The Gradual Demise of the SEO Link and It’s Heir Apparent

February 05, 2014 digital marketing

It was Matt Cutts who first said that guest blogging was on its way out. And that made everyone sit up and take notice. The truth is that everyone who guests blogs have an ulterior motive. We might want to believe that we are doing so just for knowledge-sharing, but in reality, it’s the links that count. Guest-blogging is but a tactic that has formed an integral part of a link-building strategy. But today, Google has begun to issue warnings about guest post spam, therefore making everyone break out into a cold sweat and look for alternative systems that aren’t dependant on links.

How Stuff Worked

It all began with keywords. Search engines were driven by keywords back in the day. But this had its own limitations because keywords were too easy to manipulate and keyword stuffing was rampant. But then Google went and acknowledged the value of the hyperlink as more of a vote of confidence that one website gives another. Google tweaked its ranking algorithm to be dependent on incoming links. This made rankings more transparent and difficult to manipulate and resulted in Google’s rise to power alongside the SEO industry. Keyword stuffing was easier to do as compared to acquiring links. But the system could still be manipulated. This was done in the following two ways:

• By creating valuable relevant, compelling content that earns links on its own merit
• By adding value to the digital space without actually consciously trying to acquire links

This approach, unfortunately, isn’t a sustainable one. While people may stress on creative link-building tactics, Google will then have to up the ante on sifting the bad links from the good. The prediction in the grapevine is that Google’s next iteration will place lesser importance on links.

Is the Current Logic Around Links Falling Short?

Google is slowly coming to terms with the fact that off-page factors, which were considered more valuable than on-page factors, can be manipulated too. But instead of focusing on what will take the place of the link, all they seem to be doing is tweaking the old algorithm and rapping the knuckles of SEOs over things like guest-blogging.

According to Matt Cutts, guest posting is fine unless it is done for search engine optimization purposes. But can a person truly be selfless about their posts? And even if they are, how does Google actually tell the selfless guest posts from the ones that seem to have ‘ulterior motives’? Does it mean that just because a post doesn’t contain any links, that it is genuinely altruistic in nature? And if so, how does Google sift the good from the bad?

Google is going to find it more difficult with each passing say to identify editorial links from those links that are manipulated. One main reason for that is because of the sheer amount of content that is out there. Another is because it is possible to create relevant and useful content to meet SEO goals. There might not be any major difference between a manipulated article and a non-manipulated one. But just to be on the safe side, Google might devalue both. So no matter how much effort one puts in to get links without actually coming out a terming it as link building, the reality of the situation is that Google might be showing links the proverbial door.

So What Will be the Successor of the Link?

The Quality Score for organic search is poised to succeed the link. Google has invested much into its ad ranking algorithm. Google does ranks ads according to bids but this has been known to lower their relevance. That is why Quality Score came into play. Quality score is a way of treating these ads in the same way content is treated. AdWords Quality Score is based on click-through rate (CTR). There is much debate about the manner in which it is calculated, although many industry experts say that the calculation is based on the CTR of an ad at a given position as compared to the expected click-through rate at that same position. With regards to those ads that aren’t featured on the first page, Google reviews new ads to understand if they are worth featuring or not. Organic search too can benefit from algorithms that focus on engagement metrics rather than links. These metrics could be:

• Bounce rate
• Click-through rate
• Time on page
• Number of comments
• Social shares

Google Chrome, Google Analytics and Google+ allow Google to collect engagement metrics. Many industry experts also assume that Google uses Twitter and Facebook social signals in its ranking algorithm.

Quality Score is known to be scalable. Google may have 3 billion searches every day, but there are more than 5.6 billion search ads and the 24 billion plus display ads that are served every day.

Quality Score can benefit businesses substantially. For instance, as a marketer or a business person, you won’t have to rack your brains to think of new and engaging content that may generate links. Your focus can now shift instead on things like optimizing your landing pages for conversion and lead generation. It is possible for a landing page to satisfy visitors, but not get any links. The focus, therefore, is on quality content still, but what’s changed it how one achieves it.

But with every new entry into the market comes ideas on how to tweak it to meet one’s own purpose. Click fraud, for instance, is a very real issue, but one Google has considered. They have invested much time and resources into detecting and preventing click fraud, which could have significantly affected the AdWords engine. So it is only a matter of time before they apply the same type of fraud filters to identify great content that naturally acquires clicks and build engagement from content that doesn’t.

So while this the SEO link seems slowly on its way out, the real question is will Google do away with it completely. What do you think?

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