Aaron Wall has a new infographic on the death of organic links:
Interestingly, my link to his site to host this infographic is completely organic. Nonetheless, it makes some valid points.
It would be a difficult task to argue that organic link numbers aren’t what they used to be. While I believe this is primarily due to social publishing, there are other factors at play here too.
While I’m in the “nofollow counts for something crowd” there can be little doubt that nofollow has had a significant impact on the way people link.
Does nofollow discourage natural linking? It’s difficult to say. In theory, it might reduce things like spam commenting for links (which I don’t think it has). Obviously, nofollow has a big impact on sponsored links.
However, more ethereally, I think it has an impact on a linker’s psyche. It makes us stop and think about whether links on sites we are targeting are followed vs. nofollowed.
Worse, it has caused some sites to go wholesale nofollow. We have run into major news sites that simply don’t have any followed links. Even links that journalists use in sourcing for articles are nofollowed by default. To me, this the very worst impact of nofollow. It is examples like these that cause me to conclude that nofollow counts for something (that and they’re counted in Google Webmaster Tools).
I think nofollow and PageRank manipulation work together to make some webmasters conclude that they need to hoard PageRank. This results in more nofollow links.
Social publishing has had, perhaps, the largest impact on organic linking. If you think about it, links are just online human expression. We link to stuff because we like it, hate, find it interesting or helpful, etc. Our desire to express motivates us to link. With social publishing, we have new way to express ourselves. And in many ways, social expression is a more sophisticated mode for online expression than linking. It can provide more immediate feedback from others. It allows for more diverse messaging of expression. It is much more user-friendly.
For me, I still believe links will enjoy a future on the web. However, there can be no doubt that they won’t be the same as links from the ’90s or ’00s. They will likely evolve to keep up with their social signal counterparts. They will contain more semantic information and be more easy-to-use.