Understanding Links Through Google’s Eyes

Cover Photo - Understanding Links Through Google’s Eyes

Link building has always been an integral part of almost all SEO’s foundational strategy. However, as the years went by, understanding which links are “good” or “high quality” for Google has been skewed by the different ways we’ve come up with to build them. In a recent Google Webmasters hangouts, John Mueller talks about what exactly is a “good” link and how webmasters can get them. Let’s find out!

What is a Good Backlink?

Screenshot of Google Webmasters Hangouts

Among all the questions that were asked in the webmaster hangouts like “Google really cares about natural links, is that correct?”  the answer to this is a resounding yes but the webmaster asked a very good follow-up question: 

“…could I get an example, of say, what a good link would be then?”

It’s a simple question but it’s a very good one as well because this helps SEOs and webmasters find out what exactly is a good link in Google’s standards. John Mueller answer is:

“A good link – so I mean the traditional good link is someone who comes across your website and thinks it’s a fantastic website and recommends it to other people with a link.”

That’s it. That’s the most traditional and simplistic answer Google could give. But not a lot of SEOs know this fact and make a complicated guess on what “good” links are. They take data and metrics such as PA/DA, Pagerank, Dofollow/Nofollow, etc. These are all important metrics for explaining the intricacies of a “good” link, but John Mueller’s answer is really the best response Google could give.

How to Build Natural and Good Backlinks 

He goes on to expound on the importance of self-promotion and he understandably empathizes with SEOs and webmasters with how difficult link building can be. He acknowledges that in order to get a link from other websites, there has to be some degree of self-promotion since people will not link to your website if they don’t know it. So, John Mueller is telling us that you won’t get anywhere if you don’t promote or, at the very least, make an effort to make your website known to the right people.

The webmaster asked another great question about how to “naturally” build links. This has been a problem for most SEOs because somewhere along the way of improving SEO, building “natural” links have been lost in translation and were misunderstood by a part of the community. Here’s what the webmaster asked:

“It seems like it would be a rarity. I’ve never really engaged in proactive link building, but I honestly feel like we’ve kind of fallen behind because of that. I think other websites maybe in the niche have a lot more inbound links, and I’m not sure whether they’re actively reaching out to other webmasters, “Hey, can you link to us?”

I’m not sure –  I should really do some more research on that but I think, for some reason, there’s an importance there, right?”

John Mueller acknowledges that there certain difficulties with promoting your site, and sometimes, there are ways wherein it does seem spammy. His complete answer:

“I think it’s tricky because on the one hand it is sometimes useful to reach out to people and say like, “Hey, look at my website, it’s like you have a great website, I have a great website, take a look at my content, our content kind of aligns –  maybe you’d be able to recommend my content if you like it as well.

I mean there are different ways of framing that, there are lots of really, kind of, more spammy ways of doing it, like you mentioned, like people just saying, well, look I have this web page that matches five keywords on your other web page; can you link to it?” Like, that’s not really that useful.”

Links Are Not the Only Factors

A question that’s been on my mind for a long time now is how Google ranks websites that are within a niche that’s very hard to build links in. We have to remember that there are niches that are easy to build links in, i.e. SEO industry. But when it comes to specialized industries that not a lot of people know of, i.e. Plastic Injection Molding industry, there aren’t a lot of websites that could give you a relevant, natural, high-quality backlink. So how does Google deal with this? Here’s John Mueller’s answer:

“The other thing to keep in mind is we use a lot of different things for ranking and it’s not just links. So especially if you’re active in an area where people tend not to link a lot, that’s something that the other competitors have to work with as well and where we do try to pick up other signals to see like this is actually a pretty good website.”

We can’t really be sure what he refers to as “other signals”, but it is an interesting point of reference that if a website is involved in a specific, small industry, Google uses other signals to understand and rank these websites – not just links.

He goes on to explain that links are important in the initial phase of finding and indexing a website since they use it to navigate through websites and find high-quality, useful content. But once they’ve started indexing and crawling a pretty good site, the links are downgraded to a not-so critical factor anymore. 

This is interesting since we can all say that links are one of the most important factors for SEO, and if they’re not critical after the indexation of websites, then building high-quality backlinks regularly isn’t a necessity anymore. However, I still believe that things like link velocity, high-quality links, broken link building, etc. are still important tasks that all SEOs should do to have a website that will rank on the 1st page of Google for the long-term.

Key Takeaway

There’s a certain degree of difficulty in building backlinks and Google acknowledges that. Links are still important, but this does not totally and holistically define the quality of a website – especially if they’re in a specialized, small niche/industry. I suggest you regularly watch or even participate in Google Webmaster Hangouts since it’s an important source of information that directly from Google. Do you have any questions about link building? Here are some resources to help you:

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Sean Si

About Sean

is a Filipino motivational speaker and a Leadership Speaker in the Philippines. He is the head honcho and editor-in-chief of SEO Hacker. He does SEO Services for companies in the Philippines and Abroad. Connect with him at Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out his new project, Aquascape Philippines.