Why Are Links so Important for SEO? or Are They?

importance of backlinks for SEO

Surely, the site with the most inbound links is the site that has the best SEO team? Right?

In the early days, the primary factors Google considered were links and link quality. While they are still important today, it’s more useful to think about a range of factors when performing SEO.

Google has worked consistently to improve the search experience for its users through the quality of its search results. It’s useful to look at how Google has developed its search over time and to make the relevant adjustments to marketing and content creation, including how we think about links.

In the Beginning There Was PageRank

Google’s PageRank algorithm counts how many links point to the site in question. The idea is that the most useful and satisfying sites will get the most links.

PageRank now assesses the quality of those linking sites too. One link from an authoritative website, therefore, is worth more than several links from lower quality websites.

Before quality was a major factor, however, SEOs found that increasing inbound links was a relatively easy way to boost the rankings of a site. Old-school SEO professionals got as many links as they could, since all links were created equal. Low-quality links were not a thing.

Poor quality directory sites and even new sites without content could be exploited to link to a website that an SEO guy wanted to boost.

Google Penguin's War on Link Building

Google Penguin

In April 2012, Google reacted to the exploitation of the system, which was adversely affecting its search results. We saw the introduction of Google Penguin, which aimed to improve the quality of links.

This algorithm made Google more effective at catching sites that were spamming Google search results. It was particularly good at identifying site owners that were buying links or using link networks that were designed not to share good quality sites but to boost Google rankings regardless of quality.

Links that Google deems attempts to manipulate a site’s ranking might be considered part of a link scheme. Link schemes are to be avoided since they violate Google’s webmaster guidelines and will cause any associated site to plummet in the rankings.

Beware that links Google considers manipulative can be outgoing from your site as well as inbound. Here are some examples of link schemes. If you’ve been indulging in any of these activities, you may already have seen the results (or lack of search results) of Google’s Penguin algorithm.

Excessive link swaps – link exchanges are a good idea when the intent is to benefit your visitors and provide complementary resources, products, and services. Do this too often or too heavily, however, and it can look like an attempt to maximize cross-linking solely to boost your ranking.

Note that Google is not against reciprocal links. It is against reciprocal links that are not primarily intended to benefit site visitors but to impress Google’s bots.

Paid links – Google considers a quality link to be one that was created because someone thought a site was of value and wanted to share it with his or her visitors. Most people agree. Acquiring a paid link, however, is a nefarious business practice that includes offering someone a free product in exchange for a review that includes a link.

Massive marketing campaigns with many keyword-rich anchored links – You can create a gigantic marketing campaign on your site, but if too many of your links are keyword rich, this could backfire. You’d be better off scaling back your campaign or altering it to provide genuinely useful content.

Automated link creation – We can all benefit from some automation here and there, but Google is not fond of programs or services that create links to your site.

Link creation, of course, often happens without our input. These links are normally to be celebrated, but, as we have seen, some links are harmful to your ranking, so it’s worth keeping an eye on things.

Use Google Search Console to review your links. This is a simple and effective tool that will show you who is linking to your URLs. And here’s a comprehensive, good-looking https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/ You can take a look at your domain authority, linking domains, your top pages according to page authority, and other useful information.

It is good to see who is linking to your content so that you can monitor the effectiveness of your link-generating campaigns. It’s wise to moderate how your site is linked to others and how that might be perceived by Google.

Google Panda's Content Quality Filter

This update, a search filter, came into play at approximately the same time as Google Penguin. Here, however, we started to see Google’s focus on website content.

As they started to balance factors like link building with the actual usefulness of the content on sites, it signaled to SEO professionals that quality would be increasingly important.

Panda is updated at intervals. If your site has lost ranking following a Panda update, you can get back in Google’s good books during the next update by making relevant changes to your content.

Equally, sites that have escaped the eye of Panda may find themselves discovered next time round.

Google Hummingbird Brings Context

Google Hummingbird

The Google Hummingbird update is so called because it is inspired by speed and precision. It aims to make Google better at determining users’ intent; the meaning behind the words in search queries.

It is examining each word in a search and taking into account not only individual words, but also the phrase, and the content being sought.

In the early days of the internet, pages with the right words would do best in the rankings. Now, however, Google is savvier about context and what searchers are really looking for. What does that mean for content creators? Being clever about keywords is not the beginning and end of your role.

It's All About Web Quality

With all these incremental updates and improvements, Google is refining what it does and improving standards across the web. It not only lists the best sites on the web, but it also encourages business owners, web designers and developers, and content creators to make the internet more useful for everyone.

While Google is not the only search engine, it has become synonymous with search. It is the major player, with many other search engines falling in behind. It makes sense to pay attention to their guidelines and to modify your content and marketing accordingly.

The Rise of the Machine

Content and link quality are at the heart of Google’s algorithms. Google’s brain, however, is AI.

What do we mean by AI? When we talk about AI here, we are referring to machine learning. With machine learning, a computer can acquire knowledge to make new connections and to improve what it does. While we haven’t yet seen true AI, we use the term to refer to computer systems that are designed to make these connections and to learn.

Google now relies less on the aforementioned traditional factors. RankBrain, a part of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, is particularly ‘interested’ in very rare queries. While it refines the queries processed by Google, it is also used to help rank pages. According to Google, it is the third most important part of how Google ranks pages.

Because Google uses many signals to rank web pages, it’s important not to get too focused on any one factor for too long. Some refining is useful, but a holistic approach to your content creation and marketing is going to help you most in the rankings.

Remember that Google considers RankBrain its third most important ranking signal? Although Google keeps some things mysterious, we can ascertain that the two most important signals of all are links and content.

Only Google really knows...

What we can say is that if you create quality content, you will attract authentic, quality links. This kind of thinking will help you acquire more, better quality links. You’ll attract these very important links as a byproduct of creating a high-quality website with useful or entertaining content that people want to share.

If you’ve done your research, you’ll be making sure that your content is relevant to your target audience in terms of length, topics, content types, tone, and frequency. Getting all these elements right will help you get more of the links that you need, and you’ll be satisfying all the most important ranking factors.

Conclusion

Google describes links as “editorial votes given by choice.” The concept is a good one. It will help you focus your digital marketing and less on "link building".

Keep an eye on your links, but don’t focus on them excessively. Create high-quality, valuable content that is relevant to your audience. The better your content, the more links you are likely to receive.

Despite the evolution of Google, search, and how people navigate the internet, link quality remains one of the top ways to determine the quality of a website, and ensuring the quality of your website, and its content, remains one of the top ways to attract more, high-quality links.