In the past many Google penalties were blatantly obvious. You either got traffic or you did not. But as time has passed penalties are getting blurrier, meaning your site can be penalized and still get traffic from Google. Some traffic reductions are due to competitive market forces, some are due to algorithm changes, some are due to automated filters, and some are due to penalties. If you are new to the market (and in some cases, even if you are experienced) it is hard to know which problems, if any, are holding back your ranking potential.
A friend just told me about how his Google traffic went way up after he spoke with a Google engineer, but he didn't want to talk about it publicly. I wonder how many other people are just like him, but don't speak about it or don't know they are penalized? And then I think back to the ban of the official AdSense blog, Brian Clark's PageRank hit, and Sugar Rae's ranking woes, and have come to the conclusion that spam fighting has become more of a shoot first and ask questions later game. They do not make a lot of mistakes, but when your site is just a number, it hurts pretty bad.
From a marketer perspective this shoot first shift is an important one which requires a few things of online publishers hoping to keep their businesses profitable:
Track your traffic using analytics tools, such that you know if/when something goes wrong, can prove it with hard stats, and can research it more specifically.
Publish at least 2 or 3 sites in different markets to give yourself additional data points on whether the issue is site specific or not.
Use public relations and viral link marketing where you once used link buys. If you are still renting links try to make them covert, and offset them with many natural links.
If possible package your offering as a service, so that you can justify charging recurring, and/or create an affiliate program. These make your income less reliant on search engines.
While on the link buying panel at WebmasterWorld's Pubcon a few people were pushing that you might need to consider how Google will view your current link buys 5 years down the road, and that they may hurt you then for what you do now. Upon hearing that I said something like "less than 5 years ago I bought spammy links and if I did not I probably wouldn't be speaking here right now". That got a cheer from the crowd. Who wants to be worried about what Google thinks or does 5 years from now? That is no way to innovate or take marketshare from current market leaders.
Reviewing Result Quality
When engineers view your site they don't just look at "if you have a few spammy links" but they try to consider the quality of user experience and the ratio of clean links to dirty links. If your site is good and ranks for years then you are going to get many natural links that dwarf any spammy links that were part of your site launch.
Building a Real Business
If your business model is entirely reliant on Google 5 years from now, your user experience is sub-par, and you haven't built up any brand equity after ranking for 5 years then there was not much effort put into building a legitimate business, and it deserves to fail. But the sites that rank get self reinforcing exposure. If SEO is part of your brand building and site building strategy you simply can not sit around waiting for the rankings to come in.
Inferior Sites Ranking #1
It is easy to lack objectivity when talking of the quality of your site, but in some fields I compete in, many of the top ranked competing sites are ran by people buying a slew of spammy links and pointing them at their (quite obviously) English second language sites. Because they rank, those sites get some number of self reinforcing links. If I did nothing but create great content they would still outrank my site. You have to buy marketshare in one way or another (public relations, AdWords, link buying) if you are trying to gain marketshare and your market is competitive.
Who Buys Links & Uses Push Marketing to Buy Marketshare?
That does not mean that I am an advocate of bad user experience or poor quality content, but if you care about SEO and have a new site in an old market, user experience and content quality are not enough unless you do some push marketing at launch.
AOL sent out millions of spammy CDs to market their service.
IAC buys a ton of links and aggressively cross links their sites.
Microsoft has got in trouble for launching new products by bundling them with their old products and steals traffic by sending seobook.om traffic to their live search product.
Monster.com owns a ton of thin lead generation sites.
eBay pays affiliates to spam Google.
One of Google's large ad distribution partners tried setting up a deal with me to rank their ads in Google's search results using aggressive black hat spammy techniques, in which I declined to participate in.
We Don't Write the Algorithms (or Hand Edit Search Results)
As an SEO you simply give the engines what they want. Looking at what they rank and how they market their sites gives you better insights for how to rank than blindly trusting the tips they give you to prevent you from ranking and suggesting you buy their ads. All of the web portals you know and love use push marketing to build their businesses. Why shouldn't you?
The Wikipedia ranks for a lot of competitive keywords because they are cited everywhere while acquiring the back links to be envious of. They also keep most of their link juice by linking to their internal pages and placing no-follows on external links.
I found out recently that they rank for competitive key phrases on Google such as:
Loan - #1 and 2
Mortgage - #3
Insurance - #4 and #5
The chart below is from the RankPulse list of top websites ranking in the top ten results for their 1,000 keywords sample database.
But when I added high traffic classifiers to the phrases above, Wikipedia’s rankings dropped significantly.
Insurance Quotes – Not found in top 1000 Google results
Mortgage Rates – Not found in top 1000 Google results
Loan Consolidation - #36
My explanations for the results are:
Although Wikipedia ranks well for competitive phrases, they don’t belong to the associated topical communities. They rank primarily on site authority.
While they have enough content to rank for said terms, they don't have pages targeting those terms. In many cases the relevant content for the phrase is compressed as part of a broader related page.
Their title tags target core keywords and lacks modifiers needed to rank well for popular terms that Wikipedia did not dedicate unique pages to.
By fixing the above issues, they may very well rank for the remaining 11 keywords.
