Are Inbound Links a Ranking Factor? Yes!

3 min read

The debate over inbound links, often called backlinks, has been ongoing for quite some time. As we enter 2023, the discussion around their significance in SEO continues to evolve. Some still argue that inbound links are crucial but not a direct ranking factor, while others maintain that they are vital for rankings. On the flip side, a camp suggests that inbound links have become obsolete in the ever-changing landscape of SEO and no longer impact rankings. There’s even a faction that vehemently opposes the idea of using inbound links altogether.
Let’s delve into the matter, present some updated evidence, and explain why we firmly believe that inbound links remain a significant and influential ranking factor in contemporary SEO.

What are inbound links and why are they important?

Inbound links, commonly called backlinks, continue to play a pivotal role in SEO strategies as we enter 2023. These links are connections from other websites to your own. Their significance in search engine optimization remains a subject of discussion and analysis, with some important updates to consider.

The prevailing wisdom suggests that inbound links serve as influential ranking signals, providing valuable cues to Google’s search algorithms regarding the positioning of your website in search results. However, in 2023, there is a nuanced perspective emerging:

  1. Direct Ranking Influence: It is increasingly apparent that inbound links directly impact a website’s ranking position. These links’ quality, relevance, and authority contribute significantly to where your site appears in search results. In essence, backlinks serve as endorsements from other websites, sending signals to search engines that your content is credible and valuable to users.
  2. Signal of Website Quality: While some still debate the direct ranking factor status of inbound links, there’s a consensus that the strength of the movement they generate is a crucial determinant of website quality. Search algorithms are becoming more adept at assessing the trustworthiness and authority of the websites linking to yours. In 2023, Google and other search engines use this information to evaluate the overall quality of your website. Therefore, obtaining backlinks from authoritative and relevant sources remains paramount.
  3. Source Website Authority: Another essential aspect to consider is the authority and ranking of the websites that link to yours. In the current SEO landscape, the source website’s credibility plays a pivotal role in the impact of inbound links. If your website receives links from well-established, high-authority sources, it significantly enhances your chances of securing a prominent position in search results.

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.”

The sheer quantity of inbound links only carries a little weight in today’s SEO landscape. Instead, the paramount consideration lies in the quality of these links. A handful of relevant links from well-established, authoritative websites can prove far more beneficial than amassing thousands of links from low-quality, questionable sources. Excessing the latter can potentially harm your website’s reputation and rankings.