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What if links aren’t as important as you think?

Links, links, links.  It’s pretty much at the top of any SEOs “must discuss” list of topics.  For a long time, the prevailing thinking was links were the golden egg.  They were what you needed to turn the tide and boost your rankings.  And that was true.

Today, though, it might pay to broaden your thinking.

I am not saying links are dead or links have no value – let’s get that straight up front.

What I am saying, however, is that it can pay to keep the big picture in view and not get mired too deeply in the weeds.  I mean, just watching comments on popular search industry sites from those who work in the industry is enough to convince anyone that link building and managing link campaigns is very much the current “tactic du jour”.  But what if that time were better spent?

It’s easy to get fixated one a single tactic, hoping if you double down on that one area it’ll pay dividends.  Easier for you, easier on the budget (in some cases) and easier to track results.  But it’s a single signal to the engines.  Links.  Just a single signal.  So what are you doing to work with the other signals?

Are you putting equal time into the social side of the equation?  Is your social program ramping up to engage people in a meaningful way?  Or is it on autopilot still pumping out self-serving links to only your own products and services?

Is the editorial side of your house producing the killer content you need them to?  Do they seek new ways to engage readers through not just well written content, but with content that answers questions before they’re asked?

Are your content management system and your page templates sorted out from a technical SEO standpoint?  Still got multiple <H1> tags on the page?  Still leaving <ALT> tags empty? Missing a <meta description>?

The point here is to not get caught up in one single aspect of the complex world of SEO.  Links, while still holding value, have evolved as signals over time.  If we see a sudden appearance of obviously spammy links pointed at your site, and your site is otherwise showing a history of trustworthiness, we’re most likely going to just ignore those links.  Still, while this can cover the obvious instances, tools like the Disavow Links feature in Bing Webmaster Tools enables you to flag inbound links you don’t like.

To be clear, again, this isn’t a post stating links are dying, or you should ignore them, but it is a post saying watch how much time you invest in them.  By and large, building links the right way is beyond your control.  While it’s smart to allocate some time to watching this signal via the tools and data available today, don’t place all of your eggs in one basket.

This isn’t foreshadowing anything either, but what if links ceased to be a useful signal to the engines.  What would you focus on then?

So many times across the industry you hear conversations about shortcuts.  How can I build links quickly?  I need more followers on Twitter, quickly.  Where can I get free content?

If all the time that was spent seeking shortcuts was invested into producing quality, engaging content, more websites would find success.  The main point behind today’s post is to remind you to look around; watch what you invest in and make sure you’re not wasting time seeking shortcuts when the answer to success is right in front of you.

User Experience + Compelling Content FTW!


  • Certainly interesting about the links and such, Duane. But I think we can all agree that this news about sunglasses is revolutionary!

  • Oh yes I agree a perfect link between the focus on links even if spammed as we can see from "sunglasses" comment above... The question is can we disavow that we trust their links now :)

  • very good information for seo thanks.

  • Seems that spammers never sleep. ;)

  • Hi Duane,

    It's fabulous that at least one major search engine publicly came out with a post like this. I concur with Danny Sullivan's assertion that links are undemocratic. Would it be safe to assume that social signals will replace links in the near future?

  • Shaad, links remain a single signal being inputted to the algorithm.  Its easy to include or exclude them from the mathematics, but the value is derived from determining which links are useful in helping us - and that's tougher.  That's where evolutionary improvements continue to be made.  The answer to your question, besides being proprietary in nature, is far too complex for a simple yes or no answer.

  • Great overview Duane. Links are still vital - let's not kid ourselves on that, but the major search engines have come so far in the last few years. Now social signals are much more important - if you have great content, people will want to share that content socially (and link to it as well). Let's all not forget that content is king - if you have great content you'll get the necessary links from other sites, blogs, social profiles etc.

  • It’s easy to get fixated one a single tactic, hoping if you double down on that one area it’ll pay dividends.  Easier for you, easier on the budget (in some cases) and easier to track results.  But it’s a single signal to the engines.  Links.  Just a single signal.


  • I think the really important point is the last one - content. Nobody can "game" original compelling content - so perhaps this will become the most important signal??

  • "Still got multiple <H1> tags on the page?"

    I have started creating web pages with HTML5 and I will use multiple H1 tags within a document i.e. each SECTION will have its own set of headings (especially if I want to be able to move them around a document easily).

  • Spamming, spamming it is talking all way through on the web. This is an enemy for those who are engaging in organic seo activities. Your website may now being suffered a lot if you had any friendship with Spamming. This is a great move by Bing, like we have a key of vacuum cleaner to request for removing links look like spammy.

  • no problome

  • Fundamental SEO is still where it's at - focussing on one aspect over another has always been suspect :-)

  • Great news about the Bing Tool, but how do you know exactly what sites pointing at our websites are spam?

  • User Experience + Compelling Content FTW indeed!

    I have been preaching big-picture seeing, non-keyword obsessed, sensibly linked, socially active, and value adding "web presence" for a few years. I am not saying I invented well-rounded content-driven marketing, but I have been feeling like I am one of the few who believes in it.  This post, and several others from high profile SEO bloggers talking about things like this, policing our own ranks by "outing" scammers and spammers, and other high & mighty topics within the last week or two lead me to believe that everyone is figuring it out.

    If you wouldn't do it offline, don't do it online.

    If enough legitimate SEO folks can work to get the "do right" message across instead of the fast cheap "solutions", maybe the super-shady types who have given the industry a bad name will find something else to do.