Google: Links Will Become Less Important

    May 5, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Links are becoming less important as Google gets better at understanding the natural language of users’ queries. That’s the message we’re getting from Google’s latest Webmaster Help video. It will be a while before links become completely irrelevant, but the signal that Google’s algorithm was basically based upon is going to play less and less of a role as time goes on.

Do you think Google should de-emphasize links in its algorithm? Do you think they should count as a strong signal even now? Share your thoughts.

In the video, Matt Cutts takes on this user-submitted question:

Google changed the search engine market in the 90s by evaluating a website’s backlinks instead of just the content, like others did. Updates like Panda and Penguin show a shift in importance towards content. Will backlinks lose their importance?

“Well, I think backlinks have many, many years left in them, but inevitably, what we’re trying to do is figure out how an expert user would say this particular page matched their information needs, and sometimes backlinks matter for that,” says Cutts. “It’s helpful to find out what the reputation of a site or of a page is, but for the most part, people care about the quality of the content on that particular page – the one that they landed on. So I think over time, backlinks will become a little less important. If we could really be able to tell, you know, Danny Sullivan wrote this article or Vanessa Fox wrote this article – something like that, that would help us understand, ‘Okay, this is something where it’s an expert – an expert in this particular field – and then even if we don’t know who actually wrote something, Google is getting better and better at understanding actual language.”

“One of the big areas that we’re investing in for the coming few months is trying to figure out more like how to do a Star Trek computer, so conversational search – the sort of search where you can talk to a machine, and it will be able to understand you, where you’re not just using keywords,” he adds.

You know, things like this:

Cutts continues,”And in order to understand what someone is saying, like, ‘How tall is Justin Bieber?’ and then, you know, ‘When was he born?’ to be able to know what that’s referring to, ‘he’ is referring to Justin Bieber – that’s the sort of thing where in order to do that well, we need to understand natural language more. And so I think as we get better at understanding who wrote something and what the real meaning of that content is, inevitably over time, there will be a little less emphasis on links. But I would expect that for the next few years we will continue to use links in order to assess the basic reputation of pages and of sites.”

Links have always been the backbone of the web. Before Google, they were how you got from one page to the next. One site to the next. Thanks to Google, however (or at least thanks to those trying desperately to game Google, depending on how you look at it), linking is broken. It’s broken as a signal because of said Google gaming, which the search giant continues to fight on an ongoing basis. The very concept of linking is broken as a result of all of this too.

Sure, you can still link however you want to whoever you want. You don’t have to please Google if you don’t care about it, but the reality is, most sites do care, because Google is how the majority of people discover content. As a result of various algorithm changes and manual actions against some sites, many are afraid of the linking that they would have once engaged in. We’ve seen time after time that sites are worried about legitimate sites linking to them because they’re afraid Google might not like it. We’ve seen sites afraid to naturally link to other sites in the first place because they’re afraid Google might not approve.

No matter how you slice it, linking isn’t what it used to be, and that’s largely because of Google.

But regardless of what Google does, the web is changing, and much of that is going mobile. That’s a large part of why Google must adapt with this natural language search. Asking your phone a question is simply a common way of searching. Texting the types of queries you’ve been doing from the desktop for years is just annoying, and when your phone has that nice little microphone icon, which lets you ask Google a question, it’s just the easier choice (in appropriate locations at least).

Google is also adapting to this mobile world by indexing content within apps as it does links, so you if you’re searching on your phone, you can open content right in the app rather than in the browser.

Last week, Facebook made an announcement taking this concept to another level when it introduced App Links. This is an open source standard (assuming it becomes widely adopted) for apps to link to one another, enabling users to avoid the browser and traditional links altogether by jumping from app to app.

It’s unclear how Google will treat App Links, but it would make sense to treat them the same as other links.

The point is that linking itself is both eroding and evolving at the same time. It’s changing, and Google has to deal with that as it comes. As Cutts said, linking will still play a significant role for years to come, but how well Google is able to adapt to the changes in linking remains to be seen. Will it be able to deliver the best content based on links if some of that content is not being linked to because others are afraid to link to it? Will it acknowledge App Links, and if so, what about the issues that’ having? Here’s the “standard” breaking the web, as one guy put it:

What if this does become a widely adopted standard, but proves to be buggy as shown above?