Philipp Lessen recently asked me to guest post on Blogoscoped about the state of the world of SEO in 2007. I talked about recent events, editorial considerations, industry consolidation, and all sorts of other goodies.
I also did a mini interview with Web Pro News at the Blog World Expo. I pulled my wonderful wife into the interview, and she was kinda shy. :) Today is her birthday so we are about to go out soon.
MSN announced they are upgrading relevancy and coverage. The increased coverage likely means that more inbound link sources are getting indexed. From looking at rankings of a few of my sites it looks like:
anchor text got A LOT more weighting
many lower authority links that were not passing weight (due to not being in their index) are passing weight. For some competitive core industry related phrases (not SEO, another industry) I see a site that went from #150 to top 5 based on the anchor text of lots of low authority links.
fresh links are still heavily trusted, but sites with older links but few fresh links now rank a bit better than they used to in the older MSN, likely due to the more comprehensive index coverage. for as much as Google has beat down some directory links, MSN just gave them a lot of love.
Internal anchor text still counts, but it might seem slightly demoted, as a side effect of more competing pages and more links getting indexed.
MSN mentioned that they were also looking to get more into universal search.
Yahoo! Search Update
Yahoo! recently updated their infrastructure, then rolled out universal search and are getting more aggressive with search suggestions. You can see they are serious about universal search because they are not only promoting their internal content, but they are also promoting YouTube videos. I believe this also indicates that YouTube will remain the #1 video destination in years to come.
Rand also noticed that Yahoo! is using their homepage to drive search queries for recent news. As Yahoo integrates their own content in their SERPs even more aggressively look for them to get more aggressive on this front to help further their search brand.
As shortcusts and search suggestions get more advanced and more common they are going to be cheap traffic sources for those who understand the engines well enough to benefit from them. As search engines roll out these features you can always keep searching and keep testing until you figure out what causes them to select certain pages.
If you are looking to build links one of the easiest ways to do so is to place yourself inside a conversation that is already wildly spreading. Sites like Techmeme and Del.icio.us show what stories were recently hot, and you can find some bloggers who cited those stories using Technorati and Google Blogsearch. Google has a date based filter on news and recently launched a date based search filter for their regular search results which allows you to find fresh content on any topic. If you follow up on a popular story and contact these people you might find a few easy to acquire high authority links.
I can polish that post and market it, or I can take the best bits of it and rewrite it as a new post that cites some of the popular people posting on Google vs Facebook, insert pictures and a chart comparing Google to Facebook, and then start emailing some of the websites I came across on Techmeme, Google blog search, Technorati, and recent results in Google's regular search index.
Polishing your story, aggregating data in a pretty format, citing sources, and stroking egos are crucial to helping your story spread.
Avoid Brand Damage
It might be harder for me to succeed with this on Seo Book since Google branded SEOs as being scumbags. If my site was not about SEO it would be far easier for me to get links from those other sites, but it is hard to push market an SEO site to high authority tech channels without expecting some brand damage as a result.
Even if your site covers a lovable topic you still can get burnt if your ads are too aggressive, your contact email looks automated or spammy, or you contact mean spirited people. Use your gut instincts for judgement calls on who you should contact and how you should contact them, and don't place ads on your linkbait.
If your site is brand new then you likely are not risking that much if one person responds with a hate post. I once had a person link to me from a PageRank 8 site with over 1,000 inbound .edu links as the punishment for contacting them. Sorry to offend and thanks for the high authority link worth about $500. :)
Use Blog Comments Too
Another option would be to leave blog comments or have a friend leave relevant blog comments, but these are typically much less effective than personalized emails at building links. If you leave insightful comments without looking like a link spammer you are more likely to get links from your comments.
Many Ways to Filter Blog Search Results
When you search on Technorati and Google Blogsearch you can search for people writing about a specific subject and then organize those results by freshness or authority. You can also search for blog posts that cite a specific post related to your post. Another option with using date and blog search filters is to go back to some of the people who cited one of your recently popular posts and ask them to look at the post you are trying to spread.
These Tips are Timeless
You can use all these search tips to aid your link research using seasonal stories that spread a month ago, last year, or three years ago.
I need to verify the new CMS is working ok. I figure the easiest way to do so is to do a bunch of stuff with the site. Plus this will help me know what other features should be added. If you have any SEO questions please ask them below. Also if you have any ideas for improving the site layout and feature set I am all ears on that too.
I recently saw a spam AdSense site covering just about every angle of the financial category, with
about a half million rented links (many are sitewide on PR8 and PR9 sites)
thousands of pages of near Markov generated quality content
ultra spammy internal site structure
a bad design
ranking for well over 10,000 unique Google search queries
likely making anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 per day from AdSense
Some high ranking sites can last for years as long as they stay out of the limelight. But when those sites get public scrutiny they need to have enough community influence to make a search engineer fear hand editing them.
As soon as non-corporate sites get mentioned on a popular SEO blog (as a success story or a spammy site) they stand a good chance of getting killed. My site that got hand edited by a Google engineer was nuked after I signed up for Google Webmaster Central and an SEO blogger mentioned the site.
The moral of the story is it is best to not seek exposure as or get categorized as an SEO play unless your brand is strong enough to hurt Google if they try to hurt you.