It’s Not All About Ranking: Benefits of Backlinks Beyond SEO

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Google’s search algorithm places such great emphasis on the accumulation of backlinks that link builders can forget the value of a link beyond search. Yes, quality backlinks can carry enormous weight and help bring your site to the top of a competitive SERP.

That’s not the only purpose of a link, however.

Even though the majority of clients at my company are interested primarily in search traffic, link building can certainly be used for other purposes. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Referral Traffic
  • Branding
  • Building Authority
  • Building Relationships
  • Promotion

I understand there’s some hesitation when it comes to pursuing links in today’s SEO environment. Even though links are unquestionably an important ranking signal, Google likes to engage in a large-scale FUD offensive every-so-often. They are currently in the middle of one of those every-so-oftens. They do this in an effort to ward out spammers/black hat SEOs.

My mentor Eric Ward once said, “Seek links you would want even if Google did not reward them.” I have long echoed this. Not only will it actually lead to links that Google is likely to value, it will provide other marketing benefits as well.

Referral Traffic

According to Conductor, search engines direct about 47% of online traffic. Of all the sources, search engines represent a plurality of directed traffic. But that means the majority of traffic is independent of search engine rankings. According to the same Conductor study, non-social referral visits account for 15% of the internet’s traffic. Even using Conductor’s sample size of 310 million hits, that’s 4.7 million referral clicks.

This is my way of saying that links don’t only lead to search engine traffic. A well-placed link on an authority site can direct an abundance of referral traffic.

Never underestimate the value of a good click. You should always prioritize the chase for search traffic over referral traffic. Just think of referral traffic as the pretty bow on the present.


Consider this. The University of Arkansas recently conducted an experiment in which they had subjects listen to two different mixes of the same piece of music, one in it’s original form, the other edited so that a segment of it was looped. The subjects reported to liking the latter version far more. The researchers attributed this to the mere exposure effect, a phenomenon in which people grow to like things and concepts simply out of familiarity.

Links are visible to the public, or they should be anyway. If you’re building links that aren’t visible to the naked eye, wait for your penalty.

Because links are viewable to the users and not just search engines, link building can be used for branding.

Branding is marketing 101. Consumers/readers trust established brands, even if those brands have done things that would ordinarily lead to a negative reputation.

Right now in the world of SEO, it’s more important than ever to be cognizant of anchor text diversity. Google is not fond of sites that use the same keyword-rich anchor text over and over.

So along with keyword and white noise anchors, branded anchors should absolutely be part of your link profile.

This is a good thing. Being “forced” to use your brand name as an anchor is a way of simply getting your name out there. Even if a user doesn’t click the first time seeing your name, the more that user sees your name, the more that user is going to be compelled to click. And once they click, they are led to the biggest branding opportunity you have: your site.

There’s no better representation of your brand than your website, and link building is a valuable way to get people to look at your brand in all of its glory.


So your name is out there now. As I said before, established brand names can still thrive even when having a negative reputation. Denny’s had a great 2013. Now take a look at what their customers think of them.

Having said that, wouldn’t it be better if your brand had a reputation as an authority within your niche?

I’m not talking about authority in numerical form like domain authority; most consumers don’t know what domain authority is. I’m talking about being associated as a “know-it-all.” Sure everyone hated the “know-it-all” in the k-12 school years, but it’s 2014: geeks are pretty cool now.

Getting links on authority sites is a great way to have some authority rub off on you. Not only is the link viewed as a vote of confidence by search engines, more importantly, it’s viewed as a vote of confidence by users.

Relationship Building

If you’re building links without building relationships, you’re doing it wrong.

I can’t emphasize enough how much easier link building is when you have relationships within your niche to rely upon.

Let’s say your primary online strategy to gain visibility is through the usage of social media. Building a legitimate following on social media is one of the most trying tasks of going that route. When I say legitimate, I mean gaining followers without bios like this:


Did you ever think that you can gain followers outside of the parameters of social media? It happens to me frequently. I attract a few followers every time I get a link, and the majority of the time the followers are people I’ve never talked to in the realms of social media channels.

Relationship building leads to visibility, no matter where you want to be seen.

Our link building campaigns have often created new relationships for clients, relationships which have provided benefits outside of SEO. Think partnership or advertising opportunities. Without our link building services, those relationships would not exist.


So you have great content. Now what? As awesome as, say, your infographic might be, people aren’t going to find it without being pointed towards it.

You might be saying, “What about social media? Wouldn’t it be easier to share it on our social media channels?”

I’m never going to advocate being absent on social media. Even if social signals are not part of Google’s algorithm, they have indirect effects on rankings.

Even though social media is an effective method of promotion, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be building links as well in your promotional efforts.

Without repetitive sharing, social media shares have a tendency to get buried fairly quickly. A link can ostensibly live forever. Example:


This is a screencap of the links page for the 1996 movie Space Jam. Yes, the site is still live.

You’ll notice the first link is clicked on. It points here:


It’s the site for the National Basketball Association, and not a cached copy from 1996. There was no such thing as the Wizards that year.

Having a link on a curated list of resources has the potential to send traffic for years.

If you have an important product launch or change in policy/personnel you want to submit to the world, simply submit to a press release site. Not only will you get links from the press release sites, you’ll get even more from any other sites that pick up the press release.

Press release links may not carry a ton of SEO value, but again, we’re not talking SEO value here. Submitting press releases has been and still is an effective method of promotion.


To recap, links have benefits beyond increasing visibility in search. Links can:

  • Drive referral traffic
  • Help to build your brand
  • Help to establish authority
  • Build relationships that will be beneficial in the future
  • Promote whatever it is you want promoted

Of course, I would argue that building search visibility should be the number one focus of any campaign. I’m just arguing that you should keep these five things in mind as well.


