You may have seen headlines proclaiming “Links are dead!” ever since the roll out of Google’s big algorithm changes, Penguin and Panda. However, it has been over two years since these changes started taking place, and there is still a heated debate surrounding just how useful links are in the hunt for high rankings. Google has remained largely mum on the issue, though their statements have largely suggested that links are only slightly less important than they were a few years ago.
Now, Matt Cutts has used one of his Webmaster Chat videos to address the question, suggesting for the first time that links may be going away (eventually).
The statement isn’t much of a shocker to the SEO community, but it is one of the first signs that links are being steadily devalued. Don’t get too excited however, you can expect links to be a significant part of SEO if Cutts is to be believed.
Matt explained that Google’s focus right now is on finding ways to parse out the content that will meet the expectations of expert users. Unfortunately, Google only has limited means of evaluating the content. This is mostly done by estimating the traffic, content style, keyword density, and engagement on a site, but links have always been used as a mark of quality. Thankfully, Google has also gotten better at judging which links are valuable.
However, as Google improves at understanding the natural language we use, it doesn’t have to rely on links as strongly. It can put more weight on the value of content and other factors expert users consider.
Cutts says it will be years before links go anywhere, but Google is slowly distancing themselves from links. It may be time to put up the headlines claiming links are dead and wait for the day when links finally don’t serve a legitimate person. We won’t reach that point for a while.