Search Engine Optimisation – What Not To Do – A collection of my notes on breaking Google’s rules…. and what happens.
Google has released a search engine optimisation starter guide for webmasters, which they use internally:
Although this guide won’t tell you any secrets that’ll automatically rank your site first for queries in Google (sorry!), following the best practices outlined below will make it easier for search engines to both crawl and index your content. Google
It is certainly worth a read even if it is basic best practice search engine optimisation for your site.
Here’s a list of what Google tells you to avoid in the document;
- choosing a title that has no relation to the content on the page
- using default or vague titles like “Untitled” or “New Page 1″
- using a single title tag across all of your site’s pages or a large group of pages
- using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to users
- stuffing unneeded keywords in your title tags
- writing a description meta tag that has no relation to the content on the page
- using generic descriptions like “This is a webpage” or “Page about baseball
- filling the description with only keywords
- copy and pasting the entire content of the document into the description meta tag
- using a single description meta tag across all of your site’s pages or a large group of pages
- using lengthy URLs with unnecessary parameters and session IDs
- choosing generic page names like “page1.html”
- using excessive keywords like “baseball-cards-baseball-cards-baseball-cards.htm”
- having deep nesting of subdirectories like “…/dir1/dir2/dir3/dir4/dir5/dir6/
- using directory names that have no relation to the content in them
- having pages from subdomains and the root directory (e.g. “domain.com/
page.htm” and “sub.domain.com/page.htm”) access the same content
- mixing www. and non-www. versions of URLs in your internal linking structure
- using odd capitalization of URLs (many users expect lower-case URLs and remember them better)
- creating complex webs of navigation links, e.g. linking every page on your site
to every other page
- going overboard with slicing and dicing your content (it takes twenty clicks to get to deep content)
- having a navigation based entirely on drop-down menus, images, or animations (many, but not all, search engines can discover such links on a site, but if a user can reach all pages on a site via normal text links, this will improve the accessibility of your site)
- letting your HTML sitemap page become out of date with broken links
- creating an HTML sitemap that simply lists pages without organizing them, for
example by subject (Edit Shaun – Safe to say especially for larger sites)
- allowing your 404 pages to be indexed in search engines (make sure that your
webserver is configured to give a 404 HTTP status code when non-existent
pages are requested)
- providing only a vague message like “Not found”, “404”, or no 404 page at all
- using a design for your 404 pages that isn’t consistent with the rest of your site
- writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakes
- embedding text in images for textual content (users may want to copy and
paste the text and search engines can’t read it)
- dumping large amounts of text on varying topics onto a page without paragraph, subheading, or layout separation
- rehashing (or even copying) existing content that will bring little extra value to
Search engine optimization is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.
Search Engine Optimisation – Don’t make simple mistakes…..
- Avoid duplicating content on your site found on other sites. Yes, Google likes content, but it *usually* needs to be well linked to, unique and original to get you to the top!
- Don’t hide text on your website. Google may eventually remove you from the SERPS (search engine results pages).
- Don’t buy 1000 links and think “that will get me to the top!”. Google likes natural link growth and often frowns on mass link buying.
- Don’t get every body to link to you using the same “anchor text” or link phrase. This could flag you as an seo.
- Don’t chase Google PR by chasing 100’s of links. Think quality of links….not quantity.
- Don’t buy many keyword rich domains, fill them with similar content and link them to your site, no matter what your seo company says. This is lazy seo and could see you ignored or worse banned from Google. It might have worked yesterday but it sure does not work today!
- Do not constantly change your site pages names or site navigation. This just screws you up in any search engine.
- Do not build a site with a navigation system that Google, Yahoo and Bing cannot crawl.
- Do not link to everybody who asks you for reciprocal links. Only link out to quality sites you feel can be trusted.
- Do not submit your website to Google via submission tools. Get a link on a trusted site and you will get into Google in a week or less.
Don’t Flag Your Site With Bad Onsite SEO
The aim of any ‘rank modification’ is not to flag your site as spammy to Google, and I think if you navigate on-page seo successfully, you’re ready to get to the on-site stuff Google also rewards – internal links.
For me, the key is to keep it as clean as possible on-site over the greatest amount of time. Forget about tricks like links in H1 tags etc and linking to the same page 3 times with different anchor text on one page. Forget about ‘which is best’ when considering things you shouldn’t be wasting your time with. Every tag on your page is a score. Put a keyword in every tag and you will flag your site as ‘trying too hard’ if you haven’t got the link trust to cut it.
So with regards to on page, spamming Google is dangerous. Don’t spam your anchor text link titles with the same keyword. Don’t spam your ALT Tags, or any other tags either. Add your keywords intelligently. Try and make the site mostly for humans, not search engines. Even Google says this, and I believe them this time.
