Why is Link Building Declining as a Search Engine Ranking Factor (and what to do about it)?

decline of link building

Since the rise of Google, link building has been an SEO mainstay, but even Google admits its impact is slowly diminishing as a search engine ranking factor.

There are various reasons why link building efforts are no longer as effective as they once were, and they include the following:

Google Deindexing Poor Quality Content

Google’s algorithms for ranking websites are constantly changing, and many of these changes have had a direct impact on the effectiveness of link building strategy. Google’s algorithm now focus more on the quality of links than their quantity, meaning that simply having a large number of prominent websites link will not necessarily result in higher rankings.

In fact, recent SpamBrain and Helpful Content Update algorithm changes are showing an alarming trend among many webmasters: content that was once ranked is now getting deindexed from the internet.

content de-indexation from Google

This phenomenon now means that even when you do have links, you may not know which of them are helping, which are neutral/non-effective, and which are hurting.

To make matters worse, Google sends out mixed signals when it comes to disavowing spammy links that could be sending the wrong signals to the search engine crawlers.

Quality Links Over Quantity

As mentioned above, Google’s algorithms place a much greater emphasis on the quality of links than on the quantity.

Links to websites with lots of low-quality content or spam will actually hurt your rankings rather than help them.

As such, SEO practitioners need to focus more on acquiring high-quality backlinks rather than simply focusing on getting as many links as possible.

Easily Obtainable Links

In the past, quality link building was relatively easy as there were many places to get cheap or free links from. Nowadays, however, Google is much better at detecting low-quality links and penalizing websites that use them.

As a result, SEO practitioners need to focus on developing quality relationships with other websites in order to get natural, high-quality links.

Here’s my personal rule of thumb: if a link is easy to acquire, then it has little value.

Link Manipulation

As a general rule, Google doesn’t like most manual link building campaigns.

They see them as an attempt to manipulate the search engine rankings.

Consequently, Google has an incentive to steer the rankings weight in the algorithm toward other factors.

It’s important to avoid any kind of link manipulation that goes against Google’s guidelines.

Machine Learning & Natural Language Processing

Computers are getting better at interpreting text, understanding natural language and figuring out of the content on a particular page adds value and satisfies the search intent of the user.

A a search engine get even better at interpreting languages and gauging whether a page gives the user what s/he wants, then why do we need backlink profile as a gauge?

Certainly the value of backlinks will only naturally diminish as a ranking factor as artificial intelligence can do a better job of interpreting language and ranking based on user intent.

What You Can Do

Link building tactics are no longer the cornerstone of SEO that they once were, but they still have their place in an effective search engine optimization strategy.

But what do you do as backlinks become a less-prevalent ranking factor in the future?

Create Great Content

The best way to ensure your website remains competitive is by focusing on creating great content that will naturally attract links, while also building relationships with other websites to ensure quality link opportunities.

It is important to realize that it takes time to build these relationships and develop a successful SEO link building strategy, but with the right approach you can maximize your chances of ranking higher in search engine results pages.

When you create your content, you should be tuning it (likely with SurferSEO or Cora by SEOToolLabs) to ensure you’re maximizing your entity and LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords compared to top ranking competitors.

Give the Right On-site Signals

Internal on-site linking is an important and often underutilized SEO technique that can have a major impact on the visibility online.

Internal links allow you to link between different pages on your website, creating a web of interconnected pages and improving user experience.

Internal links do not have the same rules as outbound links and inbound links.

That means you can use the same or very similar anchor text throughout your website, letting the crawlers know exactly what a particular page might be about.

Focus on Outbound Marketing

Don’t forget about search, but diversify your inbound with quality outbound marketing via email and perhaps paid channels.

By reaching out to other websites or industry influencers and asking them to link back to your website, you can build relationships with a variety of important people in your niche.

These relationships can be cultivated offline as well as online, leading to organic link opportunities (focused on referral traffic and not organic traffic and search engine ranking) in the future.

Keep Up with Algo Updates

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the search engine algorithms and ranking factors are always changing, so you need to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in order to maintain a successful SEO strategy.

Ranking factor weights can change quickly, so being up on the latest ranking updates and knowing exactly where your site might be deficient will be important for your business going forward.


Despite the fact that natural link building is no longer as effective as it once was in traditional search engines, it still plays a role in SEO and should not be ignored altogether.

In order to ensure that your website gets the most benefit from link building, you should focus on acquiring quality backlinks from reputable websites and engaging in content marketing to create natural links.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that link building is only one part of a successful SEO strategy; other factors, such as optimizing on-page elements and creating quality content, also play an important role in achieving higher rankings.

Timothy Carter