It Is Absolutely That High-Quality Content Needs Backlinks to Rank Well


After doing my own SEO for the past couple years, it's abundantly clear that backlinks far outweigh "fresh, unique content" for ranking well.

I run my own web design business on the side. The goal was to rank on the first page, top 3 for 'my city + web design'.

I soaked in as much as I could, learned along the way and applied everything I'd learned:
• Did the keyword research and competitor research.
• Built a website that is extremely fast (reflects on Page Speed Insights) and has crazy good Lighthouse scores.
• On page SEO is on point.
• Mobile-friendly of course.
• Lastly created unique content weekly that my audience would care to read about.

When I started (submitted my new site to Google), page 18.

After a couple months of not getting any backlinks at all and had about 10-12 articles, I was on page 15 or 16.

It wasn't until I started getting backlinks from bigger (from social media profiles, local citation building like Yelp, etc), where I started to notice a HUGE difference.

After getting those easy backlinks, and about a year and a half later – here I am now, page 1 – fluctuating between spot 5 and 8. I've maybe added 3 more articles during that time, that's it.

Here's the kicker though – the websites that rank between spot 1 and spot 4 on the first page of Google and have since I started this, have thousands of backlinks from the footer on websites they've built for their clients.
That's it. The put "designed by X", where X is the link to their sites on client website footers. Each of their client websites could have hundreds of pages each, so that's tens of thousands of backlinks.

And guess what? That's all they have. That's literally how they're ranking.
• They don't have a blog. Literally none of them have a blog. So none of them are producing 'fresh, unique content' at all.
• Each has 10-15 pages on their site all together. One site has like 80 city pages, where they took literally the exact content, switched out the cities for each page and that was that.
• And each website's performance on Page Speed and Lighthouse is absolute garbage.

Yet, they're all ranking only because they have footer backlinks from client sites.

I kind of feel like I was lied to. "Just make unique, great content". Yeah – that got me nowhere. Backlinks instead pushed me up, and quite evidently pushed my competition up as well, cause they have shit for content.

So.. since it takes years to get a ton of new clients and subsequently tons of footer links pointing back to my site, I'm just going through web design directories and local directories, filling out my profile and putting a link back to my site.

If anyone has any other suggestions how I can get backlinks for my web design biz, that'd be amazing.

From the sounds of your business (smallish, local) backlinks are likely a much more important indicator for Google because they indicate a certain level of status or trustworthiness. Quality content can be great for driving traffic for the specific page/topic it talks about, but backlinks will boost your authority at the domain level.

At a certain point tho, backlinks have diminishing returns imo. I work on a large, well-known brand and we couldn't give two shits about backlinks. Acquiring more would likely have slim to no impact on us.

That being said I don't see why "quality content" and "aquiring backlinks" have to be mutually exclusive strategies. Content creation can be an excellent way to acquire more backlinks, especially if you utilize outreach.

Side note: Curious to see what others say about the footer links you're competitors are getting. My initial impression is that it seems spammy but you make a convincing case.
That's not all your competitors have. Google measures more than just backlinks and content. It potentially measures domain age, mentions (with no link), user engagement, social signals, Google My Biz (GMB) location proximity, age of GMB location, internal links, word count, reviews, Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords, keyword variations etc.

You creating random blog posts isn't going to make you rank for you "keyword city" search term. You create blog posts for either educational purposes or to rank for a low competition longtail keyword you researched.

You could have gotten top 5 through Google seeing that you've consistently updated and added content for over 1 year, still been in business, have gotten some mentions and backlinks, engagement, reviews, a GMB location etc etc. They see you're still in business.

Of course the algorithm isn't going to rank your website 6 months to 1 year in for a competitive city keyword. Or else that would be easily gameable.

I know people ranking top 5 for competitive keywords with no backlink effort.

I just got mentions on Yahoo News and other big sites. No change in rankings and its been a week+, and Google has crawled those new pages.


I just got mentions on Yahoo News and other big sites. No change in rankings and its been a week+, and Google has crawled those new pages.

With all due respect, you even mention the many different factors above. a week +? It takes a lot of computing to do all of the above, so it will most likely take longer before something happens :-)

Yea that's true, hopefully it helps :) I've been working hard on backlinks and mentions, even though I'm not as strong a believer as many here.
Sure I hope it will help you too.

Backlinks have nothing to do with believes my friend. Backlinks are one of the few official ranking factors, so we are certain that Google uses them. The discussion is more around how and what they look at when they use backlinks to rank pages.
I just recently built a brand-new website about 2weeks ago for a local contractor client & it's already ranking in Google & Alexa (top 80k in US) so far & growing. Btw, he has gained 2 clients & one B2B lead within the last week. I only charged him $350usd for the website & so far he's up ($20k+); all without any Backlinks, just content targeting local areas.❤

It's funny, because I researched services for local small unclaimed residential areas that businesses are not targeting & BOOM! Minimum, but SUCCESS is SUCCESS!
Awesome, congrats to your customer!

Do a site: of the top Search Engine Result Page (SERP) for both niche ecosystems and calculate the difference in needed crawls to cover it.

