In a recent Reddit AMA, John Mueller of Google said outright that links don’t always help websites to improve their ranking.
“SEOs often focus on links too much, it doesn’t always help their sites in the long run or is probably not the most efficient thing to do to promote a website.” – John Mueller, Google
Why Links Have Become Less Important
Traditional link building strategies were created based on old Google algorithms. Practices like listing on directories, guest posts and link exchanges used to be effective ways to rank on Google, however as more SEOs learned the tactics and began scaling them, they have become less effective.
Links don’t count the same way they used to, for the following reasons.
1. The Application of the ‘Reduced Link Graph’
Having some backlinks to your site is a good way to indicate to Google that your content is useful and relevant. With a few quality backlinks, you can ensure your site is crawled by Google and pass a bit of page rank to your website.
Since the Penguin algorithm update, however, it’s clear that Google is focused on websites having links from the right sites in order to be considered for ranking. This is known as the Reduced Link Graph. Reduced link graphs are a way for search engines to identify links from high-quality websites and remove links from low-quality spam sites in its link ranking calculation. It’s called the reduced link graph because it’s not a complete map of every page online, instead it is reduced to the sites that matter.
2. Some Links Will Help with Site Rank, But Others Do Nothing
By considering the concept of the Reduced Link Graph, where search engines map links between relevant pages, it is clear that there are certain types of links online that will still help your website’s position in SERPs.
For years, SEO specialists have looked at a metric called Domain Authority. This is a search engine ranking score developed by SEO experts, Moz, that predicts how well a website is likely to rank on search engine result pages. The Authority score ranges from 1 to 100; the higher the score, the more likely a page is to rank. SEO specialists looking at this metric think that getting links from sites with a high authority score is better for improving their website ranking. However, Google is on record denying that a Domain Authority metric exists. Most of the big online news outlets have an extremely high Domain Authority and have long been targets for SEO link builders. However, two of these companies, Forbes and Huffington Post, put ‘no-follow’ attributes on their outbound links in the summer of 2017. This essentially tells Google’s search crawlers to ignore the link and decrease its value and authority, however, it did not have an impact on rankings.
The takeaway from this is that a middle ground between the two is necessary. As mentioned above, links from spammy sites do not work, but you also don’t need to go for the biggest players online. Aim for quality sites that are relevant to your industry, audience and the products or services that you sell.
3. Search Engines Shift Focus to User Intent
You don’t have to be an SEO specialist to know that SERPs are not a list of the pages ranked from most to least links. Google is more focused on delivering the pages that satisfy most users. This is known as matching web pages to user intent. User intent basically means that the webpage a person lands on matches their query.
For example, when a user searches for the term ‘Jaguar’ they may be looking for pages on the car manufacturer or on the animal. If Google deduces that most users seem to be looking for pages about Jaguar, the car manufacturer when they type in this keyword, that’s what they will rank first.
4. What Does This Mean For SEO?
Ranking is no longer about getting the most or best links. As such, modern SEOs have to think about link building in a different way. Link building may not be the dominant SEO strategy, but it should still play a part in a comprehensive SEO strategy.
Rather than worrying about gaining huge amounts of links with the right anchor text, consider where your users are spending their time online and try to acquire links or unlinked citations from those pages. It can also be useful to focus on other SEO factors, like on-page optimisation to increase user engagement with your website. In addition, developing an internal linking strategy, creating relevant content that adds value to your user and investing in technical SEO can all help ensure your website is performing well on the SERPs.
For more information on backlinking, or your overall SEO Strategy, get in touch with the SEO experts at Digital Squad, your leading SEO agency Hong Kong.