Why Most Backlinks Are Worthless And More Questions Answered

Written On Day: 763

Somewhere in San Diego is a community college.   In that college are students taking a class about eCommerce and Dreamweaver.  Some of the students are looking at this website.  One of the students sent me an email with questions. 

They are good questions, here are the answers:

Question 1 – How Many Backlinks Do You Really Have?

In a blog entry you mention that you have 12 backlinks, but according to (some source) you have way more than that.  Why the discrepancy? 

Not all backlinks are created equal.  By checking my backlinks in Yahoo with  Yahoo Site Explorer I can see that this website has a total of 295 backlinks.  It seems like a lot, but in fact most of them are useless. 

When I leave a comment on another blog a backlink is created.  When I write a comment in a forum a backlink is created.  When I enter the website URL in stats guessing website like webtraffic24.com  a backlink is created.  Of course these kind of backlinks are worthless.

These backlinks might bring a few visitors who are interested in my comments on a blog or a forum but in terms of my search engine traffic they add no value.  They are worthless is because these are backlinks that I created myself with very little effort.  And if I create them myself with little effort so does everybody else for their websites. 

Backlinks worth is directly proportional to the difficulty of getting the backlink.  Imagine it this way:

  1. 2 websites start with 0 backlinks – Google views these websites as equal.
  2. Because it is easy the webmaster of each website leaves a comment on a Problogger post and creates a backlink.  Now both websites have 1 backlink each.  Google still views these websites as equal because they both have the same backlink, the backlinks cancel each other out.
  3. But then one of the webmasters spend a week writing a great post.  The content is so good that Oprah Winfrey links to the post.  This backlink has value because it a backlink that the other website does not have and cannot get easily.  Google will now view the website with the Oprah Winfrey backlink as the better website.

This is a simplified view but it makes the point.  For any backlink ask: how difficult is the backlink to get?  If it is easy to get then assume everybody has it also – so it cancels out and is worthless.  The valuable backlinks are those that few people have because they are difficult to get.  It is easy to write in your resume that you are a great person, but if you want your resume to stand out get a reference letter from Oprah Winfrey stating you are great person.

There are companies that offer 1000 backlinks for $9.99.  If it was really that easy this website would of been successful 2 years ago.  Why would anybody spend countless hours creating quality content for a single good backlinks if for $9.99 (you can make that flipping burgers for 1 hour) you can have 1000 backlinks.  The answer – the 1000 backlinks are worthless.

Yahoo states that this website have 295 backlinks – but 283 of them are backlinks that everybody else has.  The only good backlinks this website has are the ones I had to work for.  For example I currently have 9 backlinks from guest posts on other blogs and 3 from websites that backlink to this website because they think it is a great website.  These are the types of backlinks that matter and the only ones I care about.  That is why this website has only 12 backlinks.

Question 2 – How Do You Update All Those Webpages?

You have a lot of webpages.  It is a lot of work to do global updates on the entire website? 

By last count there are 64 webpages on this website.  Fortunately this website was created with Dreamweaver because without Dreamweaver making changes to the website would be nightmare.

With Dreamweaver I created a template page.  The template contains all the sections of the website that are identical on every page.  Every page on this website has the same layout, header, and main navigation.  So when I need to make a change to the header all I do is make the change in the template – as soon as I make the change on the template Dreamweaver makes sure the change is updated on every page.

Dreamweaver also keeps track of the internal links.  So if I rename a page, move a page, or delete a page, Dreamweaver lets me know that links will be effected and offers to make the appropriate updates to the links. 

For these two reasons alone I cannot imagine managing a large website without Dreamweaver (or any other website management software).

With a large website it is also mandatory to use CSS.  The look and feel of the entire website is managed from a single CSS file.  Simply by making a tiny change in this file I can change the appearance of the entire website.  For example, if I want to change the heading colors from green to blue then I update the ‘<h3>’ CSS value to blue.  Instantly by making that single change all the headings on the website will be blue.

CSS is a must.  Without it the website would be a total mess.  Without it, if I wanted to change the color of the heads I would need to update every page manually – not only would it take time, but I would certainly miss a couple pages.  After a few updates like this every page on the website would look different.  With CSS you ensure that every page looks the same. 

