Links have long been key players in SEO strategies. A strong network of inbound links is considered a vote for authority, quality and relevancy, three factors search engines take into account when determining page rank.
The importance of building a link network is based on the assumption this metric is a big part of their algorithms used by Google and other search engines. However, a closer look at the patterns of click-through rates and visibility in search results suggests there may be more going on.
What Does Google Think About Links?
All search engines use formulas to determine where sites appear in organic results, but Google is often considered to be the most influential. As of 2016, the search giant still considered links to be “valuable” sources for determining authority. Their Senior Search Quality Strategist placed links in the number two spot on their list of “greatest ranking factors.”
Inbound links drive organic traffic, and more traffic is a signal of increased popularity. A large number of authoritative links can also signal trustworthiness. The more links a site has, the more popular it’s considered to be, at least in theory. However, it’s always been difficult to tell exactly how search engines, including Google, calculate page rank, and some models show click-through rates may be influenced by rank independent of the number of inbound links.
Are Links Still Relevant for SEO?
In the past, link directories, link exchanges and link “farms” were reliable ways of getting your site noticed by users and search engines. However, these outdated forms of link building have been replaced by more natural, organic strategies:
• Contributing high-quality content to authority sites
• Leaving valuable comments on blogs or forums
• Maintaining an active presence on social media
These approaches not only create inbound links but also build brand awareness, and this can generate a greater number of links without additional effort. Google may also consider high search volume to be a signal of a site’s importance, so don’t neglect keyword research when working on SEO.
What Does a Real Link Strategy Look Like?
You don’t have to understand the hidden metrics of page ranking to execute a successful link strategy. Follow these best practices to increase placement in search results and make your site stand out:
• Create a strong internal link structure with a logical progression for easy navigation and indexing
• Include outbound links to relevant, authoritative sites
• Avoid linking to low-quality sites
• Use keywords sparingly in anchor text
• Focus on the user experience first
The goal of any link building tactic should be to make your site easy for users and search engines to navigate while setting yourself up as an authoritative source of the information visitors expect when clicking through from search results.
Whether links influence page ranking or the other way around, this aspect of SEO is still important to the visibility of your site. Continue to build a network of internal and external links as part of your search marketing strategy. Focus on both inbound and outbound quality, and monitor which sites bring in the most traffic. Don’t get discouraged if your page rank shifts when search engines change their algorithms. Consistency will help keep your site prominent in organic search and contribute to a steady stream of traffic.