relevent linksAs an SEO professional, I always counsel certain things. Among them is getting not just links, but relevant links. I always say that you need to have backlinks which are relevant to your website, meaning that if you run a website about personal finance, ideally you should look for backlinks from websites which also work in the world of personal finance as opposed to say a website about botany. The truth however is that, while relevant links certainly do help, they aren’t an absolute necessity.

Why Relevant Links Are Helpful

Let’s start with why relevant links are so useful. As I’ve said elsewhere, Google considers SEO to be a kind of a popularity contest. This means that they check for links back to your website to see how many other sites have linked to you on the theory that if you are really popular with other websites, then you are probably someone worth reading content from.
However, in order to further narrow the search for the very best content, they look for something like a peer review. This means that if they see that not only are you popular in general, but your content is actually getting links from others in your area of expertise, then you must be an expert since even your peers are linking to you.

It’s Not Absolutely Necessary

Now that said, getting relevant links to your website is often much harder than getting links in general. After all, if I’m running a website which talks about personal finance, I’m less likely to want to provide a link to MSN Money simply because I’m not interested in promoting the competition. I want to keep people on my own website and make money from my visitors myself.
Fortunately, it’s not absolutely necessary to get relevant links back to your website. Often, it’s enough that popular sites in general provide links to you because this means that people in general find your content useful and interesting, even if the experts are still not convinced.

The Gateway 2000 Effect

The theory goes that if the general public likes you, then eventually the big guys will stop ignoring you and will begin to take notice of you as well. This is something I like to call the Gateway 2000 effect.
Back in the early 1990s, I used to be a huge computer geek (I still am, but less so now than I was then – these days it’s more of a hobby, whereas when I was in high school, I started my own software publishing company). I used to subscribe to Computer Shopper, PC World, PC Magazine, PC Week and Dr. Dobbs in order to keep up with the latest news.
Back in the early 1990s, ads began appearing for Gateway 2000 computers in most of the major computer magazines.  These were massive ads which spread over multiple pages and were in full color, offering computers for prices that seemed cheap (Gateway 2000 later became Gateway Computers and was acquired by Acer in 2007).
However, for all that it seemed every major computer magazine was taking advertising money from Gateway; they all seemed to be ignoring them when it came to reviews. Roundups of computers consistently reviewed stuff from IBM, HP, Compaq, Toshiba and a handful of other names. I even remember a letter to the editor of PC World asking why they never reviewed Gateway 2000 products.
Well, guess what? After a few years of constant advertising, Gateway eventually broke through and started getting noticed and included in reviews in all the major computer magazines.
The concept behind simply getting any links you can lay your hands on is similar to the Gateway story. They couldn’t get the relevant links (i.e. the reviews in the major trade magazines), so they focused on taking their story directly to consumers and eventually broke through, becoming one of the most popular personal computer manufacturers in the United States (they eventually came close to bankruptcy before being sold, but that’s another story).

Bottom Line

Yes, relevant links are important. However, if you can get good quality links elsewhere, you definitely should do so. Don’t think that just because they’re not in your industry that it means that you should ignore them. Instead, grab what you can and the relevant links will eventually follow.