By Kaitie Frank
09 May 2024

Why You Still Need Links (Even Though Everyone Says You Don’t)

Link Building

At a recent search conference in Bulgaria, Google Search’s Gary Illyes stated that “Google needs very few links to rank… over the years we’ve made links less important.” This statement was immediately posted on X and spread like wildfire through the SEO community. Many publications interpreted Illyes’ statement to mean that Google confirms links are not important in SEO. 

We’re here to tell you that’s wrong. 

Spam: Google’s #1 Enemy

Full disclosure: We are a seasoned link building agency with over 14 years of experience. Of course, we think links are important, but it’s not because we want to line our pockets. We’ve sailed through multiple algorithm update storms, and we’ve seen the impact that backlinks have on sites. It’s true that links are not a ranking factor; here’s why.

Before the Penguin update, people used backlinks to manipulate search engine rankings. They found that the more backlinks a site had, the higher it ranked, regardless of relevancy or human value. This caused a massive spam overload in the SERPs, creating a poor user experience. So, Google said, “no more,” and updated its algorithm to include spam policies that reprimanded sites using blackhat SEO tactics, like link spam

The March 2024 updates were similar in nature. They included new spam policies that deter new blackhat tactics that arose in the last couple of years: site reputation abuse, scaled content abuse, and expired domain abuse. Link spam is included in these policies, hence the reason why industry-wide speculation on the power of link building was called into action. 

The core update focused on cleaning up unhelpful content in the SERPs. In fact, Google was able to clean up 45% of spam in the search results, a fantastic feat considering the recent outrage at the number of spam results in the last few months. 

But this reinforced mission to delete spam doesn’t mean link building, or links, are dead. While links are not a direct ranking factor, they still play a crucial role in SEO strategies. 

What Are Backlinks Good For?

Backlinks are still a crucial aspect of SEO for several reasons. Firstly, they help search engines discover your site faster, and natural links give them context and display topical authority. Secondly, backlinks are a proven method to drive referral traffic to your website, and the traffic coming from that link is more likely to be highly targeted and engaged. Thirdly, backlinks from authoritative websites can help expose your brand to a wider audience, increasing brand visibility and recognition. Finally, backlinks can help increase your site's credibility, demonstrating to search engines that your site is deserving of ranking in the SERPs.

Let’s dive into each reason. 


First and foremost, backlinks can help search engines discover your site faster. In a Search Off the Record podcast, Gary Illyes and Dave Smart discussed how search engine crawlers work, specifically saying,

“I would probably do some like social media promotion or whatever. Basically just let people know that I have this site and they should link to me because links are actually really important for discovery. So the more links we see from a natural source of course, like not bot links and crypto links and whatever…”


This was in response to Smart asking how Illyes would get newly published content visible in search results. Illyes further explains:

“Natural links will tell us that this link exists. This important person, Lizzi, talked about this topic, plus, gives us some context about what we might find on the other side of the gate.”


According to Illyes (who, yes, made the comment at the beginning of the article), natural links help give search engines context and display topical authority. Additionally, Google’s documentation states that Google “uses links as a signal when determining the relevancy of pages and to find new pages to crawl.”

Referral Traffic

Backlinks are a proven method to drive referral traffic to your website. If you manage to attract relevant backlinks to your content, the traffic coming from that link is more likely to be highly targeted and engaged. The effectiveness of the referral traffic depends directly on how relevant the backlink is to your content. The more relevant the link is, the more targeted and engaged the audience who are actively searching for products or services in your niche.

Backlinks from reputable sources carry "endorsements" or "votes of confidence," indicating to users (and ultimately search engines) that the content you publish is reliable and trustworthy. This can help increase your site's credibility, which demonstrates to search engines that your site is deserving of ranking in the SERPs. When users depend on your content, it keeps them engaged and coming back for more.

Backlinks can continue to generate referral traffic over time, serving as an evergreen source and providing a consistent stream of visitors to your site.

Increased Brand Visibility and Exposure

Backlinks from authoritative websites can help expose your brand to a wider audience. When your website is linked from reputable sources within your industry or niche, it gains visibility among its existing audience, potentially introducing your brand to new demographics or market segments.

These backlinks can come in the form of brand mentions or citations within content on other websites. Even if the backlink itself is not clickable, the mere mention of your brand can contribute to its visibility and recognition. Users who come across your brand name in relevant contexts may be inclined to search for more information about your products or services, leading to direct traffic to your site.

Maintaining a consistent presence and visibility across reputable websites through backlinks can help solidify your brand's association with specific topics, keywords, or industry trends. As users encounter your brand in various contexts across the web, they develop stronger brand recognition and recall, which makes it more likely for them to choose your brand when making purchasing decisions or seeking relevant information.

Credibility and Trust

When reputable websites within your industry or niche link to your content, it validates the quality and relevance of your site. These endorsements signal to both search engines and users that your website is a trusted and credible resource. For example, if a well-known industry publication or influential blog links to your content, it implies that your site has valuable insights or information worth sharing.

Backlinks from authoritative sources can also help establish your website as an authority within your field. When industry leaders, experts, or established organizations reference your content through backlinks, it reinforces the perception that your site offers valuable expertise or insights. This recognition can attract a loyal audience seeking authoritative information and contribute to your brand's thought leadership positioning.

High-quality backlinks from reputable sources can provide lasting benefits for your website's credibility and authority. Unlike some other SEO tactics that may yield temporary gains, backlinks from trusted sites tend to have enduring value. As long as the linking sites maintain their credibility, the backlinks they provide will continue to reinforce your site's reputation as a trusted authority in your field.

While links may no longer be the sole determining factor in search engine rankings, they are still an important aspect of SEO. Backlinks can help search engines discover your site faster, drive referral traffic, increase brand visibility and exposure, and demonstrate your site's credibility. So, even though some may argue that links are no longer as important, it's clear that they still play a crucial role in any comprehensive SEO strategy.

Kaitie Frank

Kaitie is a copywriter and content writer for Page One Power who specializes in SEO-optimized content. She has written for various niches and prides herself in knowing random tidbits of information. In addition to putting words to paper, she indulges in physical fitness and telling her cat why he is, in fact, a good boy.