Are Backlinks Really That Important In SEO?

Study: The Significance of Links in SEO: Understanding their impact across different niches  

The importance of links is rarely up for debate in SEO. It is widely accepted that without tonnes of links pointing to your website, it won’t rank well, if at all, in the search results.

But are links really essential for SEO success? Or does their significance vary depending on the niche? Well the answer, you may be surprised to hear, isn’t clear cut…

Over the years I have worked on hundreds if not thousands of websites covering many niches and with these projects preserved on record I have put together some research suggesting that in some niches, the quality and quantity of backlinks makes no difference to how well a website ranks on Google.  

Understanding the Basics of Links in SEO

Firstly let’s explain why backlinks are seen as one of the most important factors in SEO.

Links serve as the foundation of the web, connecting different websites and allowing users to navigate between them. Links are thought to play a crucial role in determining a website’s authority, relevance, and visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).

1. Link Building and Authority:

Links act as votes of confidence from other websites, signalling to search engines that web content is valuable and reliable. High-quality backlinks from reputable sources are thought to significantly boost a website’s authority, improving its chances of ranking higher in SERPs.

2. Relevance and Contextual Links:

Contextual links, which are embedded within relevant content, are assumed to offer substantial SEO benefits. When reputable websites link to other content within related articles or blog posts, it reinforces the relevance of a website in specific topics or niches.

Impact of Links Across Different Niches

While links are undoubtedly vital for SEO, their impact can vary depending on the niche. Here’s a closer look at how different industries can experience varying results:

Tourism Business

Keyword: ‘Events in Bournemouth’

One of the prime keywords in this niche targets people looking for events in their local area which in this case is Bournemouth. Here sites with links directed at the page appear to have an advantage while those sites that have the most links pointing to the domain have far less of an advantage. So the conclusion here is that it is links to the page itself rather than the domain which contributes to a higher search ranking. However, there are sites with no links to the relevant page ranking inside the top 10.  

Keyword ‘Things to do in Brighton’

Another prime keyword in this niche targets people looking for things to do in their local area. In this case it is Brighton which is searched approximately 18,000 times a month. Here sites with links directed at the page appear to have an advantage as do those with most links pointing to their domain. Again, however, if we go beyond the top 3 results, the influence of backlinks on keyword rankings diminishes.

Services Business

Keyword: Skip hire  

On to another niche that gets a lot of traffic on google search results as I know only too well from recent experience. After optimising a website for a local skip hire company I soon found that backlinks didn’t seem too important when it came to ranking well in search results. With more than 80,000 searches a month, a good ranking for ‘skip hire’ among waste management companies is highly prized, yet here too the value of links is questionable. There is no convincing correlation between the number of links to the domain or the page in determining how well a website ranks.

In the case study below I was able to improve this company’s rankings for ‘skip hire’ taking them from page 23rd to 5th position on page one with no new link building. The page had more links than competitors yet it was lost on page 3 of the search results. Following some amendments to the website content, I was able to improve the keyword rankings for this page significantly.


Keyword: ‘Employment law solicitors’

Another competitive niche is employment law. Again from my experience in this sector, the number of links to the ranking page and domain don’t appear to have much influence on how well a page is ranking.

Keyword ‘Family law solicitors’

Another high competition keyword in solicitor niche again sees little correlation in the number of backlinks to page and domain and the ranking in search results.  

So what can we conclude from this data?

Could it simply be that some sites have better quality links than others and quantity of links isn’t a factor?

I can tell you, data about the quality of links to each site is also just as ambiguous. Then there is this recent article about links not being a top ranking factor anymore which muddies the water even further

The best answer to this is to say that while backlinks are not the silver bullet in SEO, they are still an important part of the mix in some niches but by no means all. What is just as important in my experience is an optimised page targeting the keyword and the engagement that web page attracts. Plus ensuring there are no pages competing for the same keyword.

The key takeaway is that ranking a page in a competitive niche isn’t going to be a walk in the park even if a website has an unassailable advantage in the number of links pointing at it.

Links in Highly Competitive Niches

In industries with high competition and numerous websites vying for the same target keywords, links should be considered an important part of the SEO mix along with other SEO factors that are just as important. This will come as a bit of a relief if you are faced with the challenge of trying to persuade other websites to give you high-quality backlinks.

This is usually a difficult, time consuming and expensive process with no guarantee of success at the end of it. Some websites will naturally attract links or have a longer history while others don’t, therefore it is crucial to focus just as much on the quality and optimisation of the web page as well as its content.

Local Business SEO

For businesses focusing on local markets, local citations and links certainly play role but a prominent ranking can just as easily be achieved with a placement in the local three pack. This section offers smaller business the chance to rank at the top of search results with no backlinks at all.

Content-Focused Niches

In niches where content quality and relevance are paramount, links are an important part of building an audience for that content. Engaging in content marketing and building relationships with other content creators can result in valuable backlinks, enhancing your website’s visibility and establishing it as an authoritative source in your niche.


In the e-commerce realm, backlinks will also play a role. But the top brands tend to dominate the search results for widely searched products therefore the SEO emphasis for smaller ecommerce stores should be on building an audience and content for more niche products.  

While links remain an integral part of SEO it is clear their importance varies across different niches. There is a lot of information out there that tells you that this or that strategy is the one to follow in SEO but it really depends a lot on the niche and the search intent of keywords being targeted.

Establishing a robust link building strategy that focuses on acquiring high-quality backlinks from relevant and authoritative sources should contribute to better rankings and overall SEO performance but they don’t guarantee the top position in Google search results.

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