With Google stepping up its efforts to penalize link networks and those who buy and sell links, and algorithms like Panda meant to reward sites with high-quality content, how important will backlinks be to Google's search algorithm in the future?
Will backlinks lose their importance for ranking purposes? This is the topic of the latest webmaster help video featuring Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts.
While many of us have pondered the future value of backlinks, it's interesting to hear Cutts' perspective on the issue.
"I think backlinks still have many, many years left in them," he said. "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."
Cutts said links help Google figure out the reputation of a site or pages, but for the most part people care about the quality of the content on a particular page they land on.
"So I think, over time, back links will become a little less important," he said.
Google also wants to give more weight to pages written by experts in the field. So 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.
This could also mean we're going to see an even greater emphasis in value in authorship. While many people have adopted authorship, it still doesn't have widespread use.
However, with the recent shakeup at Google+, and still uncertainty about where it is going now that Vic Gundotra is gone, could we see authorship undergo a transition before links ever become less valued?
Cutts also spoke about Google's plan to focus even more on conversational search, which is due to the increasing number of mobile and voice searches. Google has long wanted to create a computer similar to the one on "Star Trek", which can understand queries, rather than just look at keywords.
This video was likely recorded prior to the launch of Hummingbird, the rewriting of Google's core algorithm that was announced in September, as the search scenario Cutts laid out (Google knowing that when someone searches for "how tall is Justin Bieber" followed by "when was he born", "he" refers to Bieber) is exactly what Hummingbird was designed to better understand: more complex, natural language searches.
"I think as we get better understanding who wrote something and what the real meaning of that content is, inevitably over time there will be a little less emphasis on links," he said. "But I would expect for the next few years we will continue to use links in order to assess the basic reputation of pages and of sites."
This video hardly signals the death of backlinks as we know it, but it definitely Google plans to head in a direction that will rely less on links and more on authority.