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Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz | @randfish | email@example.com The Influence of Links in SEO How they’re changing, evolving, and still surprisingly powerful.
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Evidence of Links Fading
Anecdotal Evidence – several folks in the SEO community have come forward w/ stories of sites/pages ranking without links. ?? ??
Most of the sources I could find writing publicly about this aren’t particularly well-known, and the tactics sound sketchy.
Hard to see behind the CTA, but the recommendation is to “get in group with 20 SEOs and search n click”
The more credible examples tended to show how to rank using a site’s inherent, existing authority (rather than a site entirely without links) Via Mashbout
The most credible example came from Google’s John Mueller, who claimed a friend had a local site in Zurich ranking well without links (sadly, he didn’t share details). Via SERoundtable
My Bias: Show Repeatable, Transparent Evidence & Examples
Examples in the SERPs – results where the most linked-to sites/pages are being outranked by poorly linked-to alternatives. ? ?
Aha! Since #7 is the most powerful by links, but doesn’t rank higher, links must be less valuable! Via Keyword Difficulty
Yarr! Links be a sinking ship me maties. Abandon all hope ye who build them. Via Mozbar
Non-Link Signals on the Rise – results where the most linked-to sites/pages are being outranked by poorly linked-to alternatives. ? ?
Topical Authority Usage Data (CTR, Traffic, etc) User Data & Personalization UX (Speed, Mobile-Friendly, etc) Topic Modeling / Hummingbird Content Quality Signals Social Signals (Direct & Indirect) Which Signals Are Potentially On the Rise? Trust & Spam Signals
e.g. High Correlation of CTR in Searchmetrics’ Recent Study Via Searchmetrics’ Ranking Factors Click-Through-Rate showed a 0.67 correlation
Link Manipulation Slowing – spammy links don’t seem to be as powerful or prevalent as they have been in the past. ? ?
Fewer Spammers are Investing in Link Spam at the Rates of the Prior 15 Years Via Rank Modifying Spammers and Google Maps: Still Too Easy to Spam
Evidence Links Are Still Strong
Correlation Data – raw link counts and algorithmic link metrics are no less correlated with rankings than 5 years ago. ? ?
Links Haven’t Budged Much in Ranking Correlations Via Moz’s 2013 Ranking Factors Study Backlink metrics hovering in the ~0.29 correlation range
Links Haven’t Budged Much in Ranking Correlations Via Searchmetrics’ Ranking Factors Raw backlinks count at 0.31
Links Haven’t Budged Much in Ranking Correlations From Mozscape’s January 2015 Update Linking Domains count at 0.30
Link Experiments – pointing anchor text links at a page in the SERPs still has a dramatic, positive, and nearly immediate result. ? ?
1) Three word, informational keyword phrase with relatively light competition and stable rankings Test Conditions: 2) We selected two results (“A” and “B”), ranking #13 (“A”) and #20 ( “B”) in logged-out, non-personalized results 3) We pointed links from 20 pages on 20 unique, high-DA, high-trust, off-topic sites at both “A” and “B”
A) We pointed 20 links from 20 domains at this result with anchor text exactly matching the query phrase #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 B) We pointed 20 links from the same 20 pages as “A” to this URL with anchor text that did not contain any words in the query
#11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 After 20 days, all of the links had been indexed by Google. “A” and “B” both moved up 4 positions. None of the other results moved more than 2 positions.
Repeat the Experiment!
B) We pointed 20 links from 20 domains to this URL with anchor text that did not contain any words in the query #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 A) We pointed 20 links from the same pages/domains at this result with anchor text exactly matching the query phrase
#11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 After 16 days, all of the links had been indexed by Google. “A” moved up 19 positions to #1! B moved up 5 positions to #9. None of the other results moved more than 2 positions.
More in this Presentation
Google’s Crackdowns – penalization for bad links continues unabated, and Google appears to be more aggressive about them than ever. ? ?
Google is Clearly Cracking Down on Manipulative Links
Many Links Are Losing Value, Especially as the Web Grows: Via BuiltVisible’s Blog
But, Thinking of the Algorithm as a Pie Chart May Not Be Right: Via Rand’s Blog
What Might Google Do With Links (now, or in the future)
Combining Signals – links may only be helping content, pages, or sites that have passed other algorithmic quality bars. ? ?
We Know Google’s Applied Combinations & Filters of Data in the Past (e.g. Hummingbird) Via SEO By the Sea
Multiple Algorithms – Google may be applying different sets or types of ranking systems in different niches. ? ?
There’s No Rule Requiring Google to Apply the Same Algorithm(s) to Every Type of Query Via SEMRush
Machine/Deep Learning – Links may only be used in rankings when they correlate positively with successful searches. ? ?
Jeff Dean’s Slides on Deep Learning Are a Must Read for SEOs
Google’s Deep Learning system studied YouTube clips and eventually invented its own classification/concept of “cats”
Replace YouTube with the Web and cats with any given search query, and it’s not hard to imagine Google creating a deep learning ranking algorithm
How Should Marketers Respond
End Purely SEO-Focused Link Building – Invest in tactics that serve multiple marketing purposes AND simultaneously help to earn links ? ?
Link from a guest post by Diana on Selfgrowth.com
Link from a guest post by Geraldine on MarieClaire.
Run Competitive Analyses that Look Beyond Links – seek out non-link metrics that correspond with high vs. low rankings ? ?
When we focus on links, we’re sometimes blind to other tactics sites use to rank well.
Make Link Acquisition a Secondary Activity – First, earn attention & trust, then find ways to earn the link. ? ?
Google has plenty of types of data that correlate well to links – in the future, those who have links, but lack other signals, will probably lose out.
Test the Power of Links in Your SERPs – If a diverse set of links won’t move the needle in your niche, you can move quickly to other tactics. ? ?
If you point links here, do the rankings go up? How many links? How powerful do they need to be?
Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz | @randfish | firstname.lastname@example.org bit.ly/randlinks2015