Inbound Links As A Ranking Factor: What You Need To Know

Inbound links, or inbound links as they are commonly referred to, matter to SEO as long as Google uses an algorithm to rank search results.

Historically, having a higher number of inbound links has increased a website’s chances of getting high rankings in search results.

Links are still important to Google, but there are more nuances than in the days of PageRank.

Let’s take a look at the claims surrounding inbound links as a ranking factor, followed by the evidence that supports or refutes those claims.

Claim: Inbound links are a ranking factor

Inbound links refer to links that point from another domain to your website.

There are a number of claims surrounding inbound links as a ranking factor.

The first is simply that inbound links are ranking signals to the Google search algorithms.

In other words, Google evaluates links pointing to a web page when determining how to rank them in search results.

Other claims about internal links relate to the strength of ranking signals generated by links.

Quantity is said to be one such factor, with more links creating stronger signals.

Referral domain is said to be another factor, with high authority and relevant sources creating stronger ranking signals.

The next section explains these claims and goes into what matters to Google when it comes to inbound links.

Evidence of inbound links as a ranking factor

Google’s algorithm is built on links.

PageRank, the algorithm on which Google’s search engine is built, relied solely on links to rank content when it was first introduced.

He describes to the audience how his algorithm works, I mentioned Google once:

“PageRank works by calculating the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important a website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.”

Google’s algorithm has since been updated to consider other factors, but inbound links remain an important signal.

The company says a lot about it How does microsite search work?which describes how Google’s algorithms evaluate web page quality:

“We look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. For example, if other prominent websites link to the page (what’s known as PageRank), that has been shown to be a good sign that the information is well trusted.

Feedback gathered from the search quality assessment process is used to improve how our systems recognize information quality.”

There is no doubt that inbound links are a Google ranking factor. Now let’s look at the following claims.

Does the amount of inbound links matter to Google?

The claim that the amount of incoming links is a ranking factor has been refuted by Google.

John Mueller of Google stated that the total number of incoming links pointing to a website is “completely irrelevant” to search rankings.

Müller explains why the amount of correlation is not a factor, saying that it is a signal that can be easily manipulated.

Website owners are advised not to focus on the number of backlinks they have. Google may choose to ignore most inbound links to the site and only look at relevant links. Mueller said:

“We try to understand what is relevant to a website, how much should we weigh those individual links, and the total number of links doesn’t matter at all. Because you can go ahead and build millions of links across millions of sites if you wanted to, and we can just ignore them all.

Or there could be one really good link from one website, and that, for us, is a really important sign that we should treat that website as something relevant because it has that link. I don’t know, maybe from the homepage of a big news site, for example. So the total number is basically completely irrelevant.”

In this statement, Mueller emphasizes that the authority and importance of referral domains are also taken into account.

Inbound links as a ranking factor: our judgment

To summarize, here are the rulings on all the claims based on the evidence we have presented:

  • yes Incoming links are the ranking factor.
  • No The number of inbound links is not a ranking factor. To be clear, this means that simply increasing the initial number of backlinks won’t help you, especially if the links are of low quality. However, there is one way quantity can matter: having a large number of great links is always better than having a small number of great links.
  • yes The relevance and quality of the referral field are ranking factors.

Featured Image: Paolo Bobita/Search Engine Magazine

Ranking factors: fact or fiction?  Let's bust some myths! [Ebook]

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