With Dreamweaver and CSS I can completely change the appearance of the website – new logo, font size, heading colors, background color, layout etc in 10 minutes.  The advantages of Dreamweaver and CSS far outweighs the drawback of having to spend the time to learn how to use them.  Time and money spent learning Dreamweaver and CSS is time and money well invested.

Question 3 – Do You Use A Programmer?

For the Problogger Comments analysis post – how did you gather all that data?

With this website I make almost enough money to buy a coffee in the morning.  Unfortunately my body requires that I provide it with more amenities then just coffee, so I have a day job.  My employer pays me for my programming abilities. 

For almost all cases, programming is not necessary to create a website.  But sometimes it comes in handy.  The Problogger analysis posts are a good example where programming skills was a good thing to have.

In the Problogger posts I went through all the commenters on Problogger and performed a statistical analysis on how commentors on Problogger improve their odds of succeeding simply by commenting.  I could of spent weeks going through all the comments cutting and pasting the commenters into a spreadsheet but that would of been insane.  Instead I wrote a little script that goes through the Problogger posts and gathered the information for me.  The script took 3 hours to write and ran for about 5 minutes.

Another example of using my programming abilities for this website is the money number on the main page.  As you might of noticed the main page has a big number that emerges when you load the page. 

How much money does this website make?

Although nobody has asked me how it works, I will tell you anyway.  In Photoshop I manually created an image for every number between 0 and 9.  For every number I created 15 shades ranging from black to barely visible.  In total there are (10*15) 150 individual images.  Then I wrote a script that takes a number, for example 806.69, and combines the individual images into a single animated gif.

Without programming the number on the main screen would not exist, the traffic and revenue graphs would not exist, the Problogger posts would not exist, and my day job would be flipping burgers at McDonald’s. 

All these things are possible without programming – every couple weeks I could spend Saturday manually creating the number and the graphs.  And on Sunday I can cut the lawn with scissors. 

Fortunately you do not need to be a programmer if you need a script to perform a mundane and repetitive task for you.  There are lots of people (mostly in India) waiting to help you.  Send them your requirements and in a few days they send you a script.  I have never used them myself but I have heard good things about vworker.

Question 4 – Do Backlinks Bring Traffic?

How Much Traffic Do You Get From Your Backlinks?

As you can see from this graph this website does not get a lot of visitors from referral sites (backlinks):

Website traffic sources

At the beginning all traffic was from backlinks.  At the beginning I left comments on other blogs, visited forums and wrote articles with links back to this website – it was the only way to get traffic.  At the beginning you get no traffic from search engines, the only traffic comes from backlinks and your mother.

The problem with backlink traffic is that it is a lot of work.  Leaving comments, visiting forums and writing articles takes time.  And for the time spent you get few visitors in return.  As an example, I was monitoring Problogger very carefully and watching for a new post so that I could leave the first comment.  I thought – the first comment must get a lot of exposure and therefore lots of people will click the backlink.  Problogger has over 150,000 subscribers, finally with diligence I managed to make the first comment, I received 5 visitors.

The problem with getting traffic from easy backlinks like blog comments or forums is that there are so many of them that people  just do not care.  Problogger has a post a day and every post has at least 50 comments – with so many comments people stop caring and stop visiting the commentor’s website.  Backlinks are not a great source of traffic unless its Opera Winfrey’s website and she is urging her visitors to visit your website. 

As time went on search engine traffic surpassed backlink traffic.  Now most traffic is from search engines.  A backlink’s main function is to please the search engine and not as a source of traffic.  If Oprah mentions your website in a post then you will receive traffic from her website for a couple weeks while the post is on her front page but then the traffic will stop when the post is replaced by newer posts.  But Google will reward you for that backlink for a lot longer.  With a backlink  from Oprah your website could jump in the search results and stay up there for months.

All my guests posts are buried deep in their respective blogs.  I get almost no traffic from older  guest posts – the sun has set on them and are long forgotten.  But Google remembers.  Goggle still sees my guest posts and rewards me by showing this website in search results.

Question 5 – How Are Your Search Rankings Doing?

Blog post from Day 601 talks about the position of ‘How a Website Makes Money’.  At the time is was at 6- where is it now and why?

The keywords for this website are ‘Make Money Website’.  According to the Google keyword tool 27,100 people do search for this term every month.  It is not a lot but if I can get the top spot for this term it would mean almost 1000 visitors a day.

