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What are Backlinks for SEO? Buyer Beware!

Search Engine Optimization January 23rd, 2014


From time to time I ask my colleagues what it is they’d like me to blog about. When I asked one of experienced sales executives Michael, he let me in on something that a lot of people ask us about: “backlinks.”

It seems the term “backlinks” is thrown around a lot and it is the answer a lot questions people have about SEO. Questions such as:

Customer asks: How do websites get ranked on Google?

Says the shady SEO: Well, you need backlinks.

Customer asks: How many backlinks does it take to get ranked on Google?

Says the shady SEO: You need a lot of steady backlinks with strong anchor text built by an SEO expert.

Customer asks: How do you build backlinks?

Says the shady SEO: Silence.

Actually, anyone who does black hat SEO can talk their way around this question FOR ONE REASON: their service is CHEAP and there is not much perceived risk on the buyer’s part.

To accompany this blog, I made a short video to explain backlinks a little bit further.

If we look at the above conversation, the idea of backlinks = SEO sure does simplify the process and makes it easily digestible for the less-than-savvy customer. There’s no doubt that people still search for backlink related terms:



So what’s there to lose right? He says he has proven results; after he did tell you he got the keyword “shipping container” ranked #1… how you even know that it’s his site? (shipping container this is just a made up example).

You might even think to yourself “even if this guy is full of crap why not try out his cheap method? Then, if it doesn’t work, try working with someone who charges more?”

Well, what the $200 / month SEO won’t tell you is that your site may get better rankings or it may be penalized / de-indexed, never to be found on Google again.

There are a many fatal flaws when we only think about backlinks

Related Posts: 
Have social shares overtaken backlinks as a ranking factor?
One Powerful Combination: Social Media Links And SEO

The “all about backlinks” mentality and its fatal flaw:

Allow me to pose this idea to you. If an SEO’s only skill is creating backlinks and no web design, no programming, no writing skills, then that would make a pretty low barrier to entry for a lot of people. And that’s exactly what SEO was like for many years. Lots of people starting companies with little else to do other than to click a button on a piece of software and get backlinks.

And what was the result? Much lower quality search results for all of us and short-term rankings for people who bought backlinks. Google has gotten much better at cleaning up low-quality search results; how often do you click to page 2 anymore, a 2013 study noted only 8% of people click to page 2.

This means that Google is getting better at fighting spam and that users are generally get what they want in a couple of clicks.

Google has fought really hard to keep spammers from winning, but their effects and way of talking about SEO remained pervasive.

It also doesn’t look like Google doesn’t has any issues promoting cheap backlinks on AdWords. Irony much? See Ads below…


When people are still buying Google AdWords for a term like “how to get backlinks,” you know there’s still a market for it. Sidenote, the second company Odesk is a huge offshore operation counts Facebook among their clients.

Set it and forget it

Google Keyword Planner shows us that there is still world wide demand for software that can automatically create backlinks for you.

Google even auto suggests searches that might be helpful to people searching for backlink tools/services. Again, irony?


Not all backlinks are created equal

Sites like OpenSiteExplorer.org let you see the Domain Authority of links. The higher the Domain Authority, the more valuable the link.

There was a time when all backlinks were created equal. Frankly, Google was not smart enough to separate the spam from the a truly good link, say… CNN.com vs. radomuniversity.edu.

All that has changed: 

Examples of bad backlinks

1) Comment Spam

The following is typical piece of comment spam, i.e. weak, anchor-text “optimized” backlink which someone left on our blog…

Note that the wording is very general and that it could relate to an blog. It’s also very poorly worded which is typical of low-quality comment spam.

This kind of backlink can also be automated.

2) Blog Spam

If you have a blog that allows guests to register, often times you’ll see people try to inject posts.

Here is an excerpt from the post. Notice the “auto insurance companies” backlink.

The above link is a very spammy link to an unnamed company.

There are many other types of backlink spam, some more include:

  • Link networks
  • Aggressive exact match anchor text
  • Backlinks on irrelevant sites
  • Low-quality directories
  • Forum spam
  • Link injections
  • Followed advertising
  • Any automated link submissions
  • Any links done without the site owner’s consent

Bottom line, if an SEO company promises to get you backlinks in order to boost your rankings ask them how they will do it. If your sales representative doesn’t know themselves, ask them to get an answer for you! Just today we had one of our sales executives Tom asked us for the latest on our off-page / link building strategy. We provided a rundown of our service and as a result he’s better equipped to talk to prospects.

I hope that I have demystified backlinks for you and helped you understand why they are not “the answer” to good rankings. In my next post I’m going show you some ethical ways of link building and getting backlinks. Hint, it’s not about exact-match anchor text or spreading massive amounts of links around the web. It’s more about content! Until then, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me or anyone at TechWyse. Cheers!


Post By Steve Toth (143 Posts)

Steve is an industry recognized SEO expert who has been published in Moz. He is an audiophile and loves all things internet marketing. Steve enjoys working on the conceptual side of SEO.


Steve is an industry recognized SEO expert who has been published in Moz. He is an audiophile and loves all things internet marketing. Steve enjoys working on the conceptual side of SEO.
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What are Backlinks for SEO? Buyer Beware!

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