We know how much Google depends on external links for assigning some value to a site and a page. And because we all know that, backlink building has been much abused – so that it is no more that easy to define when people are linking for merit and when they are linking for some other reasons.
That being said, it is quite logical to assume that Google might be using some other external factors to make judgments how valuable the site is. Apart from much discussed brand authority, is it possible that there is some type of “virtual” backlink (and by “virtual” I don’t mean that it doesn’t really exist – what I mean is that it is not what we are used to mean by “direct” backlink you can click to land on the destination page).
For example, by using an image hosted on another domain, do we show Google that we are “borrowing” that image giving thus Google another signal of that site “usefulness”? (Remember our last year’s discussion on whether hotlinking may be any positive signal at all?) Or can any of the previously discussed page discovery methods also serve as a “virtual link” signaling about the referred site quality?
A short WebmasterWorld thread mentions the related observations and assumptions: Quoting the administrator,
At PubCon Austin I had the chance to discuss this with Matt Cutts – specifically in the context of Googlebot crawling urls found through form submission. In such situations, Google adds a “virtual link” to the web graph – and it is then active in various kinds of link juice calculation.
Have you ever noticed the effect of “virtual” links on your site performance?