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Backlinks Aren't Dead: Truth About SEO and Backlinks




Despite ongoing debate about the importance of backlinks in modern SEO Strategy, a comprehensive new data study by Jim Boykin demonstrates that links remain a key ranking factor in 2024. By analyzing the backlink profiles of the top 10 ranking sites for 200 commercial-intent search queries, the researcher found that 96% of top-ranking websites have over 1,000 unique referring domains. This data provides compelling evidence that contrary to some beliefs, building a robust and diverse quality backlink profile is still essential for SEO success.

The Ongoing Debate Around Backlinks

In recent years, some within the SEO community have questioned whether backlinks are becoming a less important ranking signal compared to factors like content quality, user engagement metrics, brand signals, and technical on-page optimizations. Google representatives have made statements downplaying the significance of links, leading to speculation that their role in the algorithm is diminishing.

However, many seasoned SEO practitioners have long argued that external links remain fundamental, both as a direct ranking factor and as a means of driving referral traffic, increasing brand exposure, and indirectly boosting engagement signals. Boykin's study adds substantial data-based evidence to support this perspective.

Analyzing Backlinks of Top-Ranking Sites

To quantify the relationship between backlinks and rankings, Boykin selected a sample of 200 commercial transactional keywords across various industries. For each query, he scraped the top 10 organic search results and analyzed the backlink profile of each ranking URL.

The results show a clear correlation between rankings and referring domains:

  • 96% of ranking sites had at least 1,000 unique referring domains 

  • 62% had over 10,000 referring domains

  • Only one site in the top 10 results had fewer than 54 unique backlinks

On average, the websites studied had 42,000 referring domains. This high volume of links from diverse sources to top-ranking sites strongly indicates that backlinks remain a powerful ranking factor.

Quality and Relevance Matter

While Boykin's data demonstrates the importance of link quantity, it's critical to recognize that not all links are created equal. Ever since the launch of the Penguin algorithm, Google has worked to devalue artificial, spammy, and irrelevant links. 

To have a positive impact, links should ideally come from trustworthy, authoritative websites that are topically related to your domain. Natural links that are editorially placed within relevant content tend to pass the most "link equity" and have the greatest benefits for rankings.

Building links from diverse sources is also important, as having a backlink profile consisting primarily of links from a single domain or type of site can appear unnatural and may draw less weight in the algorithm. The top-ranked sites in the study had backlinks from thousands of unique domains, indicating the value of a varied linking strategy.

Limitations of the Study

While this study provides valuable insight into the current role of backlinks, it's important to acknowledge some limitations:

  • It only looked at commercial transactional keywords, so the findings may not translate to other query types like informational searches 

  • The analysis focused solely on quantitative link metrics and did not assess link quality factors

  • Results are a snapshot in time and may not reflect long-term trends if Google's algorithm evolves

Nonetheless, the large sample size and clear data trends make a compelling case that backlinks remain highly relevant in the current SEO landscape.

Adapting Your Link-Building Strategy

In light of this data, SEO practitioners should continue to prioritize link acquisition as a key tactic. However, strategic adjustments may be needed to account for modern realities:

1. Emphasize quality over quantity. While having a high volume of links is valuable, focusing on earning relevant links from authoritative, trusted websites is crucial.

2. Diversify your link profile. Rather than obtaining links from a narrow set of domains, aim to build links from a wide range of relevant, quality sites. 

3. Prioritize editorial links within content. Links placed naturally in the body of relevant content tend to pass the most equity.  Avoid artificial tactics like link exchanges or paid links.

4. Consider link intersection with other factors. The impact of a link may be strengthened by engagement and traffic from that referral source. Aim to get links from sites that can drive qualified traffic and engagement.

5. Take a holistic approach to SEO. While links are a key factor, they are not the only one. A well-rounded strategy that also prioritizes content quality, user experience, and technical SEO is ideal.

By adapting your link-building approach to focus on quality, diversity, and editorial relevance, you can construct a backlink profile that continues to be a powerful ranking driver even as Google's algorithm evolves. When combined with a comprehensive SEO strategy, strategic link acquisition positions your site for long-term success.

Conclusion

Boykin's data study provides convincing evidence that backlinks are far from dead as a ranking factor in 2024. With 96% of the top 10 ranking sites boasting over 1,000 referring domains, it's clear that building a strong backlink profile remains essential for SEO success.

While some in the industry have theorized that backlinks are diminishing in importance, this hard data tells a different story. As you plan your SEO strategy for the months and years ahead, acquiring quality, relevant links from authoritative websites should remain a key priority.

Want to capitalize on the power of backlinks to drive your SEO success in 2024? MacroHype team of link-building experts is here to help. We'll work with you to develop a strategy for earning high-quality, relevant links that boost your rankings, drive referral traffic, and increase your online visibility. Contact us today to learn more and request a free consultation - let's partner to take your organic search performance to new heights!

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