Toward a Linkless SEO: The SEO Link Is Dying. Here's What Might Replace It


Whether they saw it coming or not, and whether they believe it or not, everyone in SEO sat up and noticed when Matt Cutts declared that guest blogging is dead. We’d all like to believe that we only guest-blog to share our knowledge, but the truth is, most of us have guest-blogged and gladly taken the links that came along with it. And the conversation has really been about links all week: Can guest-blogging survive without links? How do we get links if we don't guest-blog anymore?

But aren’t we just treading water here? Guest blogging was just one tactic as part of a larger link-building strategy. Google is slowly chipping away at all our link-building tactics. Rather than replacing guest blogging with another kind of link building, maybe it’s time to think about a system that isn’t dependent on links.

We think we know what that system could be. Read on to see how we got there.

A Brief History of the Link for SEO

Some “duh” level SEO-basics background: Search engines used to run on keywords alone. It didn’t work well because keywords were too easy to manipulate. People stuffed their meta keywords field and hid keywords all over the page in the digital equivalent of invisible ink (white text on a white background).

Then Google came along and changed the game. They recognized the value of the hyperlink – a link was more than a pathway to another part of the Internet, it was a vote of confidence. Go ahead, a link says, leave my site and visit this other one, it’s worth it. So Google’s ranking algorithm was heavily dependent on incoming links, which were less manipulable.

You can see where this is going. The SEO industry grew right alongside Google’s rise to dominance, and while it’s harder to get links than it is to keyword-stuff your own pages, plenty of SEO’s discovered that you could still game the system and manipulate that “natural” ranking signal.

And here’s how that progressed:

Linkless SEO

The advice that SEO thought leaders and pundits (including us) typically give to websites and companies trying to get ranked is:

  • Create great content that naturally earns links
  • Don’t do anything with the sole intention of getting links, just add value to the world

This is all well and good for now. But it won’t work forever; it’s not sustainable. As people continue to find more creative ways to build links, Google will have to work harder to sort “good links” from “bad links.” And I predict that the next iteration of Google (or whatever search engine replaces it) won’t revolve around links – at the least, they'll have a lot less weight in the algorithm as a ranking signal.

How Google Is Killing Its Own Value System

Google’s current logic around links and link building is full of holes and dead ends:

  • Google is founded on the principle that off-page factors are more valuable than on-page factors. They are slowly learning that off-page factors can be manipulated too. But instead of looking for the Next Big Thing (the thing, like most links used to be, that is currently too hard to manipulate) they just keep tinkering with their old algorithm and scolding SEO’s. The latest scold was over guest blogging.
  • Matt Cutts said this week that guest posting is OK … “if you’re not doing it for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.” Let’s just stop and think about how silly this is. The implication is that it’s your motives that matter, not your actions. You can guest-post but only out of pure altruism. And Google will know you’re being altruistic because of the absence of links. But if publishers actually followed this advice, you’d have a bunch of “great content” getting created without any outgoing links. And without links, how is Google supposed to know what’s great?
  • Cutts seems to think that people wants links as an end in themselves. He says you can guest-post for exposure and branding but not for links. But people want links for the exact same reason they’d want a bylined article in Forbes: Links are a form of exposure, both directly (through referral traffic) and indirectly, through SEO. And people don’t want high rankings as an end in themselves either, they want high rankings because high rankings give you exposure. Cutts concedes that it’s OK for marketers to do stuff for exposure, but for some reason links are no longer a valid form of that? That’s funny, since the whole idea behind Google is that links mean something.
  • What if Cutts had said “Using keywords is OK if you’re not doing it for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.” Or “Creating YouTube videos is OK if you’re not doing it for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.” It would sound ridiculous. We know certain tactics are good for SEO, and Google can’t actually distinguish between a piece of content that just happens to be perfectly optimized versus one that was optimized on purpose. Google isn’t a Turing test and it can’t see into our souls. The purpose of the algorithm should be to rank the best content, not the content created with the purest of intentions and the least technical knowledge of SEO.
  • As Barry Adams said on Twitter recently, Google has basically evolved to consider any off-page optimization as spam. But they’re drawing the line in a pretty arbitrary place. You can barrage people with your non-stop flow of content and hope people link to it, but you can’t outright ask for a link.

