Boaz Sasson on Marketing Tradecraft
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Surviving Google’s Love/Hate Relationship with Backlinks for SEO

7 minute read

There has been a lot of negative publicity around backlinks since Google’s trend analyst, John Mueller, recommended that internet marketers shouldn’t focus on link building for better rankings.

“We do use links as part of our algorithm but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your web site that actually helps.”

Many marketers falsely misinterpreted John’s advice as meaning that links aren’t important anymore. This is incorrect, though. Links are still relevant and good links attract good quality traffic. In other words, links can play an important role in effective SEO strategies.

Should you ignore links for SEO?  Surviving Google's Love/Hate Relationship with Backlinks for SEO memeShould you ignore links for SEO?


A study conducted earlier this year at SimilarWeb on the correlation between the number of backlinks on a site and its volume of traffic showed that high correlation still exists between the two variables.
Yes, I know, correlation does not imply causation. I’m not trying to tell you that a lot of backlinks to your site automatically means you’ll receive a metric fuck-ton of traffic. I’m telling you this information because it gives a clear indication that quality backlinks play an important part in effective SEO.

I knew you'd say that, Sean Bean.  Surviving Google's Love/Hate Relationship with Backlinks for SEO I knew youd say that Sean BeanI knew you’d say that, Sean Bean.

After all, as an online marketer, your entire modus operandi revolves around attracting high-quality traffic that converts, right? Therefore, it’s crucial to use all useful tools – backlinks are just one of the many SEO tools that can help you.

Is your approach to backlinks outdated?

Now that you’ve realized backlinks are still useful, let’s talk about how you approach backlinks. I’ve found that many marketers are using strange or outdated methods to assess links. Here are some common errors:

  • Too many variables. You don’t need a macro to spit out figures for ten different variables to know whether your links are good.
  • Voodoo methods. I’ve heard of marketers using metrics such as page authority, domain authority, and more. They’re all crap when it comes to checking the success of a website’s links. These metrics are about as useful as sticking pins into a voodoo doll of your mother-in-law but not as much fun.
  • Link stuffing. The days of stuffing links into the footer of a web page (and everywhere else for that matter) in the hope of getting better SEO rankings are long gone. User experience is all the rage in SEO these days, and you need to bear that in mind.  

So, what is important for backlinks?

Traffic, baby!!  Traffic is the only metric you need to care about when assessing your website’s backlinks. Whenever you look at a link from now on, I want you to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is the page containing your link getting traffic from Google?
  2. Are people clicking on your link?


If you answered both questions in the affirmative, congratulations —  you’ve just won an amazing prize found a good link for your site.
Why is it a good link? Because people are visiting your site, all thanks to the link. It’s also good because that those nasty folks over at Google won’t put you on their list and penalize your site. Happy days!

Traffic: A pain in the ass for everyone except online marketers and SEOs.  Surviving Google's Love/Hate Relationship with Backlinks for SEO Angry man Source emazeTraffic: A pain in the ass for everyone except online marketers and SEOs.

How do you get those links?

It’s all well and good knowing that traffic is all you need to verify the efficacy of a link. But how do you get links to your site? What’s a good link-building strategy? It’s not as simple as just begging people with good search-engine rankings to link to your site. In fact, that’s a surefire way to be seen as ‘spammy’. And you should never beg, not even for sex, because it never works.

  • SERP attack. This is an aggressive, yet effective way to get good backlinks to your site. To do this, you’ll need to search for your targeted keyword(s) on Google. The goal is to study the first 3 to 5 pages of results and try to get linked by sites appearing on these pages.

A safe way to get linked is by providing value on these sites, although that can be difficult when they’re direct competitors. Even though the first few pages are ideal for maximum benefits, even getting a link from a site on page 8 will boost your SEO.

  • Money talks. As with many areas of business, money talks. You can actually buy links to your site from direct and indirect competitors. This is a risky strategy because Google actively hunts for sites that are buying links. Saying that, SWIM says that buying links happens all the time and is a common practice.

Google understands context, so you need to make sure you’re buying links that are placed on relevant sites in close proximity to relevant keywords. Some people might have reservations about this practice, but if you can afford it and it brings traffic/sales, then why not use it to your advantage?
Buying a link represents an investment in organic, high-quality traffic with a good chance of conversion – the price pays for itself. An effective link drives the kind of traffic you need, which in turn gives massive ROI. In others words, buying a link is akin to investing in an advertisement with extra benefits.

  • iFrames. iFrames pass SEO juice. Despite what you probably read, getting links inside iframe code does work for SEO purposes because Google has the capability to find these links, follow them, and pass equity. This is helpful if you have widgets or plugins with iframe code that are linked to by external websites.

iframe sample  Surviving Google's Love/Hate Relationship with Backlinks for SEO iframe

  • Tools.  There are a plethora of tools available for online marketers to help with link building. One such tool I work with is SimilarWeb’s  platform.

The idea of using a tool like this is to get traffic from the same sites that send traffic to your competitors. The SimilarWeb team can analyze your targeted keywords and identify these ‘referral’ sites or traffic hubs. You can also use SEMRush, Alexa, and many others, but SimilarWeb will show how much traffic a site actually gets, not just what a site is ranking for.

  • Social Media. It seems like social media is shoehorned into every blog post these days, but there’s a good reason I’ve included it here – social media rocks for link-building. The key is to provide value on websites with engaged readers. I’m talking about the likes of Quora and Reddit. Quora isn’t a social network ‘semantically speaking’, but it functions much like one.

These places are chock-full of users interested in intriguing content and they’ll have no problem with you linking to your site on each post unless it’s blatant self-promotion. A Reddit post with lots of upvotes can bring a serious amount of traffic to your site. Just always make sure to include something of value with every post.

Characteristics of a good link.

As Shakespeare would say, “what’s in a name link”? I’ve narrowed down the characteristics of a good link to four key categories.

good backlinks  Surviving Google's Love/Hate Relationship with Backlinks for SEO good backlinksVisual representation of a kick-ass link

  1. Affordable. Affordability doesn’t just refer to money, although that’s obviously part of it. You also need to consider whether you can afford the time to provide valuable content consistently enough on sites like Reddit or Quora so that you’re not seen as a self-promotional spammer.
  2. Drives Traffic. Do people click on your link? If yes, it’s a good link. If people don’t click on it, it’s about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
  3. Relevant. Those pesky devils over at google won’t give credit to any old link. Your links need to be relevant and contextual to the page it’s placed on. Make sure that links pointing to your site use appropriate anchor text. Sort out your own inbound anchor text too – place appropriate keywords in your text  or near it, and remember that like many other important characteristics, link relavance can always be “enhanced”…
  4. Converts. It’s good to remind ourselves of the big picture here. The whole point of effective link-building for internet marketers is to help your site rank better on search engines, which drives more traffic to your site. But you need high-quality traffic that is likely to convert – a good link provides that.


Closing thoughts.

Links are still valuable for effective SEO. You just need to know how to build stellar links effectively. Make sure you don’t get caught out analyzing superfluous information about your links – if they bring high-quality traffic, they’re good links, if they come from pages that get lots of Google traffic, they’re good links. Nothing else matters.

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