This week’s Ask An SEO questions are from Deepinder in Toronto who asked:
“1. I have worked on multiple projects. I have seen websites with 1,000 backlinks beat websites with 100,000 backlinks. And the same 1,000 backlinks site beaten by a content currating/stealing(copy paste content with a backlink to source) website.
So, how important are backlinks as ranking factors?
2. Is getting 1,000-3,000 backlinks from one site seen as spam? Because I have seen some good companies doing that.”
I’d like to start by answering the second question first.
Is Getting Thousands of Links from One Site Considered Spam?
It is situational if it will be spam or not.
The main determining factor is if the links are seen as natural vs. paid or a deliberate attempt at trying to get backlinks.
Natural links include:
- Companies that link to their other brands in their own footers or in their main navigation to switch between stores.
- If you’re an authority and a blogger has a list of resources and other reading in their sidebar.
- When you’re producing a ton of photo content and the website uses your work across numerous posts.
- As you do something newsworthy and media companies, bloggers, and publications mention, source or feature you for it.
- Providing databases and feeds to sell products on other sites that link to your site.
- Having bloggers or publishers create a store without “sponsored” or “nofollow” attributes on their links.
- Banner ads – run of site, category, etc., because they are paid placements.
- Widgets, feeds, and badges with keyword-rich backlinks.
- Widgets, feeds, and badges that are clearly marketing ploys and not something exclusive or real.
- If the site is part of a PBN (private blog network) regardless if you paid or earned the links.
- Using scholarships and other gimmicks.
- Leaving comments on blogs, in forums, or on community websites.
- Keyword-rich links to category pages or products that you do not manufacture.
- Anything that isn’t clearly earned by merit.
Those are just a few examples.
So yes and no.
Sometimes they are seen as spam and other times they may not be.
It depends on the links, your relationship with the website, and if they are natural or not.
Now onto your first question.
Are Backlinks Important for SEO?
Yes, backlinks are 100% important for SEO. But it is not a numbers game.
I have one client ranking and beating out national brands without many links.
They even rank above the governing body for their industry for that governing body’s own trademark terms.
The quality of the links they acquired helped, but they started ranking based on site structure, quality content, the way the page renders, and site structure before we got the first links.
Oddly enough they have also gotten a backlink from that governing body because of the content we created. (Talk about a major win!)
Backlinks are only one of the signals a search engine uses.
The entire purpose of a search engine is to show a person searching the most relevant response, formatted in the best way possible to and in the fastest and most accessible way.
That could be a paragraph or list of text, a video, images, or mixed media. This is equally if not more important than backlinks.
Why a Site with Less Backlinks Outranks a Site with More
To answer the question about why a site with fewer links will outrank a site with a ton, or how to get your website with a few links to outrank one with a few hundred thousand you need to look at what a link is.
Before we had smartphones, schema, and concepts like E-A-T, the search engines needed a way to determine the trust of a website and a specific page within that website.
Backlinks were one of these trust factors, specifically PageRank with Google.
Now that PageRank doesn’t exist (at least as we knew it back then), we have other ways to help build the trust and authority of our website.
If your website and the page in particular meet these trust and authority signals, you may now have the ability to compete with the website and webpages that have more links.
- You can build trust by have licensed and credible people in the niche create or sign off on your content.
- Just because someone is your CEO does not mean they are credible or established. That is one of the hardest pills for an executive to swallow.
- Source the content to the author and relevant sources using links and schema.
- Have a solid internal linking structure that provides more explanations for concepts or resources mentioned in your content.
- Ensure your website is secure.
- Provide a better explanation of the concept, formulate an easier way to purchase, or have better formatting that is easier to digest.
You can also:
- Be as ADA-compliant as possible (the more people that can access your content, the better the experience for everyone giving search engines a reason to show your page over another).
- Have lightning-fast load times so people on mobile devices and slow connections can access your content.
- Properly structure your content using:
- Add proper schema to define what is on the page and in each section.
- Use proper site structure and make sure your most important pages are being referenced when it is natural.
- Check your Core Web Vitals now that search engines like Google are doubling down including cumulative layout shift (CLS).
Yes, quality backlinks will help you rank more easily than merit alone, but there are things you can do while you begin acquiring links so that you can beat a website or webpage that has 10X or 100X the amount of links you do.
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!