On Page SEO is not a checklist any more of keyword here, keyword there. We’re up against brainy folk here. But for those who need a checklist, this is the sort of one that gets me results;
- Identify Your Keywords
- Identify Searcher Intent Opportunites
- Identify The Audience & The Reason For Your Article
- Write An Article. Use related terms. Use plurals. Use words with searcher intent like buy, compare. I like to get a keyword or related term in every paragraph
- Use Emphasis sparingly To Emphasise the important points in the page wether they are your keywords are not
- Pick An Intelligent Page Title with your keyword in it @ 10 words
- Write An Intelligent Meta Description @ 20 words
- Add an image with user centric ALT text
- Link to related pages on your site within the text
- Link to related pages on other sites
- Call your page file name something clean, as part of a clean
- At all times, Keep It Simple Stupid!
- You can forget about just about everything else.
Negative Ranking Factors
SEOmoz just updated a cool group consensus of search engine ranking factors. From that study, here’s a quick rundown on the most ‘agreed’ search engine tanking factors:
- Link Aquistion from known link sellers
- Server downtime
- Hidden text
- Links to bad neighbourhoods
- Keyword Stuffed Text
- “Excessive Repetition of the Same Anchor Text in a High Percentage/Quantity of External Links to the Site/Page”
It might have been interesting to isolate the algorithm from the human element AKA the Google Web Spam Team. I seeing a lot of old seo tricks like keyword stuffing getting past the G maths that ‘shouldn’t’ and which would not pass a human review – that is, pages ranking successfully because of individual strengths in particular/other areas even though they might be for instance, keyword stuffed to high heaven – the latter is the whole reason I wouldn’t use it for clients, not the algo.
The algo can weigh you and measure you and think you’re no1 yet when a human reaches your page all you get is keyword stuffed nonsense and that’s without cloaking anything.
I’m looking at one example of that now in a competitor audit for a customer.
Pure crap hat seo which Google loves enough to rank a particular site no1 for a keyword worth Ã‚£3K for a sale which I need to circumvent in some way. It’s obvious (but not apparent) this competitor site has done something RIGHT, it’s no1, but it’s done EVERYTHING ELSE SO BADLY it will not pass a human spam review site – it’s an embarrassment to Google as it stands.
I think it’s safe to say seo tactics that are violations of Google TOS in Google webmaster guidelines might very well …er, work lol, as long as you don’t get caught (by the algo or the web spam human reviewers). OR they wouldn’t be in there.
A lot of the SEOmoz report is standard seo Google tells you not to do, but the whole report by Rand Fishkin is a great idea (one of the best in SEO Land) and so well presented it’s worth a good look over.
Low Quality Links
It’s been interesting of late in SEOland, with a lot of BIG sites getting nuked in Google because of manipulative ranking techniques – e.g. aggressive linkbuilding or content spamming or e.g. talking the p*ss.
Overstock’s situation is interesting as this is a fairly well used linkbuilding technique that was discussed.
It’s interesting how it was outed by perhaps a comepetitor. In Webmasterworld.
It’s interesting how it was devalued. Manually.
What was wrong with it exactly? Well, the search engineer who looked at it immediately probably looked for the â€˜Google Taking The P*ss Nuke Button’ when he read this:
Overstock.com is offering ABAC students and faculty 10% off of selected products using the coupon code: 121728â€¦ Link Details; please use the following hyperlinks for each keyword: â€œvacuum cleanersâ€ should by the hyperlink to: http://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/VacuumCleaners/2004/subcat.html
â€œgift basketsâ€ should be the hyperlink to: http://www.overstock.com/Gifts-Flowers/GiftBaskets/125/dept.htmlâ€¦ S EL
and saw this:
â€¦and realised this site was trying to rank, it seems, forâ€¦everything! That’s a lot of competitors to p*ss off as well.
- don’t get outed, and
- don’t be caught asking for links with specific anchor text – ever.
- Don’t take the p*ss and
- This seo technique works.
The recent JCPenney debacle as well as a clear example of talking the p*ss as well, trying to rank for everything, and using over-the-top techniques. Again, this had to be a manual change, and again, it was outed. Again it was a clear example of manipulative links. Even more damaging – paid links from obvious low quality domains – lots of them.
- Don’t get greedy and
- Don’t get caught buying links on lots of crappy domains when you have tons of great positions.
- Don’t get outed by a national Newspaper.
- Don’t take the p*ss
- This seo strategy works…..
….. but before you start buidling links like that – be aware – Google now has a webspam process looking specifically for this type of abuse.
