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The Truth about Backlinks & SEO

Posted on 5.20.2013

:: Travis Bliffen, Seo Proz ::


SEO is the magic of the digital marketing world. While many experts claim to know for a fact what takes Web content to the front pages of search engines, the fact is nobody actually knows for sure. As search engine providers continuously update their ranking algorithms, SEO success becomes an elusive and shifting science. So, how are you and other content creators to separate the truth from the myths? The answer is to analyze what works. The key attributes in the process by which content goes viral actually disprove numerous commonly accepted ideals about how to build backlinks for SEO purposes.

Myth: All backlinks should be created within content that is relevant to the page being optimized.

When a page or content goes “viral,” it is rapidly shared across young and old blogs, social networks and the net as a whole. As a result, backlinks are created on a range of sites, many of which have absolutely no relevance to the content being linked. Therefore, even if your content is about, say, puppy dogs, if you create a link on a high-quality site about apples, the backlink is still advantageous for your search engine ranking. This doesn’t mean that spamming links all over the place is a good idea though. Natural link building involves creating backlinks in a manner which do not appear spammy, because the links are relevant in some way, but not necessarily to the content of the page. In our puppy dogs and apples example, perhaps there is a forum post where an apple grower is having trouble with his dog. While the content of the backlink site isn’t about the subject-linked content, the link would still seem natural and relevant.

Myth: All backlinks should be from PR2+ sites or better.

When we look at the nature of viral content yet again, we see links going up in all manner of places. You can’t stop PRzero sites from linking your content anymore than you can force a PR9 site to link it. Nonetheless, the PRzero backlink is not going to sandbag your content’s search engine rank. When creating backlinks, the focus should not be the on PR status of the site, but the quality of the link itself. All backlinks should be considered from the perspective of a Web-goer. Ask yourself, if SEO didn’t exist, and all of my links were legitimate, “real” people, rather than crawler bots, would this link be something I’d click or does it look like spam? If you wouldn’t click it, don’t create the backlink. Common sense viewers generally won’t click links within sites that appear to be less than reputable. This may include porn sites, casinos, make-money-fast scams and link farms.

Myth: You should create *this many* backlinks.

The suggested perfect number of backlinks to improve search engine ranking varies, but more often than not it’s a lot—or as many as you possibly can. Truthfully though, just how many backlinks you should create is a trick question, because you shouldn’t be creating them all. Viral content does not become viral because the creator links it hundreds of times, it becomes viral because the content is timely, high-quality, and useful or interesting. The same way creating backlinks with the same anchor text every time or linking from the same site repeatedly can make a link look like spam, being the only person creating backlinks can as well. Instead of aiming to create backlinks, focus on creating content that encourages other people to do it for you.

Myth: High link velocity will hurt your search engine ranking.

Falling under the old quality-is-better-than-quantity adage, it’s often suggested that backlink creation should be staggered as rapid link velocity makes a site look like spam. When content goes viral, however, it is indeed rapidly linked from all over the place, so if this rule is true, why aren’t all those pages sinking to the 150 page?  While it is true quality counts more than quantity, if your backlinks are being followed and not just created it doesn’t matter how fast they appear. One hundred backlinks in 24 hours that nobody clicks might be seen as spam, but 100 backlinks that are getting active traffic are a seed to viral content. If your aim is to plant that seed, you need to mimic the process by which content becomes viral to the best of your ability. News and social signals play a massive role in the virility of content, so with a viral-style link building campaign, don’t forget to introduce the content to social networks and news feeds.

The truth about launching a successful SEO backlink campaign is just that, dismiss all the rules. Forget about the experts stabbing in the dark at the magic behind scoring the first page, and think like a real human being from the perspective of the people that you want to view your content. After all, it is people that make content go viral, and when content wins the people, it scores the first page of search engine results as a trophy.


Travis Bliffen is the founder of The Seo Proz a search marketing company located near Marion, IL. After working in the industry under the guidance of other search marketing professionals, he launched The SEO Proz in early 2012. Since then he has worked with numerous local, national and international clients to improve their search rankings.

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