Search engines such as Google are constantly refining and adjusting algorithms that determine web site page rankings. This ever-changing online landscape can be confusing – planting the seed of doubt in users accustomed to link building. In extreme cases, link building is abandoned altogether and viewed as a kind of devious decoy staged by Google to manipulate or punish users. The truth, as proven by many recent studies, is that links remain an important component of page ranking algorithms.
Opposition to link building
The Google ranking algorithm is a closely guarded secret, possibly made up of hundreds of ranking factors. The relevancy of individual factors is hotly debated even by experienced webmasters, so it’s no surprise that the average computer user feels out of their depth when trying to implement strategies for increasing page views. Opponents of links as a priority tend to emphasise other factors, including:
- The introduction of new ranking systems
- Quality content overriding all other considerations
- Social media signals
- RankBrain artificial intelligence systems providing more accurate ranking relevancy
- User engagement trumping other factors
The above examples are acknowledged as increasingly significant ranking factors. However, they don’t necessarily prove that links have diminished in importance. In fact, most experts agree that links are second only to quality content for establishing rankings, with RankBrain coming in third.
Analytics supporting links
Marketing analytics giants Moz and Searchmetrics have recently conducted extensive studies on ranking factors. The results overwhelmingly support the belief that links remain a powerful tool for driving web traffic. Analytic and algorithmic tools are becoming more sophisticated, enabling a greater degree of accuracy when determining the intrinsic value of a web page. Prior to this, the role of links had been contested to a large degree because of manipulative, spam-like link building designed to drive traffic to any web page, regardless of relevancy.
Fortunately, a major focus by Google in refinement of their algorithm is to weed out low-quality material from the equation. Search engines now more consistently take quality content from both the link source and target pages into consideration when determining page ranking. Links originating from a highly regarded source are, therefore, naturally seen as a vote of confidence by Google.
The importance of page authority
Page authority greatly influences rankings, therefore a page with quality content will attract greater attention, appreciation and links. These links can come from within the website itself, or from external sources. Examples include:
- Unique IPs that link to the URL
- Root domains that include pages linked to the URL
- External links (followed and non-followed) linked to the URL
- Root domains with links to the URL subdomain
- Subdomains with page links to the URL
While it’s true that a website with strong inbound links can be highly ranked, there is no reason to undervalue relevant links from other sources. Exceptions include web sites with obscure names and pages employing unusual phrases. These may not require an abundance of links, as search competition will be limited. However, inbound links become much more important when competing against other websites using similar terminology. These inbound links add a voice of authority and enable Google and other search engines to differentiate between competitors.
Pages that are not greatly influenced by links include:
- In-depth research articles aimed at a specific target audience
- Search queries that warrant diverse results
- Localised search (not including maps)
Links used wisely support quality content
Content quality may not be everything, but without the onus on good, authoritative writing, our browsing experience might become the online equivalent of negotiating an overgrown and neglected giant maze. For now, at least, higher page rankings can still be most ably achieved by combining high quality content with links from respected sources.
It’s understandable that quality, relevant content should be the driving force behind search engine algorithms. If content is weak, irrelevant or garbled, the page really shouldn’t rank. Algorithms evolve, as do other factors, as mentioned by Eric Enge in an informing Stone Temple Consulting article recently.
Enge acknowledged that influential online players such as YouTube are increasingly on the algorithm radar, especially as computers further evolve as entertainment and information devices. Every new browsing experience provides another avenue for linking content, offering expansive marketing opportunities across all web-based media.