As we’ve expanded the company, I used to be finally able to use our internal resources to construct out & rank our very own projects. I’ve always had the mindset of “drinking our own Koolaid”, and as we’ve gone down this path, Recently i stumbled right into a rabbit hole that provided me with a tremendous burst of excitement and a rise in expectations for which we could do in the future. But it really came at a cost: paranoia.
When the dust settled in the improvements we made, I took an important step back and found that whatever we were building was more or less located on the fault line of a tectonic plate.
It could possibly all come crashing down in an instant, all because of one critical assumption that I’ve created to date: that links will continue to matter.
I quickly realized that I needed to get a better gauge on the longevity of links beyond the tweets I happened to see that day. I’ve never had much cause of concern over the years in regards to this issue (proof of why is listed later), but when I was going to create a major bet over the next 12-24 months, I found it necessary to understand the parameters of the things may go wrong, and this was one of many items at the top of a list.
I finished up discussing things over with a few trusted colleagues of mine, and also contacting a couple of other experts that I trusted the opinion of with regards to the way forward for SEO. So I wanted to express my thinking, and also the overall conclusions I’ve drawn based from the information available.
The primary source of “facts” the industry points to in general are statements from Google. Yet, there were numerous instances where what Google is telling us is, at least, misleading.
Here are some recent examples to illustrate with what way they can be misleading:
1. Inside their “Not Provided” announcement post in October 2011, Google stated that “the change will affect merely a minority of your respective traffic.” Not even two years later, Danny Sullivan was told by Google they had begun work on encrypting ALL searches. The remainder is history.
My thoughts: regardless if we have the reality from Google, it must be labeled with huge, red letters of your date the statement was made, because things can transform very, very quickly. In cases like this, it absolutely was probably their intention all along to gradually roll this out to all searches, to be able to not anger people too greatly at one time.
2. Google’s John Mueller made this statement a couple weeks ago about 302 redirects passing PageRank. It implies that 302 redirects are OK for SEO. As Mike King quickly revealed on Twitter, that’s very misleading based off most SEO’s prior experiences.
My thoughts: could it be tough to believe that 302 redirects pass at least .01% of your PageRank from the page? I don’t think so. So really, this statement isn’t saying much. It’s a non-answer, as it’s framed compared to a 404 (no PR passes) rather than 301 (~90% of PR passes), the direct alternative in this case. So really, it doesn’t answer anything practical.
Take the two examples & know that things can transform quickly, and therefore you need to decipher precisely what is actually, concretely being said.
So, bearing that in mind, here are some recent statements on the subject of this post:
1. March 24, 2016 – Google lists their top 3 ranking factors as: links, content and RankBrain (even though they didn’t state an order from the initial two; RankBrain is definitely 3rd, though).
My thoughts: this isn’t anything new. This list lines track of whatever they indicated within the RankBrain initial news article in Bloomberg once they stated RankBrain was #3. All of that was left to speculate, until recently, was what #1 and #2 were, though it wasn’t too difficult to guess.
2. Feb 2, 2015 – Google confirms that you just don’t necessarily need links to position. John Mueller cites an example of friend of his who launched a neighborhood neighborhood website in Zurich as dexhpky71 indexed, ranking, and receiving search traffic.
My thoughts: this isn’t very surprising, for two reasons. First, that this queries they’re ranking for are most likely extremely low competition (because: local international), and because Google has become a lot better over time at taking a look at other signals in areas where the link graph was lacking.
3. May 5, 2014 – Matt Cutts leads off a youtube video having a disclaimer stating “I think outsource link building have several, quite a few years left in them”.
My thoughts: the maximum amount of of an endorsement as that may be, a haunting reminder of methods quickly things change is Matt’s comments later from the video talking about authorship markup, a task that was eventually abandoned in the following years.
4. Feb 19, 2014 – Google’s Matt Cutts stated which they tried dropping links altogether using their ranking algorithm, and found it to be “much, much worse”.
My thoughts: interestingly enough, Yandex tried this starting in March 2014 for specific niches, and brought it back per year later after finding so that it is unsuccessful. Things change awfully quick, but if there’s any evidence for this list that will add reassurance, the mix of two different search engine listings trying & failing this is probably best. Having said that, our main concern isn’t the total riddance of links, but, its absolute strength as a ranking factor. So, once again, it’s still not all that reassuring.