Inbound Links – More is Not Necessarily Better

Inbound links (IBLs) from other websites have been an important part of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) from the beginning.  A link to your website is like a vote for the content and information you provide.  For years many companies have devoted time, money, and resources to acquiring as many inbound links as possible.

I was recently onsite with a client and we were reviewing some competitive analysis around back-links and one of their competitors has nearly 10,000 inbound links. However their visibility and ranking in search engine results for both Google and Bing is significantly lower than the company who has the most visibility within their niche.

The company with the highest visibility in the market space I was evaluating has approximately 3,oo0 inbound links. My client wondered how the website with fewer inbound links was “beating” the company with three times the number of links.

For years many SEO companies have advised businesses to get as many inbound links from as many websites as possible, including paying for links.  This strategy may seem brilliant on the surface, but in reality it was never a sound approach.  The tactic put companies at risk by sending “votes” to a website from sources with content that was unrelated, irrelevant, and in the worst case scenario also poor quality.

Google and the other search engines have one goal and that is to serve the most relevant results based on the term the searcher entered in the search box.  In order to do this, they are constantly evaluating and updating the algorithms that determine what content is returned.  In April of 2012, Google introduced a major update to their algorithm (code name of Penguin).  The focus of the update was to decrease the visibility of websites that were violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which includes participating in link schemes.

Unfortunately many companies were poorly advised and unaware that they were participating in a black-hat SEO tactic and when the Penguin update was implemented they dropped from a top ten ranking position to nearly invisible.  Many companies were caught by surprise and are now struggling to find ways to undo the damage that was done as a result of the update.

The best and most effective linking strategy always has been and always will be to seek inbound traffic from highly relevant and authoritative sources.  One of the ways to achieve this is to create and maintain high quality and useful content on your website so that others in your niche will want to link to it from their websites, blogs, and other social networks.  Keep the content fresh and add new content on a regular basis to keep visitors coming back.

A lessor number of high quality inbound links will outperform a higher number of poor links and generate much better visibility in search engine results. When it comes to inbound links more is not necessarily better.

If your website was affected by the Penguin update, all is not lost.  Google has provided a way for you to disavow the poor quality  inbound links.

One of my colleagues put together a great video and introduction to the topic and the importance of disavowing inbound links.