SEO “Experts” Are Lying To You (About Backlinks)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

“For just $19.95, we offer hundreds of certified backlinks!”
“Quality backlinks for your site!”
“In just one week, we can make your site #1 in Google Searches!”

I see people ask, a lot, what the best WordPress plugin is to generate backlinks. And I always reply something like this: “The best way to get backlinks is to write good posts that people will link to and share.”

But what is a backlink anyway? As obvious as it sounds, a backlink is a link from someone else’s site back to yours. So when I say things like “Yoast’s explanation on how BlogPress SEO Plugin generates spam is an invaluable resource”, I’ve linked back to his site and made a backlink. If he has pings on, he’ll see my remark and link, and it’ll show up on his site in the comments section. 1 Backlinks, honest ones between two good sites, are great. I love getting linked to from CNN (it happened once) or other sites who like my writing. It’s a great compliment.

However, people seem to think that backlinks are going to ‘generate SEO.’ First off, they’re not using the words correctly. SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimization.’ My first grown-up job, where I wasn’t just fiddle-farting around on the computer, was to optimize meta-data for sites to get them ranked first on AltaVista, so yes, I do know what I’m talking about here. Due to that early work, I’ve got pretty awesome Google-Fu, because I used to spend hours going over the specs for search engines, and reading up on how they worked, what their algorithmic engines were, and how to get legitimately good results for my key words. I also learned what keywords are useless.

Back in the day, search engines would rate your site based solely on your self-contained content. One of the ways we would promote our sites would be to use hidden text or meta keywords that only the search engine would see. We’d list all the keywords related to our site about dog biscuits, and awesomely, we’d get rewarded. Naturally some people would shove totally irrelevant keywords in, to game the system for other searches. Which is why sometimes you’d search for ‘free range catnip’ and get a link for ‘wetriffs.com’ 2. Today, no search engine relies on keyword meta data because of that (though most sites still include it).

Nothing can ‘generate’ SEO, because by it’s nature, optimization isn’t something you generate. It’s something you can leverage and build on, but we don’t generate it. Backlinks are, certainly, a component in getting your site highly ranked on Google for your keywords, but you’re really not optimizing your site for backlinks by doing anything other than making good posts, if you think about it. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but your page rank (i.e. how cool Google thinks you are) is going to be build on a few things, and while backlinks are one of them, it’s not everything.

Here’s how you make a good site that’s highly ranked in Google:

  1. Write good content
  2. Include decent meta data in your site’s HTML 3
  3. Network with other (related) sites to share links
  4. Advertise

So why do people get all fired up about backlinks? Google themselves say:

Your site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity. 4

Sounds great, doesn’t it? If a lot of people link back to me, like WikiPedia, then my content is proven to be good, and I win! You knew it wasn’t that simple, right? Google’s smart. They actually care about the quality and relevance of people linking to you! Heck, Google actually agrees with me when we both say the best way to get a good page ranking is to make good content. More to the point, those get-backlink-quick tools are going to engage in what basically amounts to spam, which will adversely impact your page ranking.

Of course, there are good backlinks. Like mine to Yoast’s (not that he needs the ‘link juice’ 5). But the best way to get those is to get yourself known in your arena. People don’t link to new sites because they don’t know about them, so you need to get out there and get known. Talk to a site you admire (or people you admire) and ask them if they’ll read and review your site. Post your articles on twitter/facebook/digg/whatever and basically put in the sweat equity to make your site shine. And if that sounded like a lot of work for you, then you’re right. It is work. It’s hard work.

The obvious question now is that if these so-called experts are telling you that they can generate hundreds of backlinks, what are they actually doing? They’re ripping you off. There’s no automatic, auto-generated, way to create backlinks. So if someone tells you that they can do it for $19.95, they’re not lying, but they are cheating you out of money, and giving you something useless. If you’ve fallen for one of those scams, I’d cancel that credit card ASAP. I have a horror story about a guy who got scammed and then ripped off for a couple grand.

The lessons learned from this are pretty simple: There is no quick fix, no magic bullet, no perfect tool that will make you popular. You have to find your audience and pitch good content to them. You have to work hard and yes, this takes a lot of time and effort. Anyone who says differently is selling something. Of course, optimizing the hell out of your site (with caching software and minification and CDN) is a great thing to speed your site up, but at the end of the day, all advice in the world boils down to this: If there’s nothing here for people to read and find beneficial, your site is useless.

Before you get depressed and think there’s nothing you can do to improve your site, I refer back to Joost de Valk. When people tell me they’re an SEO expert, I compare their website and work to Yoast, because in my opinion, he’s the example of what an SEO expert looks like and he doesn’t call himself an expert. He says he’s a ‘SEO and online marketer.’ Sounds to me like a guy with his head on staight. Pretty much everyone else I ignore. And he’s written the Ultimate SEO Guide and it’s free for anyone to use.

SEO Folks I Would Hire (culled from my ‘Folks I’d Hire’ list):

Notes:

  1. I actually turn pings off, because of the high number of spammers and the low value it was giving me. If the only reason you’re linking to someone is to get the link BACK to your site, you’re doing something wrong, but that’s another blog post.
  2. Note: wetriffs.com is NOT SAFE FOR WORK!
  3. If you need help with that, check out Google’s page on Meta Tags.
  4. Link Schemes – Google.com
  5. The term ‘link juice’ is what we use to call the ‘value’ of a link coming back to our site. If I link to you, I give you ‘juice’ which boosts your page rank. In Yoast’s case, he doesn’t need any help, but I give it anyway.
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Comments

  1. Agreed 100%. I did some work with a friend of mine for a short time. He runs a small web design company, and he’s successful at it, but he really buys into the backlinking hype.

    It’s true what you and others like Yoast say – if you’re a blog, you should write interesting, quality content that people what to read. And if you’re a company selling a product, you should make a product that excites people so much that they want to talk about it on THEIR blogs and link back to your company’s site. That will take you much farther than submitting endless backlinks to link directories that nobody pays attention to except for other people trying to build backlinks.

    • A decade ago, those link directories were all the rage, and I remember finding them useful. Boy how things have changed! :lol:

    • Heh. Well, back when search engines were a lot weaker than they are now, it was helpful to have human-managed directories. Some were more inclusive than others, of course. At any rate, a simple Google search is generally faster and more helpful. :P

  2. My god, I wish I’d seen this one earlier!

    Remember when I said spending money to backlink was bad? This guy knows it first hand: Google Police Nabbed me for Paid Links

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