SEO backlinks aren't just a powerful component of any SEO strategy — they're baked into the foundation of SEO itself, and without them, search engines wouldn't be able to deliver relevant results at all.
Want to learn more about the importance of backlinks and find out how you can use them to your brand's advantage? Here's everything you need to know.
The Importance of Backlinks Explained
To understand why backlinks (i.e., links from one site to another) are so important, we have to rewind the clock to the spring of 1998. Let's set the stage: The first iMac won't be released for another few months, "Titanic" is everyone's favorite movie, and Madonna's "Frozen" has been stuck in your head since it came out in January.
Are you in the 90s yet? Good — let's get back to the backlinks. In April, Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergey Brin released a paper titled "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine." They introduced Google as a prototype search engine designed to deliver the most relevant results possible.
How? While search engines up to that point typically used simple text-matching algorithms to deliver results, "Google," the pair explained, "makes use of both link structure and anchor text."
Crucially, Google's algorithm even considered the quality of backlinks:
...Pages that are well cited from many places around the web are worth looking at. Also, pages that have perhaps only one citation from something like the Yahoo! homepage are also generally worth looking at. If a page was not high quality, or was a broken link, it is quite likely that Yahoo's homepage would not link to it.
In other words, Google views backlinks as votes of confidence. So if site A links to site B, then site A is effectively vouching for site B and its content. The more reputable and trustworthy site A is, the more power that backlink carries.
Fast forward to March 2022, and Google's search engine boasted a market share of over 85 percent in the U.S. and more than 90 percent worldwide:
And yes, backlinks are still a fundamental part of Google's algorithm to this day — in explaining how its search engine works, the now-behemoth company says that:
We look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. For example, if other prominent websites link to the page (what is known as PageRank), that has proven to be a good sign that the information is well trusted.
This is exactly why the importance of backlinks cannot be overstated. Google (and all other modern search engines, for that matter) rely heavily on backlinks to determine the quality and relevance of pages.
How to Make SEO Backlinks Work for You
At this point, we've established that backlinks are not only important but are a linchpin of how search engine algorithms decide which sites will feature prominently and which will fade to the background.
So how can you use strategic SEO backlinks to make your site's pages rank as highly as possible?
Avoid Link Schemes
Any SEO pro worth their salt knows that the number one rule of backlink optimization (also known as link building) is to stay far away from anything resembling a link scheme.
What is a link scheme, exactly? As Google puts it:
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
- Buying or selling links
- Superfluous link exchanges between your and other sites
- Generating links to your site with automated programs
- Large guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text
So-called unnatural links may go against Google's guidelines, too. Examples of these include:
- Links that were purchased as part of an ad but haven't been properly qualified
- Links on low-quality directory/bookmark sites
- Links embedded in widespread widgets, headers, or footers
- Forum or blog comments with keyword-rich links
So if you want to build backlinks that help your brand rather than hurt it, always steer clear of those that could be considered unnatural or resemble a link scheme.
There's a good reason that content is (still) king: If your brand's content is original, high-quality, and full of genuine value, then people will be more inclined to share it.
And when people share your site, whether by linking to it on their blog or in a tweet, they're giving you a 100 percent natural backlink.
To make highly shareable content, invest in a content strategy that includes:
- Top-notch writing
- Original graphics
- Branded videos
- Interesting statistics
- Easy-to-understand infographics
- Attention-grabbing quotes
- Valuable takeaways
If you do, your site's backlink portfolio will soon begin to build itself.
Develop Authentic Relationships
Since Google judges web pages in part by how much other sites trust and reference them, it makes sense that the relationships you build with key players in your niche are worth their weight in gold.
For example, you can try reaching out to and connecting with:
- Journalists and editors in your vertical
- Social media influencers
- Industry bloggers and thought leaders
- Owners of other relevant sites
Remember that the key here is not to ask for links outright. Instead, it's to build genuine relationships with people who might legitimately be interested in your brand and have a reason to link to your content.
So instead of simply asking people to give you free backlinks, follow them on social media, engage with their posts, and link out to their sites when it makes sense to do so.
Doing so might not deliver instant results (no legitimate SEO strategy ever does), but it will generate more meaningful and lasting results in the long run.
Don't Forget About Internal Links
Backlinks from other sites are incredibly important, but so are links between your site's own pages.
As Google Search Advocate John Mueller said in a March 2022 live stream, "internal linking is super critical for SEO."
In fact, he elaborated:
I think it’s one of the biggest things that you can do on a website to kind of guide Google and guide visitors to the pages that you think are important. And what you think is important is totally up to you.
And ideally, you should not just have a basic set of links, but rather you should look at it in a strategic way and think about what do you care about the most and how can you highlight that with your internal linking.
So when you're busy building backlinks to your site, remember to give internal links some love too.
At the end of the day, backlinks (and internal links, too) aren't just important for SEO — they're absolutely essential, and they play a pivotal role in how modern search engines work.
Without backlinks, no brand could get the traction needed to build an audience, develop a strong reputation, or achieve significant growth. If you want your brand to thrive, you'll need SEO backlinks on your side.