Low Quality Content Farms
Google also took issue with massive content farms – and apparently, re-ranked them.
|#||Domain||Change||SISTRIX (before)||SISTRIX (after)||# KWs (before)||# KWs (after)|
Content farms are at the other end of the scale – massive, low quality content farming sites, who apparently don’t care about the quality of the content, as long as it ranks in Google and people click on adverts. Most of these sites are authority domains and have decent links because of good and bad PR – and the way Google ranks authority sites, it benefits them just to pump oodles of content into Google, as Google doesn’t really know the difference between good content and bad – only what’s â€˜relevant’..
- This SEO strategy worked
- Don’t take the p*ss
Somewhere in the middle of all that above are similar strategies that work to dominate search engines. Crap links work sometimes. Paid links work (of course). Content spamming works if you have a smidgeon of domain authority.
Hardly inspiring seo but the techniques outlined above beat the algorithms of every search engine out there and it’s the way of the world and it’s not illegal.
No wonder lots of people out there do it.
Content Farm Algorithm Change Is Named Google Panda
I’m tracking a page on this site that, all of a sudden, in April 2011, seemed to have a lot of trouble ranking for terms it ranked well for maybe years… even though it’s well cited, original content. I wonder if it has something to do with Google PANDA. I’ve purposely left it alone to see what happens……
Google Panda, if you don’t know, is what seo (and Google employees) are calling the latest changes to how Google ranks pages and SEL have a good round up of when they think it hit sites…..
Google may have rolled them out just a bit earlier or later than those exact days. The bigger issue is that you can see a trend developing. About every month, Google reruns its Panda algorithm. Each time Panda is run, there’s a chance some hit from the last update will improve, while other sites might see traffic drops. In between updates, changes people may make specifically in hopes of fixing a Panda problem won’t show any impact until the next update is run.
So far, the Google Panda update schedule has been like this:
- Panda Update 1.0: Feb. 24, 2011
- Panda Update 2.0: April 11, 2011 (about 7 weeks later)
- Panda Update 2.1: May 10, 2011 (about 4 weeks later)
- Panda Update 2.2: June 16, 2011 (about 5 weeks later)
- Panda Update 2.3: July 23, 2011 (about 5 weeks later – The 2.1 to 2.3 dates are approximate.)
Those later dates seem to correlate a little with the graph above, which makes my page all the more interesting, as I did do a few things to that page back in the day to test some stuff…..
Looks like page quality issues – specifically – keyword relevance issues and depth of content……
What Makes A Page Spam?
What makes a page spam?:
- Keyword stuffing – no percentage or keyword density given; this is up to the rater
- PPC ads that only serve to make money, not help users
- Copied/scraped content and PPC ads
- Feeds with PPC ads
- Doorway pages – multiple landing pages that all direct user to the same destination
- Templates and other computer-generated pages mass-produced, marked by copied content and/or slight keyword variations
- Copied message boards with no other page content
- Fake search pages with PPC ads
- Fake blogs with PPC ads, identified by copied/scraped or nonsensical spun content
- Thin affiliate sites that only exist to make money, identified by checkout on a different domain, image properties showing origination at another URL, lack of original content, different WhoIs registrants of the two domains in question
- Pure PPC pages with little to no content
- Parked domains
More at Search Engine Watch
If A Page Exists Only To Make Money, The Page Is Spam, to Google
If A Page Exists Only To Make Money, The Page Is Spam
In BOTH leaked quality rater guidelines we’ve seen for Google quality raters – as leaked and then pulled by Search Engine Land (if you didn’t get a copy – maybe you should be subscribed :) ) – this statement is pretty standout – and should be a heads up to any webmaster out there who thinks they are going to make a fast buck from Google organic listings these days.
It should at least make you think about the types of pages you are going to spend your valuable time making. Without VALUE ADD for Google’s users – don’t expect to rank.
If you are making a page today with the sole purpose of making money from it – and especially with free traffic from Google – you obviously didn’t get the memo. I talked about this sort of thing a long time ago in a Google sandbox article.
Big sites with marketing clout can sidestep this of course – so a lot of small sites trying to make some cash get hit. That might be unfair – but at least we know what field we are playing on – even if we don’t quite know what the ‘rules’ are.
It is worth remembering that your site MAY VERY WELL have to pass a manual review at some time – so just, as i also mentioned last year, getting to the top of Google isn’t enough.
Consider this from a manual reviewer:
…when they DO get to the top, they have to be reviewed with a human eye in order to make sure the site has quality. potpiegirl
It’s worth remembering:
- If A Page Exists Only To Make Money, The Page Is Spam
- If A Site Exists Only To Make Money, The Site Is Spam
This is how what you make will be judged – wether it is fair or not. I guess that makes a lot of us little guys spammers – wether we think we are, or not! If you are building a page that is already classed as spam by search engines, does that mean you may as well SPAM the search engines silly? I mean – you are already a spammer, anyways? Mixed messages – but TBH it is for this very reason I do not promote pure-affiliate sites for anybody else – so there is no point contacting me to do so.
