FORGET BACKLINKS: CITE YOUR SOURCES

In the age of misinformation, this is more important than ever.


It's also helpful for your SEO.


Over the course of my career I've heard a lot of SEOs boast that they "don't give away backlinks for free" and on the rare occasion that they do have to cite a fact, they make sure the hyperlink is a no-follow link.


Unpopular opinion: If that sounds petty, that's because it is.


And the karma caught up to those people because according to Moz, "Google now considers no-follow backlinks to be a hint" (Moz, 2021). In other words, if you link to someone, you’re giving them that boost.


But you’re also giving yourself one.


EXTERNAL BACKLINKS ARE A TWO WAY STREET


People used to think that a backlink was essentially vouching for someone. If I give someone a backlink, I’m giving them points for their SEO score--and if I have a high domain authority (DA) then my backlink is worth more to them.


Having more backlinks from legit websites that link to your site increases DA, and in contrast if the backlink is coming from a website with low DA, the backlink might hurt more than it can help.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are all sorts of campaigns for backlinking strategy, and I get solicitations from all sorts of sketchy SEO agencies who are willing to pay anywhere from $50-$200 for a single backlink.


I mean, if you’re ready to invest $200 for your SEO strategy, you might as well hire someone to write an article or two.


And what value does the backlink actually carry?


In a technical sense, I’m going to broadly allude to studies that have shown a correlation between number of backlinks and ranking, domain authority, etc. I don’t want to cite them right now because the algorithms might change, but this principle won’t:


The true value of backlinks is cross-pollination potential. It’s like a referral--product placement, an inherently good thing.


ARE BACKLINKS WORTH PAYING FOR?


In my professional SEO opinion, no, nope, hell no, nah, definitely not.


The reason being: it’s inauthentic. It’s like paying someone to leave a positive review.


Actually, the main reason I don’t think backlinks are worth paying for is you can get better backlinks for free by developing genuine relationships with other brands and creatives.


I think many SEOs overemphasize backlinks for the wrong reasons. Those who try to artificially inflate their domain authority are building a house of cards in my opinion, and if the SEO doesn’t catch up to them sooner, their audiences will.


And no audience likes feeling betrayed.


I like to use backlinks when it makes sense to do so. If I’m partnering with another brand, I’m giving them a do-follow backlink. When I showcase work I’ve done for clients, it’s a do-follow backlink to their website. If I’m citing a website that presents credible information, I would use a do-follow backlink to thank them for the free information.


I’ve been citing sources via backlinks since before it was cool, and I think it’s one of the main reasons why my content outperformed the work of other freelancers.


WHY ARE BACKLINKS IMPORTANT IN 2021


Modern SEO best practice encourages external backlinking for the purpose of helping SEO scores. I encourage my clients to do it primarily for the purpose of helping your customers trust your brand.


After all, your SEO score can change depending on what problems Ubersuggest thinks you should pay their team to fix, but your customers won’t care what your SEO score is. They care whether or not they can trust you.


And since trust is a belief, let’s explore how citations affect your reputation and establishing trust with your audience.


WIKIPEDIA AND BUZZFEED: AN INFORMAL CASE STUDY OF THE REAL IMPORTANCE OF BACKLINKING


I grew up in a time where teachers and professors would not allow students to cite Wikipedia because “anyone could write anything on the website” they said.


Well, that may be true, but many of those anyones uploading to Wikipedia also cited their sources.


So I would read Wikipedia articles to wrap my head around a subject and then cross-reference their legitimate sources and then cite the sources. More often than not, the articles on wikipedia would connect me to reliable information.


If Wikipedia were paid per clickthrough, they would have made a killing off me in college. Even though I seldom cited the website directly, they got a ton of traffic and click-throughs. And we’re not even talking about the wikipedia rabbit holes we’ve all gone through--that’s a story about how important internal backlinks are and I’ll cover that in a different blog article.


But my point is, all the traffic and clickthroughs are another huge factor in why wikipedia’s SEO has always been so good. Businesses who build massive blogs enjoy the same sort of benefits.


And so did Buzzfeed.