Are backlinks actually important for SEO?

Everybody wants to rank #1 for the target keyword. Misinformation about how search works are the reason why most sites don’t rank on page #1, let alone rank #1.

Most sites run after backlinks & ignore much more (probably the only) important aspects of online marketing – authority.

If you’ve ever tried to get traffic from a search engine, you’d know “authority” is a thing. Google released a full-fledged update (E-A-T) for this.

Backlinks are anyhow going to go obsolete (the way they’re used), but people won’t stop linking altogether.

To get evergreen organic traffic from search, you need to understand how search works. What role do backlinks play right now, what about the future?

If you simply switch focus from higher ranking to higher authority, building links will be so much more fruitful & relevant.

What you need is to understand how the role of backlinks will change in the future.

TL;DR & Summary

Backlinks are the doorway for search engines to discover more pages. They’re misunderstood as something else.

This post is for you if you too spend time and energy building links. Most people don’t build links to build authority, they build only to rank higher. Sure, you might rank once, but you will also fear losing those links to someone more convincing. Algorithm updates also might give you nightmares.

If you’re building links, you should focus on building them to get discovered by crawlers & more people looking for quality content. Not for higher ranks, not for traffic.

But Google has gone on record to claim that Backlinks are bound to lose significance. Backlinks will not die but will lose the importance it has right now.

So why build links after all?

Here are 3 simple reasons to build links not for better rankings

  1. Search engines use backlinks to discover new pages
  2. People will always need originally researched resources to prove their point
  3. Promote yourself. Because nobody else is gonna do that for you

Why most of your pages don’t have traffic, despite building links?

Ahrefs have found that 91% of pages don’t get any traffic from Google. These include several pages with a ton of backlinks.

  • Those pages build irrelevant links
  • Those pages don’t satisfy the search intent
  • Those pages have poor site loading speed
  • Those pages focus on building links rather than serving people

Despite all the spam & noise, backlinks still play a significant role in determining the value of a page. 

Google even internally tested a version of the algorithm that doesn’t rely on backlinks to rank. It evidently failed.

Backlinks are that grey area of the search algorithm where they can be used as a spam & trust factor at the same time.

So, what’s the proper purpose to build links? Why are backlinks essential (but not the way you think) for SEO? 

Let’s explore how backlinks help you with SEO (or it seems to?)

#1 Backlinks help search engines to discover your pages

Backlinks will always remain the #1 source to discover pages. Web crawlers will always run around the web to find new pages to index. When people link to your pages, the web crawler will also find them.

Search algorithms will figure out a way to find the trust factor of your pages, but backlinks will be the way it finds your pages.

You should know how search works to effectively use (or not) backlinks. 

There are 3 major components of a search engine. Crawler, Index & algorithm. The crawler finds new pages (or updates) & saves a cached copy in the index (database). 

When searched, the algorithm finds pages from the index, ranked based on several factors.

The only logical way to use backlinks is to discover pages. Pages that have more links don’t necessarily rank higher by default.

Correlation isn’t causation.

Here’s a keywords report from Ubersuggest as proof.

Shubham Davey shows data that more backlinks don't mean that you'd rank higher.

What do you see here? More backlinks to wpastra should help the site rank #1, right? It evidently doesn’t. That’s not how backlinks work for search engines.

#2 Better discoverability with originally researched content

Create original content, like this study by ahrefs I linked to. This is the right way to build links without even lifting a finger. No one reached out to me to link to this page. I have linked it in so many of my blogs (obviously relevant) to make a point.

That’s the whole purpose of backlinks. Trust.

#3 Backlinks promote you while you’re asleep

The whole point of organic traffic is evergreen promotion & traffic from search engines. Even when you’re asleep.

Backlinks are agents of promotions. When done right they will promote your business while you’re asleep. 

When you create original content you’re creating a longer runway for the chances of getting backlinks to take off.

Many people believe using AI content generation tools & premium SEO plugins can help you create better content. That’s true & false at the same time.

No tool can help you if you don’t have clarity about the target audience & their intent.

When you do, you’ll definitely find these tools pretty much useless.

It’s not that AI content generation tools are outright pointless. Use these tools to take inspiration. 

Your brain can’t come up with great ideas all the time. These tools can.

Content generation tools, along with your own experience & research will help you create content that is link-worthy.

