Links Are Still Important

Don’t walk toward the social media SEO light. Links are still important.

Have you heard? Social is the new SEO.

Get your pages “tweeted,” “liked,” and shared and they’ll rank prominently in search engines.

Even Moz proved it!

Seems that there has recently been an uptick in “social media experts” who are peddling this tripe.

But if you have evidence to the contrary, bring it.

I can show you plenty of sites that rank prominently solely on links. Can you show me just one site that ranks for competitive queries on social signals alone.

Back in October, Dan Petrovic, highly skilled SEO and managing director of Dejan SEO, reminded us that earning links still matters:

Here’s the thing many seem to be forgetting lately. Google is a link-based search engine, links are at its core, in its DNA. Unless somebody new comes and completely rewrites their algorithm, Google will continue to rely on links in conjunction with a variety of other signals for a long time to come. Don’t ignore links, they’re by far the strongest signal, particularly anchor text.

What has changed is Google’s ability to detect inorganic link patterns. At this point in time, their link spam algorithms are good enough. Not great, but good enough. This means that link and anchor text manipulation on any level no longer represent a viable option for serious businesses.

Even Google isn’t trying to “hide the ball” about links:

Links help our crawlers find your site and can give your site greater visibility in our search results. When returning results for a search, Google uses sophisticated text-matching techniques to display pages that are both important and relevant to each search. Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”

But again, we don’t need Google’s guidelines to know that links matter. Simply head over to Google and perform a back link analysis of any pages that appear prominently for competitive results. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the sites that rank for competitive queries have a quantity of quality, relevant and authoritative links.

I don’t doubt that you can find some exceptions. However, those exceptions will largely include examples of sites that rank with “spam links” or are ranking for queries with exceptionally low competition.

Don’t buy into the linkless SEO hype. Might we eventually see major search engines completely discount links as a ranking signal? Maybe. I’m skeptical. But that day certainly hasn’t arrived yet.

So, what can lawyers do to earn links?

Real law firm stuff.

Think about whether anyone would want to link to your law firm website.

But also:

Don’t participate in link schemes. Don’t quid pro quo purchase links. And if you work with an SEO consultant, make sure you know where and why they are building links.

Think about how, and from where, you might try to earn links if search engines didn’t exist.

If you’ve run out on link building inspiration, check out Jon Cooper’s complete list of link building strategies.

As Dan notes in his post, links are in the DNA of most major search engines. The bottom-line is that if you want to appear prominently in search results, you need to earn links. Can social networks help to get your pages in front of people who can link? Absolutely.

But at least for now, just creating great content and getting it in front of people remains necessary, but not sufficient for SEO. People have to link to your pages. End of story.

[UPDATED: 02/19/14]

In a fortuitous twist of timeliness, Matt Cutts confirms what most good SEOs already knew: Links still matter.