Despite the potential for abuse, links are essential parts of Google's search algorithms, according to Matt Cutts.

Backlinks have become a pain point for marketers. They’re an important part of ranking highly in SERPs, but Google has been paying closer attention to the integrity of links and punishing sites that generate links inorganically. For a prime example from the recent past, see Brafton’s coverage of the Rap Genius link saga. In short, the site was penalized for accumulating links to boost their search rankings – but they bounced back in no time with a quick fix.

Google’s latest algorithm, Hummingbird, stresses a move toward semantic search. Essentially, links won’t be as relevant going forward. So, why doesn’t Google just eliminate them altogether now and focus on other metrics for search results? That was the question a user posed to Matt Cutts, head of the Webspam team at Google. In a Webmaster Help video, Cutts opened up about backlinks, and whether or not Google had experimented with algorithms that ignored them.

In his own words: “We’ve played around with the idea of turning off backlink relevance, and at least for now, backlink relevance helps in terms of making sure we return the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results.” 

It’s unsurprising that this is the case. Despite the fact that backlinks are ripe for abuse, they do give Google an excellent indication of websites that create quality content and are integral parts of an informational web.

Don’t try to cheat the system

When it comes to SEO, the idea of optimizing a website by means other than producing relevant, high-quality content is becoming much less feasible – and this comes directly from the horse’s mouth. The more value you create for users, the more likely your web content will be shared across the web. 

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.