The future of backlinks… may be shorter than you think.
Most people don’t realize this, but Google or BackRub as it was originally called, was created to count backlinks (or citations). Google the search engine as we know it today was actually more of a lucky accident than an intended creation. As for backlinks, they’ve remained extremely important to the Google search algorithm over the years, but, that may be about to change.
When it comes to the future of backlinks, the question on everyone’s mind is, “how long do they have left?” Google’s search algorithm gets more and more advanced every year and as AI develops, search is going to become more and more conversational, less robotic. For more on that, and what else we can expect in the years to come, we asked a group of industry experts…
What’s The Future Of Backlinks?
If you deal with SEO on a regular basis, it’s time to bust out the notepad…
Stephen Seifert, SEO Manager at Day Translations, Inc.
“The future of backlinks will certainly play a role in how companies gain rank, boost brand visibility, and crawl up the Domain Authority ladder. The very nature of how Google algorithms perpetually change to police good backlink practices is certainly an indicator of the worth they have. This signals that they are here to stay. Like all companies in a competitive industry, we are always getting creative in how we develop relationships and build our link portfolio. With white hat and grey hat link building techniques always meshing, it is imperative we look to the future to ensure our links age like fine wine. Thus adding value to our ranking in the coming decades.”
Venchito Tampon, CEO & Co-founder of SharpRocket
“Links will remain to be an important aspect of SEO, as every link-based factors are used by Google to measure authority and expertise of a given webpage.
Since not all links are held being equal, quality backlinks that serve as a recommendation of trust to a content are given more weight than links built on spammy tactics.
The mindset of people on links has changed and more SEOs/business owners will start to embrace it. Link building is no longer a menial task of SEO, but should be a core part of the entire branding campaign, as links became more powerful in generating targeted visitors and assisted conversions that can propel every online business’ growth.”
Oliver Tani, VP of Digital Marketing at Tallwave
“Backlinks have long been considered a vote from one site to another. A site’s SEO potential could largely be measured based on the quantity and quality of their backlinks, however the way we think about backlinks needs to extend beyond this linear association between hyperlinks. There will always be hyperlinks from site to site, but 10-15 years from now, their use as primary search signals will likely see a few evolutions, such as:
– Individuals and brands are already engaging with users across multiple domains, social profiles, apps, etc., thus search engines will need to measure beyond standard html-based hyperlinks.
– Individuals and brands with a more engaged audience will likely carry more weight than the individual/brand with greater reach.
– The evolution of semantic search and natural language processing will enable search engines to rely less on things like anchor text and contextual relevancy and more on user intent and sentiment.”
Bradley Shaw, Digital Marketing and Online Consulting Expert at SEO Expert Brad Inc.
“I believe that every year that passes, backlinks will diminish as a ranking factor in Google. Why? They are too easily manipulated. In my opinion, Google will focus more and more on user signals as a ranking factor. This might include factors such as time spent on site, bounce rates, user engagement, Click through rates, or most likely a combination of all these metrics. I also believe page speed, and all technical factors will be an ever increasing ranking factor.”
Brandon Seymour, Founder & CEO of Beymour Consulting
“I think Google will eventually start focusing more on link diversity. Not so much in terms of the specific domains, but the types of sites and links. For instance, if a site’s backlink profile consists of only directory links, chances are these aren’t natural links. Even if the directories are legitimate, authoritative sites. I also see Google cracking down on certain types of editorial links. I think Google is getting better at understanding which links come from roundup posts, and which ones are true editorial links. Eventually, they may also be able to identify other link building tactics, such as articles on different sites, written by the same author, linking to the same site(s). I’ve even heard some SEOs warn against broken link building, since a large number of broken links suddenly linking to one domain could be a red flag.”
Sally Kane, Director of Content for PaperStreet
“Search engines use backlinks as a crucial factor in determining organic rankings. However, the importance of backlinking is declining and will become obsolete in 10 to 15 years as search engine algorithms become more sophisticated. In the future, successful sites will focus on generating original, valuable, reader-centric content that informs, educates and inspires their target audience. This is the type of content that users will want to share and link to and will eliminate the need to game the system through engineered backlinks.”
