The SEO community is frantic due to a recent change of verbiage on the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Google’s changed a line on the guidelines here: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=34432
What does it mean?
As you can see – they have removed the mention of high quality links. SEO’s are in a fit about the change, jumping to the apocalyptic scenario that this is signaling the end of links as a ranking factor. I for one might welcome a change of this magnitude, given the poor quality of search results on so many queries, a little shake-up might be just what Google’s results need.
Luckily, the reality is that Google will not ever remove links as a ranking factor, and most likely will continue to make links the primary and most significant signal they use for the rest of their existence. Google was built on links as a ranking signal, it’s was enabled them to overtake the search giants of the past (remember Altavista anyone?).
So the zombie apocalypse isn’t right around the corner?
No, zombies aren’t going to inherit the earth, and links will continue to provide the same exact level of influence on your rankings as they always have. So, why would Google change this? Well, in my opinion it’s a feeble attempt at decreasing the attention links have always and will continue to get from the SEO community. You see, any small business owner trying to get higher in search results is likely to read endless recommendations from any one of ten thousand SEO websites telling him to build more links. As a small business owner, with a lot more on his plate that take priority over managing SEO, the business owner is likely to fall victim to bad link practices.
Trying to build links for a site is hard, it takes time and it’s not something most small business owners are capable of in their spare time. If they do try to build links, as all those ‘SEO gurus’ have told them, they’ll probably take the shortcuts that are destined to hurt his site in the long run. Google’s updated the language they use on their guidelines specifically to eliminate any sort of confirmation the previous language might have provided to a small business owner looking to validate his ideas to start a link building campaign.
This really won’t work since it’s likely that despite not seeing “increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages” on Google’s site, the business owner will see their competitors link profiles filled with spam links and they’ll repeat the same error their competitors did. Link spam on local sites is rampant! It’s a virus that Google’s trying to kill but finding it more and more difficult. When a business owner has committed link spam in an attempt to promote their site, they will sooner or later be hit by Penguin or a manual penalty and their business will have to survive without all the free traffic they’d been seeing from Google. It’s a vicious struggle, but Google’s obviously taking what actions they can to attempt to lessen the number of business that fall into the trap.