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May 21, 2014

Google Says: Backlinks are Safe… for Now

Photo credit: Robert Scoble via flickr

Matt Cutts, Google’s Distinguished Engineer, well known for coming down hard on link networks in a relentless effort to clean up the search process while improving Google’s accuracy has released a new video – one that quickly caught the attention of SEO experts, business owners and digital marketers. The new video relates to backlinks and the verdict is that they’re safe… for now.

Why it Matters

It’s no secret that lately, search giant Google has been increasing efforts to penalize many link building efforts – seen as critical to traditional SEO – including link networks and those individuals and companies who buy or sell links for SEO purposes.

Furthermore, with an effort on rewarding sites that feature regular, high-quality content through new algorithms like Hummingbird and Panda, questions have started to run rampant. Marketers and SEO professionals have begun to wonder whether links would lose importance as far as increasing search engine rankings with the new changes and the penalties in place. This led to Cutts’ latest video, sharing his perspective on the topic entitled “Will Backlinks Lose Their Importance in Rankings?”

The answer is clear – in a way.

“I think backlinks still have many, many years left in them,” he explained. “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.”

However, the next statement changes things.

“Over time, backlinks will be less important,” Cutts continued.

Google’s algorithms focus on the reputation of specific websites and pages. This is the determining factor when it comes to whether traffic stays on a page or bounces, indicating a failed search attempt. However, because of the fact that these algorithms still rely on links to help determine the authority or reputation of web pages, they are still contributing factors to web searches, whether Google would like to admit to it or not.

Next Step: Authorship

The rest of Cutts’ video gives insight into where brands, marketers and SEO pros should be heading in the meantime: toward authorship.

Google Authorship allows content creators and writers to link content to Google profiles, creating a byline for search results and increasing rankings while establishing credibility. According to Cutts, authorship may have a greater value in the near future.

“Google also wants to give more weight to pages written by experts in the field,” explained Cutts. “This means authority will become even more crucial for websites. Whether that means authorship or some other way Google can determine experts and authorities remains to be seen,” he added.

Authorship isn’t just a good way to increase rankings, as alluded to by Cutts, it’s also a solid move for anyone interested in increasing the value of their content. According to Social Media Today, it allows authors to build credibility by increasing reliability for search engine crawlers. Authorship increases visibility by giving personality to search engine listings, leading to better click through rates. It also ensures your original content is credited to you by pushing any posts with Authorship marking to the top of search results, reducing plagiarism attempts while generating interest.

Continuing to Use Links

While Cutts makes it clear that backlinks could be useful for years in the future, there’s no doubt that the video’s information alludes to something more, changes that anyone interested in SEO should be aware of.

In the meantime, links do continue to provide value. However, with the crackdown attempts forged by Cutts, it’s important to be sure any linking strategy is seen as beneficial, not threatening to Google and its search algorithms. Below are link building tactics to avoid to ensure your backlinks are safe yet still useful for establishing credibility, as explained in the video.

Links to avoid include:

Paid Links: In the past, buying and selling links was a popular tactic for increasing website rankings. With Google’s latest efforts to shut down and penalize not only the networks, but those using them, this practice should be avoided at all costs. Paid links don’t have to be an exchange of funds, they can include exchanging goods or even services for mentions and links.

Unnatural Link Exchanges: It makes sense that a website would be filled with links to other sites; this is normal and approved by Google. However, when a website links to a high number of “unnatural” sites – for example, a fitness blog linking to fast food restaurants – Google’s search algorithms will start to take notice. Make sure all link exchanges seem natural and match the content of your site.

Large-Scale Guest Posting Campaigns: Yes, a guest post can boost your visibility and help in your own marketing scheme. However, when guest posting becomes an obvious effort to accumulate backlinks, Google will probably take action. Just look at the link network busts of MyBlogGuest and PostJoint. Consider the value of content before posting, on your own site or any other site.

Tool-Generated Links: They’re everywhere: tools and services that are advertised to produce hundreds or even thousands of backlinks while increasing your traffic and search rankings. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Worse yet, it could result in your being penalized by Google or removed from its database all together. Work naturally for best results.

Cutts’ video makes it clear: backlinks are safe, at least for the time being. As search engine tactics continue to evolve, pay attention to how you use links, avoid tactics with negative effects and look for other ways to boost search rankings – like authorship. The end of backlinks may not be in sight, but it could be drawing near.


Adrienne Erin writes twice weekly for SiteProNews about online marketing strategies that help businesses like Triple Crown Corporation succeed. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter to see more of her work or get in touch.