Excellent post Brinked.
Goggle should eliminate links as a ranking factor. As soon as links became "currency", the algo fell apart. You can't stop the abusers, so quit trying. There are better signals available. Let people buy all the links they want to drive traffic, but don't rank a site based on links. Who cares that site A "voted" for site B with a link five years ago?
I agree - measure user engagement with the site. User behavior is a much better indicator. You could hire people to visit your site, but that would be hard to maintain for any length of time.
I personally believe the web is at least three times larger than it would be otherwise without bogus links. Way too many phony sites.
And yes, branding is way too strong. I don't need to see Amazon every time I search for a widget.