On a scale of 1-10, how effective do you think link building is in influencing organic search rankings?
In this section, we’re interested in knowing the extent to which SEOs believe that links actually influence organic search rankings. Answers tilted toward effective, with the average score being 7.8 out of 10.
Much like my comment previously about getting buy-in and budget for link building campaigns, this isn't surprising.
Whilst SEO has changed so much over the last decade and will continue to change, one of the things that hasn't changed is the importance of a website's link profile.
I don't see this changing within the next decade either.
I'm one of the SEO's who doesn't really believe that backlinks still have an influence on the ranking - I think a clear internal structure is more important for a good ranking.
There is a common misunderstanding that Google does not want businesses to build links. Links improve visibility because Google values them as an indication of how important and authoritative a business is for what they do and where they are located. I am glad to note that the vast majority of respondents agreed that it is effective!
As someone that has run several link building experiments, read plenty of studies about how link building affects rankings and regularly witnesses direct correlations between link acquisition and rankings for the domains I’m responsible for, I’m a little shocked that there are quite a few respondents that don’t believe link building is particularly effective at influencing rankings.
I think it’s important to remember that even though the authority generated from links does influence rankings, there are other pillars of SEO that need to be in decent shape for a page to gain rankings. Links alone won’t do it.
Do you think links will be a signal that Google uses in their ranking algorithm in five years' time?
The vast majority of SEOs (94%) said they believe Google will continue to use links as a ranking signal for the next five years.
I can't imagine links fading away, because they're literally the threads on the web. But the Internet itself could be replaced by something else. An algorithm that serves content based on neurological input or something? Or is that sci-fi?
It likely will be but I imagine Google will crack down on topical relevance.
I agree, although they might not be as highly weighted as they are today, Google sees links as a type of "word of mouth recommendation" from one site to another and this will always be valuable.
I've seen clients' rankings improve drastically for competitive keywords and conversions 3x from only guest posting link building.
I´m sure quality, topic-related and good backlinks will be always a ranking factor.
I wholeheartedly agree with this! As much as SEO is going to change over the next 5 years, I cannot see Google reducing or stopping using links at all.
I am very confident like many people in the survey that Google will continue using links in their algorithms for quite some time. Links, in general, are the basis of crawling and indexing, and as such will not go away anytime soon. However, there are signals that backlinks are becoming more and more sophisticated over time.
Do you think links will be a signal that Google uses in their ranking algorithm in ten years' time?
Whilst the majority said the same when asked about ten years' time, there was slightly less confidence with the majority dropping to 73%.
While I totally agree with this sentiment, I feel that Google will adjust how they view and interpret links in the next decade, much like how they have done over the past decade. What will they do is anybody's guess.
Long live the links!!
Assuming no other major technical, content or penalty issues, how long does it typically take for you to see the impact of link building on rankings and traffic?
A classic question is how long will it take for links to start positively affecting organic rankings and traffic. According to our respondents, 1-3 months is the most likely time frame with 49% of the votes.
This was followed by 3-6 months, which 30% said was a fair timeframe for links to have an effect on rankings.
I would agree with the majority here – typically 1-3 months is the most likely timeframe to see the impact of links. However, the stronger the domain you land a link on, the quicker the impact.
Agreed. Generally, if your content belongs at the top of the SERPs, it should make its way there within a year at most (assuming you aren't being outranked by .govs, .orgs, .edus, or any other big players).
What factors do you think are most important when determining whether a link is topically relevant or not?
Revisiting the theme of topical relevance, we asked SEOs which factors are most important when determining if an individual link is relevant or not. We asked them to select up to three factors and the most popular with 62% was the topic of the page where the link is placed.
This was followed by the topic of the domain where the link is placed, which received 52% of the votes.
The topic of the page where the link is placed
The topic of the domain where the link is placed
The topic of the content you've created
The focus of the section within the site where the link is placed e.g. Guardian Travel
Here I would consider both equally, the domain and topic of content. As some spammy websites/domains add content that may fit with my content, but it would hurt my overall quality.
Do you believe that link building positively influences rankings?
We pushed again on the extent to which SEOs believe that links positively influence rankings. 48% gave a categorical yes, they do positively influence rankings. 34% then said yes, but with a caveat that the website has no major technical SEO issues.
Yes, but only if a site has no major technical SEO issues
Sometimes - i.e. I've seen great results in some verticals, but not in others
This shows it is important to resolve those technical issues of the site. I am surprised the percentage for "Yes, but only if a site has no major technical SEO issues" is not higher, but maybe those who responded "Yes" did not have sites that had major technical issues.
