SEO links haven’t been a top 3 ranking factor for years, contrary to what many SEOs are pushing to sell their link-building services.

That’s because the ever-evolving world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has witnessed numerous trends and shifts over the past few decades. Among the various factors that have historically contributed to website rankings, backlinks once occupied the throne as the reigning champion. Today, however, the tides have turned.

Decline in the Importance of Links

The decline in the significance of links as a ranking factor isn’t abrupt or unexpected. Over the years, top search engines, most notably Google, have altered their approach to evaluating the worth of backlinks. What once was a numbers game has morphed into a quality assessment. Rather than focusing on sheer volume, the stress is now on the quality of these links.

This transition can be attributed mainly to Google’s relentless pursuit of refining and optimizing its search algorithms. Such fine-tuning aims to provide users with the most relevant, authoritative, and trustworthy results.

Amidst this revolution, Gary Illyes, a respected analyst from the Google Search team, offered some candid insights into the status of links as a ranking metric. Speaking at Pubcon Pro in Austin, Illyes remarked, “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.” His statement was more than just a casual observation. It confirmed what Google representatives have said for years while validating what SEO experts have known for a long time.

To bolster his point, Illyes cited a fascinating example: a page with no internal or external link, which still managed to clinch the coveted #1 Position in search rankings for Porsche cars. The intriguing part? Google had stumbled upon this page only through a sitemap. This case study dismantles the long-standing belief in the indispensable nature of links.

While the diminished significance of links is noteworthy, another metric continues to reign supreme in the SEO realm: content. It remains the undisputed number one ranking signal. With a plethora of websites and content available online, search engines prioritize providing users with content that is not only relevant but also of high value.

Backlinks in SEO: Best Practices for Today

The shifting sands of SEO don’t imply that backlinks have become obsolete. They retain their place in the broader SEO strategy, albeit with modified best practices:

  1. Prioritize Quality Over Quantity: Today, the emphasis is firmly on creating high-caliber, pertinent content that addresses the needs and queries of users. When your content stands out in quality and relevance, it organically garners attention. The consequence? Other websites will naturally wish to link to your stellar content, leading to organically earned backlinks.
  2. Beware of Link-Building Schemes: Tempting as they might be, link-building schemes are deceptive. While they may offer a transient spike in rankings, their effects are fleeting. Sooner or later, search engines, equipped with their advanced algorithms, will identify and penalize websites dabbling in such questionable tactics. The potential short-term gains are far outweighed by the lasting damage they can cause.
  3. Nurture Relationships for Genuine Backlinks: The new age of SEO emphasizes the importance of genuine relationships. You can earn natural, high-quality backlinks by collaborating with other industry experts and websites. Such connections are forged when you offer something of value – typically, this means insightful and beneficial content.
  4. Monitor and Refine Your Backlink Profile: In this digital age, keeping a vigilant eye on your backlink profile is paramount. Ensuring that the links you acquire come from reputable sources safeguards your website’s credibility. Moreover, regular monitoring can also help identify potentially harmful links, possibly a part of a negative SEO strategy employed by unscrupulous competitors.

Tools such as Google Search Console, Semrush, and Ahrefs prove invaluable for this endeavor. They provide granular insights into the websites that link to your content and the specific anchor texts employed.


The role of backlinks in SEO, though diminished, hasn’t been eradicated. Google and other search engines continue to evolve, and while the emphasis on links may wane, they will hold some degree of importance for several years. The strategy, however, demands a renewed focus.

By adhering to best practices, creating unparalleled quality content, and fostering genuine industry relationships, website owners can achieve improved visibility in search rankings. The goal, as always, remains to offer unmatched value to users – a principle that transcends the fluctuating dynamics of SEO.

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