Obviously, Google is trying to give you the answers to your queries on its own with the Knowledge Graph when it can. Other times it’s trying to fill in the gaps in that knowledge with similarly styled answers from websites. It’s unclear how much links fit into the significance of these answers. We’ve seen two examples in recent weeks where Google was turning to parked domains.

Other times, the Knowledge Graph just provides erroneous information. As Cutts said, Google will get better and better at natural language, but it’s clear this is the type of search results it wants to provide whenever possible. The problem is it’s not always reliable, and in some cases, the better answer comes from good old fashioned organic search results (of the link-based variety). We saw an example of this recently, which Google ended up changing after we wrote about it (not saying it was because we wrote about it).

So if backlinks will become less important over time, does that mean traditional organic results will continue to become a less significant part of the Google search experience? It’s certainly already trended in that direction over the years.

What do you think? How important should links be to Google’s ranking? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Images via YouTube, Google

  • AUSI

    This argument is self defeating.
    The best content has substance – and thats what most people want – they want information.
    An intrinsic part of conveying information is providing approriate links – thus links are essential – therefore their value cannot be downplayed.

    • Joan

      According to the viewpoint.

      Good links if relevant information

      Good links between friends or purchased is not relevant and today there are many links of this type to win in SEO.

      Sorry for my English

      • wertwert

        Search results are more paid links than not. Google is more guilty of that than SEO.

  • http://www.carterbrownexperts.co.uk/ Carter Brown

    So many firms try to exploit Google’s results through the creation of multiple low-quality doorway sites I can only see this as a good thing for the user (and bad for those lazy marketers who can’t create quality content).

    • wertwert

      … or small businesses who can’t invest a lot of time and money in continuously creating content because that not what most small businesses do.

  • Patti Paz

    Is it possible to ‘out smart’ yourself? Or, when I was a kid, we use to have a saying that someone was, ‘too big for their britches’ . . . . .

    Can Google be getting so far advanced that they are leaving all us commoners / users / customers behind???

    • wertwert

      Already there… Its why the search results are more ads and Google info doodads than organic websites. I guess google discovered that most normal searchers want ads and bad knowledge graph.

  • Jane

    I think backlinks should still be most important factor, its work for all these years and will continue work

  • gibraltar

    Backlinks are the backbone of the internet. It’s the only reliable way to tell a webpage is worth something or not. People have been using viral linking strategies to domiante Google rankings. If Google can understand content better, then I bet Google+ will have a lot to do with this. Seems like It’s the future of content marketing.


  • Mark Lamendola

    The real question is, “When will we reach the tipping point when most Americans doing an online search realize Google is just a spammy ad server posing as a search engine now?” Europeans and Asians have already figured this out.

    The idea that popularity equals quality is nonsensical, but it’s on this basis that Google’s link strategy exists. Of course, that’s if we make the wild assumption that, somehow, Google actual cares about search quality even though its SERPs show clearly that it does not. The more likely case is this is a clever way for Google to pretend it cares about organic quality while making sure that does not happen. Organic quality and ad revenue tend to have a natural opposition to each other, so undermining organic quality makes sense if you think you can scare e-commerce companies into spending more.

    The link strategy creates a self-reinforcing feedback loop to denigrate the results. A site that shows up in Google’s SERPs is more likely to be linked to, which means it is more likely to show up and thus more likely to be linked to….

    Sure, if you have a health site and you get a link from, say, Mercola.com that probably indicates something very positive about your site. But heavy weight that Google puts on links carries quite a dark side. It’s not about what’s actually on your page, but it’s about what someone who is probably not a subject matter expert decided. And then we multiply that by many someones. There’s no expert analysis determining just how good or bad your content is, there’s just a link.

    Imagine if we tried criminal cases using the same illogic. Rather than try on the merits of the case, we just pick some metric that looks at what people unfamiliar with the case think of the person on trial. It’s a good thing that Google doesn’t run our court system. Not that our court system is all that great, but imagine how bad it would be if it didn’t matter what you said in your own defense or what the evidence actually is (for an example of how this works, see the typical Tax Court case).

    But this bit of news is welcome. It means that even the arrogant people at Google can’t keep denying the reality that Penguin is one huge FAIL. And it also means that some people at Google are–gasp–finally looking at things with a hint of actual logic for a change. The link thing just does not make sense, once you go beyond using it as a minor signal. Which is exactly why Google makes it a major component of ranking.

