In a Google Hangout session last month, John Mueller sparked speculation that we may see a move to a world where links were no longer a vital ranking factor. Later, Matt Cutts added more fuel to the speculation by saying that internally Google did have a ranking system where links were not used as a ranking factor in the SERPs, but that this was just an experimental system. Google has, apparently, been working on a ranking system that relies on what it calls endogenous signals. Instead of relying on popularity to rank a website, fact-based signals are used instead. This is an interesting idea because it could go a long way towards getting rid of confirmation bias, and would greatly improve the quality of search results, however, does it really mean that link building will go away entirely?
Link Building vs Link Acquisition
For a long time, low quality, scattergun link building has plagued the SEO world. There are still many grey-hat SEO workers who buy and sell links in a bid to game Googles ranking system, and while this practice is not as effective as it once was, Google cannot completely clamp down on link networks, so there is still some benefit towards aggressive link acquisition. A fact-based system of rankings would help to stop this practice, and it is not as far-fetched an idea as it might seem at first. Google already has a strong knowledge graph system and it could well use that system to rate the quality of information on websites. Where this idea falls down, however, is in the world of reviews and opinions. How can Google tell whether one opinion or preference is better than another? Since opinions will always be debated, some form of voting system (like links) is a good idea. Of course, Google could use the quality of facts on a website as a metric to determine whether the sites opinions are likely to be well thought-out, but it seems a good idea to also rely on links as some sort of external validation of those opinions. Link building may be becoming de-emphasised, but it is far from dead. As long as the information on your site is good and your content is engaging and entertaining, there is no need to change what you are doing right now – building links is not a wasted effort.