Jo Juliana Turnbull
Or the design basics, people! Everyone's so hot for links and then you look at their site and your eyes are bleeding....
Yes. We go for links after we have done all the technical and on-page needed. But they improve ranking, especially for high competition queries.
Do you think that buying links can positively influence rankings?
Despite only 30% of respondents saying that they used paid links as a tactic, the majority (69%) said that they believe they do positively influence rankings.
This discrepancy probably comes from marketers seeing their competitors ranking in the SERPs even though they're buying low-quality links. It can be really frustrating to go about things the white-hat way and spend the time/resources creating high-quality content to earn better links and still see others doing well by taking the easy route. However, earning links organically is always the better long-term play. While some link buyers will see a boost for very particular page rankings, those who earn links build site/page authority over time and sustainably and are more likely to experience long-term growth.
Paid links work all the time. What is interesting here is while 69% say that it is making a positive SEO impact, only 30% said they used paid links as a tactic. Budget and a fear of getting penalized by Google could be the possible reasons for the lower rate.
From my point of view, it is a mistake to use paid backlinks. The algorithm is too smart for this tactic. We are in 2022, not in 2005.
30% of respondents pay for links but 69% think they have an impact… This result really amuses me. If anything, I think it suggests that there needs to be more education and myth debunking about sponsored links, particularly in the context of what Google says, what SEOs say (and see!), where link building was at in 2012 and what’s really happening now 20 years on.
Do you report competitors if you see them breaking Google guidelines?
Following on from paid links, we asked respondents if they reported competitors for breaking Google guidelines, and the majority (84%) said no.
What is stopping more individuals from reporting competitors breaking Google guidelines? Is the overall consensus that it's a waste of time or are people concerned over possible ramifications from their actions? If your actions are ethical AND benefit your client, there shouldn't be as much hesitancy to report competitors' bad practices.
Missed opportunity! I'm guessing the "No" answers are from those who aren't confident that Google will actively update based on their recommendation. As someone who works in local SEO, reporting competitors can work! And the results can drop someone off the first page in some instances. It may be worth a try. Especially in place of link tactics you find are not very effective.
Do you believe that links directly to a target page (such as a product or category page) are necessary in order for that page to rank? Or is the onus on the strength of the domain as a whole?
When it comes to where links are most effective, we wanted to know whether SEOs felt that links to a target internal landing page were necessary, or if links to the domain as a whole would suffice.
58% of SEOs felt that links to a target page were most effective in getting those pages to rank, as opposed to the domain as a whole.
In my opinion, links to a target page are the most important, but domain-level authority is important too. I do wonder how many digital PR campaigns out there that receive links to the campaign page are designed to rank in their own right though. I think there’s an opportunity for digital PRs and SEOs to work closer together and share each other’s skillsets, as both specialists share ROI touchpoints.
I’m a bit surprised to see an almost equal split here. Of course, good internal linking can drive link juice over your website quite sufficiently. But the logic seems simple: if links are an important ranking factor, then pointing them directly to the page you want to boost in rankings should help the most.
I don't think internal linking strategies should be overlooked here. We know how incredibly difficult it is to earn links to a product/category page, but if you're earning links to other pages and internally linking to those product/category pages, you can be getting the best of both worlds.
What attributes of a link do you focus on when it comes to positively influencing organic search rankings?
We asked respondents to select up to three attributes that they felt were important when it comes to a link being able to positively influence organic search rankings.
The most popular answer with 72% of the votes was links from sites specifically related to your niche. This was followed by 51% saying that links from new domains (i.e. they haven’t linked to you previously) are a key attribute.
Links from sites specifically related to your niche
Links from domains that a site hasn't received links from previously
Links from domain with a high authority (DA/DR or similar)
Links from domains that your competitors have but you don't
Links from sites that your audience frequently visits
I'm glad to see a healthy diversity in responses here. A healthy mix of each of these attributes is beneficial.
I don't think that receiving links from domains you haven't been linked from previously is as critical as most think. In my experience, what matters most is the authority and relevancy of the links. We've seen growth from repeatedly earned links from top news sites because repeated high-quality pickups signal that you're consistently creating great content worthy of top-tier news coverage. Authority trumps all, in my opinion, as long as the content is related to your industry.
These are very interesting stats and answer many link building questions we may have.
Topical relevance is important but so is having links from domains that have high authority.
We should still carry out competitive analysis as we can find sites we have not linked from previously and it may also be domains our audience visits regularly.