Have you ever had someone say to you that they’ve had a sudden decrease in rankings on their website? Everyone wants to rank on the first page for certain keywords on the search engine results page (SERP), and if you’ve been there before, you’ll realize how impactful this is on traffic and revenue coming through to your website.
There are various reasons why this could happen, more commonly because of the use of low-quality or bad backlinks which can be considered as spam. These low-quality links are usually caused by website owners purchasing backlinks for their website. If you consider the amount of time, effort and money people have to make to build website traffic, a sudden negative impact due to poor backlinks is known to disrupt the operation of their business, both mentally and financially for that matter.
Before we get started, we’re going to mention a great tool we like to use to monitor the performance of our website called Moz. You can also download their browser extension here which makes it easier to analyse your domain. What this will do is provide a score for your domain, and you will receive a score for DA, PA and it will give you a spam score as well.
PA & DA stand for Page Authority and Domain Authority, respectively. These are numeric metrics which are both scored out of 100. Quite often, they are used to see how search engines see the strength of backlinks by a particular URL. However, Google does not use PA or DA as ranking methods. From this information though, you can think of Moz as a third-party metrics to get an idea of what your PageRank might look like.
There are similar link-graph metrics from other third-party tools as well such as:
- Ahrefs DR & UR
- Domain Rating & URL Rating
- Majestics TF & CF
- TrustFlow & CitationFlow
Which ones should you use? Well, it all comes down to personal preference. Some SEO’s use these metrics, some don’t trust link-graph metrics at all or think they’re useless.
Personally, we prefer Ahrefs & Majestic metrics as we’ve worked at a web-host previously and got a taste for the scale of different bots in practice. Moz doesn’t actually crawl that much. Ahrefs & Majestic have a much larger crawl infrastructure, so I would trust them more… But again, the choice is down to you!
You can read more about Link Building on one of our previous posts here.
So, what are backlinks anyway?
Backlinks are links from one website to another website. Google and other search engines consider backlinks as a vote of authenticity. Basically, if another website links to you, it means that website is giving you a ‘vote of trust’. If you have thousands of backlinks linking to your website, this ‘could’ increase the worth of the page in the eyes of any search engine. One thing you have to understand though is that a few backlinks from reputable websites are going to be worth a lot more than several links from unreputable sites. How can we determine if a site is reputable? Well as we mentioned before, we can use certain tools to get an idea of how ‘worthy’ a backlink is.
Let’s look at Facebook for example:
Facebook, at the time of writing, has a PA of 100 (perfecto!), DA of 96, 1,601,867,432 backlinks, and only a spam score of 1%. Pretty incredible right?
Since the advent of the search engines and the rise of Google, backlinks have remained instrumental in ranking the website. Despite regular changes in the search engine algorithms, experts still regard the number of quality backlinks as one of the most important factors of any website.
That being said, how did backlinks become of such great importance for a website? It wasn’t always like this but here is a bit of history of backlinks.
History of Backlinks
Once upon a time ago, search engines such as AskJeeves, Yahoo, AOL, Excite amongst a few others dominated the search landscape. For this reason, developers of search engines were always trying to find a way in which they could rank websites based on the quality of information that appeared on that website. In the beginning, search engines started by ranking websites based on the number of keywords for the particular website.
In these golden days, whenever somebody searched for something, the top-ranking web page on search engines would be pages that had the most relevant keywords to that particular keyword search. Let’s say you were to search for ‘Website Design’, this would normally rank a web page based on the number of keywords for Web Design and similar terms for a particular page. What was the issue? Well, this method of ranking led developers to do things such as ‘keyword stuffing’. What this means is that a lot of people would then stuff their website with hundreds of keywords on every page of their website just to gain priority (or even a top-ranking) on search engines for a particular search term. What this meant was that a lot of low-quality websites would start appearing quite highly ranked up even if the website wasn’t even about that given topic, crazy right?
Not only that, but to keep the look and feel of a web site, people were actually hiding these keywords, placing them off then screen (let’s say like 9999px to the left) just to get a higher ranking and increased web traffic.
This is when Google first came into the spotlight back in 1998. Their objective was to change how the information is presented to the user in search listings. Over time, Google started putting more emphasis on backlinks instead of keywords. Why? Well, there were obviously some flaws before and it’s not quite as easy to ask other website owners to link to a particular page on your website; because of this, the number of backlinks was a preferred method over keywords and other factors.
