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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.

For an industry that relies on as much data as the SEO market does, there is never much certainty that the popular optimization tactic being preached at the moment is a legitimate strategy. We rarely have the definitive answers from the source needed to keep all the confusion down, and new myths seem to spring up overnight.

To counter the constant flow of SEO myths, Google’s distinguished engineer Matt Cutts used one of his recent Webmaster Help videos to debunk many of the misconceptions surrounding the world’s most popular search engine.

This isn’t the first time Cutts has used his regular video message to debunk SEO myths, but this time he focuses on a specific type of myth that has become increasingly widespread as Google seems to keep narrowing their guidelines and offering greater space to ads.

Cutts starts by tackling the myth “if you buy ads you’ll rank higher in Google” and the opposing legend that not buying ads is the key to high rankings. In Matt Cutts’ perspective, these fables are tied to the notion that Google makes all of their decisions in an effort to force webmasters to buy more ads.

The problem with that idea is that it doesn’t actually reflect how Google thinks about their operations. The fact is, webmasters are rarely the main priority for the search engine to begin with. Instead, according to Cutts, Google’s rationale behind all changes is simply that they want to return the best search results possible to keep users happy and keep them coming back.

Of course, no one is denying that Google would like users to see ads and generate revenue, but that is never the prime motivation for changes like algorithm updates.

On a similar note, Matt uses the second half of the video to discuss the offers he sees for software packages that clam to help users make money and magically fix their SEO – for a small fee, of course.

Just as you can’t buy your way to high rankings with ads the chances of a random purchased software package making you money is almost zero. Matt lays out another scenario: “If someone had a foolproof way to make money online, they would probably use that way to make money rather than packaging it up in an ebook and selling it to people.”

In the end, most of the myths are born out of a misunderstanding of Google’s goals. Too many SEO professionals think of their job strictly in terms of increasing visibility and rankings, or upping their ROI. But the search engines are just looking for the best content possible. You can spend your time trying to game and cheat to get to the top, or you can align yourself with the search engine and try to provide users something of value. According to Cutts, that should be enough to fix many of the problems less honest SEOs tend to run into.

You can watch the full video below:

Have you ever searched for a term only to find a page that says “we have no articles for [your search term]” and a whole bunch of ads? Most people have come across these sites with auto-generated content, often called “Made for AdSense” or MFA sites. These pages are created for the sole reason of luring people in, and hoping they click an AdSense ad to leave the page instead of hitting the back button.

The majority of these types of websites use a script to automatically generate content that takes snippets from search results or web pages with those keywords. They don’t offer real content in any way and have absolutely no legitimate value. It makes many wonder why they’ve encountered these kinds of pages in the Google search results.

One user directly asked Matt Cutts, Google’s head of webspam, if the search engine is doing anything about the pages, such as penalties or removing these sites from the index. As you would expect, Google already has a policy in place, and Cutts encourages users to report any pages like this they come across. He states:

We are absolutely willing to take action against those sites. We have our rules in our guidelines about auto-generated pages that have very little value and I have put out in the past specific calls for sites where you search for a product – a VCR, a laptop, or whatever – and you think you’re going to get a review, and the first thing you see is ‘0 Reviews found for [blah blah blah].’

As Google sees it, even if these pages are from legitimate search engines, they don’t belong in the rankings. Users don’t really like searching for something and being sent to another page of search results. They want to be directed straight to real content.

There are very few times when search results snippets should be indexed. The only real time it might be considerable is if you have exclusive data that no one else has. But, there is no time when a supposed search results page with 0 results should ever be indexed.

To put it simply, Google is already trying to fight against these sites. They aim to find and penalize all they can, but they also want people to report them with a spam report if possible so that the lowest amount possible slip through the cracks.

It has always been a little unclear how Google handles their international market. We know they have engineers across the world, but anyone that has tried to search from outside the US knows the results can seem like what Americans would see five years ago: a few good options mixed with a lot of spam. That’s a little bit of a hyperbole, but Matt Cutts says we can expect to see it continue to get better moving forward.

According to Cutts’ recent Webmaster Help video, Google does fight spam globally using algorithms and manual actions taken by Google employees stationed in over 40 different regions and languages around the world. In addition, they also try to ensure all of their algorithms will work in all languages, rather than just English.

SEO Roundtable points out you could see the international attention to Google’s algorithms when Penguin originally rolled out. At first it was only affecting English queries, but was released for other languages quickly after. With Penguin’s release however, all countries saw the release on the same day.

Matt Cutts did concede that English language queries in Google do receive more attention, which has always been fairly obvious and understandable. There are far more searchers there and that is the native language of the majority of engineers working for the company.

By now, the hacker craze of the 90’s and early 2000’s has died down quite a bit. Most people don’t worry about hackers all that much, so long as you use some solid anti-virus and keep your router protected. Big businesses may have to worry about Anonymous’ hi jinks, but the common person don’t tend to concern themselves with the issue. Hacking especially doesn’t seem like that big of an issue for SEO, at first.

But, hackers can actually do your site some damage, and can even get your site entirely dropped from the Google search index. Sites get blacklisted when hackers inject malicious code onto servers, as Google seeks to protects searchers’ computers from any sort of compromising.

While Google doesn’t immediately drop sites from their index, being blacklisted leads to a complete drop in organic traffic and can be a crisis for SEO. Blacklisting starts as a warning to searchers that a site may be compromised, and few will continue past that alarm.

This has become a rather significant problem for Google. To help provide wide support for the increasing number of webmasters dealing with compromised servers, Google has launched the ‘Webmasters Help for Hacked Sites‘ support center. They give detailed information on how to clean and repair your server and prevent your site from getting entirely dropped from the Google index.

If you think this sort of hacking isn’t a big deal, check out the charts below. They show just how frequent this type of malicious activity has become. It isn’t just banks and large corporations dealing with it. Small businesses are just as at risk as international franchises. The most common form of attack is an automated set of processes that indiscriminately discover and exploit vulnerabilities on servers, which are often left completely unprotected.

Search Engine Journal recently explored the issue more in depth, unpacking why the issue is such a large concern to Google and webmasters alike. Compromised sites can destroy a search engine’s credibility just as your own, so the problem has to be taken very seriously.