Google's Matt Cutts: We Tested Dropping Backlinks From Algorithm, It Was Much Worse

Feb 20, 2014 • 8:39 am | comments (64) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

matt cutts backlinks algorithmGoogle's Matt Cutts latest video has Google admitting they did and do indeed test their search results by turning off linkage data as part of their algorithm. Matt Cutts said the results would be "much much worse" if they did indeed do that in real life.

That does indeed make sense since Google's core algorithm was mostly based on links and PageRank and all these years they spent improving on it and such. They invested so much time and resources in using links to rank sites that dropping it now would make for a mess.

It is funny, because a couple weeks ago, we asked you what you would do if Google dropped backlinks from the algorithm. We so far have over 300 responses and 34% said they would be very excited, 32% said they'd be curious and 17% said they'd be very concerned.

Here is Matt's video on the topic:

Here is the transcription:

So we don't have a version like that that is exposed to the public but we have our own experiments like that internally and the quality looks much much worse. It turns out backlinks, even though there is some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really really big win in terms of quality of search results.

We played around with the idea of turning off backlink relevance and at least for now backlinks relevance still really helps in terms of making sure that we turn the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results.

Forum discussion at Twitter and WebmasterWorld.

Previous story: Bing Updates Webmaster Guidelines: Keyword Stuffing Now Off Limits



02/20/2014 01:46 pm

Barry, you look very pensive in the video screen-grab on the right. What were you thinking about?


02/20/2014 02:49 pm

munchies prolly lol... jk

Josh Zehtabchi

02/20/2014 04:47 pm

So, if you removed links and link spam you would be left with keyword stuffing and manipulative content. Either way you have a challenge. Makes perfect sense though. Nice share.

Allena Abas

02/20/2014 05:32 pm

That's true if Google withdraws backlinks the results will be totally insane. The conclusion is BACKLINKS are still important!

Mark Bulger

02/20/2014 06:08 pm

Translation- expect the exact opposite. Google plans to deploy the updated search engine that doesn't use backlinks. More chaos = more adwords.

PM Fiorini

02/20/2014 06:14 pm

Given the lack of social data for Google's Algo (except G+), it would be hard to rank sites appropriately. So, high quality links are still important, which makes sense.

PM Fiorini

02/20/2014 06:17 pm

Not quiet true. E-commerce economic studies shows that paid search clicks benefit from good solid, relevant organic results. So, until Google finds a better way, links still count to some degree apparently.


02/20/2014 06:21 pm

I love this news, coz see if they did put it live or in action, then moz, ahref would be dead in terms of backlinks profile! Many software who track backlink profile would be of no use. First of all such experiments won't be successful becz logically LINKS are the connecting points, so there is no question of turning it off. If you want to turn spam off make BACKLINK FILTER Algo!

Alexander Hemedinger

02/20/2014 06:27 pm

It does, but best way of methods would be to create social media awareness and have it shared throughout and perhaps someone write about it etc. Forget them directories and blog comments. :)

Takeshi Young

02/20/2014 07:47 pm

Social data, seriously? Have you seen the type of content that is popular on social media? Hint: It's memes and Upworthy videos.

Ashish Ahuja

02/20/2014 08:27 pm

Corollary: Google does not understand anything about content quality (except filters for spam), if it could gauge content quality from the content itself, the results would not be too bad if backlinks were removed from the picture.

Joe Moore

02/20/2014 10:23 pm

Ummm BACKLINK FILTER Algo! Would be penguin and it is already live

osman musa

02/20/2014 10:24 pm

So if they did a drop test does that mean they will return things back to the way it was? I have natural backlinks built up from people sharing articles on my site they find very useful. Forums and other sites share my links and I don't actually do backlink building but this link drop thing has caused havoc on me really.


02/20/2014 11:22 pm

"the quality looks much, much worse." Sounds like an admission that current quality is, indeed, bad and that turning off backlinks makes it even worse. Maybe we can extrapolate that in the opposite direction and come to the conclusion that Penguin did a lot of harm to overall search quality.


02/20/2014 11:51 pm

better drop wikipedia, youtube and amazon from organic search results.

PM Fiorini

02/21/2014 12:00 am

The problem is that the data from these networks is not reliable, robust nor sufficient to accurately analyze social authority. For instance, if Google had *complete* crawl access to all Facebook data (which is the largest social network by far), it could utilize social network analysis algorithms to more accurate assign authority values to content that is "shared" or "liked". I.e., currently, Google can only "guess" as these measures, which does not lead to reliable results.

Takeshi Young

02/21/2014 12:18 am

Yes, but content that is liked & shared the most != authoritative, useful, or even accurate content. It's just whatever content that hits people's emotional triggers (humor, outrage, aspiration). To then show the creators of these pieces of content higher in the search results would not result in better search results. Not to mention, a lot of these social media influencers are not even the creators of the content themselves (e.g. George Takei). Social media for the most part (including Facebook & Google+) is posting other people's content with no attribution. That and baby pictures.

PM Fiorini

02/21/2014 02:21 am

I am really unclear what you don't understand. I've been clear and accurate in my earlier post.

Takeshi Young

02/21/2014 02:24 am

I understand what you said perfectly. I am saying that social signals are a poor indicator of content quality or authority and not likely to improve Google's search results.


02/21/2014 03:36 am

Google needs to find a way to calculate popularity based on Facebook/Twitter shares.

Rakesh Singh

02/21/2014 04:49 am

Conclusion by BACKLINK and PAGE RANK is possible but how it is by CONTENT...

Soni Sharma

02/21/2014 05:32 am

Google always do such experiments. I hope in future it may find many ways to fight with spam. Backlinks will be a dominating factor till they find any other way to get relevant results.

Seema Chauhan

02/21/2014 05:43 am

As we know that Google always believe to do such a new experiment whatever they are. Thanks for aware me again...


02/21/2014 06:08 am

It will be very interesting if Google do such things. If they remove back links then what will be the other parameters to rank websites? Is it content, site structure or something else...


02/21/2014 06:09 am

Do you think it is possible??

Roman M

02/21/2014 07:36 am

as in "post hundreds of selfies to boost your own website" ;-)

Roman M

02/21/2014 07:38 am

I'm on Takeshi's side on this one...


02/21/2014 09:14 am

Will they use content as a ranking factor? No, no I don't think so.


02/21/2014 10:20 am

Great point. If Penguin is now essentially ignoring backlinks of all the sites that get penalised (and it's a LOT of sites), then surely the quality of results are getting worse - after all, they're ignoring the link influence on a large number of sites.


02/21/2014 10:23 am

Exactly right. After 16 years, they still can't judge what people care about : content. Furthermore, what of services? Companies that provide a great service don't automatically win links.


02/21/2014 12:27 pm

What Google need is return the original algorithm where we see quality in SERP. Then hire human staff to evaluate websites. It will take time but its the best option


02/21/2014 12:58 pm

That is in no way the best option for quality in the SERPs. The spam fighting that is currently going on is the way to ensure quality SERPs...there is no way to rely on manual review of every source, of every page, on every domain that makes any sort of economic/scaling/efficiency of time sense.


02/21/2014 12:59 pm

Of course that is is an awful idea from a 'for the user' standpoint, but it is certainly possible.

Ben Guest

02/21/2014 01:40 pm

Just the fact that they beta tested it should be red flags for everyone. Better get on that Google + profile. ;-)


02/21/2014 01:43 pm

If they did it with Craigslist they cqn do it wirh Youtube, eBay and Amazon, but oh wait, business and money first is the thing, isnt it?


02/21/2014 01:56 pm

Only 0.1% of people reading an article decide to share in a social network, that isn't enough data to play in the algorithm.

Courtney Cox

02/21/2014 02:22 pm

I'm curious - have you thought through how they might determine quality? Would they have subject matter experts from different industries/topics to determine quality for related sites? It seems difficult to scale. Your thoughts?


02/21/2014 02:25 pm

It's about what the majority of their users want and expect to see in any given SERP.


02/21/2014 02:50 pm

Penguin is live but many good sites also get hurt becz of it. So something better than penguin must come say "MAGIC ALGO" :)

Ashish Ahuja

02/21/2014 04:25 pm

osman, they did the test privately, never released it on their public algo

Ashish Ahuja

02/21/2014 04:26 pm

lol, are you an advocate, extrapolating so many meanings out of a statement.

Ashish Ahuja

02/21/2014 04:27 pm

do you think that cannot be manipulated

Ashish Ahuja

02/21/2014 04:29 pm

first, that is an impossible task, secondly, you cannot rule out bias with human evaluation.


02/21/2014 05:48 pm

I haven't mentioned anything about manipulation. The benefit however, would be that Google is missing ~80% of link shares by ignoring the social networking scene.

