Written by
Daniel Højris Bæk
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October 19, 2023

Backlinks No Longer Among Top 3 Google Search Ranking Factors

Why backlinks are no longer among the top ranking factors according to Google analyst, Gary Illyes.

Backlinks No Longer Among Top 3 Google Search Ranking Factors

The SEO ranking factors are constantly changing with every tweak and algorithm update that Google makes.

So far a factor that most SEOs have agreed upon being among the most important have been backlinks.

But now that perception is challenged a by recent statements from Gary Illyes, a Google Analyst on the Google Search team.

I believe they are important, but I think people overestimate their significance. I don't agree that they are in the top three. They haven't been for some time," stated Illyes.

The statement was made during Pubcon Pro in Austin in September 2023.

Illyes is mainly active on Google Search Central blog and more sporadicly at Twitter/X

It's not the first time that Illyes mentions something like this, and the downgrade of the importance of links has earlier been promoted by other Google Search notabilities.

Backlinks As A Ranking Factor

So why is the statement about the decline of the impact of backlinks making such waves among SEOs?

In 2016, Andrey Lipattsev, a Google search quality senior strategist, declared that backlinks were among the top three ranking factors for Google Search, along with content and RankBrain.

And in general, the whole foundation of Google was the original PageRank algorithm which was built upon the concept of evaluating sites based on their link profile and it's relative strength.

So, it's in this light that Gary Illyes's statement is quite a contrast to the common belief in SEO circles that backlinks are among the top three ranking factors.

During his speech at the Pubcon Pro, Illyes made it clear that despite saying it's not longer in top 3, backlinks are still considered important, but their significance is often overestimated.

He emphasized that they have not been among the top three ranking factors for some time.

Illyes even mentioned a case where a website ranked consistently at number one without any backlinks whatsoever, solely due to its exceptional content. Google discovered the site through its sitemap.

This shift in perspective towards backlinks is not exclusive to Illyes.

Duy Nguyen from Google's search quality team also acknowledged the diminishing impact of backlinks during a Google SEO Office Hours session.

First, backlinks as a signal has a lot less significant impact compared to when Google Search started out many years ago.Source: Google Office Hours Session on Youtube

Furthermore, John Mueller from Google has expressed his belief on Twitter.com/X that over time, the importance of links as a ranking factor will decrease.

John Mueller on Twitter/X back in 2020

It is important to note that technology advancements, such as machine learning, natural language understanding, and other relevance signals, now play a more substantial role in Google's algorithm.

While backlinks still have relevance, their weight as a ranking factor has decreased compared to previous years.

Personally, I believe that links still play a crucial role in ranking websites. While the importance of backlinks may have shifted in Google's algorithm, they are not to be disregarded entirely.

Backlinks can still contribute to the credibility, authority, and visibility of a website. However, it is important to recognize that the relative importance of backlinks as a ranking factor may vary depending on the specific website and its unique set of ranking factors.

As an SEO professional, it is essential to assess each website's individual needs and develop a comprehensive strategy that encompasses a diverse range of optimization techniques, including both backlinks and other relevant factors.

What's the concept of backlinks and why do they matter in SEO?

So if we go into the background of the whole discussion and look at backlinks, and why they matter in SEO.

Backlinks are links from external websites that direct users to your website.

They are an essential aspect of search engine optimization because they serve as a signal to search engines like Google about the credibility, authority, and relevance of your website.

The concept behind backlinks is based on the idea that if a website is being linked to by other reputable websites, it is likely to be a valuable and trustworthy source of information. In other words, backlinks act as "votes" or endorsements for your website.

Search engines use backlinks as a ranking factor because they indicate that other websites find your content valuable enough to link to it. The more high-quality backlinks you have, the more likely it is that your website will rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Backlinks matter in SEO because they can:

  1. Improve organic search rankings: Backlinks are one of the key factors that search engines consider when determining the ranking of a website. Having a strong backlink profile can help your website appear higher in SERPs, leading to increased visibility and organic traffic.
  2. Increase website credibility and authority: When reputable websites link to your content, it enhances your website's credibility and authority in the eyes of both search engines and users. This can result in more trust and confidence in your website, leading to higher user engagement and conversions.
  3. Drive referral traffic: Backlinks not only help with SEO but also act as direct pathways for users to discover your website. When users click ona backlink on another website, they are directed to your website, resulting in referral traffic. This traffic is valuable because it consists of users who are already interested in the topic or content you offer, increasing the likelihood of them engaging with your website and converting into customers or subscribers.

Strategies for building backlinks

Now that we understand the importance of backlinks in SEO, let's discuss some strategies to help you build high-quality backlinks efficiently:

  • Create high-quality, valuable content that other websites will want to link to.
  • Guest blog on reputable websites in your industry to establish yourself as an authority and include backlinks to your site.
  • Build relationships with influencers and industry experts to gain backlinks from their websites.
  • Participate in online communities and forums, sharing your expertise to attract backlinks from community members.
  • Utilize social media platforms to share your content and engage with influencers for potential backlink opportunities.
  • Use email outreach to contact relevant websites and explain the value of your content for potential backlinks.
  • Monitor and analyze your backlink profile to ensure the quality and relevance of your backlinks using tools like Google Search Console and Ahrefs.

Remember, building high-quality backlinks takes time and effort. Do not consider buying links as this is clearly against Google guidelines!

It's important to focus on creating valuable content and building genuine relationships with influencers and industry experts. And generating helpful content that others will want to link to.

This in itself is the #1 ranking factor in SEO: Helpful high-quality content.

Backlinks No Longer Among Top 3 Google Search Ranking Factors

This is an article written by:

+20 years of experience from various digital agencies. Passionate about AI (artificial intelligence) and the superpowers it can unlock. I had my first experience with SEO back in 2001, working at a Danish web agency.