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Google Says Links No Longer a Top 3 Ranking Factor: Should We Believe This?

Google Says Links No Longer a Top 3 Ranking Factor Should We Believe This

Do you remember when marketers tried hard to get lots of backlinks to make their websites appear first on Google? Well, those days might be over. Google experts like Gary Illyes say that getting lots of backlinks isn’t as important as it used to be for making your website rank high in search results.

According to Gary Ilyes:

I believe they are important, but I think people overestimate their significance. I don’t agree that they are in the top three. They haven’t been for some time. stated Illyes during Pubcon Pro in Austin in September 2023.

The SEO ranking factors are constantly changing with every tweak and algorithm update that Google makes. A factor that most SEOs have agreed upon being among the most important has been backlinks.

However, that perception is challenged by recent statements from Gary Illyes, a Google Analyst on the Google Search team.

This isn’t the first time where Illyes has mentioned such a concept, and the idea of reducing the significance of links has been advocated by other prominent figures in Google Search previously.

What Were the Top 3 Ranking Factors Of Google? 

Top 3 Ranking Factors Of Google

In a Q&A with Google, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, said the other two factors were links and content:

We can tell you what they are. It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site.

He wouldn’t say which was more important, so the top three list now looks like this:

  1. Links 
  2. Content
  3. RankBrain

Backlinks As A Ranking Factor & Google’s Backlink Stance Over the Years

Backlinks, often called inbound or external links, have long been the backbone of organic search engine optimization strategies. They functioned as endorsements, signaling to search engines that a particular website was credible and authoritative.

Think of them as the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth recommendations.

Backlinks [still] contribute value by establishing authority, aiding discovery, providing votes for competitive keywords, and sculpting internal PageRank flow”.

In 2016, Andrey Lipattsev, a Google search quality senior strategist, declared that backlinks were among the top three ranking factors for Google Search, along with content and RankBrain.

In general, the whole foundation of Google was the original PageRank algorithm which was built upon the concept of evaluating sites based on their link profile and their relative strength.

So, it’s in this light that Gary Illyes’s statement is quite a contrast to the common belief in SEO circles that backlinks are among the top three ranking factors.

Moreover, during his speech at Pubcon Pro, Illyes clarified that while backlinks are still important, their significance has been overestimated. He mentioned that backlinks haven’t been among the top three ranking factors. Illyes highlighted a case where a website ranked first without any backlinks, solely due to its exceptional content, discovered by Google through its sitemap.

This change in perspective on backlinks isn’t just from Illyes. Duy Nguyen from Google’s search quality team also acknowledged the decreasing impact of backlinks during a Google SEO Office Hours session.

“First, backlinks as a signal has a lot less significant impact compared to when Google Search started out many years ago”. Source: Google Office Hours Session on Youtube

While backlinks remain relevant, their importance in Google’s algorithm has decreased over time. Technology advancements like machine learning and natural language understanding now play a larger role.

However, backlinks still contribute to a website’s credibility, authority, and visibility. SEO professionals must recognize this shift and develop strategies that balance various optimization techniques, including backlinks, to meet each website’s unique needs.

The Concept of Backlinks and Why Do They Matter in SEO?

The Concept of Backlinks and Why Do They Matter in SEO

Backlinks, which are links from other websites to yours, are crucial for SEO. They signal to search engines like Google about your website’s credibility, authority, and relevance. 

Moreover, they act as “votes” for your site’s quality. When reputable sites link to yours, it indicates that your content is valuable. Search engines use this as a ranking factor, so the more high-quality backlinks you have, the better your chances of ranking higher in search results.

Backlinks matter in SEO because they can:

  1. Improve organic search rankings: Backlinks are one of the key factors that search engines consider when determining the ranking of a website. Having a strong backlink profile can help your website appear higher in SERPs, leading to increased visibility and organic traffic.
  2. Increase website credibility and authority: When reputable websites link to your content, it enhances your website’s credibility and authority in the eyes of both search engines and users. This can result in more trust and confidence in your website, leading to higher user engagement and conversions.
  3. Drive referral traffic: Backlinks not only help with SEO but also act as direct pathways for users to discover your website. When users click on a backlink on another website, they are directed to your website, resulting in referral traffic. This traffic is valuable because it consists of users who are already interested in the topic or content you offer, increasing the likelihood of them engaging with your website and converting into customers or subscribers.

What Strategies We Follow for Building Backlinks?

What Strategies We Follow for Building Backlinks

Now that we understand the importance of backlinks in SEO, let’s discuss some strategies to help you build high-quality backlinks efficiently:

  • Create high-quality, valuable content that other websites will want to link to.
  • Guest blog on reputable websites in your industry to establish yourself as an authority and include backlinks to your site.
  • Build relationships with influencers and industry experts to gain backlinks from their websites.
  • Participate in online communities and forums, sharing your expertise to attract backlinks from community members.
  • Utilize social media platforms to share your content and engage with influencers for potential backlink opportunities.
  • Use email outreach to contact relevant websites and explain the value of your content for potential backlinks.
  • Monitor and analyze your backlink profile to ensure the quality and relevance of your backlinks using tools like Google Search Console and Ahrefs.

