What does the future hold for Google’s page rank system?

Is link building about to be killed off?

Broken ChainSince a recent video post by Matt Cutts on Google’s WebmasterHelp YouTube channel, tongues have been frantically wagging in SEO circles regarding the future of Google’s page rank system and link building in general.

In the video entitled “Is there a version of Google that excludes back links as a ranking factor?“, Matt discusses the fact that internally, Google are experimenting and testing a version of their search engine that works entirely without taking into account links and page rank factors.

Although the ‘experiment’ is still (apparently) at an early stage with results being pretty low-quality, it does beg the question: what does the Big G have planned for the future of search? Is link building about to be killed or should we not overreact?

The value of links are slowly dwindling

Anyone who has been in SEO for a fair amount of time will know for a fact that link building is becoming tougher and the value of links is slowly decaying. Hey; if you were one of the smart ones you would have been prepared long in advance. Social media and other real-time signals are tacking precedence. It’s called progress right?

But before we all slam our notepads on the table or spit out our coffee, it’s fair to assume that the day that links are finally killed off are a long way away. Google has invested heavily in developing algorithms and code that relies heavily on link factors so it’s not like the switch is going to be pulled anytime soon.

Like any smart tech business, Google is looking to the future. It knows that any dramatic changes to the search engine architecture could have massive, negative repercussions however, they openly admit that the page ranks system is flawed and needs to be improved, if not replaced some time soon.

The past two years will expose just how flakey Google’s page rank architecture truly is. First we had a time when SEOs could easily manipulate the search results and push clients sites to the top in no time at all. Google got wind of that and started brandishing penalties last year to all and sundry. But solving that problem created another by introducing the dark and down right dirty world of negative SEO to the world, seeing competing sites deliberately and covertly build poor quality links to each other in the aim of getting their nearest enemies penalised.

Google in their wisdom thought they had cracked the nut when all they had done was exacerbate the problem. So is it any surprise that they are now seriously considering abandoning page rank and using other, more reliable factors to build their search results? Not at all.

So will Google hit the kill switch?

It’s highly doubtful that Google will make a switch from one system to the other overnight. That could be catastrophic. What is more likely is that as each new algorithm change is released, the search results will be generated using less and less linking factors and more reliable, less malleable factors.

Google’s Web Spam team in the meantime have been hard at work trying to seek out and punish those who are gaming the present system. This could be seen as a long term as well as short term solution to how search works now and how it will work in the future.

Put it this way; if and when Google does discard the page rank algorithm, it doesn’t suddenly want all the sites that cheated appearing back at the top of page one. So they brandish the penalties now, ensuring that when the time comes to make the change, they remain in limbo whilst the sites that stuck to the paths laid out get rewarded and get found.

Of course, this is just an inkling and I have no documented evidence to back this up but what I do know is that Google never spends millions working on an in-house project or gives a team a task without considering the long game. I may be wrong but they need to ensure they maintain their position as the world’s top search engine so quality is their number one priority.

For now, link building is still very much alive in an ever more narrowed form but the smart SEOs out there are already looking beyond the days of when linking factors are gone and Google has moved onto new data harvesting techniques.

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