Google is more inclined towards fresh content than anything else lately. You can see a lot of fresh content being ranked highly for a particular keyword without any backlinks whatsoever. Is it still relevant?
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Yep, spammy backlinks tantamount to downranking and heavy battering from Google.Yes links are still a vital part of SEO along with valuable and unique content. Spammy backlinking tactics no longer work but if you do it right they play an important role in rankings. (Info is from Matt Callens SEO course)