Just as you think that some things will never change, SEO is here to surprise you. Not only have we become accustomed to constant changes and shifts in SEO practices over the years, whether those were small updates about meta description length, or others (not so distant) that brought fear to our hardened digital hearts, but we have come to expect and embrace them.
That is why SEO is really becoming about great content, and barely anything else. But links are still important? Right?
Links have become pure gold in the internet world, and every marketing manager alive knows that links to your page spell something good. But in this rush to gather as many links as possible, there is a catch – links are not universally helpful.
John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analysts at Google, said this in a recent Reddit AMA:
SEOs often focus on links too much, it doesn’t always helps [sic] their sites in the long run or is probably not the most efficient thing to do to promote a website.
Is he suggesting that we shouldn’t focus so much on links? It seems like it.
Naturally, this doesn’t mean that links are a thing of the past, quite the opposite. You will still need (and use) links, as that will influence the status of your page, but once again, the paradigm is shifting more from quantity to quality.
How will this change your current SEO efforts?
Well, simply put, links are still important – they just aren’t being counted the same way as they once were. There is an overarching theory that there is an authority metric, and that links coming from high-authority domains are better for you in the long run.
Google is adamantly denying that such a metric exists, but still, some links will help you more than others.
Another important thing to have in mind is that Google is a popularity contest. In the end, Google will show what it considers popular; and while popularity is commonly associated with links, this is not always so.
Take SERPs into account
Instant answers to a user query are the future Google is going for. And the answer that is the best will be ranked the highest, not the answer that is most popular. If you think that those two things should be the same, once again, this is not always so.
So, the time invested into getting the best, and most expensive links should be routed towards what the users need and want. This was always the end game; we just got lost inside it, and (reasonably) thought that the number of links is all that mattered.
So, what’s the future?
As the technology advances, and computers have more and more processing power dedicated not only to tracking all the links on the page, but also the content and context. Of course, Google always paid attention to the content itself on any page, but as time passes on, those algorithms are becoming much smarter.
Implied links are opposite to explicit links. For example, on this page, you can see quite a lot explicit links that will lead you to either a source of info, or a further reading page – those are direct and tell you what to do.
Implied links are the overall topic, and what I had textually, semantically mentioned in this article. You know that YouTube videos’ audio is analyzed to find suitable ads to display to you?
Well, this is similar.
It looks at the content of the page and guesses what you might have wanted to link, and it creates implied links, that only Google can see and uses that info to rank other pages, but also notices when someone wants to link to you – remember, those processing algorithms are very smart, and they can really understand what you’re talking about. They are not as easily fooled as they once were.
How will this work against the big competition?
Anytime we mention a fizzy drink, and you start googling fizzy drink soon after that, Google will immediately create a connection (and probably think we were talking about Coca-Cola). To create a different implied link, we’ll need to mention Pepsi directly, and after you google for Pepsi it will create a connection – and this is the future.
Implied links are not simple brand mentions, it works only if something mentioned in an article is googled soon after.
Are we 100% sure this is how it works? No. But that’s the deal with Google, you never know for sure how, and if, something works.
Is this ideal? Of course not, is some cases it might even be easier to trick than with a regular link. Should you have this in mind? Naturally.
The game of SEO is that of a cat and, quite a few, mice. You need to follow everything that Google is doing, and even mentioning, so that you can get a better hold of that precious cheese. Naturally, the cat and mice idiom can be reversed, where Google plays the cat, and all the techniques we use to optimize the system are just mice Google is waiting to get their paws on, so they can meet their untimely death.
What should I do?
Once again, focus on quality over quantity. Domain authority is a thing of the past, while the domain relevancy will be more important as time passes. Getting links from a part of your, or a connected industry is crucial if you want your links to succeed and stay important in the long run.