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One of the ongoing debates regarding Google Search’s ranking algorithm is the importance of links. For some time now, there has been a school of thought that says links are one of the most important elements of ensuring your site ranks as highly as possible, but is this actually the case? And is it set to be the case in the near future?
It seems that links are becoming less and less important when it comes to Google Page Rank, and over time, they are likely to reduce even more in importance as Google begins to gain a better understanding of how content fits within the entire web’s content.
John Mueller, Google’s representative, has even said that he believes that the Google Search of the future will have a ranking algorithm in which links aren’t anywhere near as vital to the algorithm overall as today. He has even dropped hints that links aren’t as heavily weighted now as they once were, stating that, although links are always going to hold some importance due to the need to be able to find useful pages via some method, their importance will drop a little in the years to come, with changes in this respect already being felt in the way that sites are currently ranked.
The upshot of this information is that web content creators should be focusing more on the quality of the content that they produce and less on the importance of link building. The most recent Google algorithm trend has been towards having high quality content, and in fact, it has been proven that better quality content can generate links organically with no need to actually request them or carry out intensive link building campaigns.
While links aren’t dead as a key Google Search ranking factor, and are unlikely to ever be so, as Google improves its ability to understand content, it can place less reliance on links. Interviews with Google representatives have covered the subject of Google’s penalising of backlinks, stating that, while backlinks are important for ranking, working actively on obtaining them can often become a grey area, and content creators who are actively seeking out more backlinks are putting themselves at risk of facing Google penalties for their actions.
In general, Google actively discourages any kind of link building that isn’t natural or organic, although its representatives steer well clear of outlining the specific criteria that it uses to determine which sites will be penalised and which will not due to the fear that giving details away about penalties may encourage more grey hat behaviours that walk the fine line between acceptability and behaviour that should be penalised.
John Mueller has suggested that Google is becoming increasingly adept at being able to understand the ways in which pieces of content fit into the remainder of the web, and for this reason, in the future, its algorithm will need to rely far less on the use of inbound links.
The implication of this statement is potentially that content creators shouldn’t be overly concerned about the possibility of incurring penalties since in the years to come, backlinks are set to have far less value than they currently do. But to suggest that backlinks only have value when it comes to understanding content runs the risk of disregarding the other vital information that they can communicate.
Backlink profiles give far more information about a site than just details about the content itself. For example, it also shows how much the content is trusted by other people, who trusts it, and the level of authority that the site has within its specific niche.
So, can Google determine all of the above information only from on-page content without needing to use backlinks at all? That’s a question that hasn’t yet been addressed by John Mueller, who was very carefully not to speak about inbound links in terms of their authority aspect. However, he did point out that they would carry on being helpful in terms of content discovery.
He expressed the importance of being able to find pages via some method, and one of the best ways to do this is by finding references to it via links. With this in mind, it seems clear that, at least for the foreseeable future, while links may gradually reduce in importance in terms of determining what content is about, they will stay retain value when it comes to the other valuable aspects that links provide such as determining site authority and the level of trust that the site visitors have in the content that is provided.
Although John Mueller has clearly said that links are already less important today in terms of site rankings, and are set to become even less important in the future to the Google ranking algorithms, that doesn’t mean that you should overlook the importance of link building campaigns entirely. Studies have revealed that link building still has significance when it comes to ranking any site in the Google Search engine results, with Google stating just a couple of years ago that links were within its top 3 rank factors.
With this in mind, it’s clear that, although link building may not be quite as vital as you may have expected, you shouldn’t forget about them completely. They still have significant relevance if you want your website to rank as highly as possible and be found by as many prospective customers as possible.
Adding link building campaigns into your existing strategy remains as important as it ever was, although you should place your focus more squarely on obtaining those links in a more organic fashion through the production and publication of high-quality content that naturally attracts a high readership that wants to link back to the content rather than seeking out paid backlinks that may, in the end, offer less value for your rankings overall.