For many years, links have been highly valued by Google's algorithms. When a webpage has many links leading to it from external sources, Google will rank the page highly in its results page. Recently, marketing experts have been speculating the relative importance of backlinks, as Google updates its algorithms to accommodate for other ranking factors. However, backlinks are still one of the most important factors in page ranking, and there's little chance this will change any time soon.
Why are Links Important?
Backlinks became important when Google released PageRank, their first ranking algorithm to take links into account when ranking websites. The algorithm uses the opinions of third-party sources to indicate the relavence and accuracy of particular pages over others. Simply put. when one webpage is linked to by many other webpages, this indicates a favorable opinion of the page, allowing it to rank highly on Google's Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This allows relevant, trustworthy pages to rank highly, while unverified sources are harder to find.
PageRank is excellent in theory, but marketers and webmasters are crafty – soon, they realized they could manipulate the system to purposefully rank their pages highly. It didn't take long for Google to realize the issue, and soon they developed an algorithm which virtually eliminated PageRank manipulation.
How Changes in Google's Algorithms Impact Links
Thanks to developments in Google's current algorithms, they can now determine whether links are natural or manipulative in nature. In addition, websites which use manipulative links are now punished by the algorithm. The same initial concept applies to Google's most updated algorithms, but with newly updated algorithms like Penguin, the concept can be carried out more effectively.
What are Other Indications of Relevance to Google?
Links are an important indication of authority, but they are not the only factor in play. With newly developed algorithms like Panda, Google can more effectively rank pages based on the quality of their content. Links are still important, but the quality of the content your provide now plays a similarly important role in your webpage's rank.
In addition to the quality of your content, your site's functionality also plays a key role in your page's rank. Mobile-friendly, responsive, fast loading webpages are all rewarded by Google's algorithms – this allows well-developed websites to rise to the top, as these types of webpages are preferred by your average internet user.
How Can I Build Natural Links?
As a result of Google's developments, natural links are exceedingly important in your webpage's ranking. In most cases, this means you'll need to prioritize manual link building and link attraction.
Manual link building is the process of reaching out to other webmasters and asking them to link to your content. You can achieve the same result by guest blogging for others – in your blog, you can link back to your website, which will create natural links in the eyes of Google. Manual link building requires time and connection with other bloggers, but as you build a database of links to your content, you'll begin to see your Google ranking improve.
Conversely, link attraction requires very little connection with other bloggers in comparison to manual link building. Link attraction works by creating valuable, relevant content to which other bloggers will want to link in their content. By creating unique, accurate, quality content, you can catch the attention of other bloggers, and many will naturally link to your work in their own relative posts. This is also heavily dependent on your social media presence – when your content is shared far and wide on social media, it's more likely that another blogger will see it and wish to link to you (in addition, social media shares are becoming increasingly important in Google's algorithms).
Will Links Always Be Important?
Many marketers speculate that links could be replaced by other indications of value and trustworthiness with time, but for now they are still a leading factor in the rank of your web page. In fact, some experts believe links will always be an important part of Google's algorithms. That being said, social signals are becoming particularly important to Google's algorithms, and they achieve largely the same goal as links: when an article has many social shares, this is an indication of its quality and relevance. It shows that people enjoyed the content and found it accurate, achieving the same end-goal as links.
For the time being, however, links are an important part of Google's ranking algorithms, and you should not ignore them when creating content. Link-building is as important as ever, and there's little chance this will change over the next few years.