Welcome to WebmasterWorld Guest from 22.214.171.124
Some time ago Matt Cutts said that Google tried to make an index without link metrics, and that its quality was fairly lower than the "normal" one.
if they switched from link data to user traffic
But if you're just another site doing essentially the same thing as a thousand other sites (particularly in a competitive niche), well. You really will need the links.
I think if you're unique enough, and people engage with your site, you'll still do fine without a lot of high profile linkage.
Does google know if it's quality traffic or not?
This is very interesting. Surely this is as easy to manipulate as links?
it will not matter how many hundreds of thousands of backlinks you have or how many directories you are listed at, but rather how many high quality/trust links you have.
I think the only plausible way for Google to minimize the impact of backlinks on SEO and move on other signals is for Google not only to gather and parse the data from Analytics.
Not "already happening": it was ever thus.
No, it wasn't.
Is it possible that Google treats links in different ways for different broad categories of sites?
Also, it's probably tough for commercial sites to attract significant numbers of "freely-given editorial links" unless they're huge sites...