Google Shuffle?

When I launch my browser (Firefox) it starts with 4 tabs. The first three are the major engines with “seo services” in the query just so I can keep close tabs on how we’re doing. The 4th is another Google datacenter with the same information. Yes, I’m that obsessed. It also gives me a close watch on what’s going on at Google – I can constantly see any time a minor adjustment is underway.

When I walked in the door this morning, our Director of SEO Services Daryl Quenet asked me if I’d seen the results and who was up today. He was getting a different set of results than I had gotten just a short while earlier. After searching other phrases it became pretty clear – there’s a minor update underway. If fact, we have one client that in the duration of a call was in position 3, then 22, then 13 and then 6 (and it was about a 5 minute call).

In the results for the competition for “seo services” I’ve admittedly been a bit disheartened with who we’re competing against lately. As I’ve noted previously on our blog, there was once a time when we were up against WeBuildPages for the #1 spot. That isn’t the case anymore and unfortunately, a lot of the sites now beating WeBuild have what I would consider to be “less that ideal” link strategies. To me, I’d almost rather be #2 in a solid competition against worthy opponents than #1 in a competition against sites that have sloughs of footer links and blogrolls. Basically, I’d rather be up against “real” linking strategies.

Unfortunately, it appears that the newer algorithm (and it’s been this way for a while now) is favoring link strategies that go exactly against the best practices. I’m not going to name names here (you can check the backlinks of our competitors (and us too if you like) to find out who’s doing what – on maybe spend your time researching your own industry) but here’s some of what we’re seeing get results that they shouldn’t be:

Paid Links:
Ugh. There are numerous competitors out there who have bought links and are reaping the benefits. No matter what Matt and crew might say over at chez Google – they’re just not as good at devaluing them as we’re being told. One of the sites I was looking into has many paid links in obvious locations on irrelevant sites and is doing quite well with them. Now, I’m not saying go out and get yourself some paid links – it’s always a risky venture but this is definitely the area of biggest annoyance to me as we have no paid links simply because we’re not willing to risk our rankings and to watch sites climb into the top 10 with them, even after being reported, is annoying to those of us that have secured legitimate links with great effort and is hurting those that they beat out.

Links On Client Sites:
Alright, admittedly this is a tactic that I don’t love but I can’t really argue it. We tend not to put links on client sites. I personally find it to be in poor form to charge a client and then take a link from them HOWEVER there is a legitimate claim that this is advertising and giving credit where it’s due.

Regardless of what side of the equation you’re on in that debate though, should these really count as backlinks? They’re not links given by the site owner as a vote, they’re default links put there by the party that will benefit. Google needs to find a way to discount these links much better than they are right now.

Run Of Site Links:
This is an easy one. If a link appears on every page of a site – it shouldn’t count. If it’s there for traffic, great but I can’t think of a single reason why a run-of-site link, any run-of-site link, should be legitimately counted as a vote. Even if the link is to a parent company – the link is not so much a vote as a disclaimer and should be treated as such.

This one might come right after paid links in my list of annoying links that shouldn’t, but do, seem to be working right now. One of the sites I’ve found has that majority of their links coming from a counter that links with an image to their site. From what I can see, they don’t even offer the counter on their site and thus – they likely (though not necessarily) have paid to have their link put in by the counter creator as a “sponsor”.

In this case we have a paid link combined with a low quality, non-anchor text link (though the images to have alt tags) that it effective. This obviously shouldn’t be the case if what we’re trying to count are real, quality, vote-given links.

And So …
So what’s the purpose of this rant? Well, I know that people from Google visit our blog, I can see them in our stats and so my hope is that one of them will read this blog, take a look at how they’re counting backlinks and give credit where it’s due – to links worked for and earned by either providing valuable information, providing a valuable resource, or other such “tactics” that actually reflect a vote from one site to another rather than counting a default link with low value based on Google’s own guidelines and articulated philosophy towards the subject.

And just to help things along I’m going to give a link to WeBuildPages for SEO services just to give them a boost. Now they just need to get their onsite optimization in place and perhaps we’ll once again be up against companies that should be in the top ten. 😉

A Warning:
Now some of you may be thinking, “Hey, these tactics are working so let’s do it !!!” If that’s your mentality then I warn you to do so at your own risk. Google is trying to get a better value system in place for links and eventually they will succeed. If you’re looking to only rank briefly then you might stand a chance but if what you want it to build a quality site that will withstand the ebb-and-flow of the algorithm over time (and I hope you are) then these tactics will eventually get caught and downward your site will tumble.

We’re starting to see a very little bit of this in some cases (depending on which set of results we’re seeing right now Google settles on) but not enough. My hope is that Google will be able to pick these links up, give them the credit they deserve (none in most cases) and let the true links acquired in mine and other industries count as they should.

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