The debate regarding which SEO metrics are worth focusing on has raged for years, and will no doubt continue to rage indefinitely. SEOs are constantly quarrelling over SEO metrics that are meaningful or otherwise, often putting their faith in third-party tools and checklists to assess their performance.
This past week, Google’s own John Mueller has ruffled a few feathers by expressing his disdain for certain SEO metrics, and the extent to which they are overly trusted.
Here is how he put the whole thing somewhat poetically:
“Everytime I see a “how to improve $METRIC” thread, I cringe a bit: so much wasted energy. Do I post to tell them that the metric is irrelevant to Google? (I don’t) Creating metrics is hard, money matters, and it’s not your fault they’re used like this, but it’s lost time…”
The conversation kicked off when Mr Mueller was presented with a question from a concerned/curious website owner on Twitter:
“Suppose bad or toxic linking site or backlink is stopped/down/404, should we still consider it for disavowing?”
To which, Mr Mueller made it clear that the whole thing is essentially a null point:
“The concept of toxic links is something that’s made up by SEO tools — I’d just ignore it, and perhaps move on to more serious tools.”
Picking up on all this, Tom Capper over at Moz decided to weigh into the conversation. As Moz is renowned for its SEO metric tracking tools, he felt compelled to set the record straight:
“At Moz we do not actually use this “toxic” language in our tools or accompanying guides, so this probably isn’t aimed at us. That said, I do think there’s an interesting discussion to be had here,”
“At risk of getting myself eviscerated by John Mueller and perhaps the entire SEO industry on Twitter, I want to push back slightly on this. To be clear, I don’t think he’s wrong, or acting in bad faith. However, there is sometimes a gap between how Google talks about these issues and how SEOs experience them,”
“Google has suggested for a while now that, essentially, bad (“toxic”) links won’t have a negative impact on your site — at least in the overwhelming majority of cases, or perhaps even all cases. Instead, the algorithm will supposedly be smart enough to simply not apply any positive benefit from such a link,”
“If this is true now, it definitely wasn’t always true. Even today, though, many SEOs will say this description is not consistent with their own recent experience.”
In an attempt to settle at least some of the confusion, John Mueller then took to Twitter with the following (semi) clarification of his sentiments:
“I have nothing against 3rd party metrics like these – and I’m sure they’re made by smart, honest, & well-meaning folks. The part I struggle with (with our tools too) is the desire to treat them as a goal of their own, or as a checklist,”
“They’re tools which ideally you’d know how they work, what they show, and how that’s relevant to your real goals (money! eyeballs! whatever). Simplifying them to a checklist (“fix toxic links”) is misdirected work, selling them as such (which imo you don’t do) is unfair towards everyone involved.”
Though frankly, it was an observer by the name of Michael Lewittes who managed to put the entire issue into plain, simple and common-sense terms:
“It’s important to remember that the web is highly dynamic, so optimizing for a specific goal (green circle, 95/100…) — when the worthiness (or unworthiness) of one’s competitors is constantly shifting — makes those types of measurements questionable, at best,”
“Certain (more defined) metrics can, of course, be measured, but the more ethereal ones such as “authoritativeness” are silly. Better to focus on playing to your audience than what you think the band (search engines) wants to hear.”
Wise words, well spoken.
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