IS IT ALL BAD NEWS?
Of course not – in some cases – it actually levels the playing field. I certainly don’t want to be a spammer.
If you come at a website thinking it is going to be a load of work and passion, thinking:
- DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF
- BE REMARKABLE
- BE ACCESSIBLE
- ADD UNIQUE CONTENT TO YOUR SITE
- GET CREDITED AS THE SOURCE OF UNIQUE CONTENT
- HELP USERS (!) IN A WAY THAT IS NOT DONE BY 100 OTHER SITES
…. then you might actually find you’ve built a pretty good site and even – a brand.
Google doesn’t care about us seo or websites – but it DOES care about HELPING USERS. So, if you are actually helping your visitors – and not by just getting them to another website – you are probably doing one thing right at least.
With this in mind – I am already building affiliate sites differently.
The dreaded doorway pages penalty…..
One of the more interesting tasks I am looking at at the moment….
A few of my friend’s web sites were penalised recently. The site pages seemed to be hit with a -50+ penalty.
First – Google rankings for main terms tanked….
… which led to a traffic apocalypse of course….
…and they got a nice email from Google WMT:
Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected doorway pages on xxxxxxxx – Dear site owner or webmaster of xxxxxxxx, We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, your site may have what we consider to be doorway pages – groups of “cookie cutter” or low-quality pages. Such pages are often of low value to users and are often optimized for single words or phrases in order to channel users to a single location. We believe that doorway pages typically create a frustrating user experience, and we encourage you to correct or remove any pages that violate our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results. If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support. Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team
Doorway pages are typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, doorway pages are written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination. Doorway pages are web pages that are created for spamdexing, this is, for spamming the index of a search engine by inserting results for particular phrases with the purpose of sending visitors to a different page. They are also known as bridge pages, portal pages, jump pages, gateway pages, entry pages and by other names. Doorway pages that redirect visitors without their knowledge use some form of cloaking. Whether deployed across many domains or established within one domain, doorway pages tend to frustrate users, and are in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines. Google’s aim is to give our users the most valuable and relevant search results. Therefore, we frown on practices that are designed to manipulate search engines and deceive users by directing them to sites other than the ones they selected, and that provide content solely for the benefit of search engines. Google may take action on doorway sites and other sites making use of these deceptive practice, including removing these sites from the Google index. If your site has been removed from our search results, review our Webmaster Guidelines for more information. Once you’ve made your changes and are confident that your site no longer violates our guidelines, submit your site for reconsideration.
Google being more aggressive with doorway pages?
I didn’t immediately class the pages on the affected sites in question as doorway pages. When I look in Google Webmaster Forums there are plenty of people asking questions about how to fix this – and as usual – it seems a bit of a grey area with a lot of theories….. and some of the help in the Google forum is, well, clearly bollocks.
I wonder if people even realise they are building what Google classes as doorway pages these days….. and it’s indicative that ….. what you intend to do with the traffic Google sends you may in itself, be a ranking factor not too often talked about. (Distilled has a timely complimentary piece to this today which is worth a link and save me the bother – time based penalty in Google.)
Interesting stuff for a seo geek.
But having access to the stats of such a site is interesting in so much it shows you what happens when a site is penalised for being a doorway site….
After being notified via GWT of a doorway pages penalty, my friend has submitted numerous reconsideration requests on the above site with no luck yet…..
Positions 40-70 is in some sort of neutral zone for it’s main keywords – effectively a -50 penalty to begin with. It’s something to check your rank checker stats for if you think you have been hit with a penalty.
NOTE – A lot of people don’t realise this (or something like it) happens all the time to thin affiliate sites…..
Another example of if Google classifies your site as undesirable or manipulative, there might be VERY LITTLE you can do to it to get it back in Google’s good graces….. nothing to the site in question, at any rate.
I think Google is probably a lot better at discovering and classifying a site and it’s intent these days – which also may lead to why Google feels comfortable about actually informing people via Google Webmaster Tools (which ironically you DO NOT want to register with if you have lots doorway page sites lol) about naughty stuff. I remember reading A LOT about -50 penalties etc in the last few years and reading LOTS of different ideas about how to recover from it. I have also seen a LOT of folk try and recover from PANDA, for instance, and apparently FAILING.
Maybe sometimes it’s not always about your backlinks, your anchor text, or your on page content, your bounce rate or the position of your adverts.
Maybe it’s a classification thing. You’re either trying to be a middleman or you are not.
Google Will Determine Your ‘Intent‘
Experienced Affiliates SEO – This isn’t probably for you. You know this stuff. I’m just thinking out loud here….. although feel free to rain on any theories about observations expressed :)
I read some forums and just about every answer to somebody’s ranking woes is get better quality links. In the long term of course for most sites, it’s useful advice (if a bit cryptic). I looked at a site that was given as an example, and wondered if the site itself wasn’t the reason for crap rankings, and perhaps even the age of the operational site present.
