2007 will be remembered by most webmasters and SEO’s as the year that Google publicly started the paid link crackdown.
2008 will be the year that this crackdown really starts to have an effect on the sites that consumers see when they perform searches on Google.
Google is getting better and better at detecting paid links. They have removed the ability for thousands of sites to pass PageRank and even reduced the ability of some sites to rank for their own names. 2008 will see every site that continues to publicly sell links receive harsh penalties in both search engine rankings and PR passing ability.
The knock on effect of this will be that sites who relied on paid links will gradually slip further and further down the rankings and be replaced by sites that spent 2007 carrying out aggressive viral marketing to build natural links. As these natural links start to age and gain trust and the top ranking sites lose links by the thousand we will see rankings change dramatically.
Most high quality sites will have been attracting links from mainstream media sites in 2007 so we won’t see many big names missing from the rankings, the knock on effect being that consumers will be remain happy with Google.
I also see the reliance on domain trust being turned back up a notch in 2008 as Google gets better at assigning trust to domains. Previously the fact trust was based on link age meant that newer sites struggled slightly and Google was forced to introduce the Query Deserves Freshness algorithm to improve results for topical searches. With paid links removed from the mix Google can assign trust based on links gained over the past year with a much greater confidence than ever before resulting in higher quality results and happier webmasters. A win win situation.
In 2007 we saw sites that regularly publish news and blog posts being granted almost instant spidering and extremely quick indexing. Trusted domains could get rankings for fresh keywords within an hour of publishing a new article. Google struggles to update it’s search results in real time and in 2008 I see the search results for breaking news queries almost mirroring the results seen in Google News.
The current reliance on domain trust is very good at removing spam but isn’t always very good at giving relevant results. Is Wikipedia always a useful result to have? Google thinks so, even if the article is useless. During 2008 I expect Google to increase the integration of toolbar and social bookmark data as well as link data on a page by basis to decide whether individual articles on sites like Wikipedia and mainstream news websites are worthy of good rankings. An article on the BBC would normally outrank a Daily Mail article thanks to internal links and domain trust but if the Daily Mail article has links from thousands of high quality blogs and 50,000 social bookmarks Google should be able to tell that this article is a more popular and useful result.