Are Backlinks Still Important for SEO in 2021? The Truth!


Backlinks are still important for SEO performance because they are the foundation of Google’s original PageRank algorithm. There have been countless independent studies in the SEO industry proving the impact of backlinks on organic search performance.

Now here’s the cool part:

We’ve gathered all of these industry studies in one spot for you.

Let’s dive in.

Proof That Backlinks Are Still Important

1. Powerful Sites = Better SEO Performance

Look through any Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and you’ll see one thing in common:

Search engines like Google love authority sites.

“Authority” in this case is defined as having a number of links from trustworthy sites. And there is overwhelming data to support this idea.

Backlinko studied 11.8 million Google search engine results and found that:

“A site’s overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs Domain Rating) strongly correlates with higher search engine rankings.” – Backlinko

Image Credit: Backlinko

SEMRush conducted a 2.0 version of their ranking factors study and found that:

“The more backlinks a domain has, the higher is its position on the SERP.” – SEMRush

Image Source: SEMRush.com

To solidify this point even further, Rankings.io conducted a ranking factor study in the personal injury sector and found similar results. They said:

“While the number of referring domains per page appears not to influence rankings, the overall number of referring domains for the domain was a top indicator of overall domain traffic.” – Rankings.io

Let’s start by saying that “Domain Rating” is not a metric that search engines use.

It’s a third party metric created by Ahrefs.

It’s not complete, but it’s a useful gauge for anyone doing SEO.

In short, your goal should be to increase your DR (Domain Rating).

Moz also has its metric for measuring the strength of one website.

It’s called DA (Domain Authority).

You can also look at the Majestic SEO Trust Flow metric as a way of gauging site strength.

Your goal should be to grow these metrics. The stronger your website is, the better it will rank in search engines.

You get the point by now. The data supports the idea that you need to work super hard to get more links to your site. That is how you grow your website authority.

But you must also acquire website links to the actual pages you want to rank on search engines like Google.

Here’s the data to support that:

2. Powerful Pages = Better SEO Performance

It’s possible for a page to rank without a number of backlinks hitting it directly. That’s what happens when your site has established authority.

For example, when Forbes publishes a new article, they often rank on the first page (without any direct links).

That said, Forbes is the exception. Most sites will need direct links to SEO-driven pages.

Here is data from Ahrefs to support this idea:

“The more backlinks a page has, the more organic traffic it gets from Google.” – Ahrefs

Image Credit: Ahrefs

“Only one in every ~20 pages without backlinks has traffic… and the majority of these get 300 organic visits or less each month.” – Ahrefs

This data point is easy to take out of context. Why?

Because it didn’t specify the quality of links. There are many pages online that have a large number of backlinks, but they have terrible search engine performance.

That’s because their backlinks are low-quality.

Remember:

The goal is to get backlinks from QUALITY sites.

Reread that ten times.

There is no nuance more critical.

Have no standards, and you will pay the price.

3. Better SEO Performance = More Backlinks

The rich get richer in SEO. Meaning, the better your SEO performance, the more links you’ll acquire. I call this “The Snowball Effect.”

Backlinko’s study proved this be true:

“The #1 result in Google search has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10.” – Backlinko

Ahrefs found similar results:

“Top-ranking pages do tend to acquire more backlinks (and at a faster pace) than the pages that rank below them.” – Ahrefs

And SEMrush’s study agreed as well:

“The higher the domain’s position on the SERP, the more referring domains it has.” – SEMRush

In short, once you achieve high rankings, you’ll start to get organic links. As a result, your page strengthens and will often solidify your positions.

Keep in mind that the exception to this rule is with competitive keywords.

Here’s the truth:

Having more inbound links isn’t enough to maintain rankings for competitive SERPs.

You also have to keep your page updated and fresh.

For example, a powerful page with stale content likely won’t maintain rankings.

In short, don’t get complacent once you start ranking.

You have to battle to keep those rankings. That means consistent link growth and fresh content.

4. Your Website Needs Vote (Backlink) Diversity

“The number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings.” – Backlinko

You should aim to get links from many different trustworthy sites in your industry. If we equate links to votes, this makes perfect sense.

Many votes (backlinks) from different sources are more valuable than many votes from one source.

It’s hard to measure, but there are likely diminishing returns from getting links from the same website.

Now would it hurt to get several links from The Washington Post? No way.

Let’s say you had the choice between two links from The Washington Post or one link from fifteen different DR 20 blogs in your industry.

What would you pick?

Here’s a comparison:

The Washington Post has 730,000 referring domains.

And this example, DR 24 blog, Retailbound.com has 80 referring domains.

So let’s assume that most sites around 20 DR have ~100 referring domains. That means that 15 DR 20 sites equate to 1,500 referring domains total.

730,000 vs 1,500.

Let’s assume there is a 50% reduction of strength for the second link from The Washington Post. That’s still the strength of 365,000 domains.

Keep reducing it further, and it will continue to crush 15 links from DR 20 sites.

I barely passed Algebra II, but the math is clear here:

Getting several links from one authoritative website is better than getting a bunch of weak links.

That said, it’s not always that simple, and that’s by design!

Getting links from The Washington Post is difficult, so you don’t need to worry about getting too many.

5. Most Pages Don’t Get (Deserve) Backlinks

“66.31% of pages don’t have even a single backlink.” – Ahrefs

“94% of all blog posts have zero external links.” – Backlinko

Most pages aren’t worth linking to, so this makes perfect sense. Also, most sites aren’t engaging in link building campaigns.

The whole “build it, and they will come” mentality doesn’t work well with SEO.

You need to build and then spend 80% of your time link building. It gets easier over time.

Start Getting More Backlinks

You now know that backlinks are important for SEO. But the question is: how do you get more backlinks?

Check out these resources to get started:

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