I mentioned before I class myself as a corporate seo. Moving into affiliates last year and building a lot of sites gave me a chance to experience things I just hadn’t experienced before. I’ve worked in a lot of different verticals in very competitive niches. Just NOT to experience things I experienced this year in my web travels gave me a gut feeling that once Google identified your NEW site’s ‘INTENT’ by classifying your site (I’ll surmise – as either a ‘bricks and mortar’ business or a middleman site) your rankings where at risk regardless of any quality onsite or inbound signals your site may have.
Normally we build a small microsite for a client around a keyword rich url, build a good, user friendly site, ensure it has all the normal business ‘signals’, and submit it to directories and article sites for search engine discovery and get on with coming up with ways of getting real business signal links to the site (local gov links, sites that don’t normally link out to crap etc etc ).
The graphs below illustrate 3 MINIsites all targeting one main keyword phrase, all built virtually identical, all with quality inbound link signals, with just a few differences between them. 2 sites rank today, 1 site is ‘sandboxed’ for want of a better term.
Exhibit 1 – Small Business Mini Site With Good Rankings
- Class: Mini-Site (Ecommerce)
- Outbound Links:No
- Unique Content
- Rankings: Constant (+Improving)
- Organic Traffic: Constant (+Improving)
- Honeymoon Period / Sandbox: None
- Prospects: Looking Good – No10 For Main Keyword after 2 months and improving
Exhibit 2 Private Affiliate Deal With Good Rankings
- Class: Mini-Site (Private Affiliate – Non-Affiliate Links – ie straight url links)
- Rewritten Content found on just a few sites
- Outbound Links:Yes
- External Nofollow: Yes
- Cloaked: No
- Rankings: Constant (+Improving)
- Organic Traffic: Constant (+Improving/stable)
- Honeymoon Period / Sandbox: None
- Prospects: Looking Good – No2 For Main Keyword – traffic stable
Exhibit 3 With Affiliate Network Links & TERRIBLE RANKINGS
- Class: Mini-Site (Affiliate – Affiliate Urls – ie detectable parameters)
- Rewritten content (+content found on other sites – but all target pages had unique content and lots of it)
- Outbound Links:Yes
- External Nofollow: Yes
- Cloaked: No
- Rankings: ERATIC!
- Organic Traffic: ERATIC!
- Honeymoon Period / Sandbox: 3 Instances
- Prospects: FOR THE MOMENT FECKED – @4weeks top ten for main keyword & great rankings, then SHORTCIRCUIT – top ranking pages are severed from the index, lower, irrelevant pages rank in -50+ positions. Rankings tank, traffic drops to virtually ZERO from Google.
All sites are built on the same platform. All sites have decent links.
How The Sites Perform The Way They Do
Exhibit 1 + 2 perform well and like any other small microsite you build. A few months, some original content, a few decent links, some directory links and articles and the odd quality link here and there.
There’s not much difference between exhibit 2 and 3. I mean, these two sites are BUILD EXACTLY ALIKE on the same platform. Site 3 actually has the better link profile as I knew it needed it!
- The only real world difference I can see is they are in different markets, one (SITE2) lacking some real quality sites, and the other, seasonable spam city. This could be very important of course.
- The only technical difference are affiliate ‘looking’ links – that is, urls with affiliate IDs. Site3 has them and site2 does not
- All sites have pretty decent links (and I mean decent!)
Of course, it’s not news Google, it is often argued, hates new affiliate sites – or middlemen sites as I think about it. If you’re intent is to make a fast buck out of Google – and upset the status quo Google has decided should merit their rankings (calculated over a longer period than your new site has been in the mix) – then why should Google help you out? At least while your site is so young?
I knew this before I started, but I decided not to cloak or hide my affiliate links on a few sites to see what happened, because this whole year is for learning. (Site3 is one of them)
How Has Google Classified Your Site?
What if – if Google counts a lot of affiliate urls as a signal of your intent, it can class you as a particular type of site. If Google classes you as a particular type of site, it means your NEW SITE (I am talking about brand new domains) may be eligible for a kick in the nuts in terms of rankings fluctuation at least in the short term. What if that filter was perhaps a date activated filter that say shorcircuits new sites in an already crowded set of results?
I’m new to afiliate seo and I know I should be hiding my affiliate ID links. In fact, all my new affiliate sites I ‘cloak’ my links with a custom script these days. To be honest though, I think if Googlebot comes accross links to internal pages it is blocked from accessing, it’s might well class those as affiliate links as well by default – they won’t trust those links either.
