Uh-oh, somebody is attempting to touch the dreaded back-links question again, here comes controversy and misinformation! Actually, no. I titled this post with the moderately harmless “Are Backlinks Still Important?” rather than something more attention-grabbing, because I want to handle this subject in a mature way.
It's actually a pretty hotly and highly debated subject, and people will be crying one or the other mantra for decades when it comes to back links, but at the end of the day, the Internet is made up of links, and you can't avoid them. So let's at least figure out some things about them shall we?
A lot of what I'm going to cover is based on my own observations and experiences, so I welcome, in fact ENCOURAGE you to chime in below with your agreements, disagreements, or just general heckles. Let's talk backlinks!
Are Back-links Still Important? Yes! But Not How You Might Think
Google said as recently as February 2014 that there's no way they are ready to display search results without taking backlink relevance into account. Why is this? Because they tried turning it off, and all they got was a bunch of bad search results. At the end of the day, the best quality sites have a lot of backlinks, it's just a natural result of being a great quality site.
I'm not saying ALL YOU NEED is backlinks, in fact far from it, but you can't say they aren't important, they are one of the ways of telling Google that people like your stuff. Should you run around peppering your links all over the Internet as a way of saying to Google “hey look, people like my stuff”? Definitely not.
Google isn't stupid. They can tell the difference between a backlink earned naturally as a result of people sharing content, and a link earned by someone deliberately spreading their links around for the purpose of gaining ranks (for the most part).
Even if you were to game the system with some seriously diligent and ninja-esque techniques, it wouldn't take long for the other 200 or so signals Google uses to alert them to the fact your content is poor. If you are going to create good content, then the backlinks will come naturally, so doing this old school blackhat SEO stuff where you try to gain an artificial advantage is a waste of time.
Besides, if your site doesn't deserve its rankings and you game them, chances are nobody is going to enjoy your site and you won't make much money anyway.
It's just not worth it.
Do Not Fear Backlinks
It's not a bad thing to have backlinks. I wouldn't worry about things like nofollow and dofollow if you are doing anything naturally. The way I see it, if you are posting good content out in the world and earning links to your site from it, whether it is as a guest post on a friend's blog, or through social sharing and bookmarking sites, it really shouldn't matter whether your link is assigned “nofollow” or “dofollow”.
Natural linking doesn't involve stuff like that, it just involves people saying “hey here's some good content *click*”.
You also shouldn't be worrying too much about things like anchor text (the words that form a link). Should it match your keyword, should it be different, should you mix it up? Who cares, just put the text to describe the link or encourage clicks. Do it naturally.
Can You Get Good Rankings Without Backlinks?
Absolutely, things like social networks are a great way of telling the world about your content, and as more of your content gets spread out through the web via shares and likes and such, your rankings will increase (providing you've written good content).
Ironically enough, once you start doing that, you'll find that you are getting more backlinks anyway.
What Happens If You Buy A Bunch Of Backlinks In 2014?
Not a lot I imagine. You might get some attention from Google, some decent rankings, and you might even hold those rankings for a time if your content is good and people are engaging on your site, but when the next Google update rolls around, or they notice that you've got ten thousand links from Russia or Brazil, don't bank on your site lasting very long.
It's just not worth it, and not likely to get you anywhere in the long run. I hate this kind of short-sighted, trick-your-way-to-the-top, business method, and it's certainly not what I learned or teach.
In short, backlinks aren't going to get you anywhere in the long term, but Google does still take them into account when determining rank. It's just one signal though, so you should focus on growing them naturally by putting good content out into the world and encouraging people to fall in love with your site. This is a much bigger signal than links anyway.