Yes, Links Do Still Matter…A Lot!

yes-no-maybe-300-checkedMore and more these days, I hear people saying that links don’t matter any more.  They say that Google uses other signals now and links just aren’t that important.  So, is that true?  Has Google completely thrown out the primary ranking metric they used since their inception?

Why People Say Links Aren’t Important:
There are several reasons why people are saying links don’t matter.

  1. For some, it’s because they offer services that don’t include link building and they are trying to drum up more business.  I see this a lot from social marketing companies.
  2. Another reason is because Google has released a number of major updates over the past couple of years that changed a lot of how they rank websites.  Among others, they released the Penguin update that specifically targeted spammy links and they released Hummingbird, which changed their core algorithm.
  3. Google has made more and more types of links against their guidelines.  These include excessive reciprocal linking, article syndication, buying links, spammy blog comments, spammy forum posts, private blog networks, and soon to be added to the list I’m sure, guest blogging links.
  4. Google has released Google+ (their social network) and Google Authorship.
  5. Lastly, social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ seem like decent ways to determine rankings.

There are some good sounding reasons in that list; however, good sounding reasons don’t make reality.  Hey, I think there are good sounding reasons to make cheesecake my staple food, but my doctor still says it’s not a good idea.

It’s Time for a Reality Check

Social Media Isn’t a Reliable Signal for Google:
In the video below, Google’s Matt Cutts explains why signals from social media, like Facebook and Twitter, just aren’t reliable for them.  Thus, they don’t use them.  Google+ might seem like a good signal, since it’s Google’s own baby, but frankly, people don’t legitimately use it enough to make it good.

Links Are Still Good Signals:
For all the spam and difficulty with links, they are still a good signal for quality as Matt Cutts explains in this video:

Are Links All That Matters?
So, are links the only signal?  Are they all that matter?  No.  Google has over 200 signals that goes into rankings.  You still need to optimize pages.  Social media is still good to do.  It may not be a direct signal, but some social pages can be crawled and social media can be very effective at distributing your content to people.  I could go on and on (those 200 signals).  So, there are a lot of good things you can be doing aside from getting links, but don’t be fooled; links are still a strong factor in rankings and they are going to be for a long time, if not forever.

It’s No Longer a Link Free-For-All:
What has changed is that not all links are good.  Spammy links, purchased links, and a variety of other links are now against Google’s guidelines.  So, you can’t just go out and pick up links without consideration for how and where you are getting those links.  You need to earn the links naturally, by doing a great job with your organization, producing great content, and becoming a thought-leader in your niche.

Go Get Links!
So, sure, do social marketing.  It can be a great and bring you traffic, but don’t expect the 5,000 likes on Facebook to translate into a #1 position in Google.  No, for that you need to be getting good, old-fashioned, links.  Simply put, if you want high rankings in Google, you need to optimize your website and get links.

Image from All in One Training

What Do You Think?

  • Do you think links are still necessary?
  • How do you go about getting links?

Kurt Steinbrueck is the Director of Marketing Services with OurChurch.Com. He also serves on the leadership of Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa, FL. You can find him on Google+ as .

10 Responses to “Yes, Links Do Still Matter…A Lot!”

  1. I've seen that G+ accounts for 0.3% of a sites ranking. Don't know how true it is but that's what I've seen.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Mar 5, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      James, do you have a link that explains that figure?

    • Google's Matt Cutts has specifically said that they aren't using +1s as a ranking factor (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6243451). There are some SEOs who think he's not being entirely truthful, but that's the official word.

      Several studies have shown at least a correlation of improved rankings to +1s, but it's really hard to show a direct relationship unless you are able to isolate all the other factors. After more +1s usually also correlate with more traffic, more links, etc. which would also affect rankings.

      So, I'd be doubtful that G+ accounts for 0.3% of a sites ranking. I'd also be cautious with any claim of a specific percentage. Google divulge their algorithm, so how would anyone know a specific percentage?

      Right now, I'd say getting more shares and +1s is good for the traffic and because it can lead to more links which can lead to higher rankings. Also, personalization can increase rankings on an individual basis. So, "Yeah!" for more +1s.

  2. I use links for digital media where I work. I prefer links to most other applications.

  3. Good post and some excellent points. I agree webmaster's are some what daunted by all the new penalizing algorithms that have been released. Yes there is a lot of misinformation that is being put out on the web. Although, I recognized that links are important to rankings, I have decided to do what your organization does so well, put out good content. Cheers!

  4. Hummingbirds are madly in love with natural and relevant link profiles, links from relevant sources (and not just PageRank 7 sources), links from evergreen content sites, links from established, reputable online publications. Trust and authority remain king. How do we get that? Provide content that helps people solve problems, or better yet, teaches them something.

  5. PaulSteinbrueck Mar 5, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for the comment, but keep it free of spammy links next time. Thanks.

  6. Yep, links as a ranking factor aren't going anywhere any time soon. However, now all links are good. Spammy, paid, and manipulative links can harm you more than help. So, it's important to keep it natural.