One of the oldest debates in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) world, dating all the way back to the late 90’s, has to do with which factors are most important for achieving high search engine rankings.
Many things are important. Google has publicly stated that over 200 factors go into their ranking algorithm.
But what’s most important? It’s a good question, since search engines don’t publicly disclose the actual magic behind their algorithms.
In most such debates, the top two factors discussed usually come down to content vs backlinks.
Content is the information that’s actually on your website. The text that people — and search bots — actually read.
Backlinks are the hyperlinks from one page on the web to another page on the web. The original PageRank algorithm that Google was first based on primarily counted the number of links going to a page, and assumed that more links meant greater relevance, and so ranked that page higher in the search results. PageRank is no longer a thing, and it’s far more complex now days, but backlinks are still a major factor in SEO.
If you do a Google search on this topic, you’ll find over 12.3 million search results.
Both factors are important.
Without backlinks, it’s hard for a website to rank at all. There’s also a wide spectrum of backlink quality. Google in particular is notorious for penalizing sites that have a lot of backlinks from low quality, spammy sites. You need to be selective about where you get backlinks from. Google has and will outright ban sites from their database if they have too many poor quality links.
Without content, it’s also hard for a site to rank well. And yes, quality is a factor here, too. Poor quality content means that people won’t find the information that they’re looking for, and so they’ll hit that back button really, really fast. This super-short reading time on a page is called a bounce in web marketing parlance. High bounce rate = lower search ranking, as one stand-in measurement for assessing the quality of a site’s content.
Around the world, SEO professionals have been debating this for literally over 20 years (among other things). Some SEO folks are in the middle, some are ambivalent, but many clearly have a side to take.
So where does your pal Jassen stand on this issue?
I’m sure I’m about to disappoint a few readers, especially those that have a vested interest in one side of this debate.
I’ve built several tax practice websites, and ranked them on page 1 of Google for some very competitive keywords.
I’ve helped other firms a fair amount of free search engine traffic to their tax firm websites, and convert those visitors into leads, then prospects, then paying clients.
Thus, my stance on the content vs backlink debate is heavily influenced by anecdotal experience, while also informed through data-driven research conducted by SEO professionals.
So where do I stand? Content wins.
To me, it’s not even a debate. Content is king, keywords are queen, everything else is just the details.
In the past, I’ve ranked tax firm websites for very expensive, very competitive keywords without a single backlink. How? By having absolutely amazing content on the site. The kind of content that the Googlebot sees and just salivates over.
Beyond that personal experience, there are also logical pieces to it for me that are often discuss in the SEO debates.
First, without content on your site, there is nothing to link back to. It’s kind of a, “Yeah, duh!” thing, but an important point if you’re new to this conversation.
Second, in order to get the highest quality, natural backlinks, you need to have the highest quality, informative content on your site. E.g., it needs to be worth linking to in order for you to get the link. Many common backlink strategies just don’t work at all unless you have really good content on your site.
Third, and perhaps not so obvious, is that “artificial” backlink building strategies typically also rely on content. Yep, you read that correctly. Take guest blogging, a common backlink strategy. For this to work, you have to write a blog post that gets posted on somebody else’s website, and that post contains a backlink to your site. That link building strategy doesn’t exist without you creating quality content that the other website is willing to post.
It’s very easy to overcomplicate SEO, especially local SEO for low to medium competition keywords. A simple 80/20 approach usually works really well for ranking high in local search, making content even more important.
SEO is just one component — maybe even a mere byproduct — of an overall content marketing strategy. Meaning, content marketing isn’t just about SEO, and SEO isn’t just about content marketing. But because of the importance of content in SEO, the two are inherently joined at the hip.
I’ll be talking more about this relationship between content and SEO on next week’s Content Marketing Jump Start webinar. I’ll be presenting this 2-hour training class on May 27th. It will be recorded, so even if you can’t make the live session, you should still register to get the recording. The class is $75, and it is NOT being presented in CPE format. Get more details on the Eventbrite listing here:
To your SEO success,