Links are (at the minimum) the second most important ranking factor
Google tells us that their ranking is based on more than 200 ranking-factors. All of which will influence the positioning of each result in some, more or less, strong manner. Until now, Google had been very tight-lipped when it comes to actually naming and classifying the importance of these ranking-factors.
Three weeks ago, in a surprising turn of events, Google Search Quality Senior Strategist Andrey Lipattsev went on the record with the three most important ranking-factors: The two most important ranking-factors are content and links, with “RankBrain” (Google’s Machine Learning approach) coming in third.
Sadly, Andrey did not want to specify whether links or content take the top spot. One thing that is still absolutely clear regardless: Links are, at the minimum, the second most important ranking-factor for Google.
If you ignore link building, you are acting foolishly
This makes it clear that, if you want to be successful on Google, you will need three important ingredients: the best content for a subject matter, the most valuable recommendations (=links) for this content and the right user-signals (after all, this is what is being fed into RankBrain).
If we look at these factors as a linked chain for a good ranking position, it becomes apparent what would happen if you added a “0” for the factor links: all the other factors could be as great as possible, the limiting factor would be the missing, high-quality links.
We are well aware that “in the wild” this may not be as apparent for individual URLs, due to the fact that links for the entire domain (“Domaintrust”) and internal links already play an important role for many years.
link building is hard, expensive and annoying
Many of today’s big SEO agencies were created in a time when link building with wild-west methods was still successful and profitable. For years, renting out links had astronomical profit margins, comment spamming blogs and forums was possible for way too long and bloggers would link to nearly any gambling site for a 25-Euro Amazon gift-card.
Luckily, all of this changed a few years ago. At the same time, it is sad to see that only a very small number of SEO agencies managed to modernise their offers accordingly. No wonder: while it was once possible to have an intern “build” 20 WordPress links an hour, now a well paid employee may need many hours, sometimes even days, for a high quality link.
The future is already here. It is just not evenly distributed
It may actually surprise people outside of our industry less than insiders: scalable link building has no future as a business model for agencies. Those hurriedly created surrogates, like “Content Seeding”, may only be able to slow this process down, not stop it.
When we talk about link building it is important to move past the simple notion of where exactly you put a link – regardless of whether you paid for it, added it yourself in a comment/forum or used some other method. Link building has to start at the time you first set up the concept for your content: what is still missing in the industry and how can you prepare as well as make it available to others? Only then should you ask the question: how will people find out about my content and link to it? It may come as a surprise, but this last step is not that hard anymore, if the everything beforehand comes together.
Today, successful and sustainable link building has to grow from the product itself. Many parts of a company will have to work together and continuously improve their content- as well as their distribution-channels to keep up with changing demands. If you can get this to work, your link building will become a natural, prosperous process, which will be more successful than ever.