Everyday I check the position of ‘make money website’ in the Google search results.

I picked this term because I use it at a benchmark.  By keeping track where this term is in the search ranks I know how much Google values these keywords for this website.  When I get to the top for this term it will mean that Google considers this website to be about ‘make money website’.  The result will be that not only will I receive traffic for this term, but all the various terms meaning the same thing. 

When this websites ranks high for ‘make money website’ then it will also rank high for similar terms.  The permutations are endless.  As an example this website already ranks quite high for terms, ‘website, much, how, money’.  Here are some of the phrases that people type into their search engine to find this website:

This websites keywords

The higher in the search ranking the term ‘make money website’ goes, the more permutations of these keywords this website will receive.  How do I know?  Because I do a lot of searches to determine my competition.  I constantly search Google for phrases that I want this website to reach the top of – and I always see the same thing.  It is always the same websites that are at the top.  They have strong keywords so they receive the all the permutations of these keywords.  The same website is at the top for ‘make money website’ and for ‘can website make money’.

When I started keeping track of ‘make money website’ this website was in position 738 (page 7 with Google advanced setting of 100 results per page).   That was around a year ago.  Currently this website is somewhere between position 30 and 40.

And what about ‘How a Website Makes Money’  – the main question this website attempts to answer.  On day 601 Google felt this website was the 6th best website to answer the question.  Today, 160 days later, Google thinks this website has the best answer:

How a website makes money Google results

  1. February 3rd, 2011 at 21:40 | #1

    Thank you very much for tackling the question of backlinks. Once again, you give the honest explanation of what does work and detail what does not. That’s something that I value greatly about your site and don’t know another place to get this level of exposition.

    Obviously, backlinks is a crucial element of SEO and important to everybody. Your post from day 129, Humiliating But Necessary, had 13 comments and has its own page rank of 1. You already rank 4th on Google for ‘creating backlinks’ with that blog article, even though it does not have any of your targeted keywords ‘make money website’. Above you show it bringing some traffic every day.

    If, by way of example, you wanted to target the ‘backlinks’ area further, how would you go about it, please? Could you teach us how to investigate how big the number of target searches is, for that one word combination and for the ‘backlinks’ field overall. Do you now get hits for other keyword combinations containing ‘backlinks’ and how many pageviews you get on that blog post?

    And, what would your strategy be to actually build your ‘backlinks’ presence further? I’ve heard about anchor text, though you explain that only a minority of links are worthwhile. And what about title and page keywords and customizing the two lines that actually show-up on Google?

    Once again, many thanks for paving the road and doing heavy lifting for us, in the field where there are so many hacks and cheats.

  2. February 3rd, 2011 at 23:13 | #2

    Hello Wally Bee,

    Thank you for the compliments.

    You ask about anchor text and backlinks. Yes – anchor text is very important for a backlink. Search engines use the anchor text to determine what the webpage being linked to is about.

    I use to write articles because they allow you to use any anchor text you want. So in a attempt to rank high for certain keywords I would write an article and then link back to a specific page on this site using the keywords. For example here is article I wrote targeting the keywords ‘create backlink’: http://ezinearticles.com/?Focus-on-Creating-Quality-Backlinks&id=3056488. This article links to the post you mentioned 129, Humiliating But Necessary.

    I wrote a lot of articles – maybe around 25 on a few different site. But I found that the results were not that great. The problem with these backlinks is the problem I mention above – they are too easy and thus have little value.

    Getting hard to get backlinks from high page rank site has better returns. That is why I now focus mostly on guest posts. They are hard work and not too many people have them, so they are valuable. By writing a few guest post and backlinking to the home page on this site with the anchor text ‘how this website makes money’ the results have been better then creating many low value backlinks.

    By getting high page rank backlinks to the main page the entire website benefits. Even though the backlinks point only to the main page other pages benefit. Image a pyramid of wine glasses stacked up on each other. Pour a lot of wine in the top glass, then when it begins to overflow, wine starts to fill up into the glasses below. The same thing happens with a website – send quality backlinks to the homepage and every page below it in the hierarchy benefits.

  3. July 14th, 2011 at 00:47 | #3

    I agree about the quality of backlinks making a big difference.

    I current have only 79 quality backlinks from website with pr3-pr6 and i am out ranking sites with 1500 plus links. So there you are- proof is in the pudding and not how many pies…

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