It was a very wise thing to do: if you look at big companies such as Apple, Amazon, CNN, and so on, they all had one major thing in common. They had thousands of backlinks. For Google, this was an awesome start as people were then shown information from authority websites that had more relevant information based on their search terms.
Over time, people were also finding ‘hacks’ to gain a higher ranking. This resulted in business owners purchasing backlinks from companies that could sell them in bulk and given more emphasis on keywords (with a link to their website) that people wanted to rank for. As a result of this, it once again became possible to climb up the search engine ladder and reaching the top page once again quite easily.
This obviously challenged Google to address another problem. What they did to tackle this was that they started blacklisting websites, decreasing their rank, or in more severe situations, just outright blocking the website. This meant a lot of websites suddenly noticed a massive decrease in their rankings.
For some websites, it meant losing thousands of pounds of revenue for just a single day’s operation. For others, it meant restarting their journey from the ground up again. Even today, Google and other prominent search engines are proactively changing their search algorithms to stop website owners from dodging the system.
To get a better idea of how you can rank for SEO these days, you should check out this blog post: The 4 best SEO practices for 2020 and beyond.
So, should I buy Backlinks?
Well, since Google and many other search engines now put a huge emphasis on backlinks, it’s quite obvious that many website owners will feel pressured into buying them.
They continue to buy them because it saves a lot of time and helps them get results faster. But there is a problem here…
Google and other search engines will eventually catch on to this, which can lead to their website becoming penalised which can even lead to established websites becoming bankrupt because of this.
Google does have some clear guidelines regarding link-building schemes. These guidelines are regularly published by SEO companies and experts who try to steer people away from buying backlinks. Unfortunately, some website owners don’t take any notice of this, assuming it’s just a quick and easy (lazy) way of attracting customers to their website.
What you should look into prior to this is having a look at what Google says about buying backlinks (aka; link schemes):
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links, or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.
Funnily enough, one of the first things Google mentions in its guidelines is related to link schemes and how it prohibits the buying and selling of backlinks. Exchanging money for links and generating excessive link exchanges where other sites link to others in an excessive manner is banned by Google. Should they discover that you have bought links, it WILL severely penalise your website without any given reason. Google is very clever, don’t underestimate their power.
If this does happen to you, you’ll be stuck in a pretty sticky predicament: you will be left without anywhere to go. The only thing you can do is to contact Google using their webmaster tool and hope that there will be a reply. While Google is not known for replying to such queries, consider yourself lucky if your website is restored at a later stage… very lucky indeed!
Don’t just take our word for it though, a quick Google search will tell you that most people lose their minds trying to recover from such a situation. The most practical way of recovering from this is to remove the ‘bad links’, which will ultimately restore the website a lot quicker. If you don’t have access to websites to remove such links, you should consider using Google’s Disavow Links Tool. What this does is allow publishers to tell Google that they don’t want certain links from external sites to be considered as part of Google’s system of counting links to rank web sites. It can take some time to recover, but this tool can be very useful. We spoke about Moz earlier and how they provide a spam score by a percentage. With this tool, you can actually see which links are considered spam. From this, we can include such links into our Disavow tool to regain the desired 0% spam score.
To get a general idea of how impactful search engines like Google take automated backlinks into account, they actually initiate nearly 400,000 manual actions every month. Besides the manual actions, thousands of websites are often hit by Google algorithm updates, which are specifically designed to stop low-quality websites from popping up in the search radar.
What can we take from this? Well, for any website owner, it is clear that search engines are actively monitoring low-quality backlinks and spam issues, so you always need to be very careful! Buying backlinks is an easy strategy, but is it worth the risk? Definitely not.
Here are some truths about Backlinks…
Google and other search engines DO NOT promote link building. If you’re quite new to the wonderful world of SEO, this surely might sound confusing or contradictive as backlinking is widely used to promote the SEO of your website.
Despite what Google suggests, SEO experts have proven that backlinks are a huge factor in terms of higher page rank. Over time, this fact has been proven on a variety of occasions. For this reason, if someone tells you that link building is not important, they probably don’t have a clue what they are talking about.
