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Is Link Authority Dead (Dying)?

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After extensive gaming, Google’s algorithm (it is assumed) shifted from using the quantity of links as an indicator of source authority, to measuring the quality (reputation) of the linker in order to determine relevancy. Gamers are still there though, this time with bigger budgets, and things may be about to change again – most likely to a much more complicated game.

Is Link Authority Dead (Dying)?
Is Link Authority Dead (Dying)?

A month ago, SEObook.com author Aaron Wall blew the whistle on relevancy problems in Google’s SERPs. Big name sites, like eBay and Yahoo, set up "infinite" subdomains, addressing various topics, while others bought websites that already had high rankings in Google’s index.

So, in essence, the big brands, who already had tremendous authority and presence, were leveraging that status to rank for as many high-paying keywords as possible. And if that weren’t enough, they began buying other slots in the SERPs – a strategy that gets your online property appearing three or four times in the top ten results.

"The practice of measuring online influence by links is truly dead. Link authority, as it was called, was good while it lasted," suggests Edelman’s Steve Rubel. "The main reason link authority is dead is that there are so many places where people can publish and connect with peers."

And that presents a prime moment for change in how rankings are measured. But how would they do that?

Enquiro’s Gord Hotchkiss recently interviewed usability guru Jakob Nielsen, who also notes that things will have to change to better serve the end user.

"I think that with counting links and all of that," said Nielsen, "there may be a change and we may go into a more behavioral judgment as to which sites actually solve people’s problems, and they will tend to be more highly ranked."

How that would be done is still not abundantly clear and Nielsen doesn’t have a lot of faith that personalized search will actually lead to it. From the artificial intelligence side, personalization has to do a lot of guesswork.

Jeff Jarvis notes Nielsen//NetRatings’ announcement that they would no longer measure page views, and instead would measure the amount of time users spend at a site. While that may be a part of the next equation, Jarvis thinks that won’t be good enough in an age of instant messaging and other widgets that are always on, but not always used.

In fact, with so many widgets out there, it is impossible to know total audience numbers in terms of popularity, traffic, attention, or engagement.

"I’ve often said that Google’s audience is many times what is reported because Google distributes itself as widgets — ads, maps, feeds…." writes Javis.

"There’s a very long list of applications — RSS, widgets, mobile, apps — and kinds of content — video, podcasts — but also of new sorts of measurements — such as influence, meme-starting, involvement, creation, engagement, popularity — that aren’t even being tackled. And there are new dimensions that need to be explored, such as measuring a person’s trust, influence, or even fame across many platforms, sites, applications, and so on."

In other words, it’s complicated.

David Brain, CEO and President of Edelman Europe, is working on a formula for a social media index, the likes of which we may see embraced by Google and other search engines in the future.

"When people talked about on-line influence in the past they were often referring to bloggers and Technorati scores," Brain said, "though obviously influence was always more complicated than that.

"But now with the increasing mass adoption of Twitter and Facebook and favourites listings like Digg and Del.icio.us things have moved on. Bloggers Twitter and Facebookers Dig. Many of us are multi-platform users and so our online ‘footprint’ is much more dispersed.

Brain suggests a multilateral approach that includes PageRank, inbound links, subscribers, content focus, update frequency, comment numbers, numbers of friends, number of Twitter followers, number of LinkedIn contacts, photos and videos uploaded.

And if so, life on the web just got a whole lot more complicated, hair is about to become whiter, or fall out, or be pulled out, especially if you’ve invested the last decade in traditional SEO.

But it hasn’t changed yet, and there’s no guarantee it will. But with all the industry experts talking about it, you can bet something’s about to happen.

Is Link Authority Dead (Dying)?
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  • jebbiii

    I don’t think it is dead – it has diminished since there are so few websites providing non-paid links. I think eventually paid links will become one of the weighting factors and Google will gulp and smile. And why not – money talks. (something Google should understand.)

    Alternatively, Google could start to promote the creation of natural links on websites, but I am not sure that wouldn’t screw up their ranking just as much.

  • http://www.tokenizer.org Bambarbia Kirkudu

    Google urges users to notify about paid links, and it smells really bad.

    Just as a sample of PR9 listing with $50000/year fees:
    http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Member/List

    Really bad!

  • incrediblehelp

    Should be dying, but where is the evidence of this? I see authority websites still take advantage of their high credit and use shaddy techniques all of the time.

  • http://www.live-cms.com/ Dan

    the “multilateral approach” you describe doesn’t seem beneficial to search engines – if ranking was based on comments/subscribers/friends then spamming would be a lot more useful. People would spam their own websites with comments for higher rankings and 1000 spam comments won’t do me any good if I see it in my search engine results.

  • http://www.bubbleplanner.com Bill

    Fortunately, it appears that Google’s main objective is still to provide relevant content to searchers. Thus, if you continue to provide good content, products, and services; you will be rewarded with good rankings. If Google ever decided to be “evil” they would give preferred ranking to those who spend or make money for them.

