An Irrational Hatred of Links
The latest topic of discussion amongst SEO’s right now is this article on Search Engine Land. Google Engineer John Mueller is quoted as saying, in regards to whether link building is in any way good “in general, I’d try to avoid that.”
As you can imagine this has sparked off discussion after discussion about what was really meant by this; what is the real context of the discussion? What is link earning vs. link building? And inevitably, is the link dead?
Let’s bring this back to reality. Links are not dead. Links (still) matter in the world of search.
Why? Because links are central to all Google does.
Google was created on the back of the importance of links. A lot has changed since Larry and Sergei created the Googol, but even still a lot remains the same. Links still remain central to Google determining what to serve you when you enter a search query.
So in spite of the rising tide of linkophobia from those wanting us to renounce the link, links still matter. And in the world of search you ignore them at your own peril.
So then, why do links matter?
1. Links Indicate value
The fact is in internet terms links carry value. Links have currency — some are strong (like UK Pounds or Euros), others are weak (like Pesos. Not all links are the same, but they carry value with them and we can’t ignore that.
Got a spammy or weak backlink profile? Then that is going to affect how Google views your site. Got strong links from high value, quality, authoritative and relevant sites, that also is going to affect how you rank. The content can be on par, but the sites won’t rank the same based on the value carried to your site from your backlink profile (all things being equal).
2. Links are roads that we travel online
Back in the frontier times of the internet (when the mainsteam media talked about the information superhighway) search was bad and the best way to get around and discover cool stuff was by using Yahoo directory and Dmoz.
Thankfully, things have changed. But what hasn’t changed is the fact links still carry us around online.
Imagine is the internet failed to have links between sites — how would it work? Links are integral to the way the internet works. So much so that when Google and other search engines want to crawl and index it, they send out their faithful Googlebots to do this. And how do those Googlebots get around from page to page, site to site? Via links.
Inherent in what they crawl and how they get around are links.
3. Links Remain Incredibly Practical
Taking the importance of links to the internet a step further, they actually are incredibly practical for the purposes of doing stuff online.
For example, you want to share a cute cat video via your Facebook. You need a link. You want to show your wife a listing of a house to look at. You need a link. You want to tell your friends about your latest blog post with an email. You need a link.
Links are still how we turn the page online. And this matters when it comes to search, and more generally, marketing online.
4. We don’t have a better alternative
Yandex, the Russian search giant, made big news when they announced they were dropping links from their search algorithms.
Well first of all, their no links approach is only for commercial enquiries within the Moscow area; a small percentage of their overall search results.
Secondly, many people took this development as a sign Google would follow suit. Not so according to Google & Matt Cutts who said that internal “no-link” testing had revealed search results were of poorer quality than when links were included (read here for more).
Information such as this points to the fact, there really is no better alternative right now than for links to matter when it comes to search.
TL;DR — Yes, some link building is bad, but links still do matter