The published insights are not that spectacular. But insight in Google's evaluation of websources is rare. I wanted to forward the details to the web community to get some discussion. Why? People should know how a search engine works. Basically, it's a stupid thing. Intelligence has to come from the user. If he/she doesn't ask a smart question, he/she gets a stupid answer.
GoogleGuy requested that the documents not be posted, so they may get removed. Downloading copies for internal use and training may be a good idea. The spam guidelines document goes on to show a number of sites deemed as search spam and how / why Google would evaluate them as such. Since affiliate marketing or reselling pay per click ads are the usual forms of search spam most of the examples fall into those categories.
When comparing spam sites to good sites the document states:
To appreciate the difference, ask yourself this question: would any user want to go to www.bookfinder4u.com rather than directly to Barnes & Noble? To http://us.store-directory.org/dvd/movie/B00005JM5E.html rather than to Amazon? The answer to the former question is Yes, because at Barnes & Noble, the user would not be able to see any direct price comparison between the B&Nâ€™s price and competitorsâ€™ prices for any given item; the answer to the latter question is No or Indifferent between the two.
They also bolded the following statement:
To determine whether participation in affiliate programs is central or incidental to the siteâ€™s existence, ask yourself this question: Would this site remain a coherent whole if the pages leading to the affiliate were taken away?
They also go heavily into reviewing hotel sites, stating IAC properties are whitelisted, and showing many spam sites, offering additional tips such as:
One cannot both be an affiliate of others and offer affiliation opportunities. So the presence of the link to become an affiliate is your hint that the site has its own booking functionality and can complete transactions for its visitors.
Automation VS Unique & Useful:
As a summary, most search spam sites are heavily automated and provide little useful, unique, or compelling to the end user.
The paper also notes the common achilles heel of spam pages - automatic generation.
It is also the opinion of the author that link spam will eventually require such sophistication and effort that it lose its ROI and become a less effective tactic than attempting to obtain natural incoming links through quality content and legitimate promotion.
Why the Spam Guidelines Document is Useful:
Google's reviewers may not be used to directly effect search results, but at the very least they are used to help train the relevancy algorithms. By seeing how Google trains them you get to see what Google wants. If you know what they are looking for it is far easier to give it to them.
Just like pay per click, SEO is a game of margins. Search engines aim to decrease the margins on both fronts so they can extract maximum profits.
Automation can bring great returns until it is caught. Algorithms, editors, search reviewers, and other webmasters who may link to you all look for reasons why people should WANT to visit your site instead of thousands of competing sites.
Due to a lack of sophistication (especially within the young MSN Search) many people are still making large sums of money from low quality bulk affiliate or AdSense websites.
Owning a few of those types of sites might be a good call for creating passive revenue streams, but most webmasters who like the web would do well to create at least one great site about something they were passionate about.
Further coverage on the Google search review labs:
Today I got a phone call and about a half dozen different emails about the same issue. Many people see someone else in a great market position in the search results which they deem to be using risky or shady techniques.
All sites will randomly mix about from time to time, but focusing on one specific shady site does not really do much to build longterm value for your own sites.
Should you pattern your actions after what one shady site is doing right now? There is no correct answer, but here are the justifications why
If you can use throw away domains then why not take risks with a few of them. Even if your sites get banned in some search engines you still get to learn about the SEO process and search algorithms by trying to create a few different aggressive test sites.
If you have an exceptionally strong brand and are spending millions of dollars per month on AdWords ads you likely have a bit more leeway than average Joe webmaster. Even if you are risky make sure you are relevant and do not take risks you can't afford to take.
Search algorithms continuously change. If something looks overtly shady and many people are doing it then likely it is a hole which search engineers would like to plug soon. If you are trying to create a longterm business with real tangible longterm value then it is best not to pattern your actions after sites using aggressive shady techniques.
Only take the best pieces of their marketing mix and look for the best marketing pieces of other top ranked sites. From there look to create partnerships, tools, ideas, and market positions which are not easy for others to duplicate.
Does Reciprocal Linking Work?
