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Google Confirms Incoming Links Are Not That Important Anymore

by | News, SEO

For many years, links pointing to a website were one of the most crucial factors in how highly that site would rank in Google’s search results. However, in recent years Google has been explicitly downplaying the importance of links as a ranking signal.

Why Were Incoming Links Deemed Important?

Back in the late 1990s, early research papers discovered that the link structure across the internet could be used as a way to determine which websites were the most authoritative and relevant for particular topics. Highly linked-to sites were seen as more authoritative sources that should rank higher.

Google quickly adopted this link-based approach and made effective use of anchor text (the visible text used for a link) to crowdsource human opinions on what sites were relevant for different queries. Links with relevant anchor text pointing to a page helped indicate to Google that the page was about that topic.

BlackHat SEOs Gamed the Algorithm

However, this system was soon abused by BlackHat SEOs and spammers trying to manipulate rankings. Over a period of many years, Google took steps to devalue different types of manipulative links – from directories, footers, guest posts, paid links, and other link schemes.

Finally, in 2019 Google began treating some types of “nofollow” links (those intended to not influence rankings) as potential ranking signals as well. This was done because the traditional ranking signal from links had become so corrupted and unreliable.

More Recent Statements on Links from Google

In the past year, top Google representatives have given unusually direct statements downplaying the role of links as a major ranking signal:

  • In 2023, Gary Illyes from Google said links were not even in the top 3 most important ranking factors anymore.
  • In March 2024, Google updated its official webmaster documentation to remove the word “important” when describing how links are used as a ranking factor.
  • In April 2024, John Mueller advised that there are more useful SEO activities to focus on than link building now.
  • Finally at a recent search conference, Gary Illyes stated bluntly: “We need very few links to rank pages… Over the years we’ve made links less important.”

Why Links Matter Less Now

The reason links likely matter much less now is due to advancements in Google’s AI and natural language processing capabilities. Google’s understanding of context and content on the internet has progressed to the point where they can often determine relevance and quality without heavily relying on the flawed signals from links.

This represents a major shift for SEOs who previously spent enormous amounts of time and effort on link building campaigns. While links still likely have some role, the growing consensus is that technical optimization, quality content, mobile-friendliness, site architecture and other direct website factors are now much more worthwhile areas of focus than intensive link building.

Of course, Google’s algorithms are constantly evolving and the importance of various ranking factors could shift again in the future. But for now, the message is clear – effective SEO requires rethinking old assumptions about links being the top priority. A more balanced, holistic approach is needed to keep up with Google’s latest developments.

So What Can You Do? Create Content That Demonstrates E-E-A-T

To create content that demonstrates E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness), focus on establishing your website and authors as credible, knowledgeable sources on the topics you cover. For expertise, have content written or edited by those with verifiable expertise through credentials, education, or professional experience in the subject matter. Clearly display author bios and backgrounds.

For authoritativeness, build a reputation as a reliable, accurate source of information. Thoroughly research and fact-check content, citing reputable external sources and studies. Encourage user comments, question submission, and engagement to show authority.

Trustworthiness comes from being transparent about who operates the website, having an obvious editorial process and content guidelines, and building a track record of user satisfaction over time. Post contact information, author bios, and an about page discussing your principles and mission.

Other factors like having a secure https connection, disclosing any conflicts of interest, correcting errors publicly, and moderating user-generated content also build trust. Ultimately, delivering high-quality, factual information by authentic experts (read: you) is key to an E-E-A-T optimized website.

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Blake Discher

BLAKE J. DISCHER, FOUNDER

Blake was a professional corporate photographer and educator on all things SEO. After working with fellow photographers who would ask him to build and optimize their sites, he decided to create GO-SEO, a Web Design + SEO company for service-based businesses.

SEO and website design are now his full-time career and photography is a satisfying hobby. His only camera these days is a Leica Q2 Monochrome which he absolutely loves!

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