Since the first search engine began to provide results for our on-line queries, there have been extensive efforts made to divine exactly how they determined what results to display, and in what order. Usually, someone who was thought to possess some golden information would utter a statement, and like lemmings, millions of wannabe SEOs would hoist their banners, and follow them… anywhere.
In all fairness, it’s easy to be wrong about some of what it takes to make a site rank high in the SERPs. By necessity, the search engines keep their formulas closely guarded secrets, in order to minimize unfair manipulation. Even the formula, called an algorithm, is suggestively mysterious (algorithm – alchemy… coincidence?). As a consequence, many people tend to cling to one or two aspects above all others, often to their own detriment. Even more often, to the detriment of their clients.
Such things as links, pagerank, keywords, sitemaps, URL structure, QDF, pagerank sculpting, meta tags, keyword density, load speed… very few SEOs can agree on the importance of even most of them, much less all. At any given time, someone can be found espousing the theory that one or more has no value, or is soon to disappear entirely.
For instance, in October of 2005, Steve Gilmore published Links are Dead, Doc, followed shortly thereafter, by W.G. Moore’s Are Reciprocal Links Dead? Both were preceded in their dire pronouncements, by Jeremy Zawodny, who blogged PageRank is Dead in May of 2003. Danny Sullivan, in June of 2009, published PageRank Sculpting is Dead! Long Live PageRank Sculpting! Then, in January of 2010, Paddy Moogan guest-blogged on Richard Baxter’s SEOGadget, SEO is Dead – Long Live SEO. Some preached death, some not. But all gave light to the issue.
As you can see, there’s a great deal of death in the SEO community… or at least, predictions of death. If we wait patiently, someone will probably soon predict that the internet itself has met its demise. Given the dearth of information as to what the Google alchemists consider most important, none of this should be surprising. Then, consider the new factors that seem to pop up just when we think we’ve got things nearly figured out… is it any wonder that we begin authoring hopeful obituaries?
At this point, not to be outdone, I’ll make my prediction. First, however, I must admit that while I came to this conclusion on my own, I am not the first to give voice to it. For one, my Sensei at SEO Dojo, David Harry (@theGypsy), recently wrote a guest-blog on WordStream, entitled, The Evolution of Ranking Signals: Google is Getting Past the Link.
Stole my thunder, well and proper, did he! Good on ya, David! Everyone really needs to read David’s piece… it’s spot on!
So – my not-so-original prediction is that links will have a diminishing role in determining the ranking of a page. Many others are saying it, as well, in varying degrees, such as Eric Enge, Nichola Stott and Kieran Flanagan to just name a few of the most recent voices.
Why do I believe this? First, the multi-headed link-beast is Google’s own creation. Oh, I know that Google didn’t create links, per se. But they DID feed the beast till it became unmanageable, thus providing the single greatest tool ever, for gaming their own system. Manipulation of rankings hit a new high (low?), owing to the sale, barter, hacking and spamming of links. I have to believe there were a few palm-to-forehead slaps around the conference tables at the GooglePlex, when they realized what they had spawned.
So it stands to reason that some thought must have been given to the process of taming the critter, and replacing it with a more manageable, more capable creature. Which is where I think we find ourselves now.
Google has been focusing much of its collective talent on behavioral, temporal and semantic analysis. As these all come together, links will no longer be necessary, in order to serve up the best response to a user’s search query. Entirely new algorithms can be developed, giving far less weight to backlinks. I’m not saying that I think links will go away completely… they’re bound to still be rolled into the equation. I’m simply saying that they’ll no longer be playing the lead – they’ll be reduced to a bit part.
As links take on less importance in the ranking of pages, the efforts to link-spam will diminish too. The crap-hat SEOs will always go where they can get the biggest benefit with the least effort. In my opinion, with links no longer providing the biggest bang for the buck, there’ll be a lot of scrambling to find a replacement activity. Well, guess what, folks? Link-spamming may well be the only aspect of SEO that actually DOES die! And it appears that its stand-in will be virtually un-spammable!
As the search engines polish their application of personalized search, tempered with temporal data, RDFa technology and CTags, the crap-hatters will find that the only spamming they can do will be against themselves. Query results will be greatly improved, link-spam will be reduced, and the user experience will be enhanced.
Don’t think for a moment that this means SEO will be dying. On the contrary, it will grow in depth and intricacy. Which means, I sincerely hope, that the crap-hat SEOs… those scumbags that give decent SEOs a bad name… will be dramatically reduced in number.
They needn’t worry, though… I hear McDonald’s is hiring.