There’s a ton of rhetoric online about how backlinks affect your ranking on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Backlinks appear in just about every article or study on ranking factors, so it’s safe to assume links matter and will continue to matter until the day domain authority or page authority are a non-entity. And, that isn’t likely to happen. In fact, backlinks were discussed recently in two of the Google Webmaster Central hangout sessions with John Mueller.
Mueller was asked two pertinent questions about backlinks in two separate hangouts this month. The first noteworthy question tackles two concerns regarding link algorithm changes, how long it takes for links to take effect and if it has anything to do with core ranking algorithms.
Mueller answered by explaining how a core algorithm update is made up of a number of changes to multiple algorithms. Those changes can significantly impact websites, but more importantly, Mueller points out that an algorithm update can change the “interpretation” of signals. This means some signals remain important but they’re perceived differently by Google. Mueller confirmed that when significant changes are made to a number of algorithms or to the way the algorithms interpret signals on a site, it’s called a core algorithm update. Any changes made to the link algorithm, Mueller says, can happen at any time and not only during a core algorithm update.
As far as establishing the time it takes for a link to affect your site rankings, well according to Mueller, when Google sees the link, the link will begin to impact your ranking.
“The way that we process links is something that is continuous,” Mueller said. “So it’s not that we have to wait for a specific time frame to see the new effect of the links. But rather when we see links on the web, we can take them into account essentially immediately.”
The second question about links, in a separate Google Webmaster Central hangout, has to do with whether descriptive anchor text matters for context purposes. Mueller’s response is that the context and content around the backlink is secondary and only assist in a small way and he confirms that anchor text with little context won’t hurt your website. Now with this said, it’s still best practice to keep your anchor text succinct, straightforward and relative to the context of your copy. Using generic anchor text, or conversely, keyword-stuffed anchor text, does impact how Google perceives your page and content. Generic anchor text doesn’t help Google understand what the pages are about and keyword-stuffed anchor text will be flagged as spammy, or you might be identified as having bought links — consider the Penguin Algorithm update.
In Search Engine Roundtable’s September 2020 Google Webmaster Report, two link-oriented concerns have been listed in the Google SEO section. Check out the piece explaining how Wikipedia links offer your content no value and how guest blog post links should have a nofollow attribution.
To understand more about how backlink factors can boost or hurt your ranking, check out Backlinko’s list of Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List. Factor 87 all the way through to 133 are about links and how they can impact your ranking and how Google views them.
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