SEO: building backlinks doesn't work

by Tim Hill (aka Doodled)

April 19th 2011
Links to your website only have a limited impact if the search engines do not understand the site itself
Links to your website only have a limited impact if the search engines do not understand the site itself

Shock and gasp, “building backlinks doesn't work?”

Well in some situations no. Here I'm covering one of the most common issues my clients talk to me about - “I built lots of backlinks (not spammy ones) but my website still doesn't show high up in Google”

Now sometimes this is because they are chasing a keyword dominated by heavyweight companies employing a full-time SEO team but more often it is because their own website is flawed.

Search Engines like Google are looking for two pieces which will fit together. They want to say:

  • "I can clearly see when I crawl this website that it is about subject X" (this is done through on page SEO)
  • and"I can see when I crawl the rest of the internet that other people also believe this website is about subject X so this confirms what I found on my visit" (this can happen naturally or through off-page SEO)
  • therefore "If a user searches for Subject X I will show this website in my results because that is my job". - Bingo!
    • This can be demonstrated graphically and I'll use an example of a website that wants to rank well for the phrase "refurbished laptops".

      A typical SEO story

      It's extremely common for the owner of a business to hire a webmaster that can build a pretty, pretty website but the same person is rarely versed in SEO. The result is this:

      How search engines see a website that has not had proper on-page SEO

      More often than not the next step is for the owner to start link building because that is what everyone tells him to do. He might spend hours doing it himself or pay another company to carry out the work but the end result is this:

      How search engines see a website that has not had proper on-page SEO but has a healthy number of links pointing to it

      Motivated by the 'slight' result there is an obsession to keep building links 24/7/365 because it does get an improvement in the websites performance, albeit a small one. Black Hat SEO (buying links, spamming forums) seems tempting even though it could get the website banned. Black hat free progress can be seen like this:

      How search engines see a website that has not had proper on-page SEO but has a large number of links pointing to it

      One day, when link building exhaustion sets in (!) they will hire a real SEO company to sort out why a website with buckets of links does not show up anywhere near the top of the search engine results.

      The SEO company takes the critical step of making our 'refurbished laptops' website understandable to Google and others:

      How search engines see a website that has had proper on-page SEO and has a number of relevant, quality links pointing to it

      Only now does all that link building work actually pay off in full because the two parts of the Search Engine jigsaw puzzle come together.

      They understand what the website is about and this is confirmed by other links around the internet.

      To find out what is involved in on page SEO visit our page on Planning SEO