Links continue to be one of the biggest investments in the SEO marketing world and, in many cases, are one of the biggest time and money wasters in the SEO world. Understanding why that is requires a digital marketer to have a good understanding as to why links matter to search engines in the first place.
Most of the answer for the question “Why are links important for SEO” comes back to Google (the major search engine in the world) and its early advantages and evolution from prior search engines.
In the early days, most search engines were simply glorified telephone directories. Their ranking system rarely made sense, and they often inundated users with bad experiences and excessive advertising.
Google sought to become the world’s leading search engine and capture a key position in the growth of the web by dramatically improving on two things: rankings and indexing.
Ranking is the ability of a search engine to successfully sort and place specific pages of content within an ordered results page based on their relevance to a specific search user’s query (or “keyword”).
Indexing is the ability of a search engine to aggregate and store the content from the countless web pages and online content that is published online constantly.
Links were important for Google because they helped the company improve over other search engines in those key areas. And those are also the key reasons links remain important today.
There is a really helpful takeaway for all digital marketers that should be stated now: Google is not above using information releases to the SEO community or allowing misinformation to persist in SEO communities if it’s beneficial to Google.
We’ll explain how links are an example of that here.
Early on, the SEO community was privy to the fact that links benefited ranking. One of the reasons why that information wasn’t particularly well-hidden was that if SEOs and webmasters built more links, Google’s indexing ability improved. Google’s crawlers or spiders traverse links to find new websites (domains) to find new content (URLs) on those websites.
If SEOs saw an incentive to build links because they helped improve ranking, they also were unwittingly helping Google gain access to more content and faster than its competitors.
Secondly, links were important for Google because they helped improve its ranking system (or algorithm) over its competitors.
Google believed that webmasters or website owners invested in their websites out of passion for what they created OR because there was a financial incentive from the website owner’s audience to do so.
Google believed (perhaps incorrectly) that webmasters who built links to other sites into their content were suggesting that the link provided had something that was consistent with their personal passion or with their financial incentive.
Basically, they felt that the website owner’s purposes and motivations OR the website’s audience would hold them accountable to the type of link they posted and where it went. If a business posted a link to a questionable location, they would risk ostracizing their website’s users which in turn would harm them.
Of course, over time, website owners found numerous ways to try and circumvent that belief to commercialize link building. Google has tried to catch those efforts and devalue them before they widely influence its search results pages.
Today, Google still views links as a vote of confidence passed from one site to another, although its particular way of evaluating how much that vote of confidence should impact ranking has changed. Google also has changed its way of assessing intent behind that vote of confidence in an effort to avoid over-manipulation of that tactic by SEOs.