Google Says Paid Links Don’t Work
In the world of digital marketing, appearing on the first page of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) is considered the holy grail. As such, the process of Search Engine Optimisation is one of the most important aspects of any online. While the Google algorithm uses over 200 metrics to rank pages, inbound links sit very close to the summit.
Most website owners and marketing teams will actively invest time and money into their link building strategies, very few take the best approach.
Question: Do Paid Links Help Sites Rank?
The person asking the question claimed 80-90% of sites ranking in their niche are using paid links. That’s a not necessarily unusual situation.
Here is the question:
“Are backlinks important in ranking factors? Because nowadays 80 to 90% of websites are buying backlinks which I think is very unethical. But these websites are also ranking on the first page. Why?”
John Mueller first confirms that Google still uses links. But then he says there are other SEO factors. I believe what he wants to communicate is that links are not the one deciding factor but rather, links are one factor out of many factors. This is what Mueller said:
“We do use links in our ranking algorithms. We use a ton of other factors as well. So it’s not the case that links is the one thing that will make your website show up in the search results, regardless of what other people do.”
That makes sense because ultimately, what matters is if a search result answers the user’s search intent. The links can contribute to understanding what the page is about but ultimately the web page needs to effectively communicate the answer a search query demands.
Mueller then remarks on how often websites participate in SEO tactics that don’t affect the rankings. I see this across a wide range of niches. What happens is that competitors mimic each other. This follows the leader mentality, though it looks hyper-competitive, can mask weakness in the competition. It usually manifests as no single site being able to dominate the search results.
What Mueller said:
“This is something where we also see that a lot of sites do things that aren’t really necessary for their website and web search. They’ll go off and buy a ton of links and then we ignore all of those links.
So just because you’re seeing people doing something that looks kind of weird doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re actually profiting from that in a sense that there are lots of reasons why sites can rank in the search results. And it doesn’t have to do with anything sneaky that they’re doing.”
I like this next part because this is where he mentions, for the second time, other factors that are deciding why a site ranks. We’re not really in a post-link search world. But the quality of links passed around maybe has gone down, and I’m not talking about paid links. I’m talking about overall, there aren’t as many bloggers as there used to be, that kind of thing.
What can be done to create signals that indicate this particular site is what users want to see?
How can I make this content better than the competition?
This is the part where he mentions the importance of non-link factors: “We get this question around links. We get this question around keyword stuffing, around hidden text; all of these aspects come up regularly and in pretty much all of the cases that I’ve looked into where we work together with the webspam team and the search quality team to double-check why these sites are ranking, it’s pretty much always because of other things.”