Matt Cutts head of Google Search Spam Team said in video: “backlinks, over time, will become a little less important. Backlinks in the Google ranking algorithm still have many, many, many years left in them!”
Meaning that they are important, but not as important as they used to be when Larry and Sergey founded Google with their PageBrin algorithm.
Matt explained that Google is focusing a lot now on how to show in search results visitors results that they were looking for. Their current algorithm has over 200 factors, so page authority is still very important how well site will rank in Google, but on the other hand content is getting more and more important, quality of the content, authorship of the content. Meaning professional built websites and correctly optimized by seo expert will play higher rolls in the future comparison to “handmade” self made sites with several missing important pieces of Google’s algorithm pie.
When Google is better at understanding actual language, natural language, which you see with their conversational search efforts. Google will be better to understand expert user’s queries and match them better to a better answer.
Matt Cutts added that for the “next few years” links aren’t going anyway and will still be used for determining reputation. But overtime, Google will rely a little bit less on links for reputation purposes.