How “Backrub” Became Google: The Birth Of Backlinks

by James Martell on July 4, 2011 · 21 comments


An Idea That Changed Everything

Although we hear the term *backlinks* a lot, many do not know *why* backlinks are important to rankings. In fact, very few realize that Google’s original name was *backrub*.

The co-founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin had been working together on a search engine they called *backrub* since early 1996, two years before Google, Inc. was established on September 7, 1998.

They called it backrub because of a novel idea to *factor in* the links pointing to a web page as quality indicators of that pages popularity (each link was a vote). In other words, their original algorithms not only analyzed web content for relevancy but also took note of any links *back*.

But it was not enough to have just a link back; it needed to be a *quality* link (even more so today).

Why *Quality* Backlinks Are Everything

As Google, the grand daddy of search engines, became increasingly popular in the early to mid 2000′s, savvy Internet marketers with knowledge of Google’s preference for backlinks pounced on this *secret* to gain a competitive advantage.

It wasn’t long before sites were setting up *link exchanges* as a quick and easy way to get backlinks. (lots of them)

However, this didn’t last long because Google’s engineers were determined to filter out inauthentic linking, especially when it was obvious that *link farms*, as they called it, were corrupting their original intent: each link was a vote.

However, Google did not throw out the baby with the bathwater. What they did, though, was scrutinize more closely the true nature of any backlinks they found. They looked at factors such as:

  • are the links on unique servers?
  • are the *linked* sites relevant to each other?
  • is the link embedded within an article or is it sitting there as part of a cluster of URLs?

These days their algorithms are so smart, due to advances in artificial intelligence, (AI) that they can tell if articles are written by robots or humans, (even whether content is written by a native speaker or not). In other words, it is no use trying to outsmart Google.

Today, more than ever, Google’s highly sophisticated algorithms want to see links embedded is well written content posted on trusted sites within their database using meaningful anchor text before that backlink gets a high score.

Why Backlinks Will Always Be Important

I guess it’s a safe bet to say Google will always value backlinks as a guide to assigning rankings for pages in its gargantuan database.

It’s simply hard-coded into the companies DNA.

How else are they able to figure out which page gets ahead of another?

Backlinks are the great equalizer because if thirty pages of unique content are similar then its algorithms look to the backlinks to determine which is the most popular. Whereas, the content tells them what the page is about, it’s the number and quality of backlinks that determine which pages get ahead of the other in their migration to the top of the search results.

The powerful simplicity of this idea, which has been universally adopted in all major search engines, almost guarantees that the need for quality backlinks will become increasingly more important in the years to come.

These are things I’ve been teaching in affiliate marketing courses for years now. And listeners to any of my affiliate program podcasts are familiar with my usual refrain: quality backlinks are everything!

Image Credit

Tagged as: , , , ,


Sasha Gibbs July 5, 2011 at 4:44 am

Once their was a time when Larry Page and Sergey Brin were trying to sale Backrub but no one was willing to buy it saying that it would be of no use. But then after changing its name to Google from Backrub, modifying their algorithm by adding few more techniques and following the basic principle of Back Link they are now moving the world with them. and buying big websites like YouTube and other.
It is sure that they are never gonna change their basic principle no matter how many time they amend their algorithm the basics remain the same.

James Martell July 15, 2011 at 3:42 am

Hi Sasha, interesting stuff. It is also interesting to see how Google is starting to look to social media for ranking signals for the natural search results. They seem to be looking at them in much the same way they did in “backrub” era when they first began looking at “backlinks” as votes. Today it’s rumored Google is looking at Twitter “retweets”, and Facebook “likes” as votes. Of course nowadays there’s much more to it, but the underlying vote seems to still be at the leading edge.

James Martell´s last blog post ..Google SEO Tip #140 – Does Google Support Cross-Domain Rel Canonical?

Sasha Gibbs July 15, 2011 at 11:41 am

Yes James I have heard the same stuff too. And that is why we see a lot of sites offering us by e-mails to increase our likes, retweets and even +1 to get good rank in SERP. I totally disagree with this to increase your likes unethically. Also I would like to know how Google will treat it if a site increase their likes and +1 by this way. Would they be considering it spam or they are just not focusing on it now?

Bliss Ellison July 5, 2011 at 5:38 am

I would like to say that, it was not long time that the back links contribute more than 50% percent of the factors while placing a site in SERPs, the quality metrics were the same as highlighted by James in the article. But the trend has been modified a little with the releases of pandas when the ‘search engine daddy’ scrutinized thousands of back links pointing to a site whereas the site has nothing for the sake of quality content and is poorly structured. Therefore the crown was put on the quality content as well as user friendliness of a site.
But certainly, back links still have the resonance in the site rankings, they cant be ignored in anyway, but first make sure quality of the site which you are going to link back.
Bliss Ellison @UK Wholesale Blog´s last blog post ..Words of Wisdom – An Interview with the owner of Zhambala Arts

James Martell July 15, 2011 at 3:44 am

Hi Bliss, (great name)

And agreed, quality is a huge factor in both the creation of the website and its content and the backlinks pointing to it. The days of slapping up content and throwing a few crappy backlinks are long gone.

