Is Google giving up on backlinks?
Google is constantly bringing out new algorithms in order to attempt to try and better the search results it provides to it's users. However as of recent there's been quite a lot of talk that Google is beginning to ignore backlinks and look at other factors instead to decide where it ranks a website. We're going to take an in-depth look in this article to see whether or not there's any truth in these statements.
Where did this statement come from?
Google ignoring backlinks is a pretty strong statement, especially if you're somebody that's interested in SEO - so where exactly did this idea come from?
Well firstly Matt Cutt's mentioned in one of his WMT videos the fact that backlinks might not play as an important role as we move forward. Many people fled to internet forums to question what others thought about this, but most people shrugged it off. However shortly after the release of that video we began noticing websites with 0 backlinks began ranking alongside websites with hundreds, and thousands of backlinks for competitive keywords.
It then became evident that backlinks no longer played an important role in ranking a website, and instead other factors had came into play - but the question is what are they?
What are these new ranking signals?
It's certainly strange seeing sites with less than 10 backlinks ranking alongside aged sites with humongous banklink profiles, so what exactly are the new signals that are pushing these sites up?
As times change, Google has to incorporate new ranking factors into it's algorithm. If someone comes across great content then they tend to share it with their friends on social networks. Google knows this and regardless of what anyone says social signals certainly play a part in ranking a website - however, unfortunately not a very big one. The trouble is at present social signals are too easy to manipulate and until Google has built a foolproof system to determine true shares from the fakes they can't really position a website solely upon this data. Don't get me wrong, social signals certainly help - but don't expect any magic.
This is the main change. Previously, as opposed to focusing on quality content Google spent the majority of it's focus on who was linking to the content and used this to determine whether or not the page was any good. When Matt Cutt's mentioned that backlinks no longer hold as much importance as they previously did what he really means is that they've now altered their focus onto the content itself to determine whether or not it's useful/relevant to the search query. Of course if people are linking to it, then this works in it's favor however this is no longer at the forefront.
Content has always been king, but now the bar has been raised.
There are various other signals Google take into account to determine position, but these all come with quality content. Here is a little secret - if you search for something and choose a result, Google waits to see if you use the back button to return to Google. If you don't, it assumes you found what you were looking for - if you do, it assumes the content wasn't all that relevant and you weren't able to find what you were after. Make sure your users don't press that back button.
So how do you rank a website in Google in 2014?
The same applies as it did from day 1, ranking a website is all about creating quality content that people can engage in and will want to share. If you want to rank for a particular search term then you'll need to provide something useful for that term, if you want to hit the #1 spot you need to provide a page that's better than the one that's currently taking that spot & it's as simple as that.
The core strategy to ranking a website has always been the same, just unfortunately in previous years many have manipulated it with "blackhat" techniques making it harder for those who publish truly great content to get anywhere the top results. Fortunately in 2014 it seems that this has been cleaned up better than ever before and now quality sites are starting to appear at the top of listings, even with 0 backlinks. However now that these sites are placed in front of the visitors eyes they are more likely to begin generating natural backlinks and make their positions even firmer for the future.
So should I forget about backlinks?
No, of course not. Backlinks will always be a part of Google's algorithm. A backlink is somebody saying "hey, look at this page" and Google will always consider that to be a positive ranking factor, providing it's either totally natural or comes from a quality/relevant source.
However for all those currently using, or planning to use blackhat techniques then yes it is time to give up as this will only have a detrimental impact on your search positions.
As a general rule of thumb the following apply:
- If you can buy the link, it's no good.
- If the link is easy to obtain, it's no good.
- If your posting content with the intention of getting a backlink, it's no good.
On the positives though:
- If the link was created naturally, great.
- If you've provided quality & relevant content and wrote it for the purpose of engaging users in your content and not for the purpose of posting your link but you've included your link because it's relevant to what you were talking about, also great.