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Links to the Past: Are Links Still a Strong SEO Factor?

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Hyperbole gets clicks, so it’s no wonder that SEO journalist sites are touting new ranking factors as the “Key to the Future of SEO.” Page load speed, navigation layout, local terms and now robot overlords are all getting credit for being the absolute most important thing ever to grace the face of SEO priorities.

Since we at EverSpark think that hyperbole is the worst thing in the world and are tired of people exaggerating literally every second of the day, we wanted to dive deep into the ranking factors that actually matter in order to measure where priorities should lay. 

According to a recent study, links do still have a huge influence on SERP (search engine results page) rankings. Anyone concerned with winning top SERPs spots — which should be all of you — will therefore want to be sure that cultivating quality inbound links occupies part of their SEO strategy.

Links’ Re-Awakening

The perception of links’ diminishing impact stems from two main issues:

  1. New SEO ranking factors get revealed, causing an onslaught of media coverage that inadvertently or intentionally overemphasizes the weight of those factors
  2. People got really lazy about measuring the influence of ranking factors for themselves

In regards to the second problem, one SEO consulting company sought to remedy it. Huge sites like Moz and Search Metrics tend to de-emphasize the weight of links because, quite frankly, they used poor statistics.

To establish a connection between the number of inbound links to a site and that site’s current ranking, both sites relied on a simple correlation between the two. Not only that, but they then took the average (arithmetic mean) of all those correlations, resulting in a number that was fairly muddied. Unsurprisingly, the average of those values turned out to be… average. Not too important, but not too unimportant, either.

Instead of relying on such an average, the SEO researchers decided to obtain a “purer” number through squaring all the correlations, then averaging them, then taking the square root of that value. Since this particular writer got a “D” in stat in college, we’ll refer to the ability of this number to more accurately describe the relationship using the scientific term: “wizard magic.”

The results of the wizard magic were clear: people should stop discounting the value of links for SEO.

Taking Their Word for It: Backlinks Matter to SEO

Regardless of understanding why the method used is more accurate, it is unequivocally considered better statistical practice than the simple mean method used by Moz and others.

So, for all the hubbub about RankBrain, user experience and the like, sites that want to differentiate themselves from competing SERPs occupants can do so most effectively with their number of quality inbound links.

This revelation does not mean that other factors should fall by the wayside. Quality content is still the number one factor for small sites since it gives Google more text to connect to potential search queries. Being mobile responsive also matters, as does worrying about UX.

Also, spammy backlinking practices only hurt your site, so you have to earn genuine, quality links from sites that have a high value either through traffic or their perceived authority. For instance, a link from a site like The New York Times will carry more authoritative weight than a link from some tinfoil hat conspiracy site.

Easy-access sites like Yelp carry authoritative weight, too, so you don’t have to shoot for the moon to add to your backlink strength.

We’ll cover more ways to build links effectively without getting punished by Google in our next post. In the meantime, you can always get direct advice and consultations from EverSpark by looking at our Atlanta SEO services or contacting us today.