When Google launched its’ Penguin and Panda updates to its search engine algorithm, it became pretty obvious that the gig was up when it came to using backlinks to improve an individual web page’s site ranking. For years, black hat IMers had been packing their pages with inorganic backlines because – up until the updates, anyway – having tons of backlinks in general could land you on the front page for your keywords. And if you included links from authoritative sites – such as About.com or Wikipedia – you had a very good chance of landing in the top spot!

Panda/Penguin was a response to that flaw in the system. But there’s still been a lingering belief among Internet marketers that backlinks were still important, regardless of what Google said. And because Google keeps the details of how its algorithm work so hush-hush, no one ever knew for sure.

I mean, backlinks couldn’t hurt, right?


At least that’s the impression John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends analyst, gave during a Google+ Hangout session on February 13. Googlle hinted that if you bet all the ranch on backlinks to improve your web rankings, you’re in for a rude awakening.

‘I’d Try to Avoid That’

When asked by a Hangouts participant whether backlinks had any value for improving rankings, Mueller quickly replied, “In general I’d try to avoid that.”

Loose lips sink ships and Google has protected the inner workings of its search engine algorithm as if they were state secrets (and given the recent revelations from the NSA, they may actually be!). But Mueller may have tipped the Internet giant’s hand slightly – either by accident or on purpose – by revealing what may be the first glimpse inside the inner workings of the search engine.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth?

Here’s the full text of Mueller’s answer:

“So that you are really sure that your content kind of stands on its own and make it possible for other people, of course, to link to your content,” Mueller continued. “Make it easy, maybe, put a little widget on your page, ‘If you like this, this is how you can link to it.’ Make sure that the URLs on your web site are easy to copy and paste. All of those things make it a little bit easier

“We do use links as part of our algorithm,” he said. “But we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your web site than actually helps.”

Game Changer?

This could be the clue that marketers have been hoping for about the way the Google search engine actually works. It certainly will have aftershocks for those people still selling automatic link-building software.

It’s not often that a Google executive lets something as revealing as this drop. And it’s going to be interesting to watch the consequences among top Internet marketers. The most logical interpretation of Mueller’s remarks is that too much link building – such as stuffing your blog or web pages with links or including inorganic links that are truly relevant to your content – eventually will be sniffed out by the Google algorithm. But that’s something we already knew, or at least suspected.

But the bottom line is that if, in fact, link building does actually cause your rankings to tumble, you probably will just have to wait a few more months before Googles’ next rumored search engine algorithm drops.

If there’s one thing Google’s successful at – other than owning the Internet’s most important search engine – it’s keeping people guessing on how to outsmart it.