Back-Linking to the Future

Note: This is the final part of a series of posts about the past and future of back-linking. 

We can never be sure what changes Google has made or is going to make to their complex algorithm. But there has been a huge wave of anxiety flooding the community of SEO professionals, especially the ones who spend their time trying to guess where Google might go next. One reason is that there is definitely a higher degree of selectivity in what links Google values, but that is part of an ongoing trend, and has always been a stated goal.

The other thing that happened recently is that Matt Cutts, Google’s fairly public spam-fighting engineer, mentioned that Google ran a test on getting results without back-links. Though he reported that results were poor, he also added “for now.” Of course Google does this kind of testing all the time, and any engineer as savvy as Matt Cutts will probably always qualify his results with something like “for now.” But the correlation of this with the recent Hummingbird update has led many people to consider this potential change in the landscape.

I believe this Moz Whiteboard Friday presentation covers the various points of view pretty well, but you might also check out this collection of ideas from various experts. The overall takeaway seems to be that links probably are losing value, but not precipitously. One person actually suggests that, as bad links are filtered out more effectively, the remaining links will be more valuable.

What I see is that Google is not going to stop using a valid signal if it can keep the quality high. A completely link-free search engine doesn’t make sense, not if links are part of the natural structure of the web. Currently Google continues to improve how effectively it filters and interprets user intent in evaluating links—there is no indication that it is on the verge of being overwhelmed by spammy links.

Therefore, I think the core strategy of obtaining links that are relevant from credible sources still makes a lot of sense. If you can identify websites that will link to your content specifically because it is of value to their visitors, you are using links the way that users and website owners wish. Links that would provide value in a world without Google are precisely the ones that provide the most value to Google.

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