This series originally appeared as a feature story in Mini Storage Messenger, where Red Nova Labs (parent company of storEDGE) regularly contributes advice pieces on marketing self storage.

In last month’s article, we explained how a website’s position in Google results is largely determined by what other sites are saying about it—particularly in links. Indeed, we wrote that inbound links to your self storage site from other reputable, related websites may determine up to three-quarters’ worth of your Google rank.

What that tells you is, inbound links should be at the tippy-top of your web marketing strategy. Right?

Not so fast. Before you dump every marketing minute into links, you should know: Changes are coming.

A few of the resources we referenced for that article dated back about twelve months. While that may seem timely in the self storage business, time on the web passes faster than dog-years. Trends change so rapidly in cyberspace that any given site, app or blog can become outdated in a matter of months. And Google search is certainly no exception. Web marketing experts around the globe will tell you: The only thing constant at Google is change.

“On the web, as in life, the only constant rule is that nothing is constant and all things must change.” Rand Fishkin, Cofounder and CEO of SEOMoz

Google is always tinkering on its proprietary algorithm, to reflect web users’ search habits as well as to discourage search engine black hatters (specialists who try to cheat the system, consequently messing up the quality of search results).

Moreover, every few years or so there’s a broad shift to the key metrics that the company uses to deliver practical search results. The same can be said for Bing and Yahoo. Just take a look at what has influenced search engines past:

No doubt you’ve noticed some of these changes yourself, not just by watching your own website climb and fall in search results, but also by poring over the efficacy of the marketing services you pay for—online yellow pages, self storage directories, pay-per-click brokers, SEO consultants, web development agencies, etc. Every one of these has undoubtedly fluctuated in its ability to drive renters to your business. In truth, we’re all at the mercy of Google’s whims.

“There are many reasons why your site might lose search engine result rankings. Some of those reasons can be traced to a particular fault while others just occur in the natural course of life. In essence, rankings change because change happens… Your site changes, competitors’ sites change, or the search engine algorithm changes. Or any combination of those three.” Stoney deGeyter, guest blog on Search Engine Land

Whether we’re on the cusp of a broad search shift now is anybody’s guess. What we do know is, we’re barely a third of the way into 2011 and Google has already edited its algorithm—big-time edits that impacted virtually every site across the web. The changes came with a widely publicized pledge by Google to discourage and punish content farms (companies that try to trick Google by generating vast numbers of pages with textual content).

We presume that the broad-stroke edits will keep coming. Even though Google never reveals its business strategies or search metrics to the public, by all appearances it plans to let web users – as opposed to web content – have a much bigger say in what makes a good search result. The company will rely less on overwhelming quantities of bot data, and instead hinge on the humans who create, click, and rate pages. The result, in theory, will be less web spam and higher satisfaction with search results.

“Today’s link based algorithms are well understood by the community at large, and this has led to a battle between spammers trying to game the algorithm and the spam fighting teams of the search engines. One way to combat this would be to start introducing social media signals as a ranking factor. This would allow the engines to leverage the wisdom of the crowds.” –Eric Enge, guest blog on Search Engine Land

For example, just last month a feature was added to the Google Chrome browser that lets registered Google users block displeasing websites. Google will aggregate this site-filtering feedback and use it to cut unwanted results.

“We’re adding this feature because we believe giving you control over the results you find will provide an even more personalized and enjoyable experience on Google … We’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future.” Amay Champaneria and Beverly Yang, Search Quality Engineers at Google

In the next generation of search, Google will likely look deeper than just what annoys Chrome users. It will dig into what people are talking about, what people are looking at, and what people trust. And if that’s the case, then the pack of rank influencers we wrote about last month (mainly links) will shrink to make room for new metrics.

Don’t get us wrong: inbound links will hang around as influencers, since they still signify that some living, thinking, spending creature out there probably finds value in your site. But with the user-centric Google makeover, the next generation of search will put less weight on links, anchor text, on-page optimization and content.

We believe that the new group of influencers will include social signals, browsing behavior, and brand engagement. So Google’s secret-sauce pie may look more like:

>> Continued in Part 2: SOCIAL SIGNALS (What people are talking about)

This story was coauthored by Carrie Royce and Robert Zhou. Major sources include SEOmoz.com, SearchEngineLand.com, SMX West 2011 conference speakers, Quora.com (answer by Edmond Lau), SeoByTheSea.com, Econsultancy.com, and GoogleBlog.BlogSpot.com.