Posted by randfish
There are some great arguments to be made on both sides of the question of whether links are losing value in Google’s algorithm. In some ways, it seems that they are — and in some, they’re more valuable than ever. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explores both sides of the argument, offering some concrete advice to SEOs on how they can navigate today’s waters.
Are Links Losing Value in Google’s Ranking Algorithms-WBF_1
Here’s the link to coverage of Google’s testing removing links from the algorithm, and to the roundup post where links as a ranking signal are discussed (in particular, check out Russ Jones’ reply in the comments). For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today, I want to talk a little bit about links losing their value in Google’s ranking algorithm.
So Google recently came out and talked about how they had tested a version of their search engine, of search quality algorithms, ranking algorithms, that did not include links as a ranking signal. Of course, a lot of SEOs went “Wait, they did what?”
But it turns out Google actually said they really did not like the results. They didn’t like what they saw when they removed links from the ranking elements. So maybe SEOs are going, “Okay, can I breathe easy, or are they going to keep trying to find ways to take links out of the ranking equation?” Certainly, links for a long time have been an extremely powerful way for SEOs and folks to move the needle on indexation, on rankings, on getting traffic from search engines.
I’m going to personally come out and say that, in my opinion, we will continue to see links in Google’s rankings systems for at least the next five and probably the next ten years. Whether they continue to be as important and as powerful as they’ve been, I think is worthy of a discussion, and I do want to bring up some points that some very intelligent marketers and SEOs have made on both sides of the issue.
So, first off, there are some folks who are saying, “No, this is crazy. Links are actually growing in value.” I thought Russ Jones from Virante made some excellent comments on a recent blog post where some experts had been asked to do a thought experiment around what Google might do if links were to lose signals.
He made some good points, one of which was as Google filters out . . . so let’s say I’ve got this webpage on Google, and as I filter out the value that are passed from some links through algorithms like Penguin or through filtration systems that remove either Web spam or low-quality links or links that we don’t find valuable in our relevancy algorithms, it actually is the case that these other links grow in importance. In fact, as Russ wisely pointed out, many of the other kinds of signals that Google might potentially replace links with, things around user and usage data, things around social signals, all of those things actually can be validated through the link graph, and you can use the link graph to add additional context and information about those other signals. So I think there’s a point to be made.
People have also pointed out that as we get into this world where no-follow is very, very common, a lot of websites putting no-follow on there, social sharing is oftentimes a much more common form of evangelizing or sharing information than linking is. Before we had the popularity of Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Google+ and all these networks, that social sharing would have been bloggers and people in forums linking out to these resources.
There’s also, unfortunately, created a lot by Google themselves, and Bing to a certain extent, too, there are many, many webmasters and site owners and editorial specialists on the Web who have a fear of linking out. They worry that by linking to something bad or if they link out and then something happens to that website they link out to, that maybe something will happen to their site.
As a result, it’s actually become a greater and greater challenge over time to earn editorial links for everyone. This is interesting because it actually suggests that there is more value when you do earn those editorial links. So I think there’s a very credible case to be made.
On the flip side, there are SEOs who are pointing out, hey, look links are definitely a diminishing signal because there are elements in a ranking system, and anytime you have elements in a ranking system and you add new signals of relevancy, new signals of usefulness, of importance, of popularity, whatever those are, the pie chart has to squish those in. Then, the portion that used to be links, all of this stuff here, just this portion is still link-
based. So links become a smaller piece of the pie chart.
One good way of explaining this is think of, for example, Olympic ice skating, where you have judges who give rankings. Those judges, they’ll give a score — a 7.5 and an 8.5. They have criteria that they look at. As new criteria get added, the criteria for other pieces necessarily becomes a little bit less important.
Now, in Google’s ranking system, it’s not quite the same logic. We don’t have a pie chart that can add signals and remove signals. It’s not like everybody has a score out of just 10. But the ability of pages and sites to move up in the rankings is influenced by the elements that are in here in a similar fashion.
So what really should SEOs do? What should we take away from this sort of debate and discussion and this testing of Google by removing links from their algorithmic signals and not liking those results? Well, in an ideal world, in a best-case scenario, as a marketer, the way that I believe we should be thinking about this is to invest in the marketing, in the tactics and channels that provide value in multiple ways.
By “multiple ways,” I mean provide value in terms of branding; provide value in terms of direct traffic; provide value in terms of growing my social network; provide value in terms of growing my e-mail network, in terms of growing my influence and thought leadership in this sphere; all those kinds of things.
If I can get those multiple ways and still earn links? So content marketing is one that a lot of SEOs and marketers have been investing in because it does these things. Content marketing means that I get social shares. It means that I get more social followers. It means that I grow the people who pay attention to my brand and are aware of my brand. That content can also earn links, which helps me in the search engine rankings. That’s the ideal world. There are many forms of this. Content marketing isn’t the only one.
It can also be good, not quite as good, to refocus the energy that you might currently be expending on building all kinds of links and instead concentrate very carefully on the few links that really matter. As we’ve seen here, even for those who are arguing, “No, it’s becoming less important,” it’s not becoming less important. Those folks are saying, “Hey, there are a lot of things getting filtered out, and it’s harder and harder to earn the good editorial links.” Focusing on getting those is still very valuable.
Do not do these things — keep getting any and every link. We’ve talked about this many times on Whiteboard Friday. You guys are all familiar. Especially the non-editorial kind. It’s too dangerous a world. If you’re building a site that you want to last in the search engines for a long period of time, many months and years in the future, you can’t afford to be actively, proactively going and getting non-editorial links.
Please, don’t ignore the value that you get from activities that might not directly earn you a link — things that could get you brand mentions and grow your brand, things that could build up your resource of content, things that could build up your social channels — just because those things don’t earn you a link.
A great example of this one is a lot of folks have been talking about guest posting. Of course, I did a Whiteboard Friday right before Google made their announcement about guest posting. Guest blogging, guest posting, in that classic SEO for a link fashion, is not a great idea. But it can still be a great channel to earn brand awareness and attention, to earn direct traffic. I mean, a lot of folks can post on forums, on sites that earn them an additional audience, and that additional audience in the future might turn into people who share and link and become customers. So that’s a beautiful world. Don’t ignore the value of that.
I’m sure there’s going to be some great debate and discussion in the comments, and I really look forward to hearing from all of you. Take care. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.
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