If you, your team, or an outsourced SEO company is currently building links to your website to improve your Google rankings, then I have some important news. On May 27th, Google updated their Webmaster Tools ranking help page with alarming new language.  (Thanks Barry Schwartz for catching this.)

Here’s what they changed…  In the old version there was a sentence that said, “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”

And if you take a look at that page now, you’ll see it says, “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.”

Uh oh.. does that mean link building is dead?

Before I answer that question, let me bring everyone up to speed in case you’re not familiar with the term “link building.”


Brief History of Link Building

Ever since Google sprinted on to the scene, link building has been the talk of the SEO industry.  The reason is because of the way Google was originally set up and programmed.

Larry and Sergey, the founders of Google, modeled their search engine after the way research articles are ranked in the academic world.  In academics, scholars cite each other’s articles — and the articles that are most often cited by other academics are viewed as the most authoritative.

But it’s not just the number of citations that affect the authority of an article — the authority of the person citing your article also matters. If highly influential people are citing you, then that makes you important as well. And, of course, it also matters what they say about you when they’re citing you.

So with all that in mind, you should be able to see the analogy for how hyperlinks (aka links) are like academic citations.  That means to rank high in Google, you have always needed lots of links from other credible and influential websites.  The term “link building” is simply the process of getting other websites to link to your website to improve your Google rankings.

Ok, now on to the question at hand…


Is Link Building Dead?

Drum roll please…

The answer is no.  Link building is not dead despite ALL of the recent updates by Google including this recent help article edit.  As I explained above, Google’s entire algorithm was built on links and that’s still the #1 factor determining rankings.  However, the tide is certainly changing and it’s clear Google is scrambling to add more and more algorithm signals to move away from their reliance on links to rank websites.

If you look closely at that help article edit, then you can see Google is now emphasizing the importance of “useful” and “shareable” webpages.  “Useful” should be obvious.  But what about “shareable?”  That tells me links are still important because people share by linking to your website, but it also tells me social media is rising in importance.

If you’re a Main Street Inner Circle member or if you’re on our newsletter, then this should be no surprise to you.  I mentioned this SEO trend back in January.  Expect more Google updates like this for the rest of 2013.