SEO Basics: Why Do Links Matter for SEO?

Hi everybody and welcome to Rapid Immersion, where we discuss questions and topic areas within your digital marketing ecosystem.

This week “SEO Basics: Why Do Links Matter for SEO?”

If you’re new to the world of SEO and are exploring the topic of link building or link acquisition, or if you’ve been doing SEO for quite some time and are looking for a quick refresher, this video is for you.

To start out, let’s clarify what a link is in the context we’re talking about today, as it’s always good to review the fundamentals. A link, also commonly called a ‘backlink’, ‘inbound link’ or inward link’, is an incoming hyperlink from one web page to another website.

For example: if you have a website, let’s call it yourwebsite.com, and I have a website, reefdigital.com.au, and I decide to place a link to yourwebsite.com on reefdigital.com.au for our visitors to visit you with, you have a received a link. Generally speaking, this would be good news for you as your website now has extra exposure and will start receiving visitors who have been referred from Reef. Beyond this, though, the presence of this link can also benefit your rankings in search results, leading to even more visitors finding your site.

But why does the presence of this link impact your SEO? The best answer starts with exploring how search engines use and depend on links to function. To explain, let’s look at the big picture of what a search engine does:

  1. Navigates or ‘crawls’ the web to discover content
  2. Indexes this content in large databases
  3. Calculates the relevancy and meaning of this content
  4. Ranks the content versus other items available
  5. Serves us results in milliseconds, when we request it by performing a search

As the internet is a big and ever changing place, search engines need a lot computing power matched with smart software to do these 5 tasks on a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week basis. And as the scope of the challenge is way beyond what a person or team of people could do manually, the engineers at search engines have looked to develop machine learning methods to keep up. One way they’ve done this is by using algorithms. An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations and problem-solving situations. These algorithms are at the very heart of what makes a search engine good or bad at answering our queries.

In the early days of the web, search engines used links as a primary method of discovering new content. The search engine did this by starting at one site, say the New York Times, then following each link it encountered as it navigated through. The search engine software, often called a bot or spider, would travel from link to link to link, finding new information to serve up for searchers. Back then, if you had a website and wanted it to appear in search engines, you needed to be linked to from a website a search engine knew about, or you’d risk never being found.

For Google, links play a particularly important role in their story. Beyond using links to discover content, the founders of Google made two observations that would go on to establish their search engine as the best on the market:

  1. Online, some web pages have far more links than others, and
  2. These frequently linked to pages tend to be superior resources

This thinking was simple but revolutionary: links provide a strong signal about the value of a webpage. A link from one website to another could be likened to an endorsement or ‘vote’ for that website, from an SEO perspective. And as Google was already crawling the web at length to discover content, it was able to easily see which pages were the most linked to so could then prioritise that content for a person searching. Brilliant!

Fast forward to today and search engine algorithms are now better than ever at measuring links and assigning ranking power on a case by case basis. Now, one link can be worth several hundred, or even several thousand, times the value of another, so modern SEO practitioners are tasked with identifying and earning links that search engines regard the most, which is what makes SEO as much an art as it is a science.

That about wraps up this introduction to why links matter for SEO. In the next video, we’ll be going into more detail about how to evaluate the SEO value of a link on a case by case basis, so you can inspect the links to your own site or to that of a competitor and better understand why a particular web page is or isn’t ranking. In the text accompanying this post, you’ll also find links to some of our favourite tools to help you with this analysis.

Thank you very much and all the best for now.

Further reading on  measuring the quality of links:

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