The debate has long been on around inbound links, also commonly known as backlinks. Some believe inbound links are important but not a ranking factor, some believe inbound links are important and are a ranking factor, some believe that inbound links is an outdated concept that no longer has any relevance in the present SEO dynamics and therefore are not a ranking factor. And yet, there is a whole section that frowns upon inbound links altogether. Let’s shed some light and also evidence on the whole thing and see why we think it is a very important ranking factor.
What are inbound links and why are they important?
Inbound links, or backlinks, are links that point to your website from other websites. As to why they are important, it is believed that inbound links are powerful ranking signals that let Google and its search algorithms know your website needs to ranked higher or lower down the order based on their quality. There is also another belief prevalent, according to which, while inbounds links are not direct ranking factor but the strength of the signal they generate does help search algorithms determine the quality of the website(s) they are originating from. The higher the authority and rank of the source website, the higher are the chances of the destination website being ranked further up top.
Why do we think inbound links are a direct ranking factor?
In the words of Google:
“PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.”
While PageRank is first algorithm used by Google to determine a website’s ranking, it is not the only one. There are many that are operational now. However, PageRank’s system worked solely on the basis of links in determining a site’s search rankings. It has since been updated to include many other factors, though inbound links remains an important one.
In fact, through one of its important documents, Google has stated that:
“We look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. For example, if other prominent websites link to the page (what is known as PageRank), that has proven to be a good sign that the information is well trusted. Aggregated feedback from our Search quality evaluation process is used to further refine how our systems discern the quality of information.”
The Quantity vs. Quality Debate
There is however an important factor within the system of inbound links: the quality and the quantity. The quantity of inbound links as a ranking factor has been straightaway dismissed by Google, the claims around their quality though remains intact.
Google’s John Mueller has stated in the past:
“We try to understand what is relevant for a website, how much should we weigh these individual links, and the total number of links doesn’t matter at all. Because you could go off and create millions of links across millions of websites if you wanted to, and we could just ignore them all.
Or there could be one really good link from one website out there that is, for us, a really important sign that we should treat this website as something that is relevant because it has that one link. I don’t know, maybe from like a big news site’s home page, for example. So the total number essentially is completely irrelevant.”
It is quite clear that quantity of inbound links has no say in it. Quality, on the other hand, remains an all-important factor. A few relevant links from high-authority popular websites will prove to be more useful than thousands of links from low-quality, spammy-looking websites. The latter, in fact, will do your website more harm.