Ranking Without Links

Every so often I hear an idealist talk about ranking without links. Evidently Google has the ability to algorithmically determine what is quality content and what is not.

(I, too, believe they have that ability, I just believe they look at linkage to determine what is quality and what isn’t.)

It is disturbing, however, when I hear SEO’s talking this way. SEO’s should know better. I personally think that most SEO’s who refuse to acknowledge the dominance of links in the algorithm are refusing to acknowledge that obvious fact because they themselves are unable to build links. I look at it as a kind of wishful thinking. They wish that links weren’t the primary factor, and believe that if they say it enough, it might just become true.

Psychology aside, let me address the claim of ranking without links.

So far in my forum dwelling years, I’ve encountered several claims of ranking without linkage. Upon investigation, they all fall into three types:

  • A single web page on a domain ranking without any external links. The conveniently overlooked factor is that the domain itself has hundreds or thousands of inbound links, and those links are the foundation of the rankings. Put the same web page on another domain without the links, and it will lose all ranking.
  • A web page ranking for a search term such as “Seattle Professional SEO Consultant“. If there is no competition for the term and no traffic for the term, it really isn’t called ranking, is it?
  • A web page on a domain without its own links, ranking based on 301’d links. To be a dullard and state the obvious, rankings based on 301’d link are still rankings based on links.
  • The algorithm today is based on a kind of trust, or authority. That authority is established through inbound links, outbound linking and age. So links are just as vital today as they were 4 years ago. Perhaps more so.


    1. aaronprattaaronpratt02-27-2007

      I agree that sites need links to a point, I would also like to make you aware of multiple algorithms for different types of sites. Links are relative, so if you niche is one that is not based on the number of links, you are required few to rank. For example, trying to rank for “SEO” related things is hell if you do not play the linking game.

      BUT you are right Scott, links are still a major part of ranking in search engines but over time engines will become smarter. This is why heavy linkig works until the sites drop off in an “update”, the sites I care about do not do this because they obtain links @ a natural organic pace.

    2. John ScottJohn Scott02-28-2007

      I do not believe that “heavy linking” works. Like you said, those sites drop off in an update – that update was several years ago.

      Smart linking works, and it will continue to work, because it is editorially based. If Google tried to ax editorial links, they would be left with AltaVista of ten years ago.

    3. dylanloh.comdylanloh.com03-18-2007

      What about links from ‘authority’ sites like Ezinearticles and web2.0 sites like Squidoo?

      I don’t think they will be ‘dropping off’ anytime soon in the forseeable future…

    4. fastcartfastcart03-30-2007

      Links are everything regardless of strategy. This is why older domains can sometimes
      be a good idea if you can pick one
      up with a ton of inbound links already.

      However, MSN seems to treat newer sites
      quite well as long as you have the inbounds. If you’ve got the link volume, MSN can be a
      healthy traffic source.

    5. mcharvetmcharvet04-18-2007

      interesting…. can inbound links really be as powerful to rankings as outbound (meaning those linking to you)?

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