Matt Cutts Explains What Google Search Would Be Like Without Backlinks As A Ranking Tool

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Matt Cutts Explains What Google Search Would Be Like Without Backlinks As A Ranking Tool

Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, answers a question about backlinks in his latest Webmaster Help video where a user writes in to ask:

Hi Matt, does the big G have a version of the search engine that totally excludes any backlink relevance? I’m wondering what search would look like and am curious to try it out.

There’s no version of Google matching that description that is exposed to the public. However, Google has run experiments like this internally and Matt says the quality is much worse.

Even though some noise and a lot of spam gets through into Google search rankings as a result of backlink building, Matt says for the most part backlinks are still a huge win when it comes to returning quality search results.

Google has played around with the idea of turning off backlink relevance, but at least for now it’s still an important indicator that helps Google return the best, most relevant, and most topical set of search results.

To hear Matt’s very brief answer in his own words, please see the video below:

Could you imagine a Google search where backlinks didn’t matter? Unfortunately I’m sure spammers would find something else to abuse in no time. In fact, maybe if Google let us take a look at their experimental search results that disregard backlinks we’d all be thanking Google for being so strict about them.

Kind of fun to think about anyway, makes you wonder what other kind of experiments Google has going on .

Matt Southern
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing... Read Full Bio
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  • Matt O’Toole

    …what would be “link”? “be like”, you mean? Hasn’t Yandex done exactly this recently?

    • Chris Melfi

      yes they did, ironic that G says the SERPs would look much worse :/

  • Stuart Morris

    Still is a double edge sword. Natural links can be as dangerous as bought. Google needs to make up there mind to use or not to use backlinks. Who wants to play that Russian Roulette anymore. I have a website that has ZERO bought links and still got penalized. its a resort town website, naturally linked too, so who knows. The G needs to get a grip and let links be.

  • Chris Melfi

    Long Live Links! lol

  • Reg Charie

    How does Matt reconcile that Google has told us that links (PageRank) is not an actionable metric?
    Doesn’t this mean that we will not see the difference that links make?

    Technically they still factor in links, but the influence they have is extremely minor.
    In 2008 Udi Manber, VP of engineering at Google, wrote on the Official Google Blog:

    “The most famous part of our ranking algorithm is PageRank, an algorithm developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google. PageRank is still in use today, but it is now a part of a much larger system.”

    That was 6 years ago and (my) results show that links have steadily decreased in importance as their text factoring improved.

  • AmyColon

    Yandex done exactly the same job πŸ™‚
    let’s see what worse would happen next….:(

  • Mohnesh Kohli

    I agree with Matt Cutts Spammer will follow even the search results comes without considering back links. Google cannot leave backlinks considerations at any stage.

    • Nikhil Makwana

      Matt Cutts Spammer
      Matt Cutts, Spammer

      Please do not take this harsh, but I read this thrice to understand that are you him spammer?

    • Nikhil Makwana


      Matt Cutts Spammer
      Matt Cutts, Spammer

      Please do not take this harsh, but I read this thrice to understand that are you calling him spammer?

  • Adegboye Adeniyi

    Lol. Long live Link earning.

  • Stewart Thompson

    What about flipping the algorithm so outbound links play a ranking factor? Not inbound links. There is a search engine which already exists that does that. Google can do what it wants so eventually it will switch off the inbound links as a ranking factor, after all Matt Cutts is trying to push everyone down the content marketing route.

  • SEO Company Chandigarh

    An informative article indeed. There so much information out there to be implemented and executed on the SEO front, that one needs to be proactive and stay in sync with changing times.

  • Oliver Shiel

    I am loving Matt’s “Shooting Panda” banksy t-shirt!

  • Rakesh Desai

    Spammers would find a way no matter what.
    But it would really be interesting to experience how Google Search would be like without backlinks as a ranking tool.
    Imagine all the chaos it would create πŸ˜€

  • Steffen

    there will be always people who try to game the system. this is an eternal battle between good and evil.

    sometimes it is good to leave some obvious doors open, then you know where spam is comming from. if you get rid these lowhangig fruits then spammmers will find ways that are much harder to detect.

  • Ryan

    So quality backlinks will matters in future as well also these days social votes count a lot.

  • James Halloran

    It would be interesting to see what a search engine would look like without all of the backlinks, but I guess I do see Cutts’ point about it making search results worse. Backlinks are the signals to fresh and relevant content anyway.

  • Rakesh

    Conclusion by BACKLINK and PAGE RANK is possible but how it is by CONTENT not exactly

  • Imtiaz Ali

    It will look creepy long live links, LOL πŸ˜‰

  • Divakar Mishra

    Mutt cleared many of the SEO professionals doubts…

  • Kheng

    Its always interesting to see what Google is coming up with, but I don’ think backlinking is going away anytime soon.

  • Edward Nash

    I certainly was under the impression that in the near future links would no longer be used as a ranking factor by Google. Perhaps this means that Google isn’t as great at crawling content than as everyone thinks?

  • jack

    It means try to focus on the quality links not quantity. Thanks Matts

  • Mridula

    Backlink is the backbone of search results. So Google can never opt it out. It is something that is inseparable from search engines. Google can only refine it by taking quality of links in consideration but it can never remove its usage in showing results on SERP.

  • KJ

    >>Kind of fun to think about anyway, makes you wonder what other kind of experiments Google has going on .

    I gotta be honest with you, I’d rather not know. Ever since they’ve given up on “do no evil”, it could literally be ANYTHING.

  • Swayam Das

    A search engine without backlink relevance can be something like a blind man without its walking stick. Let’s say Google does exclude the backlinking factor then additional ranking factors such as PageRank will also lose importance. Honestly speaking, even I wanna try out something like this πŸ™‚

  • Joe Simmonds

    I’ve thought about this a lot. I can imagine that SERPs that aren’t influenced by backlinks would be vastly different. It’s reassuring that we’re not going full-blown social just yet πŸ™‚

  • Rose Denholm

    In all fairness Matt is right to say that spammers would find another way of taking advantage. I feel that links heavily count towards search positions.

  • Gokhan

    Anti spammers are here to work and do their job. And spammers as usual will continue to focus on how to find an alternative solution to spam again. This is the condition with the net.

  • Felix Kingsley

    Now a days its not possible to get free backlinks so how would we rank our websites? Unless and until we manipulate links, I guess its not possible to rank on any keyword.