link building is spam

  • There are more and more businesses and websites every day, but the first page of Google isn’t getting any bigger. Attention is scarce. The answer can’t simply be content (and I say this as someone whose job title includes the word “content”) because we’re already drowning in content. It should be possible for a business to exist without constantly churning out “content.” If the business offers something that people want or need, people should be able to use a well-made search engine to find that business, without having to indirectly happen upon their great content first. I’m dreaming of a simple website that does one thing well and doesn’t grow by one page size every day.
  • It’s going to get harder and harder for Google to tell the difference between editorial links and manipulated links, in part because of all the noise (so. much. content.) and in part because it’s possible to create good, useful content “for SEO purposes.” A manipulated article and a non-manipulated article might look exactly the same. But Google seems to be flirting with the idea of devaluing both, just to be safe.

We can all keep trying to get links without calling it link building, but it's looking more and more like Google's breaking up with links.

So What Will Replace the Link?

To be honest, I didn’t know. But as often happens in crazy times like these, Larry and I were on the same page. We were both thinking about this question yesterday, and he thinks he’s got it figured out. In fact he said “I’m sure of it.” The answer? Quality Score.

Death of SEO Link

Larry pointed out that Google needed links to get started. There were a bunch of different search engines at the time (Yahoo, Altavista, etc.) and less search traffic overall. They needed a way to map out the web and get a rough idea of the good and the bad. Fast-forward 15 years. Now that there are billions of searches a day, Google doesn’t really need links anymore. It can use the wisdom of crowds, an enormous source of data which doesn’t always involve links.

How Quality Score for Organic Search Might Work

Google puts tons of resources into its ad ranking algorithm. (Ads, of course, are the real moneymaker, but no one would click the ads if the search engine wasn’t useful on its own.) And how does it rank ads? Not just according to bids, because that would water down relevance. So Google came up with Quality Score, a way of treating ads like content.

AdWords Quality Score is largely based on click-through rate (CTR). There is a lot of Google fairy dust about how exactly it’s calculated, but our internal research indicates that it’s basically just the CTR of an ad at a given position in comparison to the expected click-through rate at that same position. As for stuff that hasn’t had a chance to get to the first page, Google can “audition” new ads and get a good sense for if they’re any good or not within just 200 impressions.

We think organic search could benefit from the same kind of algorithm – an algorithm that counts engagement metrics over links. These engagement metrics would include stuff like:

  • Click-through rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Time on page
  • Social shares
  • Number of comments
  • Etc.

Google could capture engagement metrics like bounce rate from Google Analytics, Google Chrome browsers (it’s the most used browser on mobile), and apps like Google+. Cutts just said that Google doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter social signals in its ranking algorithm, but many suspect part of the long game for Google+ is owning social data for ranking purposes.

Furthermore, Quality Score can scale. There are only 3 billion searches on Google per day, but it serves 5.6 billion search ads every day (not to mention the 24 billion plus display ads).

If you’re looking at it from the perspective of a marketer or a business, there are plenty of reasons why an organic Quality Score system might benefit you. Instead of constantly trying to create random kinds of content that might generate links, you could focus on (for example) optimizing your landing pages for conversion. A landing page designed for lead gen might work perfectly well and satisfy its visitors completely, but not get any links (who links to a landing page)? The overall emphasis is still on quality content, but the goal is different. You're simply serving your users, many of whom may not have websites or the time and inclination to link.

“But what about click fraud!” you say. The fact is Google has already invested a lot into fighting click fraud – if they couldn’t detect or prevent it, their AdWords engine would be in trouble. So why couldn’t Google apply those same click fraud filters to determine which content is (naturally) getting the most clicks and subsequent engagement? (They have to fight spam on the paid side too; they removed 350 million bad ads in 2013 and rejected 3 million publishers.)

Is this a crazy idea? Not really – one search engine has already decided that links don’t matter. Russian-based Yandex uses user behavior and engagement instead of links. And Google is in a position to take the same approach and do it better, because they have way more data.

