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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Schuller

To Link or Not to Link


There are two main ways of looking at Search Engine Optimization. The first is to follow what Google says it is looking for and follow the advice sporadically from people within Google. The second is to listen to Google and do exactly the opposite of what they say. Many SEOs feel that Google sends out a lot of misinformation or just flat-out lies about its infamous search algorithm.

As a web developer, I do not consider myself an SEO. I would love to get through a week without saying “SEO,” but parts of web development fall squarely in the SEO category.

SEO often comes up when I talk to clients about building a website. I tell clients that doing the proper “on-page SEO” is a part of properly configuring a website.  I also tell clients that I do not handle “off-page SEO.”

What is Off-Site SEO?

Off-page SEO, also known as off-site SEO, refers to the actions taken outside of your own website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs). One of the more popular aspects of off-site SEO is backlinks.

Backlinks, also known as "inbound links" or "incoming links," are links from one website to a page on another website. Backlinks are considered good for a website since if someone is taking the time to link to another site, that site must have something interesting to link to. It is considered validation by search engines that your site has value. The whole point of Google’s algorithm is to give preferential treatment to websites that have value.

If you are at an event or an online forum with SEOs and want to start a brawl, tell them backlinks have no value, then sit back and watch the fireworks. It can be fun.

Do Backlinks Have Value?

The short answer is “Yes.” How much value do they have? Well, this is where the fireworks come from. As far back as 2020, representatives from Google have said that, while important, backlinks do not have the value or impact they had years ago.  As recently as a few days before this post was written (April 2024), an SEO on the Reddit SEO subreddit still claimed that backlinks were the most important part of SEO.

To say they are the most important thing is just silly. If you look at any respectable website that discusses the top trends in SEO, backlinks rarely make the top 10, and when they do, they are much further down the list than they were five years ago.

That said, backlinks still do have value. However, which ones have value has changed over time.

What makes a good link?

  • Quality of the Linking Site: A backlink from a site recognized as high-authority and relevant to your industry will have a stronger impact than a link from a small, obscure website.

  • Relevance: Links from websites in the same industry or niche as yours are more beneficial because they are considered more relevant. For instance, a link from a leading technology blog would be more valuable to a tech startup than a link from a fashion blog.

  • Link Anchor Text: This is the clickable text in a hyperlink. SEO best practices suggest that anchor text should be relevant to the page you're linking to rather than generic text. The right anchor text can boost the link's SEO value, provided it is used naturally and not over-optimized.

  • DoFollow vs. NoFollow: Links can be tagged as "nofollow," which instructs search engines to ignore the link in terms of passing on any SEO value to the linked site. Typically, "dofollow" links are more valuable because they pass on link equity.

  • Placement: Links prominently placed on a page, such as in the main body text, are likely more valuable than links buried in the footer or sidebar.

  • Number of Links: A page with a few outbound links may pass more value per link than a page with many outbound links. Also, obtaining multiple backlinks from a single domain has diminishing returns; it's generally more beneficial to have backlinks from various domains.

Most importantly…

  • Backlinks Should Be Organic: Backlinks must be acquired naturally rather than through manipulative tactics such as purchasing links or participating in link farms. Organic backlinks are given voluntarily because of the quality of the content or the website's reputation, and they are more valuable in the eyes of search engines.

The Use of Private Blogger Networks (PBNs)

Private Blogger Networks (PBNs) are collections of websites created or acquired to generate backlinks to a target website, thereby attempting to manipulate search engine rankings. These networks are often composed of expired domains that still carry SEO value due to their existing backlinks. The use of PBNs is highly controversial and is widely considered a black-hat SEO tactic — that is, a method that violates search engine guidelines.

Google, in particular, has a very negative view of PBNs. The company's algorithms and manual review teams are constantly evolving to detect better and penalize sites that use such networks. Google's Webmaster Guidelines explicitly discourage the use of link schemes, which include the creation of PBNs, as they aim to inflate a site's ranking through deceptive means. Penalties for using PBNs can be severe, ranging from significant drops in ranking to complete removal of the site from Google's search index. Google's stance is clear: it promotes organic SEO practices and natural link-building instead of manipulative techniques that can degrade the quality of search results for users.

How Boxer Media Handles SEO

As a web developer, I have successfully utilized standard “on-page SEO” tactics for myself and my clients.  These on-page items include:

  • Title Tags: Each page should have a unique and descriptive title tag that includes the main keywords for which the page should rank.

  • Meta Descriptions: Provide clear and enticing meta descriptions for each page. These descriptions should include relevant keywords and encourage users to click through from search engine results pages.

  • Header Tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.): Organize content effectively using header tags. The H1 tag is crucial as it typically reflects the main page title and should include the primary keyword.

  • URL Structure: URLs should be short, readable, and include relevant keywords. A well-structured URL gives users and search engines a clear idea of what the page is about.

  • Alt Text for Images: Enhance the SEO value of images by using alt text that describes the image content and includes relevant keywords where appropriate.

  • Internal Linking: Use internal links to help search engines understand your site's structure and distribute page authority and ranking power throughout the site.

  • Content Quality: Publish high-quality, original content that addresses the needs of your audience. The content should be informative and relevant to the keywords you wish to rank for.

  • Keyword Optimization: Carefully optimize content with relevant keywords without overstuffing. Keywords should appear naturally in the text, titles, headers, and meta descriptions.

  • Mobile Responsiveness: Ensure your site is fully responsive and provides a good user experience on mobile devices. Mobile-friendliness is a significant ranking factor.

  • Page Speed: Optimize page loading times, as speed is a known ranking factor. Faster websites provide a better user experience.

  • Schema Markup (Structured Data): Implement schema markup to help search engines understand the context of your content. This can also enable rich snippets in search results, potentially increasing click-through rates. Schema can describe various types of information like products, reviews, events, and more, making your pages appear more prominently in SERPs.

When a website is complete, I submit it directly to the Google Search Console to ensure it is properly indexed. As part of this, sitemaps are uploaded to the search console, giving the search engine a complete view of the website, including pages and blog posts.

When asked if I handle SEO, I tell people I do so as part of properly configuring the website. While things like backlinks still have value, they are not nearly as important as they were in the past. I do not handle this area of SEO, nor do I recommend that people purchase links. Most of the time, the links you purchase will do your website more harm than good in the long run.

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