Nothing against Google, and if the truth were told, if I were one of Google’s executives or the owner of an emerging search engine, I would probably do the same. After all, there are reasons to continue focusing on all aspects of your website, which DO include high-quality backlinks.
What should we focus on then?
High Quality Backlinks
Backlinks are not always ‘equal’. What we mean here is that there are high-quality backlinks and low-quality. A high-quality backlink is most likely a link from an authoritative and legitimate website. However, a low-quality backlink is generally one from a low ranked website, a spam website, or a link exchange.
What we mean here is that you should not simply focus on the total number of backlinks you have, but instead, focus on the overall quality of backlinks you have. For example, we would rather have 10 quality backlinks (where the PA and DA are very high), than 200 low-quality backlinks from unreputable or spammy websites. In fact, these low-quality backlinks can actually lower your overall ranking on SERP’s.
Let’s cover: Do Follow vs. No Follow Links
What is a do follow link?
A do follow Link is a hyperlink that is able to tell all search engines to pass along its page rank influence to an outbound link.
What is a no follow link?
A no follow link is exactly the opposite of a do follow link. It is a hyperlink that removes the ability to pass on its page rank status to other sites.
Before we begin setting up a link building campaign, it’s very important to understand the difference between a follow and a no follow link.
A history of backlinks suggests that a “do follow” link is the most important type of link because it will count towards the authority of your website. On the other side, search engines will only give link juice to a “do follow” link. For this reason, if you have let’s say; 100 links that have a “do follow” attribute, search engines will count all of those 100 links towards the ranking of that particular page. However, if you have backlinks with a “no follow” attribute, it will simply ignore or give very little juice to an external website. You can read more about this from Neil Patel on his blog post: Should You Waste Time and Money on Nofollow Links? Here’s a Final Answer. When it comes to SEO, he’s the guru, we 100% recommend subscribing to his mail list, you will gather so much knowledge on SEO it’s unreal.
Anyway, the “no follow” attribute was originally introduced to reduce spam. How? Well, before lots of people were deliberately leaving links on Wiki pages, and high valued forums that quite often pointed to low-quality websites. These links did not help the web site owners because you could literally go to a lot of websites and add a backlink to your own website.
The solution to this was creating the ‘no follow’ attribute. You can read more about this here. These days, most websites such as Wikipedia, forums, and any commenting system will only allow “no follow” links that do not count as votes. As a result, it helps fight spam.
If these “no follow” links don’t count towards the ranking of a website, then what’s the point in building such links right?
While “no follow” links may not count as a vote, it can definitely get you a lot of traffic if placed on an authoritative website. With the passage of time, hundreds of these no follow links can build a regular stream of referral traffic that will continue non-stop. It means that you will not need to put any effort after placing the link because the link will bring automatic traffic to your website.
In the end, it always helps to build a mix of no follow and do follow links. Even when you’re using an SEO professional to rank your website, ask them if they know about the proportion of do follow vs. no follow links.
We have discovered now how search engines have evolved over time. In the olden days, we could rank for websites using a variety of keywords to gain traffic, stuff pages with thousands of keywords, and gain a load of traffic. Well, we can’t do that anymore, search engines have evolved and we now know that we can get severely penalised for using such techniques. This can go the same way with buying backlinks… If you get caught, you will get penalised, it’s as simple as that. There are cases where people have been fortunate to get away with it and even try and find loopholes around this to make it safer, we won’t mention these techniques but you have to ask yourself the question: Is it worth it?
For us, we’re pretty happy gaining backlinks from websites we build (i.e. by adding Developed by Silva Web Designs in the footer) and if anyone mentions one of our articles in their blog posts, then awesome! We tend to concentrate on several other SEO techniques as well. We won’t list them all but this includes SEO best practices, like only having one
h1 tag per page, optimising all images and improving the page speed which can be checked using tools such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights or another one we like to use; GTMetrix.
There are other ways to gain traffic depending on your budget as well such as Google Ads. How this works is like an auction system: Google Ads, aka Google AdWords, is Google’s advertising system in which advertisers bid on certain keywords in order for their clickable ads to appear in Google’s search results. Since advertisers have to pay for these clicks, this is how Google makes money from search. Not only Google of course, but generating traffic to your website may also gain revenue, so if the ROI (return of investment) is worth it, it’s definitely a great tool to use.
If you have any questions in regards to this article, feel free to get in touch or leave a comment below.