Last week, during a Q&A, Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, revealed that links & content are the most important ranking signals that Google uses. The SEO part of the web went crazy. Which, for anyone who has ever ranked a website in Google, is hilarious.
I get it. The internet SEO news beast needs to be fed. Yes, technically this might be the first time that someone from Google has given us a top three list. But c'mon man.
The optimist in me takes some solace in this official announcement. After all, I'm still regularly confronted with internet marketers and lawyers who proclaim that links don't matter or don't matter as much as they used to.
Don't let someone tell you that if you merely write stuff online, and it's great, your pages will show up in search results. If you merely write it, organic search traffic won't come.
Now, if you hear someone claim this, you can always send them to YouTube.
Yes, links matter.
So, what about content? Yes, content is very important too. But it's important to understand that Google doesn't read content the same way that humans do. In fact, this notion of great content, in the context of SEO, is really more appropriate in a discussion about links. After all, great content, from an SEO perspective, is that which gets linked to, shared and otherwise publicized around the web.
I certainly wouldn't put words in Lipattsev's mouth, but I would encourage you to think about content signals from Google's perspective. While this most certainly includes language analysis, it also likely includes a bunch of other things that you might not intuitively consider as a human. Things like:
- Site / Page load speed
- Ad positions
- Site architecture
Then there are user metrics. You know, the signals that might indicate whether or not people who are actually using Google and your pages feel about your pages.
In my experience, assuming your site isn't a technical disaster (i.e. search engines can't easily crawl and index your pages), acquiring links is the single most important factor I've seen that helps sites rank. Of course, not all links are important. In fact, some are worthless and some can even hurt.
But none of this is really novel at all. Google has been talking about links as a factor for as long as I can remember.
To me, if there's anything to takeaway here, it's that links are perhaps more important than many people think. Lawyers and legal marketers work feverishly (or pay) to crank out reams of digital crap. Page after page, post after post. But if these pages and posts aren't getting linked to, you're not going to improve your visibility in search engines. In fact, it's likely counter-productive.
You see, if you're growing your page numbers and none of them are getting linked to, you're basically shouting at Google that your pages aren't very good.
Instead of wasting time and money churning out pages that no one cares about, create less pages that people actually do care about. Then, spend time (or money) getting those pages in front of the people who actually might care about them. If you find those people (and you don't make them angry by spamming them) you'll likely find that they're ready, willing and able to link to, share and otherwise help you promote those pages.
Sure, you can rank for low-competition queries without links. If you're smart, targeting less competitive long-tail search traffic should be a part of your plan. But, if you haven't noticed, the legal SERPs are competitive.
But even if you don't care about search engines, hopefully you care about what people think about what you put online. Links are one part of that feedback loop.
So, the next time you hear someone peddling the death of links, please don't be shy about correcting them.
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