Reevaluating Link Significance in SEO: Insights from Data Analysis

4 min read

The ongoing discussion regarding the importance of links remains a prominent topic within the realm of SEO. This conversation was reignited by Google’s Gary Illyes, who emphasized that the significance of links has often been overestimated. He asserted that links have not been in the top three ranking factors for quite some time.

Similar statements from Google have been issued in the past, prompting SEO professionals and businesses to reevaluate their strategies.

This led me to contemplate the true significance of links in today’s SEO landscape. What insights could the data provide?

To uncover the answers, I analyzed 100 randomly selected keywords across diverse categories. This analysis involved collecting data on the top 100 ranking websites, encompassing details about referring domains and backlinks. The resulting dataset comprised over 10,000 rows of URL ranking data.

It’s essential to remember that correlation should be distinct from causation, especially given Google’s stance on the ever-evolving nature of ranking factors. Nonetheless, delving into the data can offer us valuable insights into the relative importance of links within the SEO landscape.


Analysis of the Data and Key Insights


Given Illyes’s statement, I initially anticipated we might discover a moderate connection between backlinks and search engine rankings. Still, nothing implied that backlinks were the primary determinant of improved rankings.

Surprisingly, for the first time in quite a while, the data substantiated this hypothesis.

For this analysis, I categorized the 100 keywords into specific segments, such as Electronics, Health and Beauty, Entertainment, and others.

In correlation analysis, a higher value indicates a more robust relationship between the two variables, while a value approaching zero signifies a weaker connection.

Within the context of our study, where the ultimate objective is to attain the top position in rankings, an ideal score is -1. This score suggests that as the number of backlinks increases, the ranking “decreases” or moves closer to the number one position.

Here are the key insights drawn from the data analysis:

  1. No keyword category or individual keyword exhibited a correlation more significant than -0.4. This indicates that none of the datasets displayed a highly significant correlation.
  2. Some keywords and keyword groups demonstrated a scenario where increased links decreased rankings. These correlations, which should be considered positive due to the increasing rank numbers, did not surpass the 0.4 threshold.
  3. The keyword categories with the strongest correlations were Outdoor and Sports and Health and Wellness.
  4. Conversely, Home and Kitchen and Ecommerce and Online Services were the categories in which increased links led to decreased rankings.
  5. At the individual keyword level, “fisherman beanie” and “oat milk” displayed the highest correlation, while “MLB fitted hats” and “acrylic nails” exhibited the lowest correlation. (The graph below, which represents the keyword level, only charts the top and bottom five keywords.)


The Significance of Links in the Modern SEO Landscape: 3 Essential Insights


Understanding that the correlation coefficient supports Google’s perspective, how should we apply this knowledge? What adjustments or considerations should we make regarding our brand’s link profile? Here are three crucial takeaways and recommendations based on this dataset for enhancing your SEO strategy.

1. Links Indicate User-Valued Content

Despite Google’s reduced emphasis on links as a primary ranking factor, they remain a valuable signal. Think of them as indicators of user and website endorsement for your content and products. When a particular blog post or product attracts a significant influx of links, it signifies user appreciation.

Adjust your strategy accordingly – generate more content or products in that area or intensify your promotional efforts. These links offer valuable intent-based data for optimizing your efforts, even if they don’t always result in higher rankings.

2. Continuous Evaluation of Competition and Custom Data Analysis

While our dataset comprises over 10,000 data points, it’s not customized to your specific brand or industry. Consider this article a roadmap for dissecting your data to gain valuable insights.

Scrutinizing your top 100 keywords will provide a clearer picture of your competitive landscape, facilitating the development of a more targeted strategy. If you notice that other brands in your niche possess a significantly more significant number of links, it can be seen as a challenge. However, it’s important to remember that links are not the sole determining factor for rankings. Rather than becoming overwhelmed, leverage this data to guide and refine your strategy.

3. Staying True to the Time-Tested Principles in Organic Search

The core principles of SEO have been, and will continue to be, the guiding star for achieving organic search success.

While the original aim of SEO was to elevate brand rankings, this goal remains pertinent today. However, there has been a noticeable shift towards prioritizing an exceptional user experience, exemplified by Google’s E-A-T framework: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

E-A-T underscores the significance of user experience and values. It doesn’t advocate a primary focus on link acquisition; instead, it emphasizes the importance of constructing a website that enhances the value of your products or services for end-users.

This user-centric approach should serve as your guiding principle.

Reevaluate the Role of Links in Your SEO Strategy

I found this dataset intriguing as it encompasses diverse industries and consistently underscores that while links hold significance, they are not the exclusive factor driving success.

I will vigilantly track how the data evolves by integrating large language models that might redefine the value of links and website visibility.

This is an exciting era for search, characterized by innovation, and data will be our guiding star in assessing the evolving landscape. I’m eager to witness how links will continue to impact rankings in this next phase.

If you still find it challenging and perplexing, consider exploring our monthly SEO packages and allow our team of experts to assist you.

Shilpi Mathur
[email protected]