down to context.

The Google algorithm has an amazing ability to determine the relevance and contextual usefulness of a piece of content and to reward those qualities with a prominent SERP position. On the other hand, if your site goes from zero to ten thousand backlinks in the span of a few days or weeks without being part of this ecosystem of social relevance, Google can also discern that something is not quite right. Your strategy regarding the use of backlinks must be conscious of what represents a realistic scenario. And you can do that by examining the data at your disposal. What are the backlink differentials with competitors? What growth rate would be realistically incremental based on the historical number of backlinks to your content? Using this kind of data will allow you to implement a feasible strategy surrounding the use of backlinks that is realistic and fits your link profile.

Knowing how to approach the investment and risk involved with using and purchasing backlinks is all about understanding how search engines evaluate them. The Google algorithm has evolved beyond making pure evaluations regarding the authority or quality of individual backlinks to now include other signal points within the entire website ecosystem. To create a viable backlink strategy, it is crucial to consider all available data, including the quality of the backlinks, the number of backlinks you use, their relationship to your link profile, and how it fits into the broader context of social relevance and comparative analysis. In short, it’s a lot to handle. And that’s why your best approach to backlinks is one that evaluates all the information at your disposal, formulates an incremental strategy to build quality links, and avoids shortcuts that will ultimately diminish in value.

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