Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, spamming YouTube with backlinks from blog comments, was enough to rank your video. Heck, screw optimization, just spam YouTube backlinks, and you’re good to go! But that galaxy far far away, is long gone now, and backlinking your video isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Estimated read time: 9 minutes
Many people still believe that spamming backlinks to your YouTube video, is all that it takes to rank it, and if we had a time machine to go back around 1-2 years, that might still be true (for more modern methods, check out my Beginners Guide to YouTube SEO). But spamming blog comment links, in the tens of thousands, are a long since abandoned SEO technique when it comes to Google, Bing, and SEO in general for websites – so why in the world do people still think it matters? And more importantly, does it?
“For me, mass links (cheap spammy ones in huge volume, I buy like 70k blog comments, 1,000 social bookmarks etc from fiverr and so on) to rank in Google and real views from Vagex to rank in YT.”
“Blog comments + profile links, hit the videos with all you got”
“I’ve had a lot of sucess with PAD links for ranking YT videos.”
“Blasting GSA Works along with adding high retention views.”
“I’m still sending a few hundred to a few thousand dofollow Scrapebox links @ YT videos and getting them to rank.”
In short, the entire thread is one long discussion about how awesome backlinks to YouTube videos are, promoting the spammiest kind (because they “work”). Now, you might say to yourself, “Sure, Philip, but that’s just a blackhat forum, right? What do they know?!”. Well, looking past the fact that TrafficPlanet is one of the better SEO forums out there, how about we have a look at what YouTubers say about it all?
On the YTTalk forums, the leading non-official YouTube forum, the user ConnersCraft has a stickied thread called “Ultimate Guide To SEO (Appear At The Top Of Searches!)“. Now, I’ll be nice enough not to go into the details about the huge lackings of a thread called the “Ultimate Guide to SEO”, neglecting to mention dozens of areas, but just focus on one of the key points: In it, he mentions a total of 7 points to make your video rank, one of them being backlinks:
“A backlink is any link on another site linking to your video. You want these. It helps a lot, because YouTube looks at it as if the video is going viral.”
I actually also have a thread of my own, on SEO, on the YTTalk forums here. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that more people are talking about YouTube SEO, as they should be!
But does all this talk of backlinks actually have anything at all to back it up? There’s three issues: 1) People assume that because backlinks are so important on Google, they must be equally important on YouTube. 2) People see other people say backlinks are important, and just take their word on it. 3) No one actually analysis and checks this, vs their videos with no backlinks (“I sent backlinks to my videos, and the rank increased!”).
YouTube Backlinks: The Un-Scientific Study
So I decided, that instead of just replying to all these people one by one, I would try and settle the matter a bit more. Instead of just relying on my own tests and experiments, I decided to do one which could be replicated by everyone else.
What I did:
I went on YouTube, and searched for 6 different terms: Japan, Minecraft, Star Wars, X Men, Movie Trailers 2013, and Stock Market. I consciously chose search terms that were all very different. Then I checked the top 3 ranking videos, in Ahrefs, for their backlinks. Now, why did I choose Ahrefs specifically, for checking backlinks? In my own experience with various backlink checkers, Ahrefs is the only one that has an affordable option, AND also ACCURATELY gives back the backlinks for your YouTube VIDEO. Most other backlink checkers, in my experience, have given very mixed results when checking YouTube videos. MatthewWoodward also has a great article on Ahrefs.
So, what were the results of the backlinks, in the highest ranking videos in YouTube? And do they, in any way, back up the theory that mass backlinks help your YouTube video rank better?
The results for the search term “Japan”
The results for the search term “Minecraft”
The results for the search term “Star Wars”
The results for the search term “X Men”
The results for the search term “Movie Trailers 2013”
The results for thesearch term “Stock Market”
The Numbers – Does Backlinks increase Ranking?
If the question is “Does having a lot of backlinks, increase my ranking in YouTube?”, then the definite answer is a big “no“. The numbers speak for themselves – in fact, there is almost a negative correlation between backlinks and YouTube SERPs.
