I found this article by Daneil Deceuster from SEOmoz and found it quite thought-provoking.
First of all he mentions that SEO’s are desperately searching for commonalities in sites that got penalized and commonalities in sites that are ranking well. Unfortunately, most of us are not finding those commonalities. I have analyzed hundreds of backlinks profiles in the last few days and looked at pretty extensive metrics, but still there are sites that defy all of my theories.
It would make sense that the reason we cannot find those commonalities is because the answers lay hidden behind Google’s data mining golden doors. They have been tracking site usage statistics using Google Analytics for many years. Additionally they have tracked +1′s, Chrome users, etc. Could they be utilizing this data now to rank?
I keep extolling the theory that now instead of links being votes, Google is using people themselves to vote. We vote by liking on facebook, we vote by Google +1, we vote when we retweet, we vote when we interact with the site and spend extra time on the site. Instead of having to rely on something as unnatural as links, they can now rely on actual user interaction, which is a much more valid metric.
Google keeps saying, “Focus on making sites for the end-user, this is what will benefit you most”. Could this be because now they have turned the dial vastly up on the “personalization” signal? So if you make sites that end users benefit from, they will like you, retweet you, stay on your site for an extensive period of time, and perform other calls to action?
If this is the case, then focus would change away from link building, and towards social media as well as usability.