Links vs orange
13 min read

The Importance of Backlinks for SEO Performance

Stewart Dunlop


Chief Link Building Strategist

Did you know that over 53% of all website traffic comes from organic search? If you’re not using link building in your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy to generate organic traffic, you’re losing out.

According to Google, backlinks are one of the top three ranking factors it considers. Additionally, the more backlinks a page has, the more organic traffic it typically gets from search engines.

We can’t stress the importance of backlinks for SEO enough, which is why we’ve put together this guide to help you understand how they can help you improve your rankings.

In this article, we will discuss:

➡️ Why backlinks are an important part of SEO.

➡️ What to look for in a good backlink.

➡️ How to optimize your website for better rankings.

Studies on the Importance of Backlinks for SEO

Research has proven time and again that backlinks are important for SEO.

Here are some of the most significant findings:

👉 A study by Backlinko found that the number of links pointing to web pages was the biggest factor in Google rankings.

👉 According to Ahrefs, over 43% of top-ranking pages on Google contain reciprocal links.

👉 HubSpot found that businesses that engage in blogging receive 97% more backlinks than other web pages.

👉 Aira found that 51% of marketers believe backlinks will still be important ranking criteria on Google algorithms five years from now.

👉 According to Ascend, 13% of search experts believe link building is the most valuable SEO tactic currently available.

Why Are Backlinks Important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves best preparing your web page to rank higher than your competitor's website through various practices. One tactic that is vital to include in your SEO strategy is link building.

Google’s ranking algorithm uses backlinks to determine the authority of a website. Typically, a page with the highest number of high-quality backlinks will rank higher in search engine results.

It’s been proven many times that Google sees a backlink, which is an outbound link to your website, as a key trust signal.

The search engine’s algorithm uses a page’s backlink profile to decide whether to rank it for a particular search term.

A backlink profile consists of the number of links a site has and the quality of these links.

Often, the website or page with more backlinks will rank higher on Google than other websites. However, it’s worth noting that backlinks isn’t the only factor affecting your search engine ranking.

more links equates to better rankings

Links are a confidence signal for search engines

You may be wondering why search engines like Google place so much importance on backlinks when it comes to determining how a web page ranks.

The PageRank algorithm that was central to the early version of Google prioritized backlinks as a trust signal. Although Google now uses more sophisticated methods to rank websites, backlinks still play a vital role.

One of the main reasons why they continue to be relevant is because backlinks provide an important trust signal.

If other websites—particularly authoritative websites—link to yours through a backlink, it indicates to Google that your website is trustworthy.

Trustworthy websites generally rank higher, which is why gaining quality backlinks from authoritative websites should be a part of our link building strategy.

A backlink is a vote of confidence that the content on your website is valuable and of high quality.

Usually, website owners won’t link to bad content—unless they are in the business of spammy backlinks. This means Google can be confident that web pages with many links pointing to them are worth showing at the top of the search results.

Your priority should be to gain backlinks that are of high quality on credible websites with good metrics, such as those with high domain authority.

What Is Domain Authority (DA)?

Domain Authority is a metric used to determine the authority of a website. It defines its relevance for a specific niche. DA has a direct impact on how a website will rank on search engines.

Backlinks are important for other reasons too

Other than being an important ranking factor; backlinks also have other essential functions.

SEO backlinks go beyond simply improving your website’s ranking. They can also:

  • Generate traffic: A link on a high-traffic page may result in many people clicking through to your website. This is called referral traffic.

  • Increase brand exposure: The more links you get, the more exposure your brand will receive as people click on the links.

  • Better relationships: Outreach campaigns to secure external links can help you build relationships with other sites in your niche.

What Is an Outreach Campaign?

This is the process of identifying and contacting high-authority websites to suggest or request that they include your backlink in their content

Not All Backlinks Are Equal

At this point, you may be thinking that it’s imperative to get as many backlinks as possible to boost your backlink profile and improve your SEO.

While this is the case to some extent, it’s important to remember that not all backlinks are equal.

Your efforts should be focused on generating high-quality backlinks and niche content rather than taking every opportunity to generate incoming links.

Low-quality links, like those from web directories, may not move the needle on your SEO efforts.

Many types of backlinks, like spammy backlinks, can even harm your business.

What Are Spammy Links?

Also known as low-quality links, these backlinks appear on spam websites or websites with poor authority.

The Google Webmaster Guidelines warn against anything that could be considered a “link scheme.” A link scheme is any attempt to manipulate your search rankings using unnatural links.

As a result, you need to exercise caution when it comes to building backlinks. Choose a link building strategy that Google likes, and you should see success.

Low-quality links, spammy backlinks, and black hat SEO practices could harm your website and reputation, especially if you get a Google penalty.

What Is Black Hat SEO?

This is the practice of using SEO tactics that go against the guidelines of search engines to manipulate them into improving a website’s rankings. Some examples include:

👎 Keyword stuffing.

👎 Cloaking.

👎 Engaging in private link networks.

What Should You Look for in a Backlink?

Now that you know more about the importance of backlinks for SEO and how they can help you rank higher in search engine results, let’s unpack what you should look for when working to gain backlinks.

A good backlink is:

  • Natural: It appears in website content organically and is not part of a ploy to manipulate search engines into boosting your rankings.

  • Reputable: It appears on a trustworthy and authoritative website.

  • Highly relevant: The link appears on a website that is relevant to your niche, brand, and audience.

There are several other factors that you would want to consider too. We’ve even created a complete guide that tells you everything you need to know to find great sites (and avoid bad ones).

The most powerful links tend to be editorial links from high-authority publications. These links are natural, reputable, and highly relevant.

Consider top-tier websites like the New York Times (NYT) or the BBC, for example. These sites tick all the right boxes. They have high domain metrics, plenty of traffic, and they publish new, high-quality content every day.

However, it can be difficult to gain these types of backlinks. So, starting out with guest blogging, for example, is a great way to gain backlinks that are:

  • Relevant to your niche.

  • High-quality.

  • Authoritative.

  • Listed on websites with solid metrics like high domain authority.

Links that are less valuable include:

  • Directory websites: These sites don’t tend to publish their own content, often have low traffic, and they may let just about anyone create a profile.

  • Link farms: These are websites set up for the specific purpose of selling links. They sometimes have high domain authority, but they tend to have low traffic and poor content, and are easy to get links from if you’re happy to pay.

  • New websites: New websites tend to have little traffic and low domain metrics. Links from these sites aren’t as powerful as those from established sites. They may still be worth getting, as the link will grow in value as the site becomes established.

Unfortunately, most links don’t easily fit into these categories.

For example, links that appear in a blog post, on niche websites, or local news sites (which is great for local link building), and more can all benefit your site, even if they don’t have as much authority as a link from the NYT.

Also, just because a website charges for links, has high domain authority and low traffic, doesn’t automatically make them a link farm.

Other Relevant Factors

The authority of the website you get the link from isn't the only factor to consider. Anchor text and the type of link you gain also contribute to how well your site ranks.

Anchor text

Anchor text is the text in the article that the link is attached to. Google’s algorithm uses this to decipher what the page is about.

If the link is attached to the text “best smartphones,” Google can see the content is about the best smartphones.

You can’t control anchor text when people link to your site organically. But if you write a guest post or use niche edits, you will have some control over your anchor text.

Some best practices when it comes to anchor text include:

  • Not over-optimizing your link text with keywords. They should appear natural.

  • Being clear and descriptive.

  • Making the link relevant to the surrounding text.

  • Varying the keywords in your anchor text.

Use this guide to learn everything you need to know about creating powerful and effective anchor text.

Follow vs. nofollow links

Another important factor is whether the link is follow or nofollow.

Nofollow links are those that the website owner has told Google’s algorithm not to crawl. This makes them less valuable than dofollow links.

Can You Rank in Google Without Backlinks?

You can rank on Google without building backlinks. But you’ll typically struggle to rank for anything other than low competition terms.

And these terms are low competition for a reason.

They tend to have either:

  • Low search volume: Meaning they don’t generate much traffic.

  • Low value: Meaning that even if they bring in traffic, the visitors are hard to monetize.

If you plan to target this type of term, you won’t necessarily need backlinks.

But if you want to rank for more competitive terms, you'll battle to do so without some form of backlinking in your SEO strategy.

Improved SEO Is Not Guaranteed

Google undoubtedly uses a website’s backlink profile as part of its ranking algorithm. While it is an important ranking factor, it isn’t the only ranking factor.

No one knows every factor that the Google algorithm considers. Depending on who you ask, there could be over 200 aspects that Google looks for.

However, most people agree that all the following aspects will affect your ranking:

  • Links.

  • Content.

  • Search intent.

  • On-page experience.

To rank, you need to ensure that your website ticks all (or most of) these boxes, not just the one for backlinks.

Think about these questions:

Does your page match searcher intent?

Search intent is arguably one of the most important ranking factors.

Google wants to provide the most relevant pages for any given search term.

If your page doesn't include the information the searcher is looking for, it is very unlikely to rank—no matter how many backlinks it has.

When creating content, you must consider whether your page contains information someone searching for your target term or keyword will find useful.

For example, by including guides, how-tos and advice on your website pertaining to your target keyword, it’s more likely that Google will show your website in search results.

Here you can see that guides and explainers are the top-ranking pages for our search:

Google SERPs

The good news is that discovering search intent is quite straightforward. Simply search for your term on Google to see what the search engine already shows for the query.

Use these pages as the basis for your own content.

Is your web page optimized?

You should also optimize your content for the search term you’re targeting.

Key optimization factors include:

👉 Using the correct keywords.

👉 Ensuring your content is the right length.

👉 Using the correct headings.

👉 Publishing high-quality content.

SEO tools like SurferSEO and Clearscope can help you optimize your content by making suggestions based on content that already ranks well.

Is the on-page experience good?

Google likes to promote sites that offer a good user experience. User experience can include things like the time it takes for your website to load and respond as well as how easy it is to navigate.

Google recently began using Core Web Vitals to measure the user experience a website offers.

Here’s a tweet from Google Search Advocate, John Mueller, confirming this:


Core Web Vitals uses a set of four tests that measure how quickly and consistently a web page loads.

It does this by tracking:

  • First Contentful Paint (FCP): How quickly the first content loads on screen.

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How quickly the main content on your site loads.

  • First Input Delay (FID): How long it takes from the user first interacting with your site to the browser responding.

  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): How much content on your page moves once it has loaded.

Google measures each of the above points and then gives your website a score out of 100. Anything over 90 is a great score.

If you combine great backlinks with the above three points, it won’t be long before your site ranks.

Wrapping up on the Importance of Backlinks for SEO

You now know that backlinks are one factor that is crucial to SEO success. And more importantly, you know what types of backlinks you should aim to place.

The next piece of the puzzle is going out and building backlinks. This is where we can help.

Visit our website to learn more about our services and how we can help you gain the high-quality backlinks you need to rank well on search engines.