Google SERP-rot, Paid Links, & Spam Classification

I talked to a search engineer a few months back and he mentioned that he thought one of my sites and one of the promotions associated with it were both spammy. This month I came across a random blog comment where a person talked about how great that search company was for showing them that same site! The only problem was that since that site was new and we still need more links we had to pay Google for those clicks.

Meanwhile a network of older established poorly designed English third language sites dominate Google's organic search results, and keep getting self-reinforcing links that make it virtually impossible to compete with them without buying links. But our AdWords ads and viral marketing we did lead to some exposure where editors from other companies got to evaluate our site.

  • A number of mainstream media companies (newspapers and radio shows) mentioned us on their site.
  • A leading search company featured a link to our site aggressively in their portal (sorry I can't say more than that or a partner would kill me for doing so).
  • Mahalo listed our site with a cool rating and listed many deep links from our site on their overview page.
  • The Yahoo! Directory listed our site for free.

Had we not paid Google $1,000's, the organic links we got never would have existed, and our site might never rank. Amongst most other search related companies they generally love our site. But because I am associated with the site and I am an aggressive marketer the site is seen in a different light by search engineers at Google, in spite of providing a better user experience than the outdated garbage Google currently ranks (as indicated by searchers and editorial judgement from human reviewers at other search companies).

I am not complaining here, as we are on page 2 and getting close to page 1, but most content producers are not as aggressive at marketing as we have been, and some of the best content might take many years to rank - if ever. The bigger issues at hand are

  • Most English speaking webmasters with trusted sites use Google, thus if something is not in Google it is hard for it to get the quality links needed to rank unless the webmaster buys AdWords or spends a lot on public relations
  • many employees of other search companies are likely using Google search
  • any warp in Google's view of the web (like SERP staleness & bias toward huge media companies) creates opportunity for another search company to be born, and to some extent validate arbitrage plays by companies like Mahalo.

By relying on old websites to clog up the search results Google virtually guarantees that you need to buy links to rank a new site. The only question is who is getting paid!

Published: June 3, 2008 by Aaron Wall in google marketing


June 3, 2008 - 4:15pm

I agree whole-heartedly. I've been trying to out-rank two sites by providing a better catalogue and tons more relevant content for ages, but I just can't move the number 1 or 2 out of their spots. Number 1 is particularly frustrating is it is not up-date and lacks current content; its also poorly designed and unprofessional - this is not a quality site to land on from SERPS. Your self-reinforcing video suggests just waiting and it will change over time, is there anything else we can do?

June 3, 2008 - 5:15pm

My self-reinforcing video does *not* suggest just sitting around and waiting. We offer lots of link building tips here
But it does take time, content, and links.

June 4, 2008 - 2:37am

I think this is a weak spot for Google, legally. As they garner more and more search share their policies against paid links will become more and more scrutinized. Eventually there'll be some brouhaha over how Google penalized several sites -- probably a class-action deal -- because they advertised with someone else. All the stats will be there to show what effect this has on those sites, there will be a sufficient sob story, a sufficient air of monopoly to Google's actions, and most importantly the judicial system will be at a level where they understand those consequences. Wild guess... 5-ish years. You probably don't want to wait that long, huh Aaron? :D

June 4, 2008 - 8:19am

Great post Aaron and i'm in 100% agreement about old sites sticking to the SERPs regardless of how new or up to date their content is.

I am never going to be against Googles stance on paid links, they are a completely bad thing for both webmasters and users but while ever Google sit on their high horse and earn millions in the same way we can't do anything but use them.

It would be great if Google could try to balance this problem out but they seem to just ignore it, Cutts' just posted that they have updated their webmaster guidelines, paid links section included, and while I am glad Google are trying to clarify how they stand on things as much as possible they still completely fail to mention that 99% of large companies use paid links every single day and remain in the top 3 for 100's of keywords yet if I use one (non google) paid link and get reported I loose 3 PR.

June 5, 2008 - 12:05am

I am never going to be against Google's stance on paid links, they are a completely bad thing for both webmasters and users but while ever Google sit on their high horse and earn millions in the same way we can't do anything but use them.

As soon as Google stops promoting infidelity to my wife and thousands of other people in the paid links they pollute the web with, then I might be able to respect their stance on paid links.

On Stage Lighting
June 4, 2008 - 12:54pm

The proliferation of stale sites clogging up the SERPS is a mirror of the duds filling up DMOZ. However, the whole web 2.0, blog/fresh content thing means that brand new stuff can rank well for a day or so.

So, if you put up your holding page in 1990 or keep churning changes on a new site - fine.

There seems to be more of a problem with "middle aged" sites, with a more static content profile - no matter how relevant they are. Look like a job for AdwordsMan.


June 4, 2008 - 3:10pm

What do you mean google isn't up for saint hood? And, if I wait for goog to realize my site is better than the competition I will starve to death.
The biggest lesson I have had to learn is keep it clean, don't overly ignore the goog guidelines, and there are other ways to market the site that are not relevant to the big G and will get the traffic to the site.

June 6, 2008 - 8:46am

Hi Aron,

I don’t know why but after reading this post I just went straight to Google and searched for -SEO Book- (without dashes). Just did it on impulse. There I found that Top 3 results are from and the sixth one seems to be owned by you (in any case you seem to be the sole sponsor the website).

So you have 4 results out of top 10 for your website and quite a few links if we consider the site links and tabbed results. (Hats of to your SEO skills!). Still you are paying for the ADWords link on the right.

May I ask what is the strategy behind this (Since the post is partly about paying to Google)? Would you advice doing this for other sites even if they "own" the No. 1 spot in Google. And of course it will be great if you shared analytics data about how much traffic you get from each of the search results and the paid link on the right. (I know probably I am asking for too much.)

Anyway thank you for a great blog post and sharing the knowledge with us.

Pritam Barhate.

June 7, 2008 - 12:27am

If you do not own that adwords ad someone else does. And sometimes that does not work out well...see here

Lee Johnson
June 10, 2008 - 2:33pm

I thought it was just me that was noticing this. I feel Google are becoming too much of a monopoly and just by a slight change in there algo they can increase profits due to the fact people who want to get higher up the listings need to pay to be there. Whats happening to natural listings.

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