Why ‘links’ will die by 2017

Death of gaining natural links

Links will ultimately disappear because of the increasing popularity of mobile devices [1], coupled with our user behaviour this will kill links: We do not link out to other web sites on mobiles, as such, search engines are beginning to place more weight on other ranking factors apart from links and on-page signals. Google, for example, are improving their page speed test tool to include UX metrics. Matt Cutts has also said that link data was removed in an internal Google experiment which suggests Googlers are actively reviewing their algorithm in light of mobile user behaviour.

In March 2014 Yandex gradually started to remove link data for commercial queries claiming over 800 ranking factors are reviewed because user behaviour is a much clearer and natural signal.

3 links, what and why?

  • Internal links are connected with UX because they encourage page views; thus increasing engagement and viewing duration, for instance. An increase in mobile device use will not impact the number of internal links by 2017 because web developers and content management systems will continually be used on desktop devices.
  • Out-going, like internal, links are also followed by search engines but out-going link data is analysed to assist search engines to determine and improve relevance and authority. If, say, for instance, HandmadeShoeStore.com linked out to QualityLeather.com then this site’s authority will increase. Out-going links will not change in 2017.
  • Incoming links are going to be most affected by increased mobile use because the majority of your mobile users cannot link back to your site’s content. Google’s current best practice states that links should be earnt but by 2017 most users will be using mobile, and starting to increase wearable device use, with a technical inability to link out. For this reason alone search engines will have changed their ranking tactics because they are aware that the SEO industry will be the majority of active link builders therefore not neutral; thus unsuitable to use in an algorithm.
  • Always about mobile?

    An eHandwriting device, Telautograph, was patented in 1888 by Elisha Gray. The theory and discussion goes back much further than one initially thinks.

    Google’s new engine, Hummingbird, has the power to process social media data but due to it’s fast-paced, spam-like nature social media links will not soley replace current links. Social links could be used as quality indicators but not the only method. Is an article that get lots of mentions, favourites and likes a great article to rank?

    Can links be saved?

    It is possible that browsers could be redesigned to include an easy link building tool but since it would be a new feature getting existing users to regularly use it would prove difficult because our behaviour is difficult to change. Mobile device use, furthermore, is usually much shorter than desktop or laptop so time and ease of use would be key to such a tool.

    Search engines will simply move towards UX and write a comprehensive algorithm to rank web sites rather than relying heavily on link metrics. Will the new anchor text be social media messages in order to get contextualised keyword data? Is this why search engines are pushing their own social media platforms? How will search engines overcome bot traffic which can negatively increase bounce rates, negatively impacting UX, thus rankings, in 2017? There are still a lot of search engine developments to be made; in the meantime keep link building in 2014.

    [1] globally 3G smartphone has 25% penetration (2% for 4G) and some countries have high 3G penetration. Japan, Italy, USA and the UK, for instance, have 88%, 91%, 71% and 73%, respectively

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