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Are Links Still the Kingpin of Google Search Rankings?

does link building still work?

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A Fresh Perspective from Gary Illyes

In the ever-evolving landscape of SEO, keeping tabs on what factors influence your website’s ranking on Google is crucial. For years, links have been hailed as one of the top three ranking factors, alongside content and RankBrain. However, according to Gary Illyes, an analyst on the Google Search team, the SEO playbook has seen a few updates since then.

Speaking at the recent Pubcon Pro event in Austin, Gary Illyes set the record straight: links may not be as vital to your ranking as they once were. But before you start dismantling your link-building strategy, let’s take a closer look at what this means for your SEO efforts.

The Evolution of SEO

First things first, links still matter in the world of SEO. Illyes made that point clear. However, it’s essential to understand that Google’s search algorithm is not what it used to be in the early 2000s when PageRank ruled the roost, and every link acted as a vote of confidence for your website. Over time, Google has embraced technological advancements, incorporating machine learning algorithms like BERT and MUM, natural language understanding, and other relevant signals into its ranking criteria.

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The Link Debate

When asked if links still occupy a spot among the top three ranking factors, Illyes responded with a resounding no. He believes that people often overestimate the importance of links and asserts that they haven’t held a top-three status for quite some time now.

Illyes even went a step further, suggesting that it’s possible to achieve high rankings without relying on links. While this might sound like an exception rather than the rule, he cited an example of a website that boasted exceptional content and ranked consistently at number one, despite having zero links—Google discovered this gem through the website’s sitemap.

This isn’t the first time Google representatives have downplayed the significance of links. Duy Nguyen from Google’s search quality team echoed similar sentiments, emphasising that backlinks have become less influential over the years. Google has developed numerous ranking signals to ensure that it delivers the most relevant results for users meaning Gary Illyes is not the first to bring this conversation to the SEO forum.

Looking Ahead to SEO in 2024 and beyond

Google’s John Mueller has also hinted that links might lose some of their importance as a ranking factor in the future. While they will always be a reference point for discovering web pages, their weight in the ranking algorithm could diminish.

So, where does this leave us? Is this just another case of Google misdirection, a common accusation from SEO experts? It’s important to note that Illyes didn’t dismiss links altogether. He simply pointed out that they no longer hold a top-three ranking factor status.

In the realm of SEO, one thing remains constant: change. Adaptation is key to staying ahead of the curve. While links may have lost some ground in the ranking hierarchy, they’re far from obsolete. Striking a balance between quality content, user experience, and a thoughtful link strategy will continue to be the recipe for SEO success.

Remember, there may not be a one-size-fits-all “top three” ranking factor for every website. Each site is unique, and its ranking success hinges on various factors. Keep experimenting, stay informed, and be ready to adapt to the evolving SEO landscape.

In conclusion, links still play a role in SEO, but they’re no longer the undisputed kingpins they once were. SEO professionals should broaden their horizons, exploring the multifaceted world of modern SEO and staying open to the evolving dynamics of search engine algorithms and thats where the experts at Outrank kick in!

If you need any SEO advice drop one of our time served execs a call today!

*Inspiration from a great post by our friends at search engine land!

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