Jon Ball
Jon Ball is CEO and co-owner at Page One Power. He is a research expert that specializes in the implementation of highly effective link building strategies for clients all over the world. He’s also an avid photographer. Page One Power is a link building firm that focuses on relevancy and transparency.
Jon Ball
Jon Ball
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  • Robert Clarke (@OpEdMarketing)

    Great tips Jon, thanks for the useful post ūüôā

    • jonballp1p

      You’re welcome Robert. I’m happy you enjoyed the article.

  • Chris Needham

    Thanks for sharing Jon, really enjoyed read the post.

    • jonballp1p

      I’m happy to hear that Chris. I enjoyed writing it.

  • Carl De Lucia

    Cool article John. I like the Space Jam reference. Why do you think they haven’t taken down the page ?

    • jonballp1p

      Glad you enjoyed it Carl. I can’t say with any degree of certainty why the Space Jam page is still live. All I can say is that my kids got a kick out of it. For that matter, so did I.

  • Imtiaz Ahmed

    Well thought article, great tips. Thanks for sharing Jon.

    • jonballp1p

      Happy to share these tips Imtiaz. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Sam Thomas (@seoonsite)

    This is a great post! Its vital nowadays when link building to be looking at all aspects of the link and not just the SEO benefit. Referral traffic could lead to conversions so the client directly benefits as well as ranking improvements.

    • jonballp1p

      Absolutely Sam. Any linker can develop tunnel vision when link building. We have to remember that we’re building for users, not exclusively for search engines.

  • Mark

    Brand recognition and familiarity are key with ever increasing online markets. Social Media, and the backlinks they generate, provide little direct SEO value. However, online marketing is about getting the right people to see your articles, and as long as you are harnessing this then the links you get are ultimately valuable.

    • jonballp1p

      I agree Mark. It’s all part of the same puzzle.

  • Jason McKim

    This is definitely a timely post. I think SEOs are losing sight of the big picture. There is an entire simply ‘getting your name out there’ aspect of marketing that gets forgotten in all the backlinks for ranking talk.

    • jonballp1p

      Glad you feel the same way I do Jason. I would say that link building is one of the best branding strategies available.

  • James Brockbank

    I love your statement, ” If you’re building links that aren’t visible to the naked eye, wait for your penalty.” If the links pointing to your site are hidden away in the depths of the web on sites which only the search engines see, you simply need to wait for a penalty to land! It all goes back to the value of links from an SEO perspective in that a link on a relevant site which receives significant volumes of traffic is going to be better than one hidden away! Great post!

    • jonballp1p

      Absolutely James. If you’re building links that don’t benefit users, you aren’t benefiting your SEO end goals. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Barbara McKinney

    Great post!These all are great suggestions. Press release is the best technique to promote your new product or site or services online and it helps to bring traffic to your site and generate backlink.

    • jonballp1p

      Thanks for the comment Barbara, glad you enjoyed the article. I agree about press releases. Promotion should be your primary concern with a press release of course. When it gets picked up, the links that will come are a perk.

  • Nitin Jain

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Most people look at linking only for ranking purpose. An intelligent marketer would grab any opportunity to leave his profile at a non spammy website. Classifieds and Press Releases are one such example. They might not help a lot in backlinking but are a great way to build the brand online.

    • jonballp1p

      Completely agreed Nitin. I’m glad we’re on the same page.

  • Hardik Oza


    You hit the nail on the head. Really, It’s good to read. The quality links would also help out you for your online reputation as well.

    Thanks.! ūüôā

    • jonballp1p

      Thanks for the comment Hardik. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  • karnrawat

    Hello Jon,
    Thanks for sharing great article, i enjoyed it very much, Most of the people are building backilinks to improve their seo, and they are nowhere in SERP. “Build relationship not links”.

    • Jon Ball

      Glad you enjoyed it Karnrawat. I absolutely agree that building relationships is essential if you ever want to build links.

  • Dennis & Kim Downey

    Great article. The key for keeping Google happy seems to be doing things you would do even if there was no SEO. All your reasons would make backlinks worth while even if there was no Google.

    • Jon Ball

      Precisely. I’ve always advocated that you should build links you would want even if Google didn’t exist. Glad we agree on that.

  • Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    Great post, I really appreciated the information.

    • Jon Ball

      Glad you enjoyed it Charlie.

  • Dr RWP

    Great article Jon – hits the “nail on the head” IMO !

    • Jon Ball

      Thanks Dr RWP.

  • Ravi

    You summed it up in one line Jon …..“Seek links you would want even if Google did not reward them.”
    Despite all that is being said about the the Backlinks – Quality Backlinks still carry a lot of weight!
    Thanks again!

  • Pawel Kontek

    Very good article. People often forget about the true benefits of backlinks. There is a reason why google is considering backlinks so strongly and it is the real credibility and value that it brings to the users. Thanks.

  • Brian Stitt

    the thing is if you go for links that truly can give you business / referrals / influencers then the rest takes care of itself, and google should reward you as well with search referrals. win win really!

  • Akash Rastoge

    Well composed and great article….

  • Rishabh

    Thanks for sharing such a great post. I like your point that always prioritize search traffic over referral traffic. Referral traffic should be like icing on the cake.

  • John

    Totally agree with almost all the points here. But I think 80-90% of people making backlinks just to the site rank in Google and tweak the Google algo. What you think?

  • Websiteop via Ron

    Hi Jon,
    I totally agree with you, I try to build links that are going to add value and getting traffic via the links is a good way to gauge the quality of the link. Also, building links that way promotes good link building practices and cuts down on the urge to spam and keeps the campaign in-line, thanks for the insight!