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The Truth About Backlinks For SEO

You may have heard Google is notoriously cagey when it comes to naming each of their 200+ search engine ranking factors and how much weight each carries in the search algorithm — but you don’t need to be an SEO expert to know that a search engine can’t rank what it can’t find. 

In this article, I’ll be breaking down backlinks to help you understand the role they play in a modern search engine optimization strategy, and the best practices for growing your website’s backlink profile. 

But before I get too deep into it, let me just state for the record that even though they’re important, the total number of backlinks that a domain or webpage has does not equal an automatic “win” button for SEO.

John Mueller of Google has confirmed this to be true many times over.

So do you want the truth about backlinks for SEO?

The truth is — it’s not the quantity of backlinks you have pointing to your website, it’s the quality of a backlink that matters most. One backlink from a relevant and reputable website will be way more beneficial for your organic web presence than a couple dozen backlinks from sketchy websites no one has ever heard of.

Why? Because Google knows the difference between good and bad backlinks. Your website will get the appropriate amount of “link juice” for the good ones, and no benefit at all from the bad ones.

So if you’re talking to an SEO provider, and they’re promising they can deliver an absurd number backlinks, then my personal recommendation is to not even engage in that conversation because it isn’t going to be worth your time or money.

Real Backlinks, Real Results

While there are shady entire businesses built around chasing after backlinks, quality content should be the foundation of any backlink strategy.

Good content targeted toward searchers’ needs has no trouble earning backlinks on its own. We can prove that to be true as Dealer Inspire SEO clients see a 404% increase in natural backlink acquisition after 24 months of service, which is pretty darn fantastic if you ask me!

Here are just a few examples of how brand name websites have backlinked to content created and published by my fellow Dealer Inspire SEO Strategists:

CAR & DRIVER 🔗 DON JOHNSON MOTORS

Car & Driver’s article breaking down the definition of a “Quad Cab” includes a backlink to a content piece we published for the Don Johnson Automotive Group that explains the difference between quad and crew cabs.

Car & Driver backlinks to Don Johnson Motors' Website

WIKIPEDIA 🔗 MIDDLETOWN HONDA

In this Wikipedia entry covering the history of the Sedan, a content piece our team published for Middletown Honda that explains the difference between a sedan and a coupe is cited as a key reference that informs the article.

Wikipedia backlinks to Middletown Honda's website

I can’t state it loudly enough — these links weren’t bought, traded, or begged for. The respective authors of those articles that included backlinks to our client’s published content did so because they felt those pages were accurate, thorough, and helped provide additional value to their own content.

How Much Should I Focus on Backlinks?

As an SEO Strategist, I get asked a lot of questions about all things SEO, not just questions about backlinks. A bunch of my teammates and I recently held an “ask us anything” style webinar where we answered as many SEO related questions as we could, and I’d definitely recommend you stream the recording on-demand to take an SEO deep dive with us.

Ask the Dealer Inspire SEO Team anything!

WATCH NOW

That said, a question that wasn’t asked during that webinar, but we still hear quite often, has to do with just how much you should focus on backlinks as a part of your holistic SEO strategy — so I’ll answer it here.

As you read above, quality backlinks that you earn through your content can pay dividends in the organic search results. But also like I mentioned earlier, silver bullets, they are not.

So if you’re just beginning your SEO strategy, or aren’t quite sure how to prioritize your efforts, then there a number of SEO best practices you should look to first. By doing the five things below, you’ll set your platform up for greater success, and get more bang for your SEO buck:

1. Create Quality Content, Regularly

This is the #1 thing. If you don’t have relevant content on your website that helps answer a searchers questions, then all the backlinks in the world won’t matter one bit, as you won’t have any content worth ranking on page one of the SERP in the first place.

2. Create a Healthy Internal Linking Structure

Another thing you can do before you think about backlinks, is to focus on your website’s internal linking structure. Not only do natural links between relevant pages help provide your visitors with additional context and information, but they also act as a map that shows search engines the relationships between all of the published content on your website.

3. Correct Technical Issues

SEO isn’t just keywords and links. There’s an entire discipline known as Technical SEO which is all about optimizing your website so it’s faster and easier for search engines to crawl and understand the content on your website. Identifying and fixing things on your website like broken links (internal or external), missing alt-text from images, and duplicate or missing H1 tags will go a long way to improving the technical health of your website, which in turn can improve your overall organic rankings.