  • http://www.webcopyplus.com Rick Sloboda

    I believe all the sources you site have valid points, especially David Brain. The all-inclusive approach will likely prevail as it can best provide relevant search results and make it more difficult for black hatters or large entities to take over the Web. But regardless what methods arise, quality web content will always play a major role. It

  • Bockereyer

    I would’t put weight on the link itself. Just use it to get to certain content. Test the found content, compare with similar content and make a ranking based on the quality of the content . After all it’s the content that matters. Then look at the ratio visited pages per unique visitor for that website and you get a pretty good idea about the quality of the website. Content with equal ranking for the same keyword get a ranking based on the quality of the website.

  • http://www.fatinfo.com Billy

    Great article on how the landscape is changing in greater favor for those who do not rely only on links to reach high rankings. Content and links should work hand in hand, as well as links out to related site within the same industries.

  • http://carl-audreshomedecor.blogspot.com/ Carl Carstens

    Well, it’s nice to know that I just spent a lot of money that I don’t have to spare, on lessons on how to create effective links:)
    However, I will say one thing:
    Why do us small business entrepreneurs have to compete with the big businsseses like Wal-Mart, etc, for space on the internet search engines. We can’t afford to match their bids for good page rankings. So why are they allowed to push us lower down on the pages?
    Just asking. I’m sure no one really knows. Big businesses should be on a special, separate, billboard page.

  • http://www.netmagellan.com/ Ash Nallawalla

    Google would need to use an adaptation of the RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary Value) model used in CRM.

    With the decline of dial-up Internet, IP addresses are getting more “stable”. If a site is visited several times a day by the “same” IP address, AdSense can make a note of it if it is a publisher site. If not, Analytics might be installed at the site. If not, companies such as Nielsen NetRatings or Hitwise love to sell traffic data and they probably have Google as a customer.

  • http://www.allbrands-hottubandspa.com Steve C.

    I certainly that you are correct as it was
    really never an indication of quality or
    amount of content provided. Being in retail marketing, I found it almost impossible to obtain good links. My competitors won’t, nor will I link to them,
    the manufacturers that I represent will add me to a list of their dealers, but those links do not seem to ever be counted
    by the SEs and they can’t do more for me than they do for all of their other dealers
    in fear of losing business. So who will link to me that is also relavent to my site? I am pretty much left with using directories, but the meaningfull ones all
    want to be paid, hence they are no longer
    meaningful. Maybe now the amount and quality of my content will help me obtain a higher page ranking?

  • http://wots-on.info brett

    Hi, I recieve and read all your emails and love you guys.

    I wanted to share my recent experience as a webmaster.

    something has changed with google’s algorithms around july 5th 2007.

    I had been building up and optimizing my website for the last 3-4 months, to an expected slow building of daily hits… Then around the 5th, I began recieving more and more search engine hits from google suddenly, with the search terms being what I was optimizing for.

    At the moment I am a very happy webmaster.

    The truth is I don’t have a great deal of inbound links yet, and I never expected that I would recieve this much traffic this quick.

    My website is relevent and has good content and I am now often ranking higher than other similar websites that were previously way above me, and that was very unexpected.

    I have been told google will keep fine-tuning things and I expect this sudden increase in traffic will drop back to roughly where it was pre 5th july, although I am hoping it wont happen.

    so, Is link authority dying?… maybe, and maybe it’s not such a bad thing if things can be done moderately, because I have found many brand new websites with great, innovative content listed deep in a search, and these websites need to be found more easily because they might be new, but they are brilliant. And I often come across websites listed in the top 10 for any search which have obviously been around a long time, but the content is old and often irrelevent.

    Thats my opinion anyway. Thanks.

  • http://www.brane.com.br Peter (IMC)

    Search has become so complicated that it is screaming for a “back to basics” approach.

    In the end, what makes a website useful to a visitor is just simple basics. Counting backlinks is what it all started with, and then because of the “gamers” it all became about detecting the abusers. And that

  • http://www.youtube.com/fiwaszewski Forrest Iwaszewski

    As always, you guys do a great job at addressing the most important issues within the internet!!
    Thanks.
    Forrest Uriah Iwaszewski
    Star Wars Talks with Forrest on YouTube..
    fiwaszewski on youtube..Everything Star Wars, all the time!!

  • http://www.holdcroft.biz Michael Holdcroft

    That is going to make getting good positions in the SERPs almost impossible for small and “one man” companies to achieve. Most people who want to set up a website, including a lot the designers who make them, have little idea how SEO works today. In the end, I reckon it will be a question of having a deep enough pocket to be able to compete.

