In case you haven’t noticed, Google is determined to make its search engine as “human-like” as possible. This means it wants to eliminate the potential for humans to superficially influence the content it serves to its customers.

The manipulation we speak of is called called link building, and it’s been practiced now for many years. The goal: to obtain as many links as possible pointing to a single domain, with hopes of tricking Google into thinking the domain is “popular”, thus boosting its authority and rankings.

Year after year marketers have speculated that Google is moving away from a link-based economy, and closer to unveiling a new method for measuring brand authority, or “popularity”. But how is it possible to measure something so subjective, and at such a massive scale?

A patent filed for earlier this year (a subject of intense debate ever since), lays out some telling albeit coded language related to an intent to utilize a combination of historical search data, link quality and brand mentions to determine relevance and authority. This could be the way Google plans on determining brand popularity.

Most telling, the patent distinctly separates “popularity” and links, which is a clear indication that link-building-only strategies will soon be a thing of the past.

While it has not officially been announced that the patent will be integrated into Google’s existing search algorithm, all signs point to it becoming a reality in the near future.

The Patent’s Impacts on SEO & Link Building

While the patent’s language is, perhaps intentionally, confusing and complex, a close look reveals several golden nuggets that have been widely discussed by industry experts like Rand Fishkin of Moz:

1. Reference Queries
“A reference query for a particular group of resources is a previously submitted search query that has been categorized as referring to a resource in the particular group of resources.”

Interpretation: Google’s new algorithm will analyze search terms used by people to find and click on a site or group of sites, and use the data to determine what terms are semantically relevant. In short, Google will be looking for brand mentions used in search queries to gain a better understanding of authority or popularity.

2. Weighting The Importance of Links
“The method of claim 1, wherein determining a respective group-specific modification factor for a particular group of resources comprises: determining an initial modification factor for the particular group of resources, wherein the initial modification factor is a ratio of a number of independent links counted for the particular group to the number of reference queries counted for the particular group.”

“For example, the initial score can be, e.g., a measure of the relevance of the resource to the search query, a measure of the quality of the resource, or both.”

Interpretation: Google will be looking at the quality of links and placing higher authority on ones with the most relevance. This means scenarios like multiple links from a single site, or links from unscrupulous sites, may be devalued. The key here is quality over quantity.

3. Expressed or Implied LInks
“The system determines a count of independent links for the group (step 302). A link for a group of resources is an incoming link to a resource in the group, i.e., a link having a resource in the group as its target. Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. […] An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.”

Interpretation: Brand mentions (or citations) which do not contain URL links will factor into the way Google assesses SEO value. Google will consider implied targets, meaning a mention of “Brand X” will trigger implied association with “”.

What Does This All Mean?

Google will now have the ability to store info about brand names used in search queries to determine which websites have related content. From here, the authority or popularity of the sites can be assessed, which in turn will influence associated SERP rankings.

For the past several years, SEO experts have been talking about Google’s preference for brands. The rumor mill has been churning for some time now, and we’ve all seen it coming: link building as we know it, appears to be dead.

In order to adhere to these changes, marketers need to adopt the “user-first” mentality, as opposed to obsessing over what search engines (non-humans) want.

Matt Cutts, head of web spam at Google, released the following video as a follow-up to the Panda patent.

Key Takeaway:
Mr. Cutts makes a clear distinction between links and site popularity, and expresses a desire for more popular sites to rank higher. This separation creates a massive paradigm shift, as it deals with how link equity is weighted, and relevance is measured. That is huge!

How Does This Impact Your SEO Strategy?

Evidence suggests that Google is quickly moving towards a system that rewards content generated for people, and not for search engines. This most likely means the demotion of links built for the sake of link building, and promotion of links and/or mentions that the algorithm proves to be relevant, popular and authoritative.

Remember, links are not the only way to generate online PR. Build a brand that people love to interact with, and SEO success will follow.

Some suggestions for ensuring you’re ahead of the curve:
– Create compelling content that entices readers to engage and share.
– When necessary, settle for nofollow links, as they will still contribute to contextual association and drive users to relevant content.
– When building a link is not possible, settle for a mention or citation. This servers the same purpose as #2.
– Use Google’s Disavow tool to clean up link profiles (i.e. remove links that may be deemed as spammy).

by Fuze October 6, 2014