What do you think? Are we right? Is the era of the link coming to a close? 

Find out how you're REALLY doing in AdWords!

Watch the video below on our Free AdWords Grader:

Visit the AdWords Grader.


Brian Reilly
Jan 27, 2014

My question is about engagement ... ultimately we're less concerned with time on site or even bounce so long as a conversion happened right? Does that mean with an organic quality score model the pages which are most efficiently collecting leads won't rank?

Egan Rao
Jan 29, 2014

Yandex is the future of search technology. Perfect investment on user behaviour and engagement. Recently, I have gone for a Radian6 training and truly it was an awesome moment for data representation in deciding for a campaign. We are looking at searcher point of view to propose a new campaign. Everyone on Google is searching for something and it would be great if they could understand us better..

Jan 28, 2014

I for one am fed up with what google thinks. Yea they have great volume of traffic but they change the rules and chasing them is like chasing your tail; unless you are a mammoth site with alot of internal backlinks.  

Jan 28, 2014

Sounds similar to back in the day which was acquired by Ask Jeeves.  If they could manage the manipulation that is sure to happen then it is a worthwhile part to a larger algorithm.

Dec 09, 2014

Great ideas,this blog is really helping for me, Thanks for shraring.

Nov 06, 2014

I welcome SERPs being determined by high quality, but that's just not happening yet, and clients are only willing to hang on for so long before they get frustrated that their rankings are down (even with a beautiful site), whereas a company with a terrible site, stuffed full of keywords, is topping the charts. What we need is something in between. Something we can do for our clients now while still preparing their sites for the future. Crappy site with fake links still rank well. It's frustrating and true. So where do we fit in?

Oct 28, 2014

Nice information and it is useful for me and also useful for who wants

mike brunt
Aug 19, 2014

i really wish you both wrote this and i read it 12 months ago,  before i threw $14k at a SEO company. fortunalty i have learnt a lot mrer over the last 12 months so am in a position to fix the mess they have left me in.I think you are spot on with the QS rating for google focusing far more on a user experience than the number of links you have pointing back to the site. Im firmly of the opinion that a lot of SEO comapnies were pretty much just good at gaming the system and now google has caught onto it..... its much harder to game a qualty UXone of the best articles i have stumbled over latelythanks

May 17, 2014

Probably the best SEO article I've read all year!You're absolutely right about Google's growing discomfort with links, and that's because the days of the wild wild web are drawing to a close. We need something more intuitive, more indicative of actual value than merely numbers--links or keywords. And the only way to get that is to score pages based on people's reaction to them. Use that tracking technology for good, and not just ads.

Dan Hawkins
May 06, 2014

Wow, great article Elisa, I think you hit the nail right on the head almost, I've been in digital marketing for almost a decade now and I agree with this almost 100%  My hypothesis is that links still important for "getting you to the dance" as it were.  When you have a new website links still seperate you from the chaff of hundreds, thousands or millions of other pages which could appear for the search terms entered.  You can see the results of this happening, either a gradual or rapid climb past all the other websites which are doing little to no or poor SEO.Then if you are in a competitive industry you will usually hit what I call the "2nd Page Shuffle".  This is when you come up against the other websites which have also put the time, money and effort into their website (it may be first page in a non-competitive niche or third or fourth page or maybe lower in a highly competitive industry but generally I find it happens on the 2nd page) and you will see your website start quickly "shuffling" around between different ranks, often changing every few days or even completely disappering from the ranking before reappearing.  This is where I believe QS, or something like it, comes into play.  As you said, Google has spent a fortune on refining and perfecting QS for paid ads.  In my opinion at this stage Google starts "testing" you out against the other top competitiors to see how users engage with the websites, promoting the top performers and demoting the underachievers who don't deserve to be there.  If you have a better/more relevant website/product than your competition in my experience the website will almost always continue to rise gradually.  Where the website/product is not as relevant to visitors (and you can see this refelected in metrics like CTR and bounce amongst others) the website will eventually get dropped back down to the bottom of 2nd page or even lower and stall there.  After a time, you'll get another shot and go through the process again.If link building was still as important as it used to be then you would expect to continue to see a gradual rise until you "outdid" your competitors in links, and then you would move ahead of them.  But this is not what I see at all...that is how it used to be in 2010 but not any more.  Links may still be an important variable in the top spots but I don't think it can be the primary one otherwise you would not "bounce around, at most I think it is just one variable, probably less important then engagement elements at that point. There are a lot of reasons why I think links will eventually be phased out though, one of the main ones being that they reflect less how people actually use the internet now - links use to be a good metric because it was the best way that bloggers and webmasters used links to point to other sites they thought were relevant or interesting to their visitors.  But now most people use social media sharing for this, whereas I would surmise that now the majority of links, internal or external, exist for SEO purposes.  I think links used to be the best way to give Google the most relevant results but now they have better and more effective means to accomplish this. As you said, as long as there is money to be made from rankings there will be people trying to manipulate any metric.  Google invests a huge amount of money into preventing QD maniuplation or Adwords would fall apart.  No doubt people will try and even succeed but Google will get better and better and detecting it, just as they did with automated link building etc. (:  

