In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that sites need to be promoted in order to rank. This goes beyond Google’s common advice about building awesome content.
Can You Rank Without Building Links?
A publisher observed that after two years of work their website has started to rank without haveing to build a single link. The question is basically about link building and if building links is necessary, given his experience in ranking without doing any link building.
This is the question:
Mueller stops here to observe that those sites probably can’t be regarded as new websites.
“A few of my new websites in competitive niches have started to rank without building even a single link, just with pure content.
It took a while though, more than two years…”
The question continues:
The publisher doesn’t offer any details about their promotional efforts, other than they haven’t tried to build links.
“Could I have saved precious time by building links from high end websites to reduce this time period?
Or it wouldn’t have mattered at all, it would have taken the same amount of time regardless?”
Something that is commonly ignored by those who are building links is that attracting links is more than just asking for links or paying someone to drop links in articles.
The best kinds of links, those given voluntarily, often happen with non-link focused promotional activities. (Read: How to Build Links)
This is John Mueller’s response:
That is likely a reference to low quality link building like dropping links in social media profiles, comment spam and in forum posts.
“We use a ton of different factors when it comes to crawling, indexing and ranking.
So it’s really hard to say like, if I did this how would my site rank compared to when I do this. …those kinds of comparisons are kind of futile in general.
In practice though, when you’re building a website and you want to get it out there and you want to have people kind of go to the website and recognize what wonderful work that you’ve put in there, then promoting that appropriately definitely makes sense.
And that’s something you don’t have to do that by dropping links in different places.”
Activities in which you are in control of the link are the kinds that Google has focused on removing their link power.
John Mueller continued:
I want to point out that Mueller did not say that bringing people to your site will cause Google to rank your site. He said that getting your site noticed and subsequently appreciated is a way to get links.
“But you can get the word out in different ways. And by getting the word out you’re kind of bringing people to your website and if they like what they see then maybe they’ll link to your website.
And all of these things can add up as signals and it can help us to better understand where your website fits in with the rest of the web. “
Here is where Mueller seems to discourage the “build it and they will come” approach:
User Feedback Can Help Promotional Efforts
“So, from that point of view I would not just create a website and like put it up and don’t tell anyone about it and hope that Google finds it and starts ranking it in competitive areas.
They’re really kind of like a normal business. Spend time to build that up and to build an audience.
And to understand what people like, respond to …feedback that they give you and really kind of build things up as you would with a normal business.”
That’s good advice. He is talking about making it easy for site visitors to provide feedback and to use that feedback to make your site better.
Another kind of feedback is the log file of all the searches people make on your website. The things that people search for and the keywords they use to search for them are invaluable not just for keyword research but for understanding what users need.
It Takes More than Awesome Content
The encouragement to create awesome content is only half the story. The second part of the ranking equation is about getting the word out.
Google’s SEO starter guide encourages publishers to promote their sites and offers good advice on ways to promote a site.
But Google also cautions:
“As with most points covered in this document, taking these recommendations to an extreme could actually harm the reputation of your site.”
If you build it, promote it. Businesses typically don’t become successful by hiding their store. The key to visibility is to get the word out about your site and to listen to what people want or expect from your website.