Recently I saw the Blue Gecko SEO forums ranking at #10 for SEO. Most of his link popularity looked like it was from link trades associated with his webmaster resources directory. The reason people say link trades do not work are mostly because:
they are usually slow and expensive to build if you do not outsource or automate
most people exchanging links in bulk are not doing so with quality sites
DMOZ Weighting in Yahoo!:
I created a one page site about Effexor which is listed in DMOZ. I have not built any other linkage data, and it is ranking in the mid 30s for Effexor out of over 7,000,000 sites.
Buy someone lunch. Give them something to talk about. Any Penn State proffesors want a free lunch? email me. If your university position is high enough and your university has a great link reputation I am also will to fly.
Go to college to become a system administrator and web designer for a school. A friend of mine as a freshman was both last year. I am thinking this friendship may soon grow leaps and bounds.
Get a crap job you do not care about. Write a humorous blog about it until you get fired for it.
Have your child send $8.43 cash to the government to help pay down the federal debt. Make sure you are available for press comments and get links in your coverage.
Move to Texas. They have big links there.
Always carry a big flag around with you. Even in the shower.
Help your local congressman get reelected. Get links from their site.
Join the local government.
Draft government bills with Orwellian terms, calling them exact opposite of what they do.
Point out said flaws in Government bills.
Join the military and work the .mil link angle.
Buy your way into the government for .gov links. If you can not afford this move to a poorer country where you can afford to buy your way in.
Get caught on tape doing something illegal yet humorous.
Get on a radio show. A friend of mine who used to sell adult sex toys (he sold his site, but it still ranks #1 for his primary keyword phrases) would go on the radio to get them to link to him. The shaddier your marketplace is the more value legitimate links.
Donate or help someone with their site.
Fix someone's car tire on the side of the road.
Accidentally wreck into the car of a famous person, obscenely exclaim it was their fault, and then sue them.
Get ran over by a rich person. etc.
Become a semi stalker. Sue the celebrity for stalking you.
Admit yourself to a psych ward or rehab where you know a link rich person is currently at.
Tell others that they should start a site, knowing they will link to you.
Create free tools or software with powered by or designed by links in them.
Intentionally do something to get sued by a large overbearing company.
Date or marry an annoying overhyped celebrity or marry into a link rich family.
His post was a bit over the top, and I am surprised with that tone and frame anyone wanted to help him, but he got a ton of good advice.
One of the biggest problems with SEO is that sometimes for an extended period of time the free leads allow you to profitably run what would otherwise be a completely non functional business model. Too often people take success for granted and do not shore up other marketing methods. Out of nowhere eventually they pay for the arrogence or laziness as the leads dry up.
With this site for a period of time I was a bit arrogent thinking that it wouldn't fall. Many of my links had the same anchor text since many of my early links used my official site name and most people link to this site use the same link text.
For a short period of time my rankings headed south due too much similar anchor text and a new Google filter. Luckily I had other revenue streams and traffic streams. Even without Google sending much traffic to my site for about a month my sales were still close to 90% of what they were the prior month.
You have had 1st position for a large number of keywords for years and years, you have mysteriously disappeared overnight from Google, through no fault of your own, and [despite having a very good run over the last decade] are merely days away from having to live on the streets.
The main reason why I don't put much emphasis on SEO for my own business is that we need to be able to manage growth, and the predictability of PPC is perfect for that. If we suddenly landed on page one of Google's results for the right search terms, I'd need to hire 15-20 more people to deal with the flood... then if we dropped back down again, what exactly would we do with those people? No thanks! For me, it's just as important to be able to turn the traffic off when we're growing too fast.
If some of the best SEOs in the world look for alternate marketing channels then it is probably best if other webmasters also create diverse marketing & revenue streams to help pull them through bumpy patches.
While Clint wanted to turn back the clock search algorithms continue to evolve. This is another reason why some of the worst SEO clients are those who used to rank well when algorithms were less sophistocated. Some of them believe:
that its easy to do
they know what to do (since they used to rank well)
and you should be able to work for next to nothing
meanwhile their revenue stream has got cut and they are worried about paying their bills and have little to invest.
While I could probably afford to hire people now, I never have because I wanted to keep costs low in case anything ever fell out of favor. When it did I was still fine because I minimized costs, had other revenue streams, and have diverse traffic sources.