Ashish Ahuja

02/21/2014 06:12 pm

i am saying that if google starts calculating popularity based on twitter/facebook shares they can be easily manipulated


02/21/2014 07:15 pm

So can web results.


02/21/2014 07:17 pm

...and hurt a lot of legitimate webmasters who depended on their sites to feed their families. Google is like a dictator, what they see as good `is good` and everything else is spam.

Mayank Jain

02/21/2014 08:06 pm

Google was formed on PageRank patent. I do not think they will ever ignore the backlinks for SERP. However, if G+ and other factors will get advantage, that is also manipulative but it's not easy to fake G+ nowadays , so be careful. Since, we provide our website analytics to Google, it's a foolishness to use fake profiles because such profiles enhance your bounce rates as those are concerned only with number of likes. Only thing remains important is lowering your bounce rate and create backlinks for brands in high authority site in your niche.

osman musa

02/21/2014 09:18 pm

OK if it was an unreleased test. Why am I still affected? Shouldn't my traffic have come back the way it was?

Ashish Ahuja

02/21/2014 09:40 pm

"So we don't have a version like that that is exposed to the public but we have our own experiments like that internally" this is from the transcript above, they never released it to the public, your website may be affected by a wholly different issue than this.


02/22/2014 12:33 am


Gracious Store

02/22/2014 12:48 am

Good that G did a beta test on the relevance of backlinks, so what nexr ? Any changes in the type of backlinks that count towards ranking?


02/22/2014 02:33 am

An "advocate"? Your reply makes no sense. Perhaps you meant "actuary"? Rob proposed a single, possible conclusion extrapolated from Matt's statement, not "many meanings". Think before you speak.

PM Fiorini

02/22/2014 09:14 am

I agree.

Ashish Ahuja

02/22/2014 11:48 am

I meant taking a conclusion out of the statement which the person never meant in first place, the result after experiments were "much much worse" does not necessarily mean results before the experiment were "worse".


02/23/2014 05:31 am

I am relieved to a certain extent to hear that. Completely ignoring backlinks or social media signals just because there is a lot of spam does not sound like a wise thing to do.

Paulo Sebin

02/28/2014 05:15 pm

I think that Google will use Google+ factors. Backlinks in communities, number of followers, content shared, and others.

Yousuf Seo

03/04/2014 05:27 am

How popular you are or your company is? How much followers you have? In how many channels you have position of a contributor? What big changes you have made so far in your industry? These type of questions are matter in these days and will in future.

Sabih Ahmed

03/09/2014 06:09 am

Well I believe that for next 5-10 years, backlinks will remain an important factor in SERP. It is the core element with with Google rank a particular website. Yes, there is a lot of SPAM and marketers exploiting the use of it. And that's why Google is making so many changes in its algorithm. For marketers, it would be a better practice to work on different channels for diversification of their activities. If you keep on positing links only, or working on G+ only - one day or other, SE will catch you. And working excessively on something can turn into a SPAM. So work on everything in the sphere of Digital marketing, and don't go for quick fixes. If you adding value to something, you will get value for it - from search engine, social networks, and others.


03/10/2014 07:51 am

They can't remove links from the algo. It is not possible until they upgrade to A.I. because they would destroy the infrastructure of the internet. To put his final comment in perspective, he stated "The results were really, really, really bad". Not only that, but spammers would completely saturate Google's index in an attempt to get clicks. Unintended consequences would then destroy Google. Something I would personally enjoy. 2% of 40 plus billion was paid in taxes by this monopoly while I pay in excess of 50%. Please remove links from the Algo Matt, please!


03/10/2014 07:58 am

As stated earlier, they can't remove them because links are the basic infrastructure of the web. If you relate it to our infrastructure of roads and highways, you can add or remove a stop sign, slippery when wet signs, red light or green light. You can change them up, move them around but you can never take the roads and highways out of the equation.

Joe Moore

04/25/2014 09:40 pm

Not really if your hurt from penguin chances are your using the wrong methods of SEO which even good sites do break rules.


05/05/2014 10:09 am

But that doesn't mean a website has to wait for 6 months to recover from penguin when those links have been already removed? specially the algorithm penalty

David Scarpitta

06/11/2014 12:14 am

I could have sworn a few months ago, that they tested this theory live. I had seen some of the worst sites come up in search that looked like they were out of a 1997 internet.

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