Backlinks beat content marketing for search engine optimisation, hands down.
Having been an SEO expert for over 10 years, I have tested hundreds of theories on content strategy and back-linking based on a variety of ranking factors. Getting to the top of a results page always seems to come down to the number and quality of backlinks. I cant see any other way of Google can rank websites without using backlinks as a major factor.
Each time I’ve ran a test (which includes monitoring by Google Analytics, Agency Analytics, SEMrush and other software I have personally developed), I check the rankings. I typically conduct these on different sites to minimise outside interference. Internal linking is great to pull people in for search – but still has very little value in terms of link equity. Articles are great for searches but again, you need backlinks to your article for it to rank well.
Case Study: Repurposing Site Templates
In 2015 I ran around 100 satellite sites that were all based on the same template. At one point, we surpassed over 5,000 leads in a week.
Here’s an example of a template we used for WordPress development. With only about 400 words in total, the content was totally insufficient. Even though it was terrible, we used this same template was over and over again, at least 500 times.
Some may call this technique unethical; others might say it’s just working the system. I’m not sure which is true, but we were providing people with a service that they wanted, so everyone won.
At the time, Google didn’t value backlinks or domain authority. Rankings where dependable all about refreshable content. Since Google’s algorithm values sites that are updated all the time, I added each new each inquiry that came through to the site (with any personal details removed). Using this technique caused domino effect, each enquiry would be pushing each locality and the site further up the rankings.
In 2015–2016, we ranked at the top of searches for any phrase with a locality such as WordPress Developer in Brighton, or SEO Agency London for every single city in the UK. In the footer I included all of the towns in the UK. For each local phrase I looked up, we were dominating.
Then, the inevitable happened: we were blocked by Google. All of my excellently designed sites were removed. Since leads ranged in price from £1 to £30, you can imagine how it felt to lose all of that work overnight.
Looking back, this strategy never could have lasted forever — we realised this when Google implemented substantial changes to its ranking algorithm.
Backlinks were one of the biggest changes Google implemented. The concept had already been around, but it became Google’s main focus. Now, pretty much everything is based on the number of backlinks and the quality of the backlinks.
Domain authority is “a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank. Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and number of total links, into a single DA score.”
To be honest, I can’t think of a better strategy but similarly to the system I built, though, backlinks can also be manipulated.
Today, I focus on the complete opposite strategy I used to: quality backlinks from bloggers that provide real value. Google still bases most of its metrics on backlinks. I haven’t updated any of my sites in six months, but creating a number of new backlinks allows them to be stay ranked on the first page. It’s frequently said that content is absolutely essential, but this phenomenon proves that’s not always the case.
An important point I would like to stress is that structure is more important that the backlinks. If you have the wrong structure, your site will not rank well. Focus first on structure and then on backlinks. When I refer to site structure I am talking about the skin and bones (i.e. HTML & CSS) – this should be W3C valid (https://www.w3.org/Consortium/).
Think of Google as a human, reading through a book, the book is your website (code). If you have lots of unnecessary pages – they would just ignore them, or skip them (potentially missing very good content). This is pretty similar to Google’s behaviour, if Google cannot read the code (Book) easily, it will just rank it badly or could ignore it completely. The templates worked so well because they had such little code – Google loves this.
Lately, Google has been putting a lot of pressure on the mobile side of web design and development. Since more users than ever are accessing the internet from mobile devices, mobile first design is an important strategy to consider.
Make sure that you’re using Google AMP (accelerated mobile pages) or responsive website design and your pages follow all of the Google Speed Test suggestions.
Many people make a huge amount of profit from creating sites and simply posting articles on them. I run another company called Influence Monster that provides quality bloggers, to people trying to find backlinks that are of high quality.
Influence Monster focus on quality, and target bloggers who write great content rather than providing a link. I have started to include Instagram, Twitter and a number of other social platform’s as well.
I actively check every site we add to the website and it’s getting increasingly hard to find high quality blogs. At this point, most blog sites feature guest posts rather than content from an in-house copywriter. Google is starting to pick up on this trend. We personally lost 11,000 backlinks not too long ago.
After experiencing a major issue with one of the top outreach providers on the market, I created Influence Monster. We are still working on the site day in and day out. Our company offers a safe way to ensure that the blogger gets paid, the brand or agency receives the service they require, so it’s a win-win situation.
Backlinks need to be relevant. For example, technology blogs need to link to technology companies. Many service providers are not doing so. Instead, they’re creating content in a way that’s as cheap and as fast as possible.
– Google is Smarter Than You: Let me tell you with 100% accuracy. That if you have two sites with the same keywords, and you slip up once. i.e. Link the same GA accounts, link the same Webmaster accounts, have the same WHOIS information, the same IP, the same DNS or maybe the same MX records. Google will find out. Do not target the same keywords on multiple sites. Google will find out, and penalise you heavily for anything even remotely related.
– Structure: Before anything – don’t bother with SEO if your site is not optimised. Bootstrap? Yeah I am afraid that’s not great. Anything with 1,000’s of lines of code doesn’t play with Google. Want to test the theory yourself? Create two sites, one without Bootstrap (or Frameworks) and one with and see which one ranks better.
– Content: Unless you’re a pro, use copywriters. It’s not worth your time to have someone write articles for you unless they qualified and trained. For example, our company has an SEO training section.
– Length: Content should be around 600-900 words. The average target is much debated, but I’ve done extensive research and have found very little difference between having 600-1000 words on back-linked articles.
– Link Text: Vary the link text each time rather than making your strategy obvious. Provide real value to users. Most of the time, no one will read an article unless you’ feature them on a high DA site.
– Choose the Right Sites: Make sure sites you create backlinks on are in the same industry. Try to avoid sites with lots of top ten lists and guest blogs. Sites that advertise the least provide the best backlink juice, but you’ll have to pay them more. Google specifies no more than 3 ads. Read through the site thoroughly, and consider whether they’re providing valuable links.
Content will provide you with better value over time if you use keywords that people are searching for in your blogs. This SEO strategy takes a long time, but backlinks can rank your site very quickly.
Put simply and in a summary –
The site structure is the most important part of the website for Search Engine Optimisation. Anyone who says otherwise most likely doesn’t understand SEO, actually I would go as far as saying they don’t know SEO at all.
Content is important but not as important as Backlinks – sites can rank without constantly updating content. Content is good for pulling in users but not really pushing up the rankings.
Backlinks are still king for ranking – That’s been the case for the last 10 years and I cannot see this changing.
What do you need to do?
Sort your site structure before thinking about back-linking and then find quality bloggers that can backlink in your specific category.
Jason Parker is Managing Director of Calibre