Are Links Still Vital for SEO?

Google is regularly introducing new factors into its ranking algorithms, and in recent years a few newer elements have been rumoured to have a huge impact on search results for the majority of users. However, a few of the top factors have stayed the same  since the search engine’s inception, and show no signs of changing. But are links still one of these? Are there any SEO services that can help?

Historically, the more links a website has pointing to it, the better it ranks. This has been the case since the beginning of search engines, as it’s one of the clearest ways to automatically calculate the relevance of a web page. Since Google’s algorithm is all mathematically determined by crawling sites and looking at aggregate data, it’s easy to see why counting the number of links was quickly adopted as an important method.

Having said that, the sheer number of links is not the only factor at work here. Quality is equally important, if not more so, since just a few high quality links can have a huge impact on overall ranking. This contributes to organic traffic and the total success of a website. Meanwhile, hundreds of low quality links can do nothing to boost SEO scores, and just a handful of particularly bad links can have a noticeable negative effect on rankings. So how can an algorithm assess quality in a similar way to a human?

Firstly, there is the traditional keyword-based way. Ranking for certain keywords is supported by those terms being mentioned alongside links to the target site. If the content on these websites is all somehow relevant, that helps too. The authority of the domain will also have an impact, as well as the chain of links going to that site, and so on.

In more recent years, new additions to Google’s calculations such as the Rankbrain element can be used to determine more intuitive connections between words, phrases and their meanings in popular colloquial use, so Google is actually starting to understand the context behind simple words based on other information it can gather. All this means that links are becoming more important than ever, since search engines are getting more “intelligent” through machine learning which helps them decide on the quality level of those sites, leading to their rankings changing accordingly.

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