Last year was the first year I made profit from the web and I am already saving up and am still working hard to create other revenue streams.
charging a flat rate would lead to oversaturation in competitive areas and minimal coverage in less competitive areas
the lower overall income generated through such a system would leave less money for marketing it
It is hard to bribe people to rate relevancy. The best bet on that front is to try to establish a system and idea which will be good enough to build a usebase which markets itself, and then figure out how to attach a business model later.
SEW also recently had another forum thread about acquiring cheap links. Pyramid Link Building Scheme:
Someone recently spammed SEW forums asking about www.16links.com, which is a link building pyramid scheme that charges people to join it too.
What a hunk of crap site / idea!!!
One Time Fee Links:
Another person dropped in the 16links.com thread to recommend textlinkpopularity.com for building one way links for a one time fee. (incidentally, this person's only other comments are in a thread they started recommending textlinkpopularity.com).
Why one time fee links suck:
Low Quality: High quality sites selling useful ad space usually do not sell that ad space for a one time fee, even most directories suck.
Low Quality: If sites are hard up for cash then those sites likely are not going to be long lasting ones.
Low Quality: If a site is selling underpriced ad space for a one time fee, then eventually that ad space becomes hyper saturated to where the value diminishes.
Low Quality: If sites are made just to sell links for a fixed rate then they may not have enough money to put back into promotion. The site the ad is on may not grow with the web. If a site rarely picks up new links then it would be easy and likely that a search engine may discount the value of links from that site, especially if it is a site that is not well integrated into the web.
Low Quality: I started on the web by creating a site that was a bit critical of the military. Its a really bad site and I should take it down, but I leave it up to still speak my mind and show how quickly people can learn. One of the more reputable link brokers spammed that site asking if they could buy links on it. That shows there probably is not much quality in that business model if they are willing to risk their reputation for a few dollars.
Easy to Replicate:
Another common problem with most linking schemes is that they are easy to replicate. This means that if a quick low cost link scheme is effective, easy to trace, and has no quality standards then people will be able to quickly replicate it, thus any competitive advantage gained would be quickly minimized.
I have lots of directory links and one time fee links, but most of them were not built through any broker, and at the end of the day most of them do not drive much traffic, and I am moving away from doing it as much for some of my sites.
Most of the links for a one time fee type programs charge about $20 - $30 for a link. So a dozen crap links would cost you around $300. These links would most likely:
drive no traffic
be on pages full of other junk links
not be on authoritative, highly related, or well integrated sites
The links that drive the most traffic to my site are the ones where my site or I am featured or cited. Examples:
Writing an article might take a couple hours, but if you get it syndicated through the right channels it can build dozens of quality links. These links:
drive targeted prospects
are on pages with few links
are on pages about your topic
some of them may be on related, authoritative, well integrated websites
Most articles I write and syndicate quickly bring in at least one or two consulting clients, so there is some value there, plus for about 3 hours of work (writing and submitting the article) I can get links that are worth well over $300, since the articles would have more longterm value than the crap one time fee links.
Like a twit I recently broke the Link Harvester tool. Currently I have an old version up, but my friend who made it is going to add a few new features to it and have it back up this weekend. :)
The Link Harvester tool so far costed me about 2 hours of my time and around $500 to make. It got links from sites like SitePoint, ThreadWatch, & Yahoo! from within the content part of the pages. In most good algorithms 3 of those links, from sites which:
are well established
are not going away anytime soon
are going to be worth far more than a dozen or two dozen permanent junk links. A few other beautiful things about getting links from authoritative sites:
Using tons of cheap one time fee links may raise your risk profile. Odds are that Yahoo! is not going to use their link pointing at my site as a reason to ban my site.
Getting links on authoritative sites is not as easy to replicate as getting links from a program which serves up links all you can eat at $25 each.
Scalability of a business model is important. If a project or idea does not gain steam then the value of the ad is limited at best. I like investing early into some ideas just in case they pan out, but the people selling links using cheap instead of value as the selling point may not be giving you much value. Sometimes the value of links is destroyed by the business model of the site the link is on.
When you look at links on a shear numbers level you end up missing the value of putting in a little effort or spending the money in indirect ways to get more longterm value out of your link ad spend. [/end rant hehehe]
Sometimes when doing link analysis you come across pages that would be appealing to get links from, but may not fit the profile of a page or site that the owner of the page in question would likely link to.
