Link building is one of the oldest forms of SEO. It can be traced all the way back to the early days of Internet search engines when Google was seeking a way to create order in its rankings. The search company concluded that a link from one site to another was an endorsement of that website and its content, so its search algorithm took this into consideration. The more hyperlinks you had, the more credible you were in Google's eyes.
This was quickly exploited by spammy SEO companies. Those enterprises figured they simply had to stuff as many links as possible onto a website to trigger increased visibility on Google and other search engines. Google wasn't cool with that and struck back by introducing incremental improvements to its algorithm, which refined how it evaluated and valued link quality. These improvements forced SEO outfits to find more sophisticated methods of optimizing websites, and this resulted in roughly 15 years of innovations in the field of digital marketing.
In 2014, we've reached a point at which the value of link building is not what it was five, or even three, years ago. New technology and new realms of online commerce and branding — social media being the most recognizable innovation — have given Google far better options for evaluating the credibility and authority of a website and brand. Naturally, this has resulted in a gradual decrease in the emphasis that linking receives in search algorithms, as well as an increase in the value of quality content. While valuing links hasn't been phased out entirely, some industry watchers, including WordStream, believe it's only a matter of time.
Do Links Matter? Yes and No.
Because it's tough to predict how Google will change its algorithm, it's impossible to know how long the value of link building will last. Google has hinted that hyperlinking as an SEO metric could be more or less phased out within the next few years. Ten years down the road, marketers might be paying only minimal attention to the links established between other websites.
In the world of digital marketing, ten years is an eternity. Digital marketing strategies don't succeed by forecasting what will work in the future; they succeed by successfully executing what's working today. It's important to keep in mind that strategies and best practices can change on a whim, but the best you can do for your current strategy is to live fully in the present.
Today, quality links from reputable sources still matter. Google's metric currently gives these links weight in how Web pages and websites are ranked, so it's essential to maintain solid link-building practices for now. Keep working to build links between other reputable online destinations, and ride the wave of link building as long as you can.