Don’t Focus on Amount Of Links, According to John Mueller

In a recent Reddit thread, someone posted a question about their backlinks. According to the post, they were having trouble finding backlinks in Google Search Console and asked the Reddit community if there was a solution to this problem. 

“I have a couple backlinks on google search console on the “external links” page and I know recently I have gotten a few more. However, on Ahrefs it says I have none. Is there a reason? My website is relatively new but I feel like that should not matter because everything is indexed and working properly. Is there a reason??”

John Mueller, Google Search Advocate, responded with some interesting advice:

“There’s no objective way to count links on the web, and every tool collects its own data from crawling, which every tool does differently, so there will always be differences.”

While this is a good example of why you should cross-reference third-party data, the more interesting revelation came after. Mueller stated:

“My recommendation would be not to focus so much on the absolute count of links. There are many ways that search engines can discover websites, such as with sitemaps. There are more important things for websites nowadays, and over-focusing on links will often result in you wasting your time doing things that don’t make your website better overall.”

When Google first launched, it relied heavily on the amount of inbound links as a ranking signal. Sites could rank high if they had more links than other sites, even if they were spam. Then Google got wise and aimed to clean up the SERPs. The 2012 Penguin update changed link building as we know it, an attempt to catch sites trying to maliciously game the search results. This update targeted link spam, known as link schemes and keyword stuffing, and now operates as a part of Google’s core algorithm. 

Since Penguin’s release, link building has focused on quality instead of quantity; Mueller’s words remind us of that. In his Reddit response, Mueller says not to be concerned with the “absolute” number of links. This can be interpreted as not being concerned with link quantity. While Mueller states that links are not the only way search engines discover sites, they are more efficient. 

Gary Illyes in Search Off the Record mentioned that natural backlinks are important for discovery. Illyes explains:

“Natural links will tell us that this link exists. This important person, Lizzi, talked about this topic, plus, gives us some context about what we might find on the other side of the gate.”

Google’s documentation also states that Google “uses links as a signal when determining the relevancy of pages and to find new pages to crawl.” 

Therefore, it is suggested not to worry about a website’s number of links but to focus on its quality and relevance. This practice can help convey a site’s context to Google and demonstrate authority and relevance to the search query.

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