Well, Google dropped a bombshell at the recent SEO shindig called PupCon. They said links are about as important as your collection of vintage rubber duckies. Gary Illyes from Google even left links out of his top 3 crucial factors!
So, does this mean that links are now as relevant as last year’s fashion trends for SEO? Can we toss out our link-building strategies like outdated memes? Or is there another twist to this eyebrow-raising headline?
Let’s get a magnifying glass and take a closer look, shall we?
Links and link building – where it all began
Once upon a time (well, not so long ago), search engines thought of links as road signs guiding them to the juiciest corners of the internet.
Google wasn’t the brainiac behind this concept, mind you. Some other search engines (circa 25 years ago) were already dabbling in it. But Google made it famous with their PageRank algorithm, where links were the star of the show.
Initially, search engines were all smiles about link signals because they were pure as mountain spring water. No one had (at that time) messed with them. The sites with the most links were considered the cat’s pajamas. Google practically put a blindfold on and followed these links like breadcrumbs.
But, as with any good tale, things took a twist. Soon enough, SEO folks like us started dabbling in link building. It’s the SEO way, always evolving to what works.
As link building became more popular, link signals got murkier. Search engines couldn’t trust that every link was a genuine vote of confidence. More and more links were popping up solely for the purpose of impressing search engines like Google.
So, Google and other search engines started developing filters to filter out the junk links and began trying to convince everyone that links weren’t all that important.
The first part makes sense. The latter? Well, that’s a fishy tale.
Links ARE still a big deal in SEO, but…
In the last 25-30 years, new SEO factors joined the party. Search engines’ evaluation of links, technology, content, and quality became fancier than a tuxedo-wearing cat.
So, you could say that links are like the sidekick in today’s SEO world, whereas they used to be the superhero 15-20 years ago.
But does that mean links have become as obsolete as a floppy disk? Gary Illyes from Google dropped this bomb at the conference:
Links are not a “top 3” ranking signal and hasn’t been “for some time …
Well, I have to say, that doesn’t quite jive with my own practical experience.
He gave an example of a site with fantastic content and almost no links ranking well.
But I can show you the opposite – sites with lousy content and a ton of spammy links also soaring in rankings.
What’s the moral of the story? Sometimes anecdotes are like unicorns – rare and magical, but not always reliable.
This smells like Google’s old campaign to get us SEO wizards to be less link-happy. But let’s not jump to conclusions.
There’s a bit more weight to the statement Duy Nguyen from Google’s search quality team made last year:
Backlinks as a signal have a lot less significant impact compared to when Google Search first started out many years ago.
Should you kick link building to the curb?
Well, that’s your call. But if you ask me, links – no matter what Google’s been saying – are still a big deal that won’t disappear like yesterday’s TikTok trends.
Sure, having a technically sound website, quality content, and user engagement are crucial. Some sites naturally attract links like bees to honey and don’t need to break a sweat for more.
CNN is a good example:
Since 2013, they’ve acquired over 900,000 new unique domain links! And I’m pretty sure they haven’t worked on link building to get them.
But let’s be real; most of us aren’t running websites like the big shots. We get fewer organic links than a single-occupancy elevator.
Whether the links you naturally acquire are enough to climb the SEO ladder is your call. But in my book, very few websites can’t benefit from a little extra link love.
Is Google lying?
Well, I won’t accuse them of being Pinocchio, but it’s no secret that they’ve always nudged webmasters toward actions that benefit them most. That’s just (fair) business.
But that doesn’t mean we should take everything they say as gospel. After all, the truth about SEO is often as elusive as a Sasquatch sighting.