The right way to build backlinks

When you think of a link, picture how people would talk about you with others. It’s best when it’s natural. 

You can’t force people to talk about you, even if you do, it is lifeless & it shows.

The more you shout to gain attention (in terms of backlinks) the less you’ll get.

The best way to build links is to participate in a community and answer questions that people post.

Don’t comment on links to their questions, answer their questions and a small fraction of those people will check out your profile.

That’s where they will discover links to your pages & might as well link to those pages.

When you take this route, you can’t be sure if people will link to you.

But, the same thing happens when you spam. To make it worse, you’re more likely to get banned for spamming. Why bother doing it anyway?

If you don’t spam & add value, you’re seen as a person of authority. Which is exactly what Google is looking for when ranking. Here’s a video from Matt Cutts saying the same.

You wouldn’t link to garbage (linking out doesn’t help in any way with SEO), why would others do?

So, how to backlinks you can build the right way? Let’s find out now.

How to carry out competitive research to get backlinks?

There are several tools (and fake services) that help you with links. These tools will only land you in trouble or simply loot money. 

Backlinks are tokens of trust, and trust is not for sale anywhere on the planet.

Nobody knows if you rank higher because of backlinks or if you get backlinks because you rank higher.

Shubham Davey shows how ranking higher & getting more backlinks is a vicious circle. You rank higher & then you get more backlinks. You get more backlinks when you rank higher.
  1. Use tools like Ubersuggest, SEMrush, or Ahrefs to extract backlinks profiles of a domain/URL
  2. Pick pages you already have published on your site
  3. Export the list of URLs that people are linking to your competitor’s pages
  4. Reach out to the concerned person of those sites.
  5. Make sure you genuinely have a better page that they already have linked to
  6. Request to link to your page. That’s it

You can also build links using HARO. Here’s how.

We know you’d still have several questions. Check out the FAQs we’ve gathered from the web for your reference.


#1 What are backlinks?

When a page links to your page (usually to extend value) it’s called a backlink. Search engines use backlinks to determine the trust factor. More links mean more trust. However, people started focusing on links than creating trustworthy content.

#2 What are the types of backlinks? What’s the difference?

There are two types of links in terms of SEO. Do-Follow & No-Follow. Former means the linking page will pass PageRank to the linked page. the latter won’t. Both have their own pros & cons which are subjective.

#3 What makes a good backlink?

Backlinks are crucial for getting discovered by search engines & hence the search. There are four factors that make a good link.

  • Relevance
  • Authority
  • Traffic
  • Natural

#4 Do backlinks help SEO?

Yes, it does. But not the way everybody does. Most people center the whole content marketing strategy around backlinks. 

They misunderstand backlinks as the only way to rank higher, hence traffic from search. 

Search engines are moving towards using backlinks only to discover new pages & not as a token of trust. 

Since search engines can make more sense of the content now, they can find relevant sources to determine if the author is trustworthy or not.

#5 Do backlinks increase traffic?

If done right, backlinks can increase traffic to your pages. It’s more subjective than this. 

When a page you get a backlink from also ranks higher in search, you can get a piece of their traffic. 

But if you link to an irrelevant & page that doesn’t get traffic, you too won’t get either.

#6 How many backlinks are good for SEO?

There’s no magical number. You don’t need to focus on the number of links but on the quality of links that you get. 

Make sure the links you build are relevant, authoritative, & natural.

#7 Which backlinks should be avoided?

Links from irrelevant, spammy sites should be avoided at all costs.

Some spammy site owners will link to your site just so that search engines would crawl their pages (which otherwise won’t happen).

Remove those links manually if the site owners don’t remove the links themselves.

#8 Can backlinks hurt SEO?

Only if you use it to spam the already noisy web. If you indulge in link exchange schemes or don’t abide by the link guidelines, your pages will end up being delisted from the index.

#9 Does Google still use backlinks?

All search engines will always use backlinks. But the way it uses will change. Since people are misusing the concept of backlinks, search engines have stopped ranking only based on backlinks.

#10 What’s the best strategy to build backlinks

Creating link-worthy content & reaching out to site owners who link to your competitor’s pages seems to be the best way to build links. 

Moving forward, see backlinks as a way for search engines to discover your pages. Nothing more.

#11 What are some Backlink checker tools (Free & Paid)

  • Ubersuggest
  • Ahrefs
  • Semrush