The Impact of Link Building

Open to all respondents, this section focused on the impact of link building on organic search, both now and in
the future.

In the coming years, do you think links will have
more or less effect on organic search rankings?

The majority (52%) of respondents said that they expected the effect of links on organic search rankings to stay the same in the coming years. Over a quarter (28%) said that they expected the impact to be less than what it is right now.

Do you think links will be a signal that Google uses in their ranking algorithms in five years time?

Expanding on this and looking further ahead, we wanted to know if respondents felt that links would even be a signal at all in five years. The answer was a very strong yes with 92% saying that they believed it would be.

Do you think links will be a signal that Google uses in their ranking algorithms in ten years time?

We wanted to go a bit further with this and asked the same question again, but looking ten years into the future. There is still a clear winner with 69% saying that links would still be a signal used by algorithms, but not the same level of confidence.

Google are still heavily reliant on the link graph
from a ranking perspective

We also asked to what extent respondents felt that Google relied on links from a ranking perspective. Over half of respondents (71%) either agreed or strongly agreed that Google are still heavily reliant on the link graph. Very few (less than 5%) disagreed with the statement.

Assuming no other major technical, content or
penalty issues; how long does it typically take for you to see the impact of link building on rankings and traffic?

Estimating the time it takes to see the impact of link building on organic rankings and traffic can be tricky, so we wanted to ask how long it typically takes for people to see the impact. The majority (77%) said between 1-6 months, which broke down into just over half (51%) saying 1-3 months and the remainder (26%) saying 3-6 months for the impact to be seen.

What the experts think…

I was surprised by these results - more than half (51%) said they typically see an uplift in rankings and traffic within 1-3 months. Whilst I’ve definitely seen traffic and rankings positively impacted within very short timeframes like this, this has been the exception, not the rule. In my experience a more typical timeframe is 6-12 months, particularly in competitive niches.

The interesting thing about a lot of these answers for me is that they could all be right - something I've noticed a lot in recent years is that link building tactics, and link building itself, has become a lot more situational. If you're working with fairly young or niche sites, or in certain industries and countries, you're probably seeing very different trends to someone working with a brand that's a household name in the US or UK. Still, I wonder if there's a time lag here - if I imagine a world in which Google did decide to de-tune the importance of links, or introduce other factors where they have more information available, I think it would take the industry quite a while to react - especially on the client side where one naturally is exposed to fewer case studies, and especially fewer unflattering case studies.

Looking at all of the findings for all of the answers to this question, I found myself firstly thinking ‘how have more than half of people seen an impact in 1-3 months?’ because in our experience it can often take longer than this. Then I questioned that first thought because it could be perfectly possible, how competitive your industry is (or isn’t) could be having an effect here accelerating rankings or slowing them down.

Do you think that buying links can positively
influence rankings?

Going back to the somewhat controversial tactic of buying links, we were keen to understand if people felt that they would positively impact rankings. The majority (69%) said that yes, they do.

Would you report a competitor if you see them
breaking Google guidelines?

Sticking with controversial areas for a little longer, we also asked respondents if they would report a competitor for breaking Google guidelines. In this case, the majority (63%) said no, they wouldn’t.