Apr 03, 2014

Google adopted DMOZ data Back in 1999 I was a volunteer editor with the Open Directory Project, we all had an area of experience and maybe an agenda.The links were built from submissions, which we judged or validated, and also exploring either other search projects, Alto Vista,etc.More often than not I would pull dot coms from industry magazines. My entire area of knowledge was wide open, I must have added hundreds of links.America Online made some deal and began using our data, when Google came on the scene they sucked in the entire directory,they probably hit all the search sites the same way. Doing it by machine led to the need to develope algorithms. Had it been possible to continuewith real editors the search results would certainly be high quality. People do it better, just think of a world without parked domains.

nova G
Mar 27, 2014

Although I appreciate google in maintaining only quality stuffs to be recognized online, they're just making it harder and harder every time. I mean, how are you supposed to get traffic when you're not promoting links to your site? All Off-page SEO can be spam? Yeah. It seems like it. Google is trying to get rid of every bit of off-page SEO. I don't think, in anyway, that content alone can make it. We have to do something to get people read the content. Even producers and advertisers know that. What good is a product or service if no one knows about it? You sure can drive traffic by content alone, but then is it going to be enough? I mean, come on, every one has worked their way through SEO for years and not every one got the best results. It's been tough. And I think it's going to be tougher. The competition is getting bigger and bigger at the same time. 

Spook SEO
Mar 26, 2014

I agree that the focus of future SEO needs to continue searching for ways other than link-centered tactics to further optimize search engines. This may appear to be a difficult task initially, we will continue to stay in the race. Fortunately, I am sure we can always look forward to black hat strategists to ensure that we don't get too comfortable with our new found techniques.

Shawn Rosko
Mar 20, 2014

I wish I had more time to spend commenting on this, but the search engines, especially Google are built completely on backlinks. They need them to crawl from page to page so they can find and index everything on a site. In order for them to get rid of links they would need to completely rebuild everything from scratch, which I highly doubt they will do. They keep discounting different types of links because it is all they can do to stop people from manipulating them. The war on paid links is something they have spent a lot of time and money on, and if they did not need links then they would not waste that time/money on stopping paid links. Just watching what Google always does to devalue certain tyoes of links shows the importance of links. Here is an interesting post I recently read as well discussing why links will not be dying anytime soon.

Rana Waqas
Dec 14, 2014

i too admit content is king and i ve seen a result of it as well! but still google relies on backlinks for dsplaying results.. it will fade away with the passage of time

Wouter De Meyer
Jan 30, 2014

I think links are still going to matter in the future. Maybe not so much as it does now, but they will definitely stay in the ranking algo.Why else would Google invest tons of money to fight those spam links, and continue to do so. Links are here to stay. As I read the article above, I enjoyed the fact that there were so many useful links to other great articles.   

Eric Van Buskirk
Jan 27, 2014

I'm not so sure about your conclusion, but your description of the PROBLEM with GOOG fearful of everyone gaming them: that was fantastic writing!

George Papatheodorou
Jan 28, 2014

If I had to rate the article in terms of "Quality score", that would be a 11/10!It is indeed a very insightful approach.But then again, the "black" part of the Internet will still find ways to manipulate the PPC world.Google has to act proactively and not reactively as is the case in most of the times.

Seo Service
Mar 19, 2014

Nice Post.  I think Google is shooting itself in the foot here. I have never seen an Adwords ad without a link to get to the site or product. Something to think about. Nice Post.  I think Google is shooting itself in the foot here. I have never seen an Adwords ad without a link to get to the site or product. Something to think about.

Alberto Jonson
Mar 03, 2014

 I’m glad I found your article. The information is smart and interesting. I am unable to thank you enough for the blog posts on your web page. I know you add a lot of time and energy into them and truly hope you know how deeply I enjoy it. The written ideas you shared have expanded my knowledge and inspired me to learn more about this subject. 

Feb 20, 2014

The one downside to introducing an organic quality score is how does a totally new website get found to begin with?

Spook SEO
Feb 19, 2014

Putting links on ads. Is it the TLA?

Tsvetan Vuchkov
Feb 17, 2014

I am very curious to see what will happen with Yandex after the algorithm change - in my opinion this is bound to fail.To me this ban of links looks like total inability to deal with the fake and low quality links. I believe that if more signals areused for ranking and they are well interpreted - the search engines would deliver high quality results.

Feb 12, 2014

I agree that the focus of future SEO needs to continuesearching for ways other than link-centered tactics to further optimize search engines. This may appear to be a difficult task initially, however with all the creative minds constantly pouring through their minds for alternate solutions to our ever evolving problems, we will continue to stay in the race. Fortunately, I am sure we can always look forward to black hat srategists to ensure that we don't get to comfortable with our new found techniques.

Daniel Page
Feb 05, 2014

Hey Elisa,I thought this was a great post. I've included it in my monthly roundup of the best SEO, content marketing, and social media articles that we put together for our readers. Thanks for the nice work.

Feb 04, 2014

While reading this post I felt like watching a movie - first I'm told that something is going to happen,I got myself prepared, I'm thrilled, and in the end it all turns around that nothing actually has changed=)I think, as you pointed out, there is nothing to be "scared" or "afraid of". Still, the goal is a quality content thatGoogle will acceot and rank accordingly. So, marketers, keep calm and create a compelling content.Thanks for intriguing and explanatory post!

Matt Benson
Jan 31, 2014

I vaguely remember talk of quality score creeping into non-ppc serps about a year ago. It makes sense, but will ultimately fail just like everything else Google has ever done to prevent cheating. Why? Because there is currently an incentive to cheat and somebody will always find a way to do it.Goggle's attempts at prevention/punishment have not stopped cheaters. The reward is still so much higher than the risks. If a cheater can get up in the top spots they will do so any way possible and if they get caught then it's no big deal to them to scrap the punished site and start over with another one.Reduce or eliminate the incentive to cheat by making it possible for more sites to get included in the top 20. Some serps have been virtually locked down for weeks, months, and even years by the same 10 - 20 sites. If Google would define exactly what they want in terms of quality and value then the differences in quality and value between thousands or tens of thousands of sites would be negligible. Is it fair that only 20 get to the top? No and that's why so many even consider cheating. So Google should then auto-rotate the search results regulalry and then every site that follows the rules has the potential to be found at the top for awhile.Problem solved. 

Ambar Banar Gartianus
Jan 31, 2014

Not sure whether bounce rate could be a reliable indicator. First, not every web/blog installs GA. Second, GA installation could be incorrect, so the result is inaccurate.

Peter J. Matthews
Feb 08, 2015

An alternative to rotating access to the top page of Google search results (time shifting) would be to have different Googles. A Google Multiverse, or Multiple Googles.

Google 1 - All the Internet
Google 2 - All the Advertisers, excluding sites that are not primarily advertising sites.
Google 3 - All the Information, excluding sites that are primarily advertising sites.