Of all the pages on the web, most of them are not overtly amazingly thoughtful or original. With that being said, it costs next to nothing to write an article or hire an article writer to write about a topic which could likely gain links from various trusted or authoritative resources.
For most people it is easier to create something worth promoting than trying to promote something not worth promoting. Along those lines of thinking, it is easier to create something people care about if you use their interests as the source of the content or idea.
Whether or not you care about Search Engine Spam, it is easy to let the author of a page about the topic think you care by writing a piece that cares, even if your only goal is the link.
Of course, you don't want to destroy your brand value in the process, but there should be ways to use tact and get a link without writing something that is untrue.
If the thought or reasoning behind the article does not totally agree with you, then it might be a good occasion to hire a guest writer.
When I was new to SEO I did a bunch of on the page analysis to try to figure out exactly what other people are doing. The problem is that it gets you focused on things that do not matter. A site may end up ranking high at the sacrifice of conversion.
As search algorithms advance basic link analysis tools, at least for Google, are starting to become what keyword density tools are: a waste of time.
Link analysis software was cool, especially when Google used to show all of the PageRank 4 and above links, back when their search relevancy algorithm was a bit more dependant on raw PageRank.
Now Google only shows a limited random set of backlinks, and the other search engines also limit the search depth to 1,000 results, which makes it hard to do useful analysis with the various link analysis tools on the market.
If it were quick and easy to query a database deeply (deeper than 1,000) then the link analysis tools would be much more useful. None of them currently on the market really make that a quick and easy process.
To keep improving the results, you find more variables for the algorithm-creating machine to use, and you add to your store of human-ranked pages for it to "learn" from. What you don't do is bother understanding the actual algorithm -- it was constructed by a machine and is way too complex for anyone to keep in their head.
Psychologists have shown repeatedly that when you give people a system to optimize, all you have to do is secretly introduce a delay between their actions and the results of their actions, and they will go bonkers. In fact, in a very simple (single variable!) model in which people are trying to control the temperature in a virtual refridgerator, you can get some of the same irrational responses you see in these forums
and the first post here by Captain CaveMan (which incidentally is the name of an awesome cartoon character) does as well:
Without giving away the store, I don't know how else to say it. There is no sandbox. People speak of it as though it were some simple 'thing' that stops new sites from being seen. That has simply never been true. What was true was that in its early days, some of the algo elements and related filters were so tight that only a very few new sites got past them (some accidentally; some methodically). Over time that changed; more sites started getting out, presumably as G worked to surface more new, higher quality sites.
There is no sandbox. There is only a serious of rotating algo's and related filters, that make it far harder for sites launched after spring of '04 to be widely seen in the SERP's. Not impossible. Harder. And certainly not as hard now as was true seven months ago. This has been hashed and rehashed so many times that it's hard to understand why it's still confusing.
If you can only see a few of the variables and overexert effort to satisfy those variables you may end up tripping filters and not satisfying other criteria.
By targeting certain terms / phrases / concepts / ideas you can target overtly biased consumer feedback which appears to be unbiased information.
You can spend well under $100 creating a system which erodes brands of competing business models. Just use AdWords to market a blog requesting feedback about the company or its products. Generally people are going to be more inclined to research and speak their mind if they are not satisfied.
This may not work well against smaller companies since they are going to be more inclined to accept and look for feedback, but if large companies place themselves ahead of their customers it is exceptionally easy to make that known.
If the feedback site does a good enough job it can garner many free links from other people who may not like the service. Eventually you can use the site for cheap link popularity and to do comparitive advertising for a broad range of terms surrounding a competitors names and / or products.
For example, I could create a site about feedback on the services of various SEO companies. That site would garner both positive and negative feedback. Even though it would have both, it would cast a shadow of doubt over SEO services which might make my ebook look more appealing to a wider audience base.
With all of the people who market SEO services based on the ethics and best practices angles I am surprised nobody has cashed in by creating an SEO service feedback blog.
Sure some firms would shun it, but those would likely be some of the same firms who don't give a crap about their customers.
If I created that sort of site I would not market anything but the feedback off the start. Each page would link out to the reviewed firm for that page. Companies which had great reviews would likely link in. People who hated some of the firms would likely link in.
links links links... !!!!
Disclaimer: Of course you can go too far with this, and it can result in significant social or legal expenses.