Has Google killed the Backlink?

Backlinks, long time bedrock of Google SEO may very well be going the way of the Dodo but first….

What is a Backlink

A backlink is a link that’s published on a 3rd party website which could direct visitors from that site to your website with a simple click of their mouse.

A graphic demonstrating Backlinks to a website

In a really simplistic way Google views backlinks as votes and the more backlinks (votes) you have the more popular your site must be and so Google rewards you by pushing your website higher in their search results. Which is what we want, right?

Well, yes but……….How did the importance of Backlinks come about.

In 1996 two Stanford University students, Larry Page and Sergei Brin developed a research project and they called it “BackRub”

BackRub looked solely at the interlinking network of web sites on the Internet and measured the number of links to determine which sites were the most popular. The algorithm they developed gave websites a score (Page Rank) and this was used to determine where these websites were published in their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

In September 1997 the domain name Google.com was registered, and the rest is history.

Why BackRub? Well, if you rub my back, I’ll rub yours, i.e. if you link to my site I’ll link to yours.

How to get backlinks

In the early days, a lot of webmasters worked on getting complimentary links, i.e. they would offer to link to a site if that site would link back to them.

Then some enterprising Americans realised this was how Google was judging the importance of websites and set up websites that became known as Link Farms.

On a Link Farm you could buy hundreds, or thousands, of links to your website for just a few hundred dollars. lot of sites used them, Google saw all these links and though “wow, these guys are great” and so the sites rocketed up Google’s Search Results Pages.

These Link Farms weren’t pages you’d want to visit simply because they were simply like telephone directories. Pages and pages of links – which, initially, liked good to Google but lousy to everyone else.

However, Google employs Search Engineers to keep an eye on things and they began to notice that things were not as they should be. Some sites were gaining positions that they probably weren’t entitled to and the engineers started looking in to what was happening.

Remember, Google is ALL about delivering results that match what Google users are searching for and Google doesn’t like being manipulated fraudulently, tricked, caught out or conned and so does not like sites that are set up purely to game the system.

After some research, google’s engineers found out what was going on and Google started to penalise sites that used Link Farms. The penalties were either simply applying a Manual Penalty, pushing offending websites down in the rankings or, for really heavy users, deleting sites altogether. And, even now, if you are buying links to your website, and Google finds out, you WILL be penalised.

What Type Of Backlinks Boosts your SEO?

Backlinks have to originate from a website that’s relevant to your business AND come from a quality site. i.e. not a click bait site, a poor quality site with little content (aka thin content) or from a site that is mainly advertising.

BackRub was all about links. Slowly that importance declined but, even last year, I reckoned that Google placed about 50% of their decision making on backlinks so the goal was to always have more backlinks from better quality sites than your competitors.

And the importance of Back links has remained a key factor in the way that Google has evaluated websites. However, that importance has been declining for many years due to the amount of manipulation and Link Fraud that has taken place.

What’s happened to Backlinks now

Google's Gary Illes

At Pubcon 2023 (an Internet Marketing Trade show that takes place annually in Austin, Texas), Google’s Gary Illyes (seen here on the right) remarked that BackLinks are no longer in Google’s top 3 ranking signals although Google’s own documentation maintained that “Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

Now, in 2024, as part of Google’s March update, the same text now reads Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.” Although only one word has been removed it’s a rather key word, “Important” and it rather changes the whole context of the statement about the importance (or lack thereof) of Backlinks) and it would seem that Google is further de-emphasizing their importance.

Google has added a warning that “Creating low-value content primarily for the purposes of manipulating linking and ranking signals is an example of Link Spam.” which is aimed at those who have looked to create a network of interlinked sites purely for the purpose of building more backlinks to achieve unearned SEO results improvements.

Another section looks at outgoing links, “Any links that are intended to manipulate rankings in Google Search results may be considered link spam. This includes any behaviour that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

So, if you link to a 3rd party site to manipulate Google results, or accept links from 3rd party sites with the sole aim of manipulating the search results (rather than doing it for the benefit of your site visitors) you will, in all probability, attract a penalty from Google.

If you need help with your Backlinks, your SEO or any other type of Digital Marketing activity, all you have to do is get in touch to arrange an obligation, and cost free, chat about your business and how I may be able to improve your online marketing. All you have to do is call me on 01793 238020, message me on 07966 547146, email andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk or just search Chief SEO Officer to find me on Social Media and we can set a date for a free chat about your business, your website and your SEO.