Link development is one of the most controversial and often discussed about topics of the search engine optimization industry. Since backlinks are the most vital component of any search engine optimization campaign, and at the same time the most time consuming and consequently most expensive (assuming they are good quality links and not just random directory submissions and blog comment spam) part, inevitably, there are many service providers who offer inexpensive link building services in order to attract and impress potential clients.
For search engines that crawl the vast metropolis of the web, links are the streets between pages. Using sophisticated link analysis, the engines can discover how pages are related to each other and in what ways.
Since the late 1990s search engines have treated links as votes for popularity and importance in the ongoing democratic opinion poll of the web. The engines themselves have refined the use of link data to a fine art, and use complex algorithms to perform nuanced evaluations of sites and pages based on this information.
Links aren't everything in SEO, but search professionals attribute a large portion of the engines' algorithms to link-related factors (see Search Engine Ranking Factors). Through links, engines can not only analyze the popularity websites and pages based on the number and popularity of pages linking to them, but also metrics like trust, spam, and authority. Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trusted sites, while spammy sites receive very few links from trusted sources (see MozTrust). Authority models, like those postulated in the Hilltop Algorithm, suggest that links are a very good way of identifying expert documents on a given subject.