Actually, the Google Multiverse already exists... each of its main services (image search, maps, translation, scholar, etc.) puts different kinds of search results at the top. But I would like to see what user responses and search results look like when the focus is explicitly on Information or on Advertising.

Currently we have search on (Google 1 x Services A-Z). What would happen if we could have search on (Google 1-3) x (Services A-Z)?

Joshua Cranmer
Jan 24, 2014

I recently did a presentation pointing to a lot of these signals in Google's future that you've discussed here. I love this article. I too wondered about click fraud. I always just chalked click fraud elimination up to on-page time and bounce rate. But even bounce rate is tricky because of the many sites that are basically one pagers. This isn't a problem if there are other engagement metrics in play though. The weight of those metrics that Google will track is going to be where things get difficult. Google obviously can't give the same weight to one engagement metric over another. So what will be the perfect combination to be natural? 

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 24, 2014

Thanks Joshua! Luckily Google has plenty of engineers way smarter than me to figure it out. :)

Joshua Cranmer
Jan 24, 2014

Yes in deed. I think it's great to see it already happening...just last week I got a page to rank for one of our clients without a single permanent link. Just a lot of traffic and an on-page average of 6 minutes. 

Jan 26, 2014

I think it is pretty obvious that Google is already using data from GA to influence the rankings. So the quality score is already here in my opinion. I like the notion that all off page SEO is webspam also, it feels true. But then again, it is important to promote your business, regardless if your business is offline or online.

Jamie Knop
Jan 27, 2014

If they could avoid click fraud/bounce rate manipulation/etc then it would be the answer.I don't think they can.I believe if someone really wanted to cost a company X in PPC click fraud they could. It's just not in demand. Where as to articially increase CTR/lower bounce rate/etc which be a massive demand if it was a heavy part of the algo.Come to think of it I was invited into a beta by these guys who offered that service. Perhaps I should run some tests.

Jan 27, 2014

A brilliant read. And the projection for possibly using a 'quality score' for organic listings sounds incredibly sensible to me.Thinking ahead, it would be lovely to see that kind of 'score' data for organic traffic - not sure how it would be displayed (in Google analytics for instance) since they've removed all the keyword data, but it sounds exciting. And best of all, I can't see how it can be spammed.Great prediction!

Jan 27, 2014

In June 2012, Matt Cutts mentioned that Goole doesn't use Bounce Rate as a ranking signal (source: Not sure if this still holds or not.

Jan 24, 2014

 an algo fighting with humans?if we seen an algo we will break it!google should hire thousan of humans to monitor high valued s very simple.nobody will pay for links if no money involved

Matt Beswick
Jan 24, 2014

This is an interesting take on things but, to a point, this is already happening.

Google using Analytics data to influence organic search, in my opinion, isn't really an option as they open themselves up to a load of sissies (sites that don't use GA, those that don't allow data to be shared, and any number of other privacy concerns). I do think, however, that they already use dwell time as part of the algo, which is really easy for them to track.

A user clicks through, stays for 2 seconds, hits the back button, then clicks on another listing and doesn't return would be a pretty strong indicator that the 2nd result is higher quality if done on scale. CTR, I would think, is the same.

Things like number of comments are just on page indicators - again already a strong part of the algo - and there's a correlation between social data and rankings. The latter of these might not be providing a direct influence at the moment but shareable content is, as a general rule, linkable content so it makes sense that this ties up.

The question is now far links fall down the tree. Happily, lower quality links are already making very little difference, particularly to new or low authority sites, so the key now is working out how to get promotion on sites that (shock, horror) have high authority and therefore an audience. SEO and PR converge to the point where we're actually doing a full news desk sell in for a client on Monday. Scary times ;)


Jan 25, 2014

I don't think that the quality score could be a replacement of links in future, as it's best for ranking various ads rather than the website. At any point, while calculating a quality score, it’s purely depend on bidding that is directly concern with the money. On the other hand, organic is just the organization of world’s information in a way people get the solution. 

