How Backlinks Affect Your Website’s SEO

Trying to keep up with the current best practices for SEO is a full time job in itself. It seems the strategies that help a website rank are constantly changing. Take backlinking, for example. For years, websites with the most backlinks could be found at the top of the search results for their targeted keywords. Website owners and search engine marketers spent a lot of time submitting their sites to web directories, article directories, and begging for links from other sites. Any site. The more links the better!

Google’s Advice About Backlinks

Today, backlinks can actually hurt your site if they’re not done correctly. In fact, Google’s webmaster trends analyst, John Mueller, has gone so far as to say we should avoid link building all together:

At the 55:40 mark of this Google+ hangout video, when a webmaster asked, “is link building in any way good?” John said he would “avoid it all together”.

He went on to say that Google does use links as part of the algorithm, but focusing on links alone is going to cause more problems for your website’s ranking than it would help. But backlinks do affect a website’s search ranking.

Search Results Test

Moz studied the top 50 Google search results for about 15,000 different, competitive keywords to figure out the relationship between the number of links a site has and the rank of the site. The study found the top search results had external backlinks: 99.2% of all websites found in the top results had at least one external link pointing to their site. Don’t believe the correlation between external links and search engine ranking? Try finding a website that ranks well in the search engines for a competitive search phrase that has no external links. We dare you.

External Links Lead to Higher Rankings

The Moz study proves that the more external links from unique websites a site has, the higher their search ranking tends to be. The study doesn’t investigate the type of links or the quality of the sites linking however, which is an important piece of backlinking that must be considered if you want your links to help your site rank.

Google has three choices when it finds a link pointing to your site. It can either:

  • Count the link and have it help your website rank
  • Ignore the link and not give it any weight for boosting or hurting your website rank
  • Penalize your site because it believes the link is manipulative

To play the linkbuilding game to your advantage and stay on Google’s good side, you should take a look at Google’s guidelines on manipulative link building, and learn what types of links to avoid.


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