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Google’s Matt Cutts on the future of links in SEO.

The author

Mark Preston

SEO Strategy Manager

Links, perhaps more so than ever, have been a particularly hot topic in the world of SEO in the past few months; who’s linking to who, how links are generated and what the value of a link actually is.

In a regular update on the official Google Webmasters YouTube channel, Google’s front of house and head of web spam, Matt Cutts, explained that in the future links will become less of an algorithmic crutch for the search engine. Although links now, and in the future, will of course continue to be published (after all linking from one page to another is the basis for the entire web) and will continue to be a strong gauge for popular content or excellent service; from a ranking perspective it’s likely that they won’t hold as much sway as they currently do.

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Google sees authorship (understanding who the individual behind the content is, what they are saying and whether they're trusted) as a way of improving on the concept of the link as a barometer for ‘rank-worthy’ content.

Google have been exploring this area, that we might consider as the ‘the who behind the what’, for a number of years and as a company we commented on author rank in the form of Google+ authorship in this post back in January 2013.

Later that same year in May, Matt Cutts was also quoted as saying that a major focus for Google was to do, “a better job of detecting when someone is sort of an authority in a specific space.” Essentially, trying to identify experts in a particular niche be it fashion, journalism, sport, law, medicine etc., and promoting that individual as a trusted source of information.

The significance of this is that if a particular business representative or site is recognised as being an authority in a specific field, Google are liable to boost rankings for that author or site for queries pertaining to that given topic.

A recognised industry expert in fashion writing for a particular site may expect to see the content they produce perform better in search than an individual who is less well recognised in the industry.

How Google identifies these ‘good guys’ of content as they have been dubbed, is the million dollar question and that may be where links still have a key role to play. Cutts elaborated on this in December 2013 during a webcast session for online network stating that, “The New York times is important so if they link to you then you must also be important. But you can start to drill down in individual topic areas and say okay if Jeff Jarvis (renowned American Professor of journalism) links to me he is an expert in journalism and so therefore I might be a little bit more relevant in the journalistic field. We're trying to measure those kinds of topics. Because you know you really want to listen to the experts in each area if you can.”  

For the time being at least, links can still be considered as the currency of the web but in the not too distant future we’re likely to see the value of these references, in isolation alone, wane in importance. Links as a consequence of excellent marketing will however always carry value at the very least as a yardstick for useful, informative or fun content and as Cutts himself comments in an earlier YouTube video from the aforementioned Webmaster channel – as things stand an algorithm without links would, “be much worse”.

The future of links, a philosophy we have adhered to for some time here at Epiphany, is that they should be placed within a context – the value is not inherently in the link but in where it came from, who published it and why; something that is earned rather than bought, insisted upon or manufactured. Links are not the end but the means; a side effect of producing great content and offering an excellent online service.