Remember when Google said that links were a top-three ranking factor in 2016? Well, that’s no longer the case, according to Search Analyst Gary Illyes.
“I think they are important, but I think people overestimate the importance of links. I don’t agree it’s in the top three. It hasn’t been for some time,” said Illyes in an AMA at Pubcon Pro on September 21, 2023.
This has been the stance of Google for some time now. In November 2022, Duy Nguyen, a member of Google’s Search Quality team, said “backlinks as a signal has a lot less significant impact” than before.
In a November Search Off The Record podcast episode, Search Advocate John Mueller said “future links might be weighted less in the overall Google Search ranking algorithm.”
All these statements point to one thing: links are not as important today as they were in 2016. In fact, Illyes said that “it is possible to rank without links” if you have extremely good content and a sitemap that makes it easier to get discovered.
So, does this mean links are a thing of the past? Absolutely not.
While links are not in the top three, it’s still a ranking signal. But since Google’s algorithms have evolved so much and become more intelligent with hundreds of signals to weigh, it’s easy to see why links don’t hold that much prominence anymore.
Here are some helpful resources from Google to get you started:
These guidelines also highlight that you should think about the bigger picture instead of hyper-focusing on one aspect of SEO. This way, you’ll ensure that you’re ranking high in Google regardless of what algorithm update they put out in the future.
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