Let's quickly try something different, what do you say?

Take a minute and think of all of the friends you have that are on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Take note of anyone who comes to mind. Are your parents on any of the big social networks? What about your best friends? Your old crushes, high school and college roommates, or even your favorite restaurants or grocery stores? No need to be specific, just get a general feel for the vast number of people you know who use social sites regularly.

Have a good idea of the number of people who use social networks? Ok, good.

Now try to think of all the friends you have who own or run a blog or website of some sort.

I'm willing to bet that there's a noticeable difference between the number of friends you have on social networks and the number of friends you have with their own website or blog. Is that about right?

Great, now comes the really juicy part of our experiment.

Of your friends or acquaintances who have a blog or website, how many of them regularly post links or videos or photos to Facebook? How many of those same people post links to their actual website or blog? My guess is not very many, at least not any more.

It used to be that links pointing to a website were a major factor for determining the value it held in the search engine results pages – it's still a vital factor for search ranking today, actually – but things are changing, as you can see from this little thought experiment.

You and I are now sitting in a large shift in how people are linking to other websites. Even bloggers and website owners are more likely to post a link on their Facebook wall or Google+ page than they are to actually post it on their website or blog.

Why? Because interactions on social networks are much easier to do than actually writing up a blog post or article.

This shift in attention and linking brings about a reasonable concern for SEOs today, a question I'd like to open the conversation with: what happens when suddenly people stop linking to great content on their websites and instead use social networks for sharing their favorite links and interesting content?

Of course, all signs indicate that Google and Bing are beginning to put a lot of weight on the number of mentions or votes or “likes” a site has on social websites, but is that enough for moving away from the number of actual links a website has?

The answer (from any professional SEO) at this point is “no.”

Google still relies very, very heavily on the number of unique, authentic, and relevant links pointing to a page to determine it's rank in the SERPs.

Maybe the shift away from on‒site links and more active social networking will, potentially, help the search engines weed out the bad content from the really good content, because getting links will only become harder the more social networks are involved in our every‒day, online interactions.

When it's much easier to simply post a link to Facebook than it is to blog about a photo or video or interesting article, will the search engines see this as a critical time to shift the way they rank websites and will social interaction suddenly become the “go to” for higher rankings?

What do you think? How will the future of linking (or the lack thereof) impact search engine rankings? Is it possible that the search engine of the future will be almost entirely socially‒powered?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Understand "like" building: