What Can Be Better Than Backlinks? I Can Think of Two Things I’d Rather Have

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SEJ Features

Many people think the more backlinks the better, and that is simply not true. If it were a matter of the more backlinks I had the better my site or my landing page would rank, it would become a matter of whoever has the most money wins.

For $60 a year I can buy domain names and cheap hosting from various providers, throw up some relevant (this is important) content and link back to myself. The end result would be whoever has the most increments of $60 dollars wins.

The best content is content that satisfies the query of the reader and is not, should not, and must not be dependent on who has paid the most money. It might be that the guy who paid the most has the right answer,  but it is not necessarily true that he who has the most money is always right. Search engines have already cracked down on this and will continue to do so. Beware of trying to buy more backlinks.

How Google Sees Content

How Google Sees Content

What is important is who links to you, specifically influencers. People who have been around the block, those who have earned their right to be thought leaders. When thought leaders speak of you, your page, or your post, you are getting somewhere. When they link to you, refer to you, you are getting some mojo. But even references from thought leaders, good as they are, are not the best criteria for what is good. With that being said, there are better indicators of quality than links.

How The Best Content is Determined

Readers should determine who has the best content, who has satisfied their query the best, not writers or webmasters.

I can think of two ways for readers to decide.

1. Comments From Real People

A lot of relevant comments on an article/post/page will give your content some serious love and ranking, as well as the voice of the reader.

Although comments can be bought as well, it is a lot harder to do. Getting real people to leave their name, a real email address and an outgoing link back to a real site (preferably relevant by content) is hard to do. That’s why comments are great to have. Each time a comment is left on your content, the search engine has to come back to find out what happened and re-index the article with the change resulting from the comment. The more often this happens, the better for the original piece = higher ranking. Given a choice between someone linking to my site and someone leaving a relevant comment, I will take the comment.

2. A Google+ and Comment

Search engines are stupid. Search bots cannot read and make a subjective determination that the content is good. Search engines are smart. They can do basic math really well. When someone with a Google Authorship account gives me a Google+ and sends out a comment to their circle of people who might have a genuine interest in my content, that’s really good love.

Search engines cannot make subjective determinations, but real readers can. Real readers who have a history of writing on a topic that is relevant to your content can make a determination as to whether your content is good or not or at least relevant to the discussion. Real readers who interact and leave comments on other similar sites have a history of reading around and making determinations. The more comments you receive from real people the better. Google is quite smart to encourage authors to register and to want readers to use the Google+ button. These readers and pushers are doing what Google search bots cannot. They are making subjective determinations on the quality of the article. The more this happens, the better the search engines can rank good content.

Given a choice between a backlink and a Google+ from someone in my field who has a Google Authorship account and their comment sent to their circles, I’ll take the latter every time.

Can this be faked? Not very easily.


Write good content that real people in your niche like to read.  Encourage relevant comments and interaction on your site. Get plussed, too. And your content will rank and go to market for you.

Agree? Disagree? Have a different experience? Let me know in the comments below. I will respond first chance.


Images are property of BillBelew.com

Bill Belew
Professor, Speaker, Author, blogger, all-around old man. Having taught a full 48-hour MBA course in Marketing with Social Media at a graduate school in Silicon Valley, Bill delivers insights from recent, real and relevant case studies. Bill has been working in social media for more than 8 years and has more than 90 million unique visitors from organic search to his network of sites and in a variety of niches. He knows what works, what doesn't, what can kill a site, and what can cause it to grow. Bill has a network of 5000+ Meetup followers in the heart of Silicon Valley. He is a paid, professional, international, in-demand speaker.
Bill Belew
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  • http://twitter.com/Think_Traffic Mark Johnson (@Think_Traffic)

    Hi Bill.

    Great post, these are certainly things to aspire to have. Although you have sort-of implied that getting comments can influence rankings. What this intentional? Or did you mean more that content with comments tends to rank better (correlation rather than causation)?

    I’ve not heard of an argument that comments could themselves be a part of the algorithm, so I would be interested to hear your thoughts on whether or not this could actually be the case.

    Either way, I am sure that more comments = more credibility, more engagement and therefore more shares, links etc… Which certainly means that getting more comments will probably lead to better rankings, so if that’s what you meant, I totally agree.

    Great post either way.

    • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


      Yes, I think getting comments will influence rankings. Each time a comment is made on an article (like this one) the overall structure of the page is changed = searchbots need to come find out what happened and reindex the page. The more this happens the better for the page.

      Comments are also social – we interact here and others interact with you and me here.

      More comments = engagement with real people (usually) which is a sign of relevance and perhaps credibility depending on who left the comment and their history on line.

      More comments will lend itself to being passed around.

      I will take a lot of comments on my site over back links any day. Who cares how many backlinks I have if nobody cares what I say?

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

      • http://www.prosites.com/services/search-engine-marketing/ Norm

        And the best thing you can do when you get comments, is to respond to them, as you have done so well here. So many times I see people comment on an article and ask a follow up question, and the author is nowhere to be found. Or worse, I often take the time to post a thoughtful comment on a blog, and it never get’s approved. Or conversely, your thoughtful comment gets approved with a hundred “Great information. I should like to read this blog frequently. Keep good work up.”

        If you are going to allow comments, moderate them, and respond to them. That is being social and engaging and I agree, is what Google is looking for.

      • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


        I will take interaction such as you and Mark and I have here over backlinks any day.

        When readers leave a comment, I am inclined to click through to their sites as well to see who they are. And who knows? Maybe something will start there as well.

        Thanks for reading.

        Bill Belew

    • http://www.scarlettseo.com/seo-services.html Sarra Donathan

      I agree comments are very social. My reasoning behind why this is helpful is that comments help build that trust factor in Google. Comments are interaction. Anytime you have seen a brand or build you have seen them engage their audience. This keep content fresh and Google knows it is still relevant content to that topic because people are still actively commenting on it.

      • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


        Totally agree with you!

        Thanks for keeping this thread active and appealing to the Search Engines.

        And thanks for reading.

        Bill Belew

  • Shaun Gambler

    Many people still believe that Backlinks are the back boan of on page seo, but according to me both social media sharing and no follow and do follow links help us to in better way. Overall nice article

    • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


      Fundamental to being found online is for somebody to already have found you. Backlinks are an indicator that you have been found. So are comments and pluses.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

  • Joel Bangahon

    As always been mentioned by great SEOs, content is always the KING. Content that engages the readers and worthy to be shared to social media. With the content being shared, chances are it will become viral and some real people with blogs/websites will link back to the article.

    On the different social media sites, Google of course loves its very own – Google+.

    • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


      Content is king. King on Google will in time involved the Google+ and Google Authorship ranking.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

  • Jason Waite


    How do you feel about Facebook commenting systems? Thought on your favorite commenting systems?


    • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


      Facebook is not relevant. Friends and family commenting on your site are not credible. 3rd parties in your niche with an online history of being in that niche through their comments and home site will carry much more weight.

      Google+ is not my favorite, but it is most effective.

      Thanks for asking.

      Bill Belew

  • http://gravatar.com/vbtblog Bishal Biswas

    Although Backlinks are being used to rank higher in search engine, people use to spam sites with those that of Spammy comments which adversely affect a site. Perhaps, getting valuable comments from readers is like gaining thousand bucks with a post. Readers engagement matters a lot and I do feel, nothing is better than getting valuable comments from the loyal readers.

    • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


      We are definitely on the same page. In addition to the comments, we need a name (Google Authorship) and link (to a real site with a history). This combination is better than a backlink.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

  • https://www.facebook.com/milan.parmar Kishor Parmar

    And to receive genuine comment it is critical to strike the right note.

    YES, it is true that “more comments you receive from real people the better”.

    this gave me new idea to promote my blog content.

    • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


      How about sharing your idea here? I’d love to hear it.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

  • http://twitter.com/shlomowiesen Shlomo Wiesen

    I’ve never heard anyone say that comments can influence ranking. Now that I’m thinking about that for the first time, I’d say it makes sense- it helps Google decide what content is good and worthwhile, versus content that is propped up by hollow backlinks. Nice, refreshing analysis Bill. I look forward to your next article.

    • http://billbelew.com Bill Belew


      I have seen it happen any number of times with my own content and that of my students.

      Of course, commented on content also lends itself to being passed around as well.

      Here is a link to previous articles – https://www.searchenginejournal.com/author/bill-belew/

      Thursday is my next.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew