Building a strong link profile has become a cornerstone of effective SEO.
Top-ranking Google employees and industry studies have confirmed the importance of links pointing to your site.
But if only it were as simple as gathering thousands of backlinks using any tactic possible. Unfortunately, not all backlinks are created equal.
The complexity of link-building strategies has inspired a lot of debate amongst the SEO community because the stakes are so high. Make the wrong assumptions or listen to bad advice; you could get a slap on the wrist from Google. Bad link building can earn you a manual penalty and send your hard-earned rankings and organic traffic levels into freefall.
So, how can you sort the facts from the fiction when designing and implementing your own link-building strategy?
Why is link building important?
While Google has been pretty vague about the exact components of a backlink strategy that count as ranking signals and how they are weighted, there’s no doubt that a strong link profile is essential to successful SEO.
Prominent SEO experts and providers in the industry have conducted large studies and analyses to try and determine:
- What a good backlink profile looks like
- Where should backlinks be sourced from
- How Google determines the quality of an individual link and an overall link profile
The results have been conclusive in some cases, but many of the details remain somewhat dubious.
For example, there’s absolutely no doubt that backlink volume is important. A study by Backlinko found that the top-ranking Google result has 3.8x more backlinks on average than the rest of the first page results.
Similarly, backlinks from websites with high Domain Authority (DA) provide more SEO “juice” than those with lower DA scores.
But what about things like the anchor text you use for backlinks? Or what distribution of branded versus non-branded links should you have? Do “no-follow” links provide any SEO value?
This is where things get a little murkier.
Luckily, some fundamental best practices you can follow when it comes to link building will always steer you right.
But first, it’s important to determine whether common, sweeping statements about backlinks are true or false.
Top Backlink Myths: Fact or Fiction?
1. Link building is the most important SEO activity you can do
For some SEO experts, backlinks are essential; without them, you will never rank.
There is some truth to this, but it comes with a major caveat: no SEO tactics operate in a vacuum. Your overall SEO results will always be a combination of efforts.
You can have the best content, but you will struggle to rank if your site has zero backlinks. On the flip side, you can focus your efforts on building backlinks, but if you build little or poor-quality content, your results will be minimal.
How you weigh the importance of each activity within your SEO strategy comes down to the competitive landscape in your niche and what your top SERP competitors are doing.
2. You must get links from websites with high Domain Authority
One aspect of ranking signals such as Domain Authority that’s rarely mentioned is that they’re all made up. Although they’re pretty tried and tested at this stage, the fact remains that website authority scores are brought to us by third-party providers, not by Google itself.
The quality of websites you get your backlinks should definitely not be ignored. Google has made it clear that tons of links from low-quality, spam websites will not improve your SEO and could actually harm it.
So, in the absence of an authority metric provided by Google, it’s definitely preferable to make backlinks from websites with higher domain authority than yours the priority.
3. Link volume is the most important factor in your backlink profile
How many backlinks does your website need to start ranking and reach the top of the SERP?
You’ll see lots of confident statements in answer to this question. Some marketers say that around 300 links are the minimum you need to start ranking. Others say you can easily rank for “low-hanging fruit” keywords with great content and just a few backlinks.
When it comes down to it, the answer is: the more, the merrier.
But remember that not all backlinks hold the same weight. It’s far better to have one backlink from a high-quality website relevant to your site’s content than 100 low-quality links.
So, no—link volume is not the most important factor of your backlink profile, but it is a factor. You should put quality over quantity, but the quantity definitely helps.
4. If you build it, they will come
Many people operate under the assumption that if they create amazing content, the backlinks will start to roll in organically.
Authoritative, high-quality content is indeed more likely to earn backlinks. And you will start to earn plenty of organic backlinks as you climb up the SERP.
But the reality is that organic backlinks are not likely to accrue at a fast pace. Building the requisite number and quality links will require significant effort and focus if you have specific SEO goals in mind.
For example, 25% of marketers say they spend between $10,000 and $25,000 on link building per month.
Whether it’s through cold outreach, guest posting or paying directly for link acquisition, seeing results from a link-building strategy requires investment. Expecting to gain backlinks simply by posting great content isn’t going to work – at least, not quickly.
5. Your anchor text must have keywords
One of the fiercest debates that rage within the link-building conversation is the use of anchor text.
Most SEO experts generally accept that a mix of keyword and branded anchor text and a sprinkling of naked links leads to a healthy backlink profile. But this isn’t always true when it comes to keyword anchor text, especially if your keywords are used unnaturally.
Prolific use of unnatural anchor text in your backlinks can actually result in a penalty from Google. However, regularly linking to your homepage using branded anchor text is a great way to build up your trust signals for Google’s algorithms.
6. Only “do-follow” backlinks count towards your SEO efforts
This is another catch-all statement that isn’t factual. Google has given every indication that no-follow links have been gaining an increasing amount of SEO juice as the algorithm has undergone changes.
The search engine totally ignored no-follow links until a change was made in 2019. Now, Google does recognize no-follow links that are “useful.” Although there hasn’t been a lot of clarification from Google as to what level of SEO juice a “useful” no-follow link passes on, here is what Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison had to say on Twitter in June 2022:
“In the past…we just wouldn’t use the links at all. The change meant we’d consider them if there was some usefulness to be found, though the hint means [we] aren’t likely to give them as much, if any, weight.”
Ultimately, Google wants to credit websites that behave as “human-like” or natural as possible. A mixture of no-follow and do-follow links signals that your backlink profile is organic and that other websites link to you under various conditions.
So, while no-follow links are not something you might actively hunt down, there are certainly only benefits to be had from the presence of no-follow links in your overall profile.
7. Building backlinks too quickly will make Google suspicious
Once again, the speed at which you build backlinks depends entirely on the quality of the links.
For example, let’s say you publish an article on your website that quickly gains traction and goes viral. Naturally, you might gain a ton of backlinks overnight. This scenario won’t cause any harm to your organic rankings.
In contrast, imagine you pay $500 to a known link farm to quickly generate a large number of backlinks. These links are probably from poor-quality websites. There is every chance this tactic could harm your SEO efforts.
Why? Because Google’s algorithms are advanced enough to understand the difference.
The first scenario is the result of publishing high-quality content that has resonated with a large audience. People are linking back to your article because it’s valuable and worthy of a backlink.
The second scenario is an obvious and dubious attempt to bypass the effort of creating high-quality content and gaining backlinks as quickly as possible.
If you’re building 1,000 backlinks overnight from a link farm, this could get you penalized—not because you built them quickly but because the source is spammy.
But if you’re working hard to build good backlinks from relevant, quality sites, you shouldn’t fear how quickly you do it.
Keep it natural and Organic
SEO is a complex game, so it’s not surprising that marketing professionals want black-and-white answers to their link-building questions. However, Google rarely provides more than hints and high-level guidance.
The best route to take when it comes to link building is to focus on quality over quantity. As long as your backlink profile looks organic, you can avoid penalties and focus on building authoritative, high-quality content.