The Influence of Links in SEO How they’re changing, evolving, and still surprisingly powerful.


The Presentation inside:

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Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz | @randfish | [email protected] The Influence of Links in SEO How they’re changing, evolving, and still surprisingly powerful.


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bit.ly/randlinks2015 Get the presentation:


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Evidence of Links Fading


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Anecdotal Evidence – several folks in the SEO community have come forward w/ stories of sites/pages ranking without links. ?? ??


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Most of the sources I could find writing publicly about this aren’t particularly well-known, and the tactics sound sketchy.


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Hard to see behind the CTA, but the recommendation is to “get in group with 20 SEOs and search n click”


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The more credible examples tended to show how to rank using a site’s inherent, existing authority (rather than a site entirely without links) Via Mashbout


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The most credible example came from Google’s John Mueller, who claimed a friend had a local site in Zurich ranking well without links (sadly, he didn’t share details). Via SERoundtable


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My Bias: Show Repeatable, Transparent Evidence & Examples


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Examples in the SERPs – results where the most linked-to sites/pages are being outranked by poorly linked-to alternatives. ? ?


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Aha! Since #7 is the most powerful by links, but doesn’t rank higher, links must be less valuable! Via Keyword Difficulty


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Yarr! Links be a sinking ship me maties. Abandon all hope ye who build them. Via Mozbar


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Non-Link Signals on the Rise – results where the most linked-to sites/pages are being outranked by poorly linked-to alternatives. ? ?


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Topical Authority Usage Data (CTR, Traffic, etc) User Data & Personalization UX (Speed, Mobile-Friendly, etc) Topic Modeling / Hummingbird Content Quality Signals Social Signals (Direct & Indirect) Which Signals Are Potentially On the Rise? Trust & Spam Signals


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e.g. High Correlation of CTR in Searchmetrics’ Recent Study Via Searchmetrics’ Ranking Factors Click-Through-Rate showed a 0.67 correlation


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Link Manipulation Slowing – spammy links don’t seem to be as powerful or prevalent as they have been in the past. ? ?


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Fewer Spammers are Investing in Link Spam at the Rates of the Prior 15 Years Via Rank Modifying Spammers and Google Maps: Still Too Easy to Spam


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Evidence Links Are Still Strong


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Correlation Data – raw link counts and algorithmic link metrics are no less correlated with rankings than 5 years ago. ? ?


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Links Haven’t Budged Much in Ranking Correlations Via Moz’s 2013 Ranking Factors Study Backlink metrics hovering in the ~0.29 correlation range


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Links Haven’t Budged Much in Ranking Correlations Via Searchmetrics’ Ranking Factors Raw backlinks count at 0.31


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Links Haven’t Budged Much in Ranking Correlations From Mozscape’s January 2015 Update Linking Domains count at 0.30


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Link Experiments – pointing anchor text links at a page in the SERPs still has a dramatic, positive, and nearly immediate result. ? ?


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1) Three word, informational keyword phrase with relatively light competition and stable rankings Test Conditions: 2) We selected two results (“A” and “B”), ranking #13 (“A”) and #20 ( “B”) in logged-out, non-personalized results 3) We pointed links from 20 pages on 20 unique, high-DA, high-trust, off-topic sites at both “A” and “B”


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A) We pointed 20 links from 20 domains at this result with anchor text exactly matching the query phrase #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 B) We pointed 20 links from the same 20 pages as “A” to this URL with anchor text that did not contain any words in the query


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#11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 After 20 days, all of the links had been indexed by Google. “A” and “B” both moved up 4 positions. None of the other results moved more than 2 positions.


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Repeat the Experiment!


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B) We pointed 20 links from 20 domains to this URL with anchor text that did not contain any words in the query #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 A) We pointed 20 links from the same pages/domains at this result with anchor text exactly matching the query phrase


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#11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 After 16 days, all of the links had been indexed by Google. “A” moved up 19 positions to #1! B moved up 5 positions to #9. None of the other results moved more than 2 positions.


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More in this Presentation


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Google’s Crackdowns – penalization for bad links continues unabated, and Google appears to be more aggressive about them than ever. ? ?


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Google is Clearly Cracking Down on Manipulative Links


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Many Links Are Losing Value, Especially as the Web Grows: Via BuiltVisible’s Blog


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But, Thinking of the Algorithm as a Pie Chart May Not Be Right: Via Rand’s Blog


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What Might Google Do With Links (now, or in the future)


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Combining Signals – links may only be helping content, pages, or sites that have passed other algorithmic quality bars. ? ?


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We Know Google’s Applied Combinations & Filters of Data in the Past (e.g. Hummingbird) Via SEO By the Sea


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Multiple Algorithms – Google may be applying different sets or types of ranking systems in different niches. ? ?


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There’s No Rule Requiring Google to Apply the Same Algorithm(s) to Every Type of Query Via SEMRush


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Machine/Deep Learning – Links may only be used in rankings when they correlate positively with successful searches. ? ?


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Jeff Dean’s Slides on Deep Learning Are a Must Read for SEOs


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Google’s Deep Learning system studied YouTube clips and eventually invented its own classification/concept of “cats”


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Replace YouTube with the Web and cats with any given search query, and it’s not hard to imagine Google creating a deep learning ranking algorithm


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How Should Marketers Respond


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End Purely SEO-Focused Link Building – Invest in tactics that serve multiple marketing purposes AND simultaneously help to earn links ? ?


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Link from a guest post by Diana on Selfgrowth.com


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Link from a guest post by Geraldine on MarieClaire.


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Run Competitive Analyses that Look Beyond Links – seek out non-link metrics that correspond with high vs. low rankings ? ?


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When we focus on links, we’re sometimes blind to other tactics sites use to rank well.


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Make Link Acquisition a Secondary Activity – First, earn attention & trust, then find ways to earn the link. ? ?


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Google has plenty of types of data that correlate well to links – in the future, those who have links, but lack other signals, will probably lose out.


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Test the Power of Links in Your SERPs – If a diverse set of links won’t move the needle in your niche, you can move quickly to other tactics. ? ?


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If you point links here, do the rankings go up? How many links? How powerful do they need to be?


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Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz | @randfish | [email protected] bit.ly/randlinks2015


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