4. Update Meta Descriptions on Valuable Pages

While meta descriptions aren’t SEO ranking factors, they are still important because they’re essentially ad copy used to describe a webpage to users as they scroll through the search results. A worthwhile endeavor is to look for opportunities to re-write the meta descriptions on your valuable pages so they entice searchers to tap or click your link in the SERP over the other available results.


5. Google My Business Optimizations

With search results increasingly being driven by personalized factors such as a user’s proximity to a business, having a Local SEO strategy in place is certainly worth more of your attention than gaining a backlink or two. A properly optimized Google My Business listing is the foundation of Local SEO. Proper setup and ongoing maintenance of your GMB listing will help you become a local authority in the eyes of search engines and real people — all while helping your business rise to the top of the results for local searches.

The Backstory on Backlinks

Ok, at this point in time, you may be wondering how we even got here in the first place. Why do backlinks get so much attention, why are they perceived to be so important? In order to understand that, you have to go all the way back to 1997 where you’ll discover that the earliest incarnation of Google’s search engine (fun fact, it was originally called BackRub) relied heavily on links between web pages — aka backlinks — for its web spiders to discover, crawl, and index across the World Wide Web.

Backrub, on a CRT monitor
Before it became Google, it was a project called “Backrub”

When the web was still relatively young, backlinks weren’t just a way for Google’s robots to discover new webpages to add to its index, these backlinks each acted like a vote of confidence for the pages that the referring domains were linking to. The more votes — aka backlinks — a web page received from different domains, the more “popular” it would become in Google’s early algorithm.

This was important because Google set out to disrupt existing search engines like Alta Vista, Yahoo, and Lycos which were quite vulnerable to early Black Hat SEO techniques and would often present a set of top results to users which were nothing more than pop up ad infested web pages, or worse, a computer virus waiting to happen. 

The vision for the search engine that became Google was one that would surface only the highest quality content that was most relevant to the user’s search intent, and couldn’t be manipulated by those with less than noble intentions.

By having backlinks be a crucial ranking factor in its algorithm along with content quality, Google’s founders felt that would make its index more useful to searchers of a rapidly expanding web, while also building in a high level of protection against the shifty Black Hat SEO’s of the world. 

And for the most part, it worked….until the bad guys found new and creative ways to manipulate backlinks too.

Link farms, link wheels, link exchanges, link networks, link schemes, buying links, guest posting networks, and general link manipulation soon became an underground marketplace where for a few bucks per link, someone, somewhere, would find a way to create dozens or even hundreds of links to your website to give you that “link juice” you needed to hold the #1 position in search for your desired keywords. 

Running a Backlink Audit on SEMRush.com shows this domain has an extremely high level of toxic backlinks 😬

So what started out as a pure and simple way to gauge relative popularity between web pages, soon turned into something more sinister. 

Fast forward to today, and the A.I. and machine learning that Google now uses in its algorithm is so good, it has become pretty adept at determining which backlinks are natural and should count toward a webpage’s ranking, and which ones are manipulated and should not count even the tiniest bit.

Do Backlinks Still Matter Today?

The fact that Google’s algorithm can quickly and easily determine which backlinks are legit, and which ones aren’t, has many in the search industry musing if the pursuit of backlinks is as critical as it was a decade ago. 

Make no mistake, search engines still need to be able to find your content and know whether or not it’s valuable. Backlinks not only help cover those bases, but they can also impact how long SEO takes.

As I mentioned earlier, much like the references on your resume, it’s the quality of your backlinks that matters most — not the quantity. The more authoritative the referring domain linking to yours, the greater the value of their “vote of confidence” in you and your site.

So do backlinks still matter? Yes! While the overall impact of backlinks has changed over time, they do remain an important ranking factor to this day.

Car Dealer SEO Done Right

Implementing a comprehensive SEO Strategy that covers all aspects of your business isn’t something that should be taken lightly. The expert team at Dealer Inspire knows search inside and out, and we’re always up for talking SEO with our car dealer partners. Drop us a line, and let’s talk SEO!

I WANT TO TALK SEO


David Fairbanks
David Fairbanks is a Major Accounts SEO Specialist at Dealer Inspire who thinks everyone could spend a little more time doing technical SEO. He's been at this for about a decade now, so he must like it or something. When he's not putting the SEO on your site, he's trying to future-proof our SEO team's processes for whatever Google might change next. Or he's buying books. He'll read them. He promises.

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