If you are a search engine optimizer you know how important link building is to your rankings. The problem is that these days most people are aware that link building works and have found ways to exploit and dominate the process.
I have heard stories ranging from Chinese sweatshop link builders to automated software solutions that essentially pollute the Internet with garbage (fake profiles, bogus blog comments, etc.). Anyone who attempts to game the system is usually doing everyone a disservice. There will be a short-term gain from getting ranked well for your keyword but eventually you will be removed altogether.
I am sure that the engineers at Google are already working on several plans to make link popularity less relevant in the future. I have made a short list of things I think would be useful tools to judge the popularity of a website, brand, person, product.
Mentions Within The Social Media Space.
Increasingly, social media sites like twitter offer new metrics into the world of popularity. Not only is the data up-to-date and current, it’s much more difficult for anyone to mimic a piece of content going viral and social media. Companies like Google could easily make deals with Facebook and twitter to access their data feeds and use them as a gauge for popularity.
Additionally, Google could search for mentions of the name of a company, twitter account for that company, or any subsequent products as a measure of likability.
Mentions Within E-Mail Communications.
Google is now one of the largest free e-mail providers in the world. It would be very simple for them (if they aren’t already) to monitor the number of times a link is sent through Gmail’s mail servers. This would also be difficult to game because your accounts would quickly get flagged for spam. Additionally Google can monitor the Gmail accounts to see which ones appear to be trying to increase their footprint.
Although I believe that your link popularity score will always play a role in your final ranking. I think it’s time for that metric to stop beating the primary source of data for Google. Once this happens, companies will increasingly be working towards social media strategies to help their bottom line.
If you participate in any kind of link building consider this. Quality will trump quantity in the future. One really good Flickr profile will be better than 100 crappy blog comments. Try to engage the communities within each one of your social profiles online.