While we don’t know the exact weightings of the algorithm, we do have a good idea of the ranking factors that are included and which are the most important. Google has already admitted that links and content are the two most important factors.
This should make it clear that Google still relies heavily on links to decide which pages should rank, but we are unsure if the content of that page is even more important. To determine whether links are going to be crucial in the future you must first understand why they are used.
Why are Links Used as a Ranking Factor?
Google wasn’t the first search engine, not by a long shot. But they completely revolutionized the game with their Page Rank algorithm which was capable of assigning a value to a given page and therefore deciding where it should rank for certain queries.
The original Page Rank score was hugely based on the quantity and quality of referring links because a link can be considered as being representative of a thumbs up. In principle, the more thumbs up a page has, the higher the quality of the page and therefore the higher it should rank.
Without using links, the first search engines were resigned to using the content of the page to determine rankings. Unfortunately, this can be easily manipulated, and this makes it a poor ranking signal.
However, it’s much harder to manipulate links because they are generally under the control of another webmaster. This makes them an ideal ranking factor and allowed Google to create an algorithm that far outperformed their competitors.
Are Links Still Important?
With this in mind, it should be easy to see that links are still an important ranking factor. Being disassociated from the webmaster, at least in principle, this helps to make them a more reliable ranking factor. Hence, they are likely the number one ranking factor to this day.
However, thisn’t to say that they haven’t become less important. We’ve seen with past Google updates that they’ve tried to reduce their dependence on their backlink data because SEOs have been able to manipulate their rankings with spammy links and PBN’s.
When Google first hit the scene, its algorithm was hugely dependent on backlinks, but they’ve since factored in hundreds of ranking factors. This makes their algorithm far more intricate, allowing them to create much better results.
But just as importantly, it also helps to reduce their dependency on a single or a small group of ranking factors. This crucial if they want to be able to consistently publish great results pages without having the risk of website owners being able to manipulate the rankings.
Google and the Future
This diversification of ranking factors is only likely to include. It’s great for them because it helps to reduce the risk of a single factor becoming redundant and destroying their algorithm, and it’s great for us because we get to see better results.
In recent years Google has come out with their newest addition to the algorithm; Rank Brain. Rank Brain is an independent AI that is going to continue to learn and develop the algorithm, tracking patterns and trends from users behavior and the results pages.
The purpose of Rank Brain is to help the algorithm to understand better the queries that people are typing into Google. As we mentioned in a previous article, the intent behind what the searcher is writing is just as important as the keywords themselves.
A single phrase can have multiple different meanings, especially when that phrase is used across a range of different countries. That means that Google needs to be able to effectively understand the intent of the queries that are being searched,
But more importantly than that, they need to be able to learn from that intent so that they can serve better results in the future. This exactly what Rank Brain is designed to do.
Google has admitted that Rank Brain is their third most important ranking factor, but this likely to increase. The intent of the searcher is so critical to what they want to be shown that it’s unlikely it won’t become a more heavily weighted ranking factor.
With that in mind, links are likely to become less of an important ranking factor over the next decade. However, we aren’t so pessimistic as to start screaming that SEO is dead.
After all, links are still a perfectly good way to decide the value of a page, especially when they are applied in a sophisticated algorithm that includes hundreds of other factors.