To be honest, when I hear someone mention the word backlink as part of an overall strategy I tend to cringe. I’ll explain why through this post but want to begin with some history. At one time, search engines used to be large directories that were primarily constructed and ordered much like a directory. Google’s Pagerank Algorithm changed the landscape of search because they utilized links as a weight of importance.
A common link looks like this:
<a href="http://martech.zone">Keyword or Phrase</a>
An incoming hyperlink from one domain or subdomain to your domain or to a specific web address.
Example: Two sites wish to rank for a particular keyword. If Site A had 100 links pointing to it with that keyword in the backlink anchor text, and Site B had 50 links pointing to it, Site A would rank higher. With the amount of people converting from search engines, you can only imagine what happened next. A $5 billion industry exploded and countless SEO agencies opened shop. Online sites that analyzed links began to score domains, providing search engine professionals with the key to identifying optimal sites for links to gain their clients better ranking.
Of course, the hammer fell as Google released algorithm after algorithm to thwart the gaming of ranking by backlink production. Over time, Google was even able to identify the companies with the most backlink abuse and they buried them in search engines. One highly publicized example was JC Penney, who had hired an SEO agency that was generating backlinks to build their ranking.
Now backlinks are weighted based on the relevance of the site to the keyword combination. And producing a ton of shady links on sites with no authority can now damage your domain rather than help it. Unfortunately, there are still Search Engine Optimization professionals and Agencies that focus on backlinks as the cure to achieving their clients better ranking.
Not All Backlinks Are Created Equal
Backlinks may have a distinct name (brand, product or person), a location, and a keyword associated with it (or combinations thereof). And the domain that’s linking may also have relevance for the name, location or keyword. If you’re a company that’s based in a city and well known within that city (with backlinks), you may rank high in that city but not others. If your site is relevant to a brand name, of course, you’re most likely going to rank higher on keywords combined with the brand.
When we’re analyzing search rankings and keywords associated with our clients, we often parse out any brand-keyword combinations and focus on the topics and locations to see how well our clients are growing their search presence. In fact, it wouldn’t be a reach to assume that search algorithms are ranking sites without a location or brand… but because domains backlinked to them have relevance and authority to particular brands or a location.
Context: Beyond the Backlink
Does it even have to be a physical backlink anymore? Citations may be rising in their weight in search engine algorithms. A citation is the mention of a unique term within an article or even within an image or video. A citation is a unique person, place or thing. If DK New Media is mentioned on another domain but the context is marketing, why wouldn’t a search engine weigh the mention and increase ranking of articles on DK New Media associated with marketing.
There’s also the context of the content adjacent to the link. Does the domain pointing to your domain or web address have relevance on the topic that you’re wishing to rank for? Is the page with the backlink that’s pointing to your domain or web address relevant to the topic? In order to evaluate this, search engines have to look beyond the text in the anchor text and analyze the entire content of the page and the authority of the domain.
I believe algorithms are utilizing this strategy.
Authorship: Death or Rebirth
A few years ago, Google released markup that allowed authors to tie the sites they wrote on and content they produced back to their name and social profile. This was a pretty impressive advancement because you could construct a history of an author and guage their authority on specific topics. Replicating my decade of writing about marketing, for example, would be impossible.
While many people believe that Google killed authorship, I believe they only killed the markup. I think there’s a very good chance that Google simply evolved its algorithms to identify authors without the markup.
The Era of Link Earning
To be honest, I cheered the demise of the backlinking industry. It was a pay-to-play era where companies with the deepest pockets hired the SEO agencies with the most resources to produce backlinks. While we were hard at work developing great sites and incredible content, we watched as our rankings dropped over time and we lost a significant portion of our traffic. We had to focus much more on social media and promotion to get the word out.
Low-quality content, comment spamming, and meta keywords are no longer effective SEO Strategies – and with good reason. As search engine algorithms become increasingly sophisticated, it’s easier to detect (and weed out) manipulative link schemes.
Over the last year, our organic search engine traffic is up 115%! It wasn’t all the algorithms. We built out a highly responsive site that works well on mobile and tablet devices. We also converted our entire site to a secure site with an SSL certificate. But we’re also spending time analyzing search data along with identifying topics (like this) that our audience is interested in.
I continue to tell people that SEO used to be a math problem, but now it’s returned to a people problem. While there are some foundational strategies to ensure your site is search engine friendly, the fact is that great content ranks well (outside of blocking search engines). Great content is discovered and shared socially, and then mentioned and linked to by relevant sites. And that’s backlink magic!