Remember, building high-quality backlinks takes time and effort. Do not consider buying links as this is clearly against Google guidelines!

It’s important to focus on creating valuable content and building genuine relationships with influencers and industry experts. And generating helpful content that others will want to link to.

SEO Factors To Focus On: Tips From the Craxy Ninja’s SEO Experts

Instead of focusing too much on links, you can also optimize for other local search ranking factors. While Taripe still recommends building links “in a strategic manner,” she also advised to focus on other essential elements, which we’ll discuss below:

1. Focus on Content Quality

Search engines aim to provide users with the best possible answers to their queries, and well-researched, expertly crafted content is more likely to meet this objective.

It’s not just about quantity, though. These three organic search engine optimization elements are more critical for the reader and Google’s ranking algorithms, such as:

  • Depth: Google’s ranking algorithms favor research-based, credible, expert-level content that covers detailed topics. Ensure you’re going the extra mile to provide value and information readers can use.
  • Relevance: Do you create answer-based content that solves a problem? Your content should always be relevant to the query to appeal as a Google ranking factor.
  • Value: You don’t want to sound like you’re just repeating what’s already out there. Your content should be original, informative, and valuable to the reader. Google analytics and data-driven SEO content strategies can help you score higher in Google’s ranking algorithm.

And with advancements like Google’s BERT and MUM, the search engine’s ability to understand and interpret content quality has improved dramatically. These ranking algorithms can better grasp the context and nuances of content, making it even more essential for websites to produce genuinely valuable and contextually relevant material.

2. Optimize for Relevant Keywords

Optimizing for relevant keywords isn’t keyword stuffing – it’s about understanding your audience’s search intent and ensuring your content addresses those queries effectively. Naturally, incorporating relevant keywords within your content signals the topics and themes your content covers to search engines.

However, it’s essential to strike a balance. Too much organic search optimization can lead to penalties, while under-optimization might mean missing out on potential traffic.

The key is to focus on user intent for local ranking factors, using keywords as a guide to ensure your content quality aligns with what your audience is searching for.

3. Be Mobile-First

Google’s mobile-first indexing approach means the search engine predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.

A site that isn’t optimized for mobile not only provides a poor user experience but can also suffer in search rankings.

These organic search optimization factors are all crucial components of mobile optimization:

  • Responsive design
  • Fast loading times
  • Ease of navigation

As SEO trends become more mobile-first, your focus should shift to ensuring your website can be accessed and read easily on any device.

4. Keep Your Website Architecture in Mind

A well-structured website helps search engines crawl and index your content efficiently. Here’s how:

  • Logical site architecture
  • Clear navigation
  • Coherent URL structure

All these technical SEO elements play a role in optimizing your website’s crawlability and indexability. When search engines can easily understand and navigate your site, it’s more likely your content will be indexed correctly in Google’s page rank algorithm.

A good website structure enhances user experience and does not just score high in local search ranking factors.

When visitors can easily find what they’re looking for and navigate your site without confusion, they’re more likely to stay longer, engage more, and convert. This positive user behavior can indirectly influence your site’s search rankings, making website structure a dual-benefit factor for both SEO and user experience.

The Future of Link Building

Future of Link Building

Despite Google’s statements, should businesses still invest time and resources into building their website’s link portfolio? 

The answer is yes, and trends in SEO back this up.

Links continue to play a significant role in enhancing your website’s visibility and credibility. According to HubSpot, 51% of marketers observed positive effects of link-building strategies within one to three months of implementation.

uSERP also highlights that content pieces and backlinks are still crucial factors for ranking on Google for target keywords. Websites with more unique root domains generally outrank those with fewer, emphasizing the importance of cultivating a diverse and robust link profile.

With 67.5% of SEOs believing that backlinks significantly impact search engine rankings, it’s evident that link building remains a vital component of SEO strategies.

Stats Of BackLinks

Stats Of BackLinks

In a recent survey of uSERP, 

  • 67.5% believe that backlinks have a big impact on search engine rankings
  • 56.2% believe that link quality and quantity impact rankings
  • 54% think that nofollow links improve authority and/or rankings
  • 85% think that link-building has a big impact on brand authority
  • 59% say backlinks will have more of an impact on rankings in the next few years
  • 46.5% spend $5,000 to $10,000 a month on link building
  • 40.7% say content marketing provides the strongest passive link-building results
  • 30% say organic traffic is the best way to measure the quality of a link
  • 33% say authority metrics are the best way to measure backlink quality

Rank High on SERPs With a Data-Driven SEO Agency

While the importance of backlinks and other website ranking factors may shift over time, the goal remains the same: to achieve a prominent position on search engine results pages.

Our Craxy Ninja SEO team stays ahead of the curve, ensuring your strategies align with the latest SEO trends and insights. Whether it’s link building, content creation, or any other aspect of SEO, our data-driven SEO agency experts are equipped to propel your website to the top.

Don’t leave your online visibility to chance, and get ahead of trends in SEO. Contact us and let us help you dominate the SERPs.


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