Your site might well still be classified as an affiliate. Putting nofollow on affiliate links? I heard Google ‘drops’ nofollow links from the link graph – but that’s not to say they won’t investigate the link and what it points to before it does drop it.
But I will play along as the new sites we’re planning on making will CERTAINLY NOT BE ‘frustrating user experiences’ – we’ve put a lot of effort into building sites that actually perform some amazing functionality – ALL USER FOCUSED TOO.
You might not be in affiliate search engine optimisation, but thinking about “does Google classify my site a certain way and will this affect my rankings?” perhaps we really need to think about the signals of intent your site has for best chance of great rankings, or indeed signals it lacks, to ensure you are not classed as the type of site Google has in it’s ‘short term’ sights.
We know Google identifies information sites, like wikipedia as important, and it can easily identify forums, shopping sites, spam, blogs etc and tailor for specific search queries. We know Google has a history of mucking things up at holiday times etc too and perhaps it’s by this sort of classification.
It would be very wise to make sure you are in the right classification by sending the right signals to Google at all times, and trying NOT to exhibit any negative footprint it may be on the lookout for. For instance, if you have a NEW small business site, I’d hesitate to put any affiliate links on a page to make a bit of extra cash, for instance.
I have a few ideas what those signals might be but then again so does everyone else (for instance perhaps the AGE of the OPERATIONAL domain (that is, the site that has been operational on that domain) would help in this scenario – that would be why you can’t fast break into markets where it’s all affiliates with a new site – as this would encounter the dreaded sandbox) . If you do affiliate seo I’d love to hear your thoughts either here or in private :)
These questions and all the other questions that arise are why I love SEO and stuck with it for so long, I think. I always find my self thinking “of course”, after every post, “maybe it just looks that way”, but it does urge me on to build a better site, at the very least.
Does Google Really Need Your Site?
I am a corporate seo and link builder – I am far from what I would call an expert in affiliate websites. This post is about what I think I have observed making the transition from corporate seo (my livelihood) to affiliate seo (my beer money).
When I started playing about with affiliate websites last year it’s kind of apparent that some sites that should rank, don’t.
I built 6 NEW test sites with exact match web addresses RECENTLY.
5 of them do well in organic rankings – very well. One of them is nowhere in Google, after months, and after getting some real links to the site too. (EDIT – The same site is Number 1 in Yahoo for it’s main keyword after a few months).
The performing sites are affiliate sites, made in much the same way as the underperforming site – but notably, these sites are NOT in a crowded space.
The underperforming site is a pure affiliate site in a very crowded (seasonal) space, with uncloaked affiliate links to suppliers, and discount codes and vouchers slapped all over the place. In short, I made no effort to hide it was a 100% affiliate site.
I did think we’ve made a nice niche site though – informative and easy to navigate for the user – better, in my opinion, than the competition. There is a lot of competition in this space, mostly spammy, and from the analysis I did, I thought it would be able to break into pretty quickly. I had 200 pages of content hand written too, to make the descriptions completely unique.
It all looked so good……
Top Rankings – Then ZZap! Nothing!
Much like the mythic Google sandbox some folk go on about, the site burst into the rankings and shot right to the top of Google. Then the site virtually disappeared for months (it still is nowhere – I have purposely let it be to see what happens to it). It almost looks like there’s a rankings short circuit. It’s as if Google is ignoring page relevancy within the site, and the page that should rank, is completely ignored, and as a result, another page on the site ranks on (for example) page 15. The pages that should rank within the site, do not.
As a corporate seo, I NEVER experienced a sandbox effect, even launching new sites – obtaining credible links from trusted sites always had an impact within months if not weeks.
As an affiliate seo, I think I see this sort of sandbox (for want of a better word) as a phenomenon in some industries.
Google believes that pure affiliate websites do not provide additional value for web users, especially if they are part of a program that distributes its content to several hundred affiliates. Because a search result could return multiple sites, all with the same content, they create a frustrating user experience.
Hmmmm… well, that is exactly the type I built lol – no matter how well I built it.
It certainly looks as though Google has reacted and:
- identified it as an affiliate site, in an already ‘spammy’ industry with products already syndicated to a LOT of websites
- penalised it, or ‘sandboxed’ it – ‘for later’
Why should Google do this? To stop seo like me just wandering into it’s index, probably. Didn’t Google recently say they don’t think a site should rank JUST because a good seo is at the helm?
I’ve spent my corporate career trying to make my sites not look spammy. Perhaps affiliate sites need to look more corporate.
Maybe Google just doesn’t want another site like yours – and mine – in this space? Well, there ARE hundreds, if not thousands. IT IS a “frustrating user experience” if I take my marketer hat off and put my searcher hat on.
Wether or not this is the case, I’m certainly thinking more about making my affiliate sites different to all the competition…. easier said than done of course.
