Google has established itself as a leader in the search engine industry. Effectively Google retains, month after month, almost 1/2 of search engine inquiries. Their PPC advertising model, Adwords, is second to none and the possibilities for website publishers are endless with their Adsense, ad-publishing client. The company has created popular computer programs such as: Google Earth, Google Desktop, Google Toolbar, Picasa, and SketchUp. And they operate such online services as: Gmail, Google Trends, Google Scholar, Google News, and Google Groups.
The reason I mention these facts is that there have been many in the search engine world that have speculated that Google is moving away from links and toward popularity. What I mean is that in the traditional sense, Google has used the data based on the individual links that a certain website has pointing to it. There are several factors involved in evaluating the links data that helps Google determine the popularity of a site and importance of it’s content. In the new sense, many have speculated that Google has been able to gain a finite amount of aggregate usage data from it’s various programs and services that allows them to further develop their algorithm into a more accurate and relevant service. This allows them to really evaluate a site based on how popular it truly is and weigh it’s content and position in the search engines accordingly.
Honestly to me, it’s an ingenious idea and in part it has been verified by a post on Matt Cutts Blog where he mentions the new efforts Google is using to reduce bandwidth. He mentions the fact that Google uses their popular Adsense service to help index the web faster. This spreads the indexing load out a bit and encourages Google to use the same technique on their other popular services.
So what does this mean for the individual webmaster? This means that the direction of search results could take a drastic shift from the norm of link popularity to actual user popularity, which is more powerful than the alternatives. So in the future, I still believe link popularity will remain a cornerstone of the search engines algorithm, but that data will supplemented or be the supplement, in part to the popularity data.