Guest blog by Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic

News that a Google algorithm change could be deprioritising the value of links has caused a stir in the SEO world.

Long regarded as a stalwart of the ranking factors there are indications that ‘inferred’ links – eg brand mentions in context – are becoming increasingly important because Google’s algorithms are now sophisticated enough to interpret them.

Where links might once have carried a value of 20 or 50 times that of a brand citation today it is closer to two or three times, depending on the relevance, which is a potentially seismic shake-up if true.

Which it could very well be. 

Google changes its algorithms all the time and it has no obligation to tell anyone about it. Sometimes you will get wind of the changes straight away, sometimes you will hear about them in six months time by which point you are already backpedaling.

But this latest change should come as no surprise. Indications that Google was shifting from “exogenous”’ to “endogenous” signals have been there for at least five years.  As we wrote in our 2017 white paper, links may well be an indicator of trust, but they are a rater shallow one.

“Google’s algorithms in the future are more likely to incorporate the time people spend on the page and the way they interact with content”. Relevance is also key, but the point is to make it work homogeneously, as part of a package. 

The underlying shift is that Google is moving towards humanising search rankings. As Rand Fishkin points out, that’s because for its first 15 years of existence Google’s algorithms were designed by committees of engineers. Today they are designed by people. The old proxies for ‘votes’ don’t rank like they used to.

This is potentially good news as far as the intersection between PR and SEO is concerned. If you already have context, authenticity, relevancy and authority at the heart of everything you do then you are already half way there. If you are already taking a more considered approach towards link building then there should be no issue either.

The key take-home is not that links are no longer relevant, but that they should be considered as just one slice in a more complex SEO pie. Google isn’t moving away from links – it’s moving towards more meaningful ranking factors.