Jan 24, 2014

Link building has become an obsession. Why should a website with poor content but lots of white-hat links (thanks to a clever SEO) out perform a website that has far more useful content, but a website owner than has not engaged an SEO? Google are definitely heading in the right direction. I look forward to the day when we can forget about links, and work on great content only, and improving the types of engagement metrics you've mentioned. If we can be rewarded for that, through improved rankings, exposure and traffic, then the search engines will be a better place for everyone. Thanks for your interesting post, I enjoyed it.  Steve

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 24, 2014

Good points Matt -- Google does not publicly admit to using CTR or bounce rate in the algo but I guess people have heard from insiders that they already do.

James Davidson
Jan 24, 2014

An excellent article and has certainly given me something to think about.

The 'audition process' you mention I would argue is in place already. I follow the results for about 15 websites very closely and for certain periods there seem to related drops in rank for very new sites to appear for various search terms.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 24, 2014

Thanks James! Yes I think they already do a version of the auditioning, sometimes new content gets a first-page ranking briefly and then drops off.

Megan Marrs
Jan 24, 2014

Wow, this is a cool revelation! It totally makes sense and I'm curious to see how ingenious SEOers will try to get a head start on ranking with this very probably future search algorithm. Of course marketers could just focus on making great content but let's face it... there has to be a trap door somewhere.

Alan D
Jan 24, 2014

I'd like to agree with you, but something about the future of the internet doesn't sit well with using things like time on page and bounce rate for organic search metrics. The current internet is social media, blogging, and microblogging. Visitors of blog and micro blog sites often have read previous content and are only visiting a site to read that day's new update. They won't have a need to continue clicking to other pages that have already been read, so bounce rate is typically higher for individual blog posts. With micro updates like FB status and Tweets, there just isn't a lot of data to read to keep a user on a particular blog entry very long.Will content writers have to go to 1000+ word blog entries just to try and keep a user on page long enough to count?Though I don't put it past Google to tie ranking to something like page views...inviting a paradox for new sites that they won't rank without views, and won't get views without being found in search results.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 24, 2014

Hi Alan,Actually we've found that longer (1000-word+) articles do better across the board, in terms of traffic, engagement and links too. For us that's already a best practice.The paradox stands regardless of the algorithm -- stuff on the first page gets more views and so it goes on to get more links. Feedback loop. I assume the current algorithm accounts for this in some fashion. With ads, CTR is normalized by position.

Alan D
Jan 24, 2014

Certainly there are sites where 1k+ word content is viable, particularly those in a more informational industry and those that can support regular blog/news type entries such as your article right here. But even you mentioned in your post that it's just not scalable long term. Even less so for smaller, local business. Can you imagine a local electrician pumping out enough thousand word articles just to keep on-page time up to par in the eyes of G? Is the ROI ever going to be there for that level of small business when the cost of PPC will probably end up cheaper than quality content?As for links to content...I highly doubt there's much use outside of an SEO/advertising benefit to getting inbound links to that kind of content. I mean, needing an electrician isn't usually a spur of the moment purchase where a link to their website will suddenly prompt a buying experience. People who are looking for those services are going to find them right in the Google local listings and listings from the big directories. A blogger or other site linking to long content isn't going to be of much benefit there.    

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 24, 2014

Time on page should be dependent on length of page. If you have 3000 words on a page and no one is reading them, that's a bad signal.

Albert Williams
Jan 24, 2014

While you presented some facts, it has more fairy tale included. Google is trying to determine human behaviour by just punushing everyone. If a visitor creates massive amounts of backlinks against your website, You'll be punished. Negative SEO is alive and thriving quietly. As long as we have search engine spiders, backlinks will always remain the most reliable criteria for ranking purposes. Anything created by human beings can be manipulated by other human beings, Google Knows that but they just want to make it harder to do.The current ranking system is not sustainable and will soon invite a more credible competition with simplier clearer rules. Just great content would not rank your website.

Jan 24, 2014

I think Google has much more sophisticated and now has the ability to determine the quality of a website by analyzing both its number of quality inbound links and other factors. Links are not necessraily dead but of course, they are going to play less role as far as the SERP is concerned. 


Leave a comment