Google: Links No Longer Among the Top Three Ranking Signals

In a groundbreaking announcement, Google’s very own Gary Illyes has declared that links are no longer one of the top three ranking Signals in Google Search. This statement contradicts what we’ve believed for years and shakes up the foundation of SEO as we know it.

Rewind to 2016, when Andrey Lipattsev, a senior strategist at Google, proclaimed that links, along with content and RankBrain, were among the top three ranking factors. 

Fast forward to 2023, and Gary Illyes, an esteemed analyst on the Google Search team, has made a paradigm-shifting revelation at Pubcon Pro in Austin: links no longer hold that esteemed status.

Why This Matters:

Let’s be clear: links still hold significance in SEO. Illyes affirms this. However, this revelation underscores the evolving landscape of Google Search. The Google of today is worlds apart from the Google of 2014 or the early 2000s, where PageRank reigned supreme, and every link acted as a “vote.” Technological advancements, such as BERT and MUM, machine learning, natural language understanding, and other relevant signals, have now taken precedence in Google’s algorithm.

TW-BERT: Advancements in Google Ranking Algorithm Research

What Illyes said

Illyes was posed with a critical question regarding the status of links as one of Google Search’s top three ranking factors. His unequivocal response? “No, they are not.”

“I think they are important, but I think people overestimate the importance of links. I don’t agree it’s in the top three. It hasn’t been for some time.”

Illyes also said, “It is possible to rank without links.” Illyes recently shared an extraordinary case where a website defied conventional wisdom by securing the top spot on Google’s search results without a single link, be it internal or external. The secret to its success? Remarkable content that consistently ranked at number one, with Google’s discovery solely relying on the website’s sitemap. An eye-opening revelation that challenges our understanding of SEO!

Illyes made waves earlier this year during a keynote speech at a Pubcon event in February. In a groundbreaking statement, he emphasized that in many verticals, achieving SEO success without relying on links is not just possible but can yield remarkable results. This insight is a game-changer for digital marketers everywhere!

“Links are important, but not as important as people think.”

Duy Nguyen, a member of Google’s search quality team, joins the chorus of voices challenging the traditional significance of links in search engine rankings. In a Google SEO Office Hours session held in November, Nguyen made a bold statement, echoing the sentiment that links may no longer hold the same weight in determining rankings as they once did.

“First, backlinks as a signal has a lot less significant impact compared to when Google Search first started out many years ago. We have robust ranking signals, hundreds of them, to make sure that we are able to rank the most relevant and useful results for all queries.”

During a recent episode of the “Search Off the Record” podcast, Google’s own John Mueller made a jaw-dropping statement that’s sending shockwaves through the SEO world. Mueller boldly expressed his belief that links may no longer hold the same weight as a ranking factor in Google’s algorithms. The implications of this statement are profound and could reshape the future of SEO strategies.

“Well, it’s something where I imagine, over time, the weight on the links. At some point, will drop off a little bit as we can’t figure out a little bit better how the content fits in within the context of the whole web. And to some extent, links will always be something that we care about because we have to find pages somehow. It’s like how do you find a page on the web without some reference to it?

“But my guess is over time, it won’t be such a big factor as sometimes it is today. I think already, that’s something that’s been changing quite a bit.”

2020 Insights from Mueller: What Google’s Mueller Revealed!

“Links are definitely not the most important SEO factor.”

In 2014, Google’s Distinguished Engineer, Matt Cutts, Made a Bold Prediction: The Future of Backlinks.

“I think backlinks still have many, many years left in them. But inevitably, what we’re trying to do is figure out how an expert user would say, this particular page matched their information needs. And sometimes backlinks matter for that. It’s helpful to find out what the reputation of the site or a page is. But, for the most part, people care about the quality of the content on that particular page. So I think over time, backlinks will become a little less important.”

It’s a common scenario in the SEO world: when a Google representative speaks out on ranking factors, skepticism runs high. Many SEOs accuse Google of spreading disinformation or outright lying. After all, in the ever-evolving world of SEO, consensus can be elusive.

However, it’s crucial to clarify that Illyes didn’t dismiss the importance of links altogether. What he did say is that they don’t necessarily occupy a spot in the “top three” ranking factors. Illyes challenges the very idea of a universal “top three,” arguing that each website’s unique circumstances may place different factors in the top tier of importance. This revelation has sparked a heated debate within the SEO community.

Final Words

In this new era of SEO, marketers, and website owners must adapt and embrace these changes. Links remain valuable, but understanding the broader context of Google’s evolving algorithm is essential for staying ahead in the world of search engine optimization.

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