    Did you know that to be hired at Google, your IQ must be in the upper 1%? To join Mensa, the High IQ Society, it needs to be only in the upper 2%. I mention this, because the people at Google aren’t stupid and incompetent. They know exactly what they are doing. And it’s so very devious. The goal of all this is quite clear to anyone who thinks about it. Sell ad clicks.

    The cure for the disease known as “Google search results” is to boycott Google search and Google ads while investing some time convincing others to do the same. Only when Google realizes that doing evil poses an existential threat to the company will it have any incentive to clean up its act. They’ve watched many good sites go down in flames, but they haven’t cared. When their own site goes down in flames, maybe then they will care.

  • Frank Trueblood

    The “REAL” problem here, is that Google thinks it is the Internet instead of the actual Internet being the Internet. Google hasn’t been paying attention to links for years. If you think they have, go type in “mens shoes” in their search engine. Every website domain name comes up but http://www.mensshoes.com. Why? Because the other sites are paying more for the “Keyword.” That is the real issue, it is all based on if it’s a way Google can manipulate yet another piece of how the Internet was intended to work so it forces people to pay more and more for keywords through Google.

    We, meaning my team of programmers and myself have developed the software and technology to make Google’s Adwords and PPC totally obsolete. No more outrageously expensive keywords! Forget about Google Slap, Google Penguin, Google Panda, SEO, link building, keyword density, Algorithm nightmares and all of the other needless cramp Google has come up with that makes it hard, if not almost impossible, for marketers just to market their products or services on the Internet – it simply doesn’t matter any more.

    People WILL NOT have to put up with any more of Google’s abuse and needless demands to get the #1 Top Spot for their website, blog or landing pages – period!

    Imagine being able to build your websites, blogs and all of your landing pages
    exactly the way you want without worrying about Google shutting you down. Using my software and technology disables Google’s iron fist.

    To me it’s the modern version of David and Goliath.

    To see how the software works you can view it by going to http://youtu.be/hI3EA3RaM7Q

  • Kevin Hillman

    I for one think it is great. For those of us that rely solely on keywords, description and relevant content and never played that link game for rankings, it is way overdue. That game has been manipulated for years, There are many software programs and sites built just to manipulate rankings just by using links.

    I imagine it has been a tough road for Google to fight the manipulation 24/7 for years and years when all the people really want is relevant content from their search engine results. The paid results are bad enough but Google has to make money so we can deal with those. I for one applaud the demise of the back link manipulation of ranking pages.

    Thanks, Google

  • JoeB

    Whatever Goggle is doing as far as I’m concerned search result have deteriorated dramatically in the last few months. Today I will see several pages from the same site sometime as many as 5-6 on the first page. How is this improving my experience and search for content on a particular query? I expect to see .gov or similar in position 1 but not 1, 2 , 3, 4 , 7, and 8. I want choices and whatever Google is doing is providing less.

  • Ray

    They want to get rid of the url so they can just steer people toward the highest bidder for said search term.

  • http://www.bwsllc.net Joan M. Ridley

    I’m all for time-saving strategies. But a link that assumes my intent is a time waster as I then need to correct it. It also would likely compromise my professional credibility. I prefer to create my own links. However, having the capability to save my own often- used links is a good thing.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    “As a result of various algorithm changes and manual actions against some sites, many are afraid of the linking that they would have once engaged in.”

    Many smaller site owners (and plenty of big ones) that got burned as so afraid to do anything wrong they don’t want to touch any link of link building with a ten foot pole. Even good natural links are hesitantly accepted because what if Google thinks there is something sneaky going on?

  • adamh2o

    I can’t stand what they are doing. I type in something like “how do you use a speedloader for a Ruger 9mm?”, and it just sends me straight to the Ruger website, which is not what I wanted at all. I had to go to Yahoo to find the answer because they would give me links to other articles or people that could answer that.

  • E1MenJackets

    Google Links works for years but Mobile Marketing changes things and will share the importance of Google links.

  • QC

    Hence bounce rate/time on page is becoming more important than links over time.

  • http://in.linkedin.com/in/ashvyas Ash Vyas

    I don’t think that backlinks will loose its value because Google consider it as one of the major ranking factors apart from content and brand. But we can expect that the emphasize on paid search might get increased in future.