  • http://www.vanax.nl vanax webdesign

    links authority isnt dead yet, they dont have better ways of making relevant search results yet …. so i dont worry maybe they check for quality instead of quantity but in webdesign terms i dont see a other way that makes sense and gonna take over the old ways

  • http://mmdesign.micheliov.com Max Micheliov

    It’s quite obvious that SEs’ developers are moving towards creation of “Intelligent Algo” for ranking web documents. The purpose behind it is putting in order endless numbers of web pages by “relevancy”. But whether the success is going to eliminate the problem? I doubt so. I’m affraid that the whole idea is corrupt because there isn’t such “order” and even human editor won’t deliver “relevant search results”. Who is more relevant: Britney or Spice? (as a possible #1 for “pop star”).

    The problem is about the quantity of information. The answer has to be searched for in cultural dimension rather than in purely technical. I believe that people should be educated how to deal with info the right way. We should change in the first place.

  • http://www.simplyclicks.com David Burdon

    Like Aaron Wall I’d also spotted the rise of the major corporate website. In many market categories they often appear above dedicated independent and specialist suppliers. When I examine the strength of these sites a recurring theme is the number of internally generated links. By this I mean links from subsidiary and sister companies from within the same large, often multinational, corporation.

    Take for example a travel company. You have an airline, a hotel operation,a tour operator, a beds only subsidiary, a car hire subsidiary etc, etc. All delivering link power to one another. The small specialist is swamped.

  • http://www.hub-uk.com David Jenkins

    From my point of view (as a one man business) I would see this as being positive. I don’t have the time or the resources to drive my site up search engines through linking. This puts me at a considerable disadvantage against the bigger sites yet I still need to be at the top of the results in order to earn from visitors to my site.

    What worries me is that every time there are major changes they can affect all the sites for several weeks. Back in 2005 I disappeared from Google altogether for about three weeks whilst an algorithm change was going on. It was a very worrying time.

  • double07

    Jason, thank you for the insight into critical thinkers on the subject of SEO. It seems to have been a never-ending ride of speculation since 1995 as to where SEO will go next. I found your article thought provoking and quite well written – great article!

    In my opinion, Google has not embraced best practices with respect to “innovation,” essentially placing numerous bets across the roulette wheel of predicting what users want e.g., poor product development. Hence the consistently inconsistent algo riddled with hacks and no clear direction; other than the original design layout from Stanford University heavily laden with link love.

    Until we perfect AI it will remain pretty much the same. Face recognition does not work and we are quite a distance from AI (ongoing now at Stanford University).

    Best regards, Paul

    Paul J. Bruemmer
    Director Search Marketing, Red Door Interactive
    http://www.reddoor.biz
    619-398-2670 ext. 127

  • http://www.findcooltoys.com/http://www.findcooltoys.com/ K Shepard

    Lots to think about. Never know what Google might do next. Thanks for the heads up! KS
    http://www.findcooltoys.com/

  • http://speedcathollydale.blogspot.com Eric “Speedcat Hollydale”

    Great article, although I am still a little confused. When I first started my site, I could not find it on a search unless I typed in “Speedcat Hollydale” in quote. Now I turn up on many search words first page…even when my page rank wavers from 2-4. Is the ultimate change coming going to revert to the free market standard of “most cash, most recognition”? This would be a shame, but to be honest, I’m tiring of link building anyway :-)

    The Speedy Cat

  • http://www.franglix.com Paul Betts

    An insightful article, thanks. I concur that the constant shifts in the mathematics behind what is considered relevant in Google’s results listings, has probably run it’s course (or is soon about to)… and for the reasons that Mr Miller notes, there really is a need to qualitatively measure the complex interactions better. This is something that literally doesn’t always add up through refined formulae. So the shifting, testing and dancing towards the ‘relevancy’ that Google does, actually may move into a more disconcerting phase for SE watchers, more like groping in the dark for something they haven’t quite defined – ‘value’. I think this will resist definition for a while, so it’s a bumpy ride ahead, I think.

    • Greg

      I’am not a webtech, but I think urls are going to be in the googles (High numbers) soon, search engines will just look at www-xxx-xx.com and stop after a few bits of info past the dot (.)…just a user looking to explore the web value. good read though, cheers

  • http://www.businessservicesuk.com Pete

    I personally feel link authority plays a huge part in the ranking process, of course I can back this up with my own website, that ranks at number 1 worldwide for a very competitive term. It is not the an issue of links, it is an issue of how they are gained.

  • http://www.bulgariasfinest.com Jim Lawlor

    I don’t think link authority will die, simply because it is an important tool in the ranking system

  • http://www.diversehampers.co.uk Nicki

    I look forward to the day when Google stops moving the goalposts on such a regular basis. If Microsoft and Yahoo do merge there could be some interesting times ahead in the world of search

  • http://www.acornrecruitmentsw.co.uk Chris

    Does the sucess of Google bombing not show us that it is not?

  • http://www.q-5.nl Webdesign etten leur

    Nice article, but I don’t think authority will die. Maybe in the far future when search engines are more advanced…