There is a difference, which you have pointed out yourself, "not targeting", that means that there is not a big competition going on for that niche (not that many pages to be crawled and computed), and the fact it is local also means it doesn't necessarily have to compare it with national wide sites (again less computation) :-)

I agree good content that answers questions that people are looking for is important but backlink are more important. Backlinks from domains with with authority show Google your content is worthwhile. A backlink from The New York Times is was better than a backlink from a local directory.
SEO isn't this simple. Google is looking at hundreds, maybe thousands, of factors. Both content and links are super important. As a local business, Google My Biz (GMB), local citations, and reviews are probably huge factors for you too.

This post makes it seem like you wrote a bunch of pages on your site, but you were only worried about one keyword? If so, you may have cannibalized your results. Or were the pages all targeting different keywords and you thought that would boost one specific page that was targeting your main keyword? If so, that isn't likely to work (although linking those pages with good anchor text to the main page may help).

Also, it often takes 8-12 months to rank optimally, especially for brand new sites. So maybe you just needed to age in.

If you aren't already, I would recommend you try to promote your web design business in other ways too besides just waiting for organic. Those things often work complementary to your SEO efforts.
Content may be king for some keyword, I'm cleaning myself boss image, he went to jail, and I'm erasing all the news about him in the first page of Google, it's been almost 3 months and I'm almost done with it. At the beginning the 20 first Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) were news about him going to jail, right now there's only one article on the first page. How am I doing it? 2 things: • First I created a blog about his business field with a lot of quality content and links to his business and his personal website that doesn't seem to be working that well. • Second I started to create a lot of blogs on blogger about him and 2 people that are called like him, I linked them to each other and to the target websites, I copy and paste the content and it seems like it's helping a lot to pages that got the link. The blogs themselves don't seem to be getting traffic at all, but it doesn't look like it matter. My boss name key word has 50M SERPs and there is a lot of newspaper with high authority on the domain. So I think that links are important
Either way, it's necessary to keep on producing new content that is relevant for the audience because lets be real, you can create a finite amount of back links but eventually you'll run out of sites to link to (quality domains) and one algorithm update and your rankings will start to tremble.
Using social media platforms can still be used to point out the blogs and they have a higher chance of getting shared as well which in return will get your website traffic.
That could be a fluke, right?

Also, Google doesn't define "unique, great content". Many people say that they "create unique, great content" but they don't. Search engines can't identify the uniqueness of content.

From our SEO users experience there is no a linear correlation between backlinks and organic traffic. Some pages drive relevant, valuable traffic without backlinks or social media sharing. Despite backlinks, social media sharing some pages don't drive traffic.

Also, from our SEO users experience, many sites don't need a blog to be ranked well. In many cases sites needn't tons words on pages.

But we all know that is the stupidest fight ever! Well, we'll have to agree to disagree.
Whereas conversely our business has recently acquired a smaller company within our niche that was ranking in the top 1-5 spots for searches within our industry with no backlink budget/time investment at all. Everything was done with content.

Backlinks are still important, easily as important as content, but in my experience a lot of people simply aren't great at writing copy that is relevant to user intent or think that "10-15" articles will magically mean SEO value.

I've also often thought that backlinks are easier to acquire if you have something worthwhile for people to link to in the first place. Content is about more than simple SEO value, it's a vital part in explaining what you site is for, engaging users and day-to-day usage/conversions.

As others have said, SEO is a complex beast, but it's also a function of marketing. If you aren't thinking about what your site is for and what it wants to achieve and aren't factoring that into your SEO strategy, you're doing it wrong.
Not all SEO is universally applicable.

Publishing content is a long game. Backlinks are much more effective in the short run.

Here's the secret: EVERYTHING in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about click throughs, on-page interactions, and backlinks. Google doesn't really care that much about your keywords or any of that, the USER does. The USER is the one searching for your content and using the keywords to search for answers.

Google doesn't care if you publish an optimized informational article unless you are changing the game and providing new information in a better way. And why does this matter? Because there are USERS that are searching for answers that only you can provide.

You aren't going to overtake well-established articles with a lot of authority just because your content is slightly more optimized. However, if your content is that much better, one day it will, because the users will have better engagement metrics with your content over time.
Can definitely speak to this. I rent out ranked sites to local businesses and will specifically toss in links on my sites that are already ranked. I still hate on blog networks and find it kind of shitty (especially given how much work I put in early on to content creation and opt), but yeah, it does work. Since I own the sites, I have the authority to put the links in there – and I do my best to keep them out of the way. Since the sites are local, even just a couple decent backlinks will do wonders if there's not much competition in the area.

All the clients really care about is that they're getting leads from the site, so it works out. At least for the time being.
I worked at one of those places – constantly at #1, etc.

The secret is that, from the outside it really did look like all we did was those footer links, but in reality we had TONS of links from major websites that we worked hard for. Do-follow links from domains like google, Wikipedia, New York Times, etc.

Link building is the hardest part of the job, but it makes a huge difference.
I also do web design. I see clients websites start ranking for city name keywords with less than 10 total pages just by getting older. Most new websites won't rank for shit for at least 12 months. Domain registrations last a year so it would make sense that it would be safer to start giving credibility to a site year two on, it's less likely to be a spam domain or low quality once it's been online a full year. Domain age matters and IMO is one of the most important ranking factors.

I saw a study by I believe Ahrefs where they showed that the average age of a top spot website for competitive terms was 20-30 years old. Of course there are a lot of confounding variables when taking about domain age, but SEO is a long game.

The two other things I see as big factors assuming you have decent on site optimizations in place are number of unique referring domains and backlink velocity (how regularly you are acquiring new backlinks) this last one is where blogging can really help.

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