I often say that link building is my favorite part of doing SEO. Each time I say this out loud to my fellow SEOs or knowledgeable clients, I get the reaction that I imagine you’re wearing right now (if you build links), the look that says “What are you talking about? You like Link building?” Yeah, I do.

The difference is my definition of link building. Ever since Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brinn imagined a way to use web links as a way of assigning value on the Internet, “link building” has been a staple of search engine optimization campaigns. Some of this has been good and helpful to Google, the more people think to add links to their web content, the easier it is for Google to make sense of the patterns, and improve the quality of its search results, everyone wins.

Of course, we went a little crazy with it. Links can be bought, bartered, submitted, scraped, and generated in all sorts of ways that have no correlation with real value, but may appear so to search engines, forcing Google and others to evolve further. When Google figures out a pattern of low-quality links, it makes an update and levels the playing field. As many prominent SEOs have been saying for years, good link building should be to provide human beings the ability to access your content from relevant web pages, rather than finding ways to build links for search engines.

Sooner or later, links will mean nothing, and lately it seems like sooner. Google made big moves this year, most notably with its Penguin update to reduce the importance of low-quality links as a signal. All this is fine by me, because something will always matter to Google, and we’ll adapt to improve the strength of that something. Links will probably give way to a mix of social signals (Google says they are still leery of relying on social too much), Author Rank, or something being cooked up that we haven’t imagined yet, maybe something like these:

Focus Rate – When (not if) wearable computing (Google Glasses) becomes fashionable, we may be talking one day about how long people look at things to determine rankings. Maybe you’ve been eyeing BMWs. Every time you see one, you can’t help but watch it drive by, wondering what gear it’s in and imagining yourself doing the shifting. But you don’t let yourself think about it. You don’t need a car today. Then one day, you do need a car, so you search “new car” in Google, and there’s bmw.com at #1.

Drive-thru times – Say it’s lunchtime, and you’re in a rush. You want to grab a quick bite, so you search “quick lunch” instead of just “lunch” via your Google voice-activated-search from within your Google-driven car (Google driving us around is imminent, my guess is 2020) and it knows what you mean by “quick.” Perhaps using current average wait times of local fast food restaurants (fed to Google via a future API perhaps) Google decides to drive you to Jimmy John’s instead of Panera for your quick meal.

Euphoria Index – Our bodies release chemicals at nearly every emotional turn, like when we are happy or inspired. Someday, Google may capture these chemical fluctuations via an attachment to your smart phone, eye glasses, or a chip we all readily insert in our heads one day, and uses these chemicals to calculate a Euphoria Index. Maybe Google notices that I tend to be a happy fellow when I’m in Lowe’s or watch a Lowe’s commercial instead of Home Depot, so it sends me to lowes.com when I search for “patio furniture.”

The point is that link building evolves. But what has yet to change is that search engines look to reveal real value to determine who should rank for a given term. In 1998, this meant citations from scholarly articles; in 2005 it meant links from as many websites as possible; in 2009 it was about getting links from bloggers or content farms; 2013 will be about integration of social media, mobile activity, and sorting out the best content and authoritative writers. After that, it’ll be something else. All I know is that I’ll find it interesting.

 

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