By Cory Collins
28 Aug 2014

Links Are The Backbone Of The Web

Basic SEO     Link Building

One of the reasons we created Linkarati was to establish a centralized community for everything related to links and the pursuit therein. No other such community exists online, fully dedicated to all things link building.

For me, I knew that Linkarati would serve as a place where I could discuss SEO and link philosophy in depth. That’s because I believe it’s important to understand the why of link building, not just the how.

I’ve had hundreds of conversations about a myriad of different link philosophies with clients, colleagues, friends, and even poor unsuspecting people who had the audacity to ask me about my job.

Today I want to discuss a philosophy near and dear to my heart: links are the backbone of the web.

What Does “The Backbone of the Web” Mean?

The internet is a confusing….thing. Even to describe what the internet is isn’t simple. An entity? A place? A network? A conglomeration of ideas, people, businesses, and communities? I doubt one in a hundred people could give you a coherent description of the internet were you to stop passers-by on the street.

So when I say “backbone” I obviously don’t mean literally. But if the internet were a living, breathing thing (hello Skynet), links would be the backbone of the web...or maybe the central nervous system. The point is, links are important to the web.

I say this because links aid the internet is so many fundamental ways. Links are a currency, a primary means of navigation, citations of information, a symbol of trust, a method of promotion, and on and on it goes.

Here’s some ways links can be used online:

  • Navigation
  • Trust
  • Promotion
  • Reference

Is that a complete list? No. Links are such a core fundamental feature of the web that it’s hard to nail down every way in which they can be used with a simple bullet list. Instead, I want to discuss the ways in manner in which links are commonly used, to show the important role links play on the internet.

Let’s talk about each one in a little more depth.

Links as Navigation of the Web

I strongly believe most people overlook the importance of links to navigate the web.

If you were to ask most people how they find new websites, or even navigate to websites they like, you might receive a variety of answers:

  • Google (search)
  • Social networks
  • Bookmarks
  • History
  • Typing in the URL
  • Trusted websites
  • Directories (even in 2014)
  • Etc.

The reality of the situation though is that using any website to navigate to another necessitates a link. That includes Google and social networks. Think about it: Google's results? List of links. How do friends shares stories, articles, and videos on social media? Links.

Google links 2

Of course, internal links are important to every single website as well. Regardless of the site’s architecture, links are the primary means of navigating across a website. Very rarely will a visitor know exactly which page they want and navigate directly to that.

Most users will locate the homepage of the website they desire, and then use the website’s internal linking navigation to locate the page, resource, or content they’re looking for.

Plainly said, links are the most basic and commonly used method of traversing the web.

Links as a Symbol of Trust

By their very nature, links are a symbol of trust.

A link is only a piece of code, but it bridges the gap between two websites. That means that when you put a link on your website, you’re willingly directing users of your site to a page of another website.

You wouldn’t send your users to a page you didn’t trust. Not if you want to build loyalty and trust with your visitors.

This is why pages such as “Sites We Like” are so common – you’re demonstrating trust to your readership.

It’s also a form of promotion.

Links to Promote

Links are commonly used as a method of promotion across the internet.

Think about social media, especially within SEO. Content promotion is by far and away the biggest use of social media within SEO. How do you promote that content via social media? A brief description and a link to the content.

What about contests? Bloggers are often enlisted to help spread word of contests. How do bloggers promote? Well, they write a blog post and then provide a link.

Anytime one website wants to champion another’s cause, they must provide a link as a central part of that promotion. Otherwise you’d incite people to action without providing them the means.

Even if the website linking isn’t providing a call to action, the link itself is a form of promotion. Google reads links as vote of confidence and a signal of trust and authority. The more a page is linked to from relevant and respected websites, the more authoritative Google considers that page.

So every single link pointed to your website is a sign of another website promoting you.

Links as a Reference

Links are a primary way to reference another’s website, content, material, ideas, thoughts, data, resources, pages, etc., without having to actually recount the thoughts contained within.

Links have made it incredibly easy to discuss a complicated subject at depth, simply because you can consistently reference other’s works—and send the reader to another’s work—without having to go into depth to explain the reference.

Links are the citation footnotes of the online world, which magically pull up source material with but a click.

This means that large, complex ideas can be discussed without having to educate readers from step one. If the reader is curious and wants to learn, all they have to do is follow your reference links which cite your source material.

Every resource page worth the name will without fail reference other great content and resources created by others. It’s simply impossible to create a useful resource page without also promoting another’s worthwhile resource. No single website will ever own every important resource for a single niche/industry.

Reference links are incredibly important to the internet.

So What Does This All Mean?

Well, as an SEO managing a website dedicated to link building I would hardly say I’m unbiased.

However, my hope was to demonstrate in a meaningful way how and why links are important online. I commonly see people talk about Google moving away from links, or that links role on the internet is fading.

I simply don’t believe that to be the case. Google made links the core of their algorithm for a reason. Just a look around – look at how important links are to the online world. Look at what you get when another website links to yours.

In the SEO world I think we have a tendency to overthink, to overanalyze. Thinking about an algorithm that we can’t possibly know the full inner-workings of has that consequence.

If we take a step back and really look at the web, it’s pretty plain to see that links have, still do, and likely always will play a very important role on the web. I couldn’t even conceptualize how the web would function without links.

Cory Collins

Cory Collins is the Business Development Manager at Page One Power and has been with the agency since 2012. Cory is an SEO strategist, writer, runner, and outdoor enthusiast residing in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, daughter, and (too) many pets.