James Martell´s last blog post ..Google SEO Tip #140 – Does Google Support Cross-Domain Rel Canonical?

Shower Valves July 5, 2011 at 5:51 am

Interesting post about Google History.
Telling frankly that I am not aware of this that google first named as “backrub” and from this the importance of quality backlinks comes in this field.

Thanks a lot for this OLD but GOLD in the sense that it is knowledge increasing information.
Hope in future also you will share such type of post for us which tells the ORIGIN history.

SEO Blogging July 6, 2011 at 2:35 am

I liked your explanation about backlinks. It really reflects the history and importance of backlinks. As I see it, backlinking is more important to Google SEO. Thanks for sharing.

Wow what a nice idea having a nofollow commentluv plugin in your blog. Not that rewarding.
SEO Blogging´s last blog post ..5 Best Reasons for Having a Blog on your Website

Vijay | US Stock Newsletter July 6, 2011 at 9:21 am

You are absolutely right James,

Due to technology development people abuse search engines by various ways as you said, if we want to quality links we need to learn about proper linking patterns for high search engine ranking.

I have learned some important linking pattern and its methods from your article and thanks to the quality article.

James Martell July 15, 2011 at 3:47 am

Hi Vijay, and yes I agree that it’s all about quality links and as you said linking patterns. You don’t hear much talk about the latter though.

James Martell´s last blog post ..Google SEO Tip #140 – Does Google Support Cross-Domain Rel Canonical?

Michael July 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm

I cherish back links because of its effect on my page rank. Quality backlink may not come easily, it demands time and focus, with your rightful advice and tips, I’m going to start and enjoy building relevant backlinks to my blog.
Michael @WebTrafficGeneration´s last blog post ..5 Behavioral Targeting for Internet Advertising

James Martell July 15, 2011 at 3:49 am

Hi Michael, yes and as I see it therein lays the real opportunity. As you say “quality backlinks may not come easily, it demands time and focus”. I have found that most look for the shortcut and never get it done.

James Martell´s last blog post ..Google SEO Tip #140 – Does Google Support Cross-Domain Rel Canonical?

Jasmine July 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm

You are absolutely right. Search engines especially Google is more and more intelligent these days. We must produce quality content and have good backlinks to do well in search engines!
Jasmine@Top Web Hosts´s last blog post ..HostGator Hosting Plans Maximum 40% Discount – Only Today (4th July Special)

Steve July 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm


Love the post. I had no idea that backlinks were once “backrubs” very interesting. Also your words on the importance of backlinks rings very true.

Perhaps PR itself is not the important factor it once ways but linking from reputable and relevant site will always do a lot more for you than tons of cheap scammy links. This will become even more true as Googles search algorithm continues to grow, get smarter and more discerning.
Steve@Internet Business´s last blog post ..How to Turn $1091.95 into Lifelong Passive Income

donna young July 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I love the way how you explained how backlinks play an importance in a site’s ranking. As to being called “backrub,” backlinks do follow that popular saying, “You’ll rub my back and I’ll rub yours.” Google ruled the search engines because they provided the best search results apart from the other search engines. As to submitting links to Google, you did mention that they try to check if the servers are unique but what if someone is using a proxy server or those remote desktop protocols? But it is indeed true that if you want to get ahead in the search engines, you have to link to as many sites possible. Love your post.
donna young´s last blog post ..Hotel Credit Card Hacking

Jim July 23, 2011 at 5:31 am

Hey james,

I have no idea that Google was once called backrub. I can’t imagine calling a search engine “Backrub”. Thank goodness they changed their names :D I think quality link building plus quality content is so much more important these days. Having said that quality link building without quality content will also not please Google much. I’ve also heard some interesting blog posts around the internet that domain age is also a very important factor. So even if you setup a new site and obey all the rules of quality content and link building, it still doesn’t mean you will rank well.
Jim@Grilling Tips´s last blog post ..Napoleon Grills Ultra Chef 405 Series Gas Grill with Rear Burner

Anjana July 25, 2011 at 5:47 am

It is really important that about ‘quality’ backlinks because most of the people do not consider about the quality of their backlinks. So there is lot to learn in this article and it is presented in a very attractive manner. Good work and keep it up James

Kavya Hari July 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Primarily, have to give quality comment to the post. have to give original comment to the post :)
Kavya Hari´s last blog post ..PayPal Hacked!

Wesley Wise July 28, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Very helpful and informative post you have here. A lot of bloggers forget that this one of the essential tools for a successful blog. Thanks for sharing.

Mat August 12, 2011 at 4:02 am

High quality backlinks matters in the eyes of search engine and I am sure each and every bloggar will appreciate these facts, which are well supported by the article.
Mat@Carports Kits´s last blog post ..Metal garage Kits-An Alternate to Permanent Steel Concrete Structure

john August 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Nice post dear…… Yes backlink is one of the most essential part of SEO but never know anything about Backrub

Previous post:

Next post: