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I think they would love to get away from it completely but realise that true organic linking is so damn useful to help rank pages. (They have already told us links will be a factor for some time to come).
I think in their ideal world where there were lots of great pages with high ‘Quality Score’ (i.e. from their content and user experience scores) to show for a search query, they would use the ‘authority’ from backlink profiles as the ‘Bid’ multiplier to rank the pages in order.
So if there were 10 equally awesome pages the authority thing would be the ordering factor only…
That’s a reference to the AdWords adrank algo where your adrank is the product of your quality score and your bid, it is the deciding factor in how the competing ads are ordered on the results page.
The problem is this organic ‘Bid’ multiplier gets gamed terribly so they have to put a lot of effort into trying to adjust it to a more ‘real’ organic score. Hence the message to avoid link schemes and unnatural links and instead to focus on your ‘Quality Score’ and let it attract natural links!