That is actually what Google wants you to do:
If you participate in an affiliate program, there are a number of steps you can take to help your site stand out and to help improve your rankings. Affiliate program content should form only a small part of the content of your site. When selecting an affiliate program, choose a product category appropriate for your intended audience. The more targeted the affiliate program is to your site’s content, the more value it will add and the more likely you will be to rank better in Google’s search results and make money from the program. For example, a well-maintained site about hiking in the Alps could consider an affiliate partnership with a supplier who sells hiking books rather than office supplies. Use your website to build community among your users. This will help build a loyal readership, and can also create a source of information on the subject you are writing about. For example, discussion forums, user reviews, and blogs all offer unique content and provide value to users. Keep your content updated and relevant. Fresh, on-topic information increases the likelihood that your content will be crawled by Googlebot and clicked on by users.
Do You Have The Wrong Type Of Site?
I see a lot of folk in forums bemoaning how their rankings are terrible, they are ‘sandboxed’, or they have lost previous good rankings. If you look at Google’s advice, you can see, Google actually warns you about building sites they, well, just don’t need any more:
Pure affiliate sites consisting of content that appears in many other places on the web is unlikely to perform well in Google search results and can cause your site to be negatively perceived by search engines. Unique, relevant content provides value to users and distinguishes your site from other affiliates, making it more likely to rank well in Google search result pages.
Do you have the exact same type of site as the current competition? Do you have the same affiliate links as most of the competition? If the answer is yes, and you want to compete for free google traffic, perhaps you need to think about the actual site you are building, rather than just the marketing of said site.
Just Get More Quality Links? Really?
I see a lot of advice from seo in forums and they seem to all mention at some time the same seo advice:
get more quality links
You know that advice on getting quality links to your website is sound, but what if Google has identified your site type as one it does not need in it’s already crowded index? What if this advice is from corporate seo, and not affiliate seo?
If this is the case, then you might be swimming upstream as far as good google rankings are concerned, and quality links won’t always rescue the site (in time for what you need it for).
It’s not as if quality links are that easy to come by these days anyways lol
Do let me know what your thoughts are especially if you are an affiliate seo – this is ONE site, and usually I wouldn’t blog about ONE site underperforming, but I thought it worth DISCUSSING as if Google is identifying particular types of site this aggressively, perhaps it’s a pointer of what’s to come (or is happening) in other verticals.
I have seen the arguments in this space FOR A LONG TIME. ‘There is a sandbox’. ‘The sandbox is a myth’. ‘Google hates affiliate sites’. ‘No Google hates crappy affiliate sites’. What I am saying is perhaps, in some scenarios, they are connected.
PS Check out Google’s advice on Affiliate Websites here. I’ve never really discussed affiliate websites on the Hobo blog, so I thought this might be a decent place to start….. even if I am way off with my theories, it’s probably useful to highlight what Google recommends about affiliate websites. :)
A Real Google Friendly Website?
A Google-friendly website used to mean a website built so Google could scrape it properly and rank it accordingly. While SEO has never been easier – the meaning of a Google friendly website has changed for me. When I think ‘Google friendly’ these days – I think a website Google will rank top, if popular and accessible enough, and won’t drop like a f*&^ing stone for no apparent reason one day, even though I followed the Google SEO starter guide to the letter…..
The reason for the post was basically about Google treating different types of sites, differently (!) – just because they are a certain type of site – and the apparent wide-spread ignorance of this (on Google forums at least). This was big in 2011 – and will be in 2012 I think.
IN these forums – I see a lot of folk complaining about ranking drops and site traffic annihilation – and long-time before Google Panda*.
My website has lost all it’s rankings! My website has lost all traffic from Google! My website is now on page 4,5,6 of Google….
Is It The BackLinks?
Well, if you are Google Chrome – at the moment – yes it is :) – But it’s not always about the links these days. You can have great links and still tank.
The following image graphs what happened to a site classified as a doorway page, for instance. This was apparently nothing to do with backlinks…..
Lots of people ping me and say “this type of links got me reduced in rankings”, or “this type of links gave them a -40 penalty”, or “links from this site vaporised their website”.
It’s The Website?
*NOTE I am not talking about ‘over-optimisation’ – or rather, poor optimisation. It’s never been easy to build a google friendly website in 2012 – from a technical point of view.
I’m talking about ‘commercial intent‘ as the Google Quality raters handbook defines it.
Why does a well built site with good links and good content tank? This has nothing to do with the backlinks in this example, either…..
Anyway. I think the majority of sites tanking, today and tomorrow that show up in Google webmaster forums…. will be sites Google has categorised / classified as a site Google can do without – rather than the spammy links these sites may or might not have. The fact Google now tells you in Google Webmaster tools they class your site as a doorway page, to me, was an indication of this.
