Search experts are losing faith in the idea that links are more important to ranking algorithms for good content than previous studies have shown.
"People are losing faith in that story, which is so wrong," said Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting.
The Stone Temple Consulting ranking study, released Wednesday, uses three statistical models to highlight a "near-perfect correlation" between ranking highly in Google and the links pointing to that page by aggregating the count of links in ranking positions for the top 50 results across 6,000 search results pages.
Some of the previous studies released by Moz and Search Metrics show links are incredibly important, but the Stone Temple Consulting study suggests now they are statistically more important based on a variety of factors.
The report measures the impact, not the correlation, Enge said. "Links are just as strong as they have ever been as a ranking factor," he said, explaining that the study analyzes the links directly to the page, which produces a more meaningful measurement.
Enge, who has done this hundreds of times, sums up an example for Search Marketing Daily. Imagine that Walmart.com wants to rank for the keyword "television" in search engine results, but Best Buy currently ranks in the No. 1 position for the keyword. The SEO expert might get 12 "very authoritative links" through "high-quality marketing campaigns" to change the ranking of the page on Walmart.com from its current position of No. 15 to No. 1.
The study also manually analyzes a few hundred results to determine the percentage that is likely not as influenced by links. Those include locally influenced results, queries that deserve diversity, and in-depth articles.
The analysis suggests that about 6% of the results came from these types of results. While that's one factor, it doesn't explain the difference between the "mean-based calculations and the aggregate calculations," according to the report.
Understanding the role of content quality seems to be more important, since Google calls content and links the two most important ranking factors.
While the complete study goes into more detail, Enge sums it up thus: Links won't solve the problem. If you do have a competitive piece of content, links will make the difference.