Google validates the diminished importance of links

Tech News April 25, 2024
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  1. The Historical Context of Link-Based Ranking
  2. What Gary Illyes Stated Regarding Links in 2024
  3. The Decline in the Importance of Links
  4. Google's Clear Confirmation of Decreased Link Importance

At a recent search marketing conference, Gary Illyes from Google affirmed that Google requires only a minimal number of links. This aligns with the increasing evidence suggesting that publishers should prioritize other factors. Gary verified his statement via a tweet.

The Historical Context of Link-Based Ranking

In the late 1990s, a pivotal discovery emerged in the realm of search engines: links became recognized as significant signals indicating the authority of a website. Shortly thereafter, Google observed the added value of anchor text, which provided semantic insights into webpage content. Among the notable contributions to this understanding is Jon M. Kleinberg's influential research paper, "Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment," published around 1998. This paper highlighted the immense challenge posed by the proliferation of web pages, as there was no objective method to filter search results based on quality in order to rank pages according to subjective notions of relevance. Kleinberg proposed leveraging links as an objective metric for determining authority, thereby offering a potential solution to this dilemma.

This research paper holds significant sway as it spurred further exploration into the multifaceted utility of links, transcending their role solely as indicators of authority to encompass subjective assessments of relevance.

In essence, while objectivity denotes factual information, subjectivity leans towards opinions. Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, illuminated this distinction in their seminal work, "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine" (linked at the end of this article). Their groundbreaking revelation was the ability to harness anchor text to gauge subjective relevance based on human perceptions. This approach effectively leveraged the collective opinions of millions of web users, as expressed through the interconnectedness of webpages.

What Gary Illyes Stated Regarding Links in 2024

During a recent search conference held in Bulgaria, Gary Illyes of Google remarked on the diminishing importance of links, noting that Google now places less emphasis on their quantity, signaling a shift in their significance.

Patrick Stox tweeted about what he heard at the search conference:

” ‘We need very few links to rank pages… Over the years we’ve made links less important.’ @methode #serpconf2024″

Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted a confirmation of that statement:

“I shouldn’t have said that… I definitely shouldn’t have said that”

The Decline in the Importance of Links

Initially, anchor text in links used for Google's ranking algorithms was devoid of spam, rendering it highly beneficial. Hyperlinks served primarily as conduits for traffic between websites.

However, by 2004 or 2005, Google began employing statistical analysis to identify manipulated links. Subsequently, around 2004, "powered-by" links in website footers ceased passing anchor text value. By 2006, links near terms like "advertising" lost their value. Directories ceased to contribute to ranking by that time. In 2012, Google introduced the Penguin algorithm, drastically affecting the rankings of numerous websites, especially those relying on guest posting.

The link signal deteriorated to such an extent that, in 2019, Google opted to selectively utilize nofollow links for ranking purposes. Gary Illyes of Google confirmed that this change was motivated by the state of the link signal.

Google's Clear Confirmation of Decreased Link Importance

So, are backlinks still important? In 2023, Gary Illyes from Google disclosed at a PubCon Austin event that links didn't even rank within the top three factors influencing search rankings. Following this, in March 2024, coinciding with the March 2024 Core Algorithm Update, Google revised its spam policies documentation to diminish the significance of links for ranking.

The documentation previously said:

“Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

The documentation update regarding links omitted the term "important."

Links are not merely categorized as just another factor:

“Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

In early April, Google's John Mueller suggested that there are more beneficial SEO practices to focus on than links.

Mueller explained:

“There are more important things for websites nowadays, and over-focusing on links will often result in you wasting your time doing things that don’t make your website better overall”

Ultimately, Gary Illyes outright stated that Google requires very few links to rank webpages, affirming this assertion.