Travis McGinnis, Technical Marketing Manager at Leighton Interactive
“Backlinks are the voting system of the internet. Since it’s so difficult to get good backlinks, I see them becoming even more powerful in the future. With algorithms becoming more human-like every day, I won’t be surprised if search engines will be able to give weight to a backlink by indexing the actual content of the page down to the preferences of the individual searcher. Similar to what we’re seeing now with customized search results, but implemented into the backlinking algorithms.
Getting a backlink from a popular site will be the crème de la crème for SEOs more than it is now, and the competition for those backlinks will become even more coveted. Long form content of exceptional value will become the norm and will continue to push the “fluff” content lower down the SERPs. Users will expect great content, and Google will continue honoring sites that have it.”
Marcio Resende, SEO Expert & Founder of Rio X Marketing
“The end of backlinks is near. As search engines or “The Big G” shifts away from backlinks and focuses on social signals and brand mentions, backlinks are becoming more and more obsolete. In 10 to 15 years from now backlinks will mean as much as Page Rank means today. Nothing! The backlinks of the future will be the actual user interaction with the brand and that means the algorithm will take in consideration all conversations on earth. SMS and email will actually have a lot more impact on rankings than anything else. It will measure how many times you talk about a brand or service. It will be about what you say and talk in a daily basis. Smartphones will actually interact with your face expressions and submit them to search engines after you searched something online. Positive faces means the user was satisfied with the search.”
Nick LeRoy, SEO Manager at Ovative/group
“I don’t think the future value of links will change much if at all. I do think, however, that Google will continue to stress quality and will only tighten their algorithms to devalue manipulative and or low value links. Historically, relevance, anchor text or sure quantity was enough to rank any website. The future will see ‘Penguin’ like updates that reward sites that truly have valuable backlinks pointing to them.”
Ryan Satterfield, President of Planet Zuda
“10 to 15 years from now backlinks may not look the same way they do today. We are going towards a AR and VR world, which will integrate portions of the internet, but already displays it differently. It’s hard to say how backlinks will look, but it isn’t hard to say how they’ll be generated. Good quality places that talk about a product whether it’s news or otherwise, or friends in virtual reality discussing things that provide some form of a referral to a site. Companies that spam everywhere on the web trying to advertise a company will only hurt your site, in the present and in the future.”
Chris Hornak, CEO & Owner of Blog Hands
“10 to 15 years is a long time in the internet world. Devices, content, consumer behavior, and search engines will evolve a lot in that time-frame.
Though backlinks have been a key ranking factor since the launch of Google. How Google grades your backlinks has changed to focus on natural quality backlinks and has learned to weed out the bad backlinks.
As Google’s algorithm leans more on its artificial intelligence and it’s ability to review large sets of data to spot patterns in searcher behavior and web design trends. I believe internet marketers will learn to not look at SEO tactics like backlinks but more at developing quality marketing campaigns that help their customers needs and provide Google with quality content for their search results.”
Jonny Dempster, Founding Director at Rushh Digital
“Google has tested numerous times results which aren’t based on backlinks, and based on other factors such as brand metrics, citations and quality of content. However, they have reported that the quality is poor for the end user. In 10 – 15 years, we predict that social media will have a bigger impact on rankings as the amount of content being created and syndicated is experiencing ‘Moore’s Law’.
Google’s business model is based on answering questions that users have – ignoring this content that users are engaging with will be damaging in the long term, meaning that social platforms keep users locked into their platform.
My advice for businesses large and small is to still focus on backlinks, but build them with a solid content strategy to become an ‘authority’ within your vertical. This will future proof you for years to come, with content driving traffic from all digital channels.”
My feeling is that we’ll see a movement toward contextual backlinks. Google founded itself based on backlinks and I think that in its efforts to deliver more relevancy to its audience, you’ll see them valuing links that not only are of high domain authority, but that are contextually-related to the destination. Take an airline website for instance. The links that will be most valuable to them will be articles on travel websites where not only is the airline mentioned, but featured. So in essence, the Google alghorithm will take into consideration the overall article and how the company is referenced, rather than just finding the backlink and valuing it based on that site’s domain authority.
I think another trend we’ll see is the increase value placed on local, contextual backlinks. I’m hopeful that Google will start to move away somewhat from valuing quantity of backlinks as well as valuing citations.