Is Linking Dead for SEO?

google-logoIn a controversial and much talked about post by Matt Cutts, entitled “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO,” the head of Google’s Webspam team declares that guest posting for SEO purposes is dead.

In his post, which has been edited several times for clarity, he attempts to clarify that Google is targeting spammy links only, but leaves the door open for linking for legitimate purposes.

Google is in an unenviable position, where it needs, not just wants, but needs to rein in the problem of spammy content, but at the same time needs to avoid penalizing legitimate websites.

The biggest problem is how to determine if a link is organic or not, since webmasters are not disclosing whether a link is sponsored or not.  We all have seen spammy websites in Google’s search results, but now we are starting to see legitimate websites penalized for actions of third parties.

Toxic Links

Google has created such a scare that webmasters are left wondering if they should link to other websites at all, especially their own.  Google says its fine to do so, but some webmasters are not sure they want to take that risk.

The danger to Google is that it will frighten webmasters away from creating organic links, which will give Google less content to crawl, which will reduce the size and quality of their index.

In the current state of things, Google is declaring spammy links dead, at least for the purpose of gaining attention of search engines.  That is clear.  What is not so clear is whether organic linking is truly safe as well, as Google claims, especially those in the gray area.  For example, linking to other websites you own could be considered spammy by one observer, and useful by another.

Unfortunately Black Hat SEO will Adapt

The bigger problem is that black hat SEO will just change their tactics.  If linking becomes toxic, then the best way to manipulate Google’s results would be to create spammy content linking to competing websites.

So it is actually possible that if Google becomes too heavy handed on link spam, they could unintentionally create additional link spam, meant to discredit legitimate websites.

We are already seeing an increase in comment spam linking to Google and no other website.  I am pretty sure Google did not post or authorize those links.  I wonder how many other spammy links are false flags as well.

Linking is Dying for SEO

Links are no longer a reliable measure of the relevance and importance of a website.

While Google is trying to scare spammers, and at the same time trying to calm the fears of webmasters the world over, the reality is that links are going to have to be deemed less important in Google’s search algorithm.  They just are not an accurate indicator anymore.

Over time, what we are going to see is a rise of new indicators, such as Google Authorship, and social media mentions to supplement and perhaps even replace linking as the primary indicator of relevance, popularity and importance.

Linking is not dead yet, but whether this happens this year or next year, this is the direction things are going.

On whether or not you should link to other websites, that is up to you.  But link because it is useful, or you want people to click on the links, not because you want Google to increase a website’s rank.


  1. By the way, if you have already read Matt’s post, but it was while ago, be aware that Matt has edited it several times to try to clarify what he means by “Guest Posting is Dead.” You may want to revisit his blog post to see if there is any new insights and clarifications.

  2. […] a previous article, we talked about “Is linking dead for SEO?” and Matt Cutt’s statement that guest blogging for SEO is dead.  Due to link spam, […]

  3. I updated the article a bit to make it clear that linking is not dead yet, but is going to lose prominence as we see Google Authorship, social media, and other factors become more important.

  4. […] Google starts to incorporate more indicators into its algorithm, we are going to start seeing the decline of links as the major indicator of a web page’s worth, and see the increase in importance of social media mentions, website reputation, publisher […]

  5. […] the Google Authorship program, and is getting very aggressive about link spam (see my article Is Linking Dead for SEO? for some commentary about […]

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