Links Are No Longer a Top 3 Ranking Factor

Google Search Team analyst Gary Illyes said links have not been a top 3 ranking factor for some time but content and click data are important signals.


  • Links are not a top 3 ranking factor for Google Search.
  • Content is a top ranking factor, and continue to be.
  • User click data is part of the RankBrain system.

Google’s Gary Illyes fielded several questions during an AMA at Pubcon Pro in Austin, Texas, last week with a key statement about the importance of links for ranking in Google’s search engine.

“I think they are important, but I think people overestimate the importance of links,” Illyes said. “I don’t agree it’s in the top three. It hasn’t been for some time.”

Illyes also said, “It is possible to rank without links.” To back up his claim, Illyes cited an example of a web page with zero internal or external links that was ranking in position 1 for a keyword related to Porsche cars, and Google’s crawler had only found the page via a sitemap.

Illyes went on to say that there are no universal “top 3” ranking factors (or signals) that apply to every web page. “Every site will have something different as the top 2 or 3 ranking factors,” Illyes said.

In another part of the AMA PubCon Pro interview, Illyes confirmed that content continues to be the number one ranking signal for Google search engine optimization (SEO).

“Without content, it literally is not possible to rank,” said Illyes. “If you don’t have words on the page you’re not going to rank for it.”

When asked if Google Search uses user click data in ranking, Illyes said, “Technically, yes, because historical search data is part of RankBrain.”

In Summary

Google’s Gary Illyes said that links are not one of the top 3 rankings for web pages and have not been for quite some time. However, he confirmed that content is a top ranking factor, and will continue to be important for Google’s search engine because it needs to crawl words on the page to rank it for relevant queries. User click data is also a ranking signal for RankBrain, but may it not be one of the top 3 ranking factors for every web page. Illyes said that every web page will have its own top 2 or 3 ranking factors for Google Search, meaning there are no universal ranking signals for SEO.

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