Rand will be speaking about “Advanced Linkbuilding” at SearchFest 2011, which will take place on February 23rd at the Governor Hotel in Portland, Oregon. Tickets are available now. To purchase, please click the following link.

1)      Please give us your background and tell us what you do for a living.

I’m the CEO of SEOmoz, the web’s most popular SEO software. I started my career as a web designer, then moved to SEO consulting, founded the SEOmoz blog, which turned into something bigger and eventually moved us to the software/subscription model we offer today. Mixergy’s Andrew Warner did a fairly comprehensive interview here.

2)      What is the state of paid links in 2011…both from the perspective of the search engines & webmasters considering such a strategy.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Google had largely given up (or at least, scaled back) their efforts to combat the influence and effectiveness of link buying as a tactic to manipulate the search results. It could be that, as Bing declared several years ago, they care more about removing irrelevant or malicious results than about removing semi-relevant or good results that have manipulated their way to the top. The webspam team has promised a crackdown in the near future, but I’m skeptical given the years of lackluster enforcement.

That said, as a webmaster and a marketer, I can’t in good conscience recommend buying links. No matter how low risk, I think that a creative mind can always find better ways to generate links the engines will always want to count that protects your site (or your clients’) from potential negatives. 

3)      What link factors do you see increasing in importance in 2011 and which might decrease in importance?

I think we’re going to see Facebook, Twitter and possibly other social media signals (LinkedIn? StumbleUpon? Quora?) increase their impact on rankings. I’m also bullish on "brand mentions" in media-type publications (possibly those vetted by Google News’ editors), where a reference to a brand/site/page exists even if a direct, followed link does not. These aren’t the classic link factors of old, but if Google is going to evolve along with the web, I’d say they’re essential to improving relevance and quality.

While I wouldn’t put money on it, anchor text and raw link counts would be my two bets for narrowing influence.

SEOmoz is planning to re-do our Search Ranking Factors this year with both correlation and ranking model (causation) numbers alongside the experts’ opinions. Hopefully, this will give us some valuable information, both editorial and mathematically-driven, to better assess the accuracy of such guesses.

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