Recently, @marie_haynes put out a Twitter poll.

The poll asked respondents whether they ‘believe link building is less effective now compared to a few years ago’.

According to this write-up on Search Engine Roundtable:

Over 40% of respondents indicated they think link building has become less effective, vs.

Almost 30% indicated no, it’s not less effective (the remaining responses were ‘show answers’).

What prompted the poll was a recent article quoting Duy Nguyen from Google’s search quality team, who made the following comment in a Google office hours video:

“…backlinks as a signal has a lot less significant impact compared 

to when Google Search first started out many years ago.” 

Duy Nguyen, Google Search Quality Team

A comment from Matt Cutts about 8 years ago was also referenced, which indicated ‘…inevitably over time, there will be [a] little less emphasis on links.”

Each of these is a little different, and as we know, Googlers are notorious for – *ahem* – nuanced comments.

My response, however, while admittedly a bit cavalier, hopefully leaves nothing to interpretation:

I certainly hope links have a less significant impact AND less emphasis as well!

Have you looked through your own or a competitor’s backlink profile lately? Most of them are chock-full of just crap! 

Extremely low quality, super spammy links with no contextual relevance obviously thrown up to bolster rankings with very little effort and absolutely no value to anyone who stumbles on them, including but not limited to:

  • Scraped pages. 
  • Auto-generated links. 
  • PBNs. 
  • Link farms. 
  • This new networky thing that’s effectively a decentralized PBN. 
  • Forum posts.
  • Discussion boards. 
  • Other UGC pages with hundreds of thousands of links and nothing else.
  • Poor quality guest posts. 
  • Poorly-researched, badly-disguised PR ‘coverage’. 
  • Egregiously high number of links from the same domain. 

No context

No relevance

No value

Ad nauseum

When I’m combing through backlink profiles to do competitive research, analyze for link needs, co-citation analysis, etc., I end up spending the overwhelming majority of the time just trying to filter out the shite in order to get to something I can analyze.

And the solution seems pretty straightforward and Google seems to be making gains: sniff out the bad ones, the low quality, the crud, and do us all a favor and just factor it out.

Google has invested massive amounts of effort into improving ranking algorithms over time – with numerous major initiatives focused on links. They spend this time, money and heroic engineering effort  to reduce the impact of low quality signals and improve search results.

But also, I’ve known a number of SEOs and business owners who have gotten swept up in an over-reaching algo update, and had their rankings tank when they made every effort to attempt to stay within Google guidelines. So I hope this doesn’t come across as insensitive. I just see every single day, what Google has to comb through in order to make the ranking decisions.

And very, VERY large swaths of the link graph really do need to be de-valued. 

I mean, de-emphasized. Sorry – less important. Wait – rendered less significant.

It’s definitely worth the 2 minutes to at least watch the video, and ironically, his comments seem more relevant today than they did 8 years ago – but not because of the part about backlinks.

He mentions two additional topics in the video I wish I had paid more attention to in 2014:

  1. Expertise. He was telegraphing the significance of E-E-A-T and I totally missed it.
  2. He also expounds ever so slightly on conversational search and does a pretty spot-on job of describing almost precisely how ChatGPT responds to a query. Just spot-on.

And especially in that context, yes, there’s a lot to consider beyond backlinks.

Thanks for reading!

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