I have stopped looking at sites in Google forums with this problem because – more often than not – the sites are just low quality information sites that make money passing the visitors from search engines to another site for a ‘couple of bob’ – effectively ‘thin-affiliate’ sites. Why even bother looking at their spammy link profiles.
Lots of people seem to think it’s all to do with back links FROM DIFFERENT SITES and this doesn’t really sit well with me.
Sure, you can get penalties based on links – if that’s the case – lots of websites probably have them – and just don’t know. I’ve certainly seen keyword specific penalties on specific keywords – even for ‘real’ websites.
Your spammy links probably helped you rank, then you got manually – or algorithmically – penalised because your site was a bit sh*t and your particular commercial intent was pretty obvious and all-too commonplace. Or you may be collateral damage – a site that just looks a bit like a ‘content farm‘, as opposed to a ‘thin affiliate’… I’d imagine lots of similar pages, lots of similar page titles… sort of thing.
But this isn’t new – Google has been actively targeting these kind of sites since 2005 or something…..just now it’s not JUST about original content anymore – it’s about the function your site provides to Google’s visitors.
Google Panda * – Perhaps about SITE BLOAT (lots of pages with similar content) + A Particular COMMERCIAL INTENT = RANKING DESTRUCTION. Panda looks a bit like a doorway page penalty focused on specific parts of the site – like sub-folders – as opposed to pages on the site AND the home page – or on specific keywords – without, of course, a nice Google website message saying ‘you’ve been pandalised! I am no Panda expert though.
I am building affiliate sites at the moment with the following in mind…..
- Don’t be a website Google won’t rank – What Google classifies your site as – is perhaps the NUMBER 1 Google ranking factor not often talked about – wether it Google determines this algorithmically or eventually,manually. That is – wether it is a MERCHANT, an AFFILIATE, a RESOURCE or DOORWAY PAGE, SPAM, or VITAL to a particular search – what do you think Google thinks about your website? Is your website better than the ones in the top ten of Google now? Or just the same? Ask, why should Google bother ranking your website if it is just the same, rather than why it would not, because it is just the same…. how can you make yours different. Better.
- Think, that one day, your website will have to pass a manual review by ‘Google’ – the better rankings you get, or the more traffic you get, the more likely you are to be reviewed. Know that Google at least classes even useful sites as spammy, according to leaked documents. If you want a site to fly in Google – it better ‘do’ something other than just link to another site for commission. Know that to succeed, your website needs to be USEFUL, to a visitor Google will send you – and a useful website is not just a website, with a sole comercial intent, of sending a visitor from Google, to another site – or a ‘thin affiliate’ as Google CLASSIFIES it.
- Think about how Google can algorithmically and manually determine the commercial intent of your website – what are the signals that differentiates a real small business website from a website set up JUST to send visitors to another website – non-masked affiliate links, on every page, for instance, or adverts on your site, above the fold etc,can be a clear indicator of a webmaster’s particular commercial intent
- Google is NOT going to thank you for publishing lots of similar articles and near duplicate content on your site – so EXPECT to have to create original content for every page you want to perform in Google, or at least, not publish content found on other sites….
- Ensure Google knows your website is the origin of any content you produce (typically by simply pinging Google via xml or rss) – I’d go as far to say think of using Google+ to confirm this too…. this sort of thing will only get more important as the year rolls on
- Understand and accept why Google ranks your competition above you – they are either:
1. more relevant and more popular,
2. more relevant and more reputable, or
3. manipulating back-links better than you.
Understand that everyone at the top of Google falls into those categories and formulate your own strategy to compete – relying on Google to take action on your behalf is VERY probably not going to happen.
- Being ‘relevant’ comes down to keywords & key phrases – in domain names, urls, Title Elements, the number of times they are repeated in text on the page, text in image alt tags, rich markup and importantly in keyword links to the page in question. If you are relying on manipulating hidden elements on a page to do well in Google, you’ll probably trigger spam filters. If it is ‘hidden’ in on-page elements – beware relying on it too much to improve your rankings.
- The basics of GOOD SEO hasn’t changed for years – though effectiveness of particular elements has certainly narrowed or changed in type of usefullness – you should still be focusing on building a simple site using VERY simple seo best practices – don’t sweat the small stuff, while all-the-time paying attention to the important stuff – add plenty of unique PAGE TITLESand plenty of new ORIGINAL CONTENT. Understand how Google SEES your website. CRAWL it, like Google does, with (for example) Screaming Frog SEO spider, and fix malformed links or things that result in server errors (500), broken links (400+) and unnecessary redirects (300+). Each page you want in Google should serve a 200 OK header message.
As I said… this excellent info-graphic was very timely:
*OK that’s me – sorry about the grammar – as usual this post ended up being a bit of a ramble – I will work on that in 2012 – but for now…. back to work. :)