When Google noticed that people were using links to take advantage of their algorithm, they starting rolling out a series of their friendly animal named changes. Some sites got punished. A lot of links got ignored. And then what?

The short answer is that content and link strategies now focus on quality over quantity. Links from niche sites and blogs are only worth pursuing if they’re “high quality” (read: hard to obtain). Links from directories are virtually pointless. And Google is even encouraging us to disavow sources of high-volume links to our sites.

But no one’s really able to point to anything concrete about how Google is determining the quality of these links.

That might have changed.

Simon Penson and Bill Slawski have both written some in-depth, search-geeky analysis of a patent that seems to confirm some SEO suspicions, while putting what could be the final nail in the coffin of any SEO strategy built around high-volume links.

Although I encourage you to read their entire posts, I’ve distilled the two vital bits for you below.

  • Brand mentions on quality websites will rise in importance, meaning that you need to get people talking about and posting about your company. Now.
  • Reference queries are tricky, but vital. In essence, the importance of reference queries means that your site will perform better in organic results if more people are talking about the things on your pages. That also means that your pages need clear focus and quality content. (Big surprise?)

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