Are Backlinks Still Relevant for Ranking in 2021?

Let’s start with a few questions. Why do you want to know if backlinks are still relevant in 2021? Is it just out of curiosity? Or you want to know what’s still working for SEO? Or maybe, just maybe you wish backlinks are no longer relevant so you can finally rest from this tedious SEO technique?

Let’s face it, backlink building is challenging. It’s one of those ranking factors that you have little to no control over, especially if you’re looking to do it the google way. It falls under off-page SEO techniques so the bulk of the work happens off your web page.

So, it makes sense for you to want an alternative to backlinks. But is there an alternative just yet?

So, back to the question; are backlinks still relevant in 2021? Before we answer that, let’s start by explaining how backlinks work.

How Backlinks Work

Think of backlinks from the perspective of Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”. What this means is that we rate information based on the medium through which we receive it. This also informs how search engines work. For search engines like Google, backlinks helps them determine how authoritative and relevant your website is in relation to keywords in your niche.

For instance, a random news blog has a headline that reads “First Case of Corona Virus reported in Canada”. Of course, this would be sad news to you as a Canadian. But you don’t know this blog and would want to question the authenticity of the news. You are most likely going to try confirming the news from other sources. However, if you landed on this random via a trustworthy website like CNN’s official news website, would you still have questions? Would you still want to ask around if it’s true? Most likely not. You trust CNN to reference only quality sources.

This is essentially how backlinks work – both for search engines and your website visitors. For your visitors, a backlink is a way of building trust with them. They tend to trust your content if other websites (especially those with higher authority) reference your content in theirs.

It’s almost the same for search engines. Backlinks are one of the factors search crawlers consider to judge:

  • How relevant your content is to a particular niche
  • Your credibility
  • Your popularity
  • The quality of your content

And as a result, it has been a major ranking factor for search engines for years. But the question begging for an answer is whether backlinks are still relevant in 2020.

Backlinks are still relevant and here are three solid reasons

This may not be what you were expecting to see. But, like it or hate it, backlinks are still very important and will most likely remain so for several years to come.

Of course, we can’t say backlinks will be relevant forever. That’s like undermining the power of the human brain to come up with several ideas for improvement. Just one innovative technology might eliminate the need for backlinks in the future. However, we don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Consider these three benefits of backlink and see if you still question its relevance in 2020.

  1. Backlinks drive the right traffic to your website

Why do you want to rank high on the search engine? Of course, the aim is to drive traffic to your site, get leads with the aim of converting them to customers. Even if you have a blog that makes money from ads, you still need the traffic to increase ads views and clicks.

With backlinks, you can drive the right set of people to your website. Especially if the backlinks are in contents that are published on websites with high traffic and is relevant to your niche.

This one post can generate a high number of traffic to your site even years after publication. And while that is happening, Google bots are watching and ranking you accordingly on the search engine result page (SERP).

  1. It helps Google find and index your latest content

Before talking about your ranking on Google, your first concern is getting listed in the search engine. Every web page you see on Google goes through three different stages – crawling, indexing and ranking. The only one we see on search engine is the ranking. But it would never have been possible if the first two didn’t happen.

Every time you create new contents on your site, these three phases have to occur for the content to make it to Google SERP. This, sometimes, doesn’t happen on time.

So, backlink is a major hack for resolving this. Simply get quality backlinks from high-authority websites that get massive traffic. These websites are high priority websites for Google and get crawled every day, so it provides an opportunity for your site to be crawled as well.

How this happens is; while crawling the site, the crawler would notice the link to your new content and follow that link. This way, it would be crawling your page a lot earlier than it may have intended.

  1. Improved brand management and online reputation

Moving away from bots and search engine now, backlinks can help create and maintain a good online reputation. Yes, you can see backlink as a public relations strategy.

Some of the common link-building strategies are guest blogging and expert roundups. These strategies get your brand name in the face of a larger audience who may not have heard of you before. But now they do, and by virtue of association, they will now perceive your brand as an authority in your industry/niche.

Another thing is, the more quality backlinks you get, the less you’d have to work on getting the next high-quality backlinks. Other experts would notice your features and guest posts and will most likely be the first to reach out to you. Everybody wants quality contents and if you can provide it, they will freely give you the backlinks you need.

Not Just Any Backlink – Anatomy of a Good Backlink

Not every backlink will bring you value. In fact, low quality backlinks will do more damage to your website and possibly earn you a google ban. There are a few factors to look out for when building your backlinks. Here’s a checklist:

Follow vs NoFollow

Having a nofollow vs dofollow link  (these mean that a site owner specifically instructs search engines to pass, or not pass, link juice to the linked website) is certainly a vital factor to consider.

Followed backlinks from trustworthy, popular websites with great authority will give you more value (link juice) than nofollow links. This doesn’t mean that nofollow links are entirely worthless. Nofollow links in website with high traffic can result in more people visiting your website through the link.

Website Authority

Not that Google acknowledges that there are high-authority sites. However, based on google search engine behaviour, SEO experts have discovered that backlinks on high-authority websites often provide more value, while backlinks from low-authority, does the opposite. You can quickly check website authority also known as domain rating using tools like MOZ and Ahrefs.

Here’s a sample Ahrefs domain authority check for the CNN Website:

Link Diversity

You don’t just want to get all your backlinks from one website/domain url. No! Link diversity plays a huge role in how much value you get from your backlinks. Getting 2,000 backlinks from 2 average domains will prove less valuable than getting 10 quality domains from 8 high authority websites.

Domain Trust

Domain trust simply refers to how much Google ‘trusts’ a website. Trust is determined by several factors. For instance, a medical website with lots of posts by actual doctors will have more domain trust than a health blog that has content from a non-medical expert. You can simply determine domain trust by using tools like MOZ, SEMRush and Ahrefs. Getting backlinks from website with good domain trust will give your website a boost.

Niche Relevance

It’s not enough to get your links listed on just any website. There has to be niche relevancy to further increase the value of your backlinks. A website in the tech niche will definitely not get a lot of value from several backlinks from a food website. However, backlinks from other high quality tech website signifies to Google bots that your website is niche relevant.

Anchor Text Relevance

The anchor text is simply the text that holds your backlink like this “Anchor text“. Anchor text relevance is a very important factor to consider when creating backlinks or any hyperlinks at all. Let’s assume you run a food blog and get a backlink to one of your posts titled ‘Top 10 healthy food for weightloss’ with an anchor text that says “top 10 modern software“…it will raise red flags with Google and therefore receive less value. A relevant anchor text would be ‘…some healthy foods that will help you lose weight’ 

Here’s a image sample of a backlink on CNN Business


So, there you have it. Backlinks are still relevant and that means you still have to work on getting them. While you can get backlinks through guest posting, the easiest way to constantly get great quality links is by writing quality contents.

With quality contents, rather than going out to get backlinks, you’d be getting backlinks without even asking.

Invest in your contents, be ready to collaborate and backlink building may start looking like less work.

Finally, always remember – quality over quantity. Getting links from just any website may do next to nothing for your ranking. Instead, go for high-authority sites with reasonable traffic. And of course, go for websites within your industry/niche.

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