Are links still important to SEO?
There is considerable evidence that Google’s core ranking metrics are – and will remain – link based. Nevertheless, the correlation between strong link building and factors such as ranking, page traffic and conversion is a continuing source of debate.
The emergence of algorithm components such as RankBrain have led SEOs to doubt the continued significance of links to site optimisation strategy, with some even going so far as to describe it as the beginning of the end for link building.
How did the Google Penguin update affect link building?
Google’s Penguin update was first implemented in April 2012 in order to combat link schemes designed to manipulate its ranking algorithm. The update targeted websites with backlinks from low-quality websites or unnatural links leading to third-party articles in order to artificially boost their relevance in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Penguin has been described by John Mueller of Google as a site-wide algorithm, meaning that evidence of manipulative link building on one webpage will compromise the relevance of your entire domain. According to an analysis of Penguin 4.0 by Moz however, this aspect of the filter may have relaxed slightly.
The Penguin update recognised the significance of quality link building in SEO and cemented its importance to Google’s algorithm:
Is link building important to Google?
A study conducted in 2016 by Backlinko which analysed 1 million Google search results demonstrated that first page rankings correlated more strongly with the number of domains linking to a page than with than any other factor. Backlinko’s recently updated analysis on Google’s ranking factors in 2018 confirms that their 2016 findings still ring true.
Good quality link building is essential to SEO because it does not simply indicate authority, it is facilitated by the creation of authoritative web pages. Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google Ireland, described the two most important ranking factors as ‘content and… links pointing to your site’.
Well-written, well-researched content resources such as blogs or industry research studies are valuable because they attract links, which in turn encourages the production of quality content to enable successful link building.
Link building remains important to SEO because it helps to realise a key part of Google’s mission statement – to provide information that is useful to the user.
What does the future hold for link building?
Specialists have suggested that Google are reducing the significance of links in determining a page’s relevance.
With this in mind, it is even more important for SEOs to focus on producing a high-quality white hat link building service. Links from trusted sites can have a palpable effect on page traffic. As such, a reliance on building lower-quality links will result in domains becoming increasingly difficult to rank and may also incur site penalisation.
Given the current significance of links to Google’s algorithm, it is highly unlikely that the importance of quality link building in SEO will diminish at any time in the near future.