Now, I don’t believe that negative SEO exists on YouTube (because YouTube doesn’t have a disavow tool – it would be crazy if negative SEO existed, but at the same time provided zero ways for channels to work their way out of it), so I don’t believe that backlinks will outright HURT your ranking position, but just looking at the numbers, it’s pretty clear that they are not an important factor.
Suffice to say, my own tests and research have shown, that unless backlinks PROVIDE TRAFFIC, they are largely ignored by the algorithm. That makes sense, too, when you think about it: any quality backlink, would provide clickthroughs (or, if embedded, direct plays) of your video. If it does not, well, then it probably wasn’t that amazing of a backlink. That’s not taking into account social backlinks, which, according to my numbers, do seem to play a bigger role.
Videos with the Most Backlinks:
Rank 3, Rank 3, Rank 3, Rank 1, Rank 1, Rank 3, Rank 3 Average Position: 2,83
Videos with the Least Backlinks:
Rank 1/2, Rank 2, Rank 1, Rank 2, Rank 2, Rank 2 Average Position: 1,75 – WINNER
Does Backlinks increase YouTube video VIEWS?
But you could also ask the question, which is related but not the same, “Does having a lot of backlinks, increase my views on YouTube?”. After all, on YouTube there is a LOT of ways to find a video (suggestions, related videos, serps, playlists, and more).
Now, it doesn’t make sense to just look at backlinks and total views – after all, it makes sense that a video that gets seen a lot, also gets more backlinks from mentioning the video. Whereas a video with almost no views, will naturally have had less chances to get backlinks. Without more data, we can’t tell what came first: the backlinks, or the views. But what we CAN check, is whether the Backlinks Per View, has an impact on Total Views, AS WELL ASSerp Position.
But even then, it doesn’t look good:
Most Backlinks Per View:
Rank 3, Rank 3, Rank 3, Rank 3, Rank 2, Rank 3 Average Position: 2,83
Least Backlinks Per View:
Rank 1/2, Rank 1/2, Rank 1, Rank 2, Rank 3, Rank 1 Average Position: 1,66 – WINNER
Ok, so we can see that Backlinks Per View also has no significant impact on your rankings. Just like Total Backlinks and Ranking in general, there is actually a negative correlation between backlinks and SERP position in YouTube. But as I said before, SERP position and Views doesn’t have a direct correlation. YouTube actively promotes new content from channels (though it seems to prefer content that is roughly 2-3 years old, in the bigger picture), and you can get views to your videos from many other sources: video mentions, video replies, suggested video, promoted video, related video, and so forth.
So can we at least see a correlation between backlinks per views, and total views?
Most Backlinks Per View:
1st, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 2nd (in total views) Average Position: 2,16
Least Backlinks Per View:
2nd/3rd, 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 1st (in total views) Average Position: 1,91 – WINNER
So no, we can’t see any correlation between YouTube backlinks per view, vs your total views.
Even if we just look at the total amount of backlinks, vs the total amount of views (which, as I explained before, doesn’t make sense to to), backlinks only correlate to views 50% of the time – ergo, “sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t” = no correlation really.
So does YouTube Backlinks Matter?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that backlinks have no place in the YouTube search algorithm. I’m sure it does, it would be silly if it didn’t. But unlike Google, YouTube has full access to a wide variety of stats for your video, in fact, probably more than the stats they give you access to in the YouTube analytics. That means that they can weigh the importance of a link, whether it’s a good authority link or not, much more accurately, and easily, than they can in Google. Again, if a backlink doesn’t give you any clickthroughs, it probably isn’t the best backlink in the world. So the time of just spamming blog comments in the tens of thousands, and ranking a YouTube video simply using that, are well over.
So while backlinks to YouTube most likely still holds a place, whatever place it holds, it doesn’t look like backlinks to your YouTube video weighs in very much – at the very least, we can conclude that there are far better ways to increase your YouTube views.
This isn’t a conclusive study, and anyone could, without spending too much time, dive further into this, and further analyse the different kind of links to the videos, the link velocity, link types, do it with 500 videos instead of 15, and so forth. I’m not claiming that this is a deep, long, scientific analysis. But it should, at least as a pilot study, give you a good idea of the importance of backlinks on YouTube today.