Andy Greenberg wrote an article for Forbes entitled “Condemned To Google Hell” about supplemental results. I was getting ready to go on vacation, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to Andy, and now I wish that I had. It’s easy to read the article and come away with the impression that Google’s supplemental results are some sort of search engine dungeon where bad pages go and sit in limbo forever, and that’s just not true.
I did some quick searching, and this post from January includes a pretty good rebuttal of the “you get into supplemental results for spamming or duplicate content, and then your pages stay there for a long time” idea. I’ll quote the most relevant paragraph:
As a reminder, supplemental results aren’t something to be afraid of; I’ve got pages from my site in the supplemental results, for example. A complete software rewrite of the infrastructure for supplemental results launched in Summer o’ 2005, and the supplemental results continue to get fresher. Having urls in the supplemental results doesn’t mean that you have some sort of penalty at all; the main determinant of whether a url is in our main web index or in the supplemental index is PageRank. If you used to have pages in our main web index and now they’re in the supplemental results, a good hypothesis is that we might not be counting links to your pages with the same weight as we have in the past. The approach I’d recommend in that case is to use solid white-hat SEO to get high-quality links (e.g. editorially given by other sites on the basis of merit).
That statement still holds. It’s perfectly normal for a website to have pages in our main web index and our supplemental index. If a page doesn’t have enough PageRank to be included in our main web index, the supplemental results represent an additional chance for users to find that page, as opposed to Google not indexing the page.
Okay, so that’s the general advice I’d highlight. It can also be the case that links that used to carry more weight for a website might not be counting as much. Let’s see if we can find an example of that in the article. Here’s a quote:
MySolitaire.com, another online diamond business, spent January to June of 2006 in the supplemental index. Amit Jhalani, the site’s vice president of search marketing, says he figures that cost his business $250,000 in sales, and he says he still doesn’t know why the site’s pages got Google’s thumbs-down.
“So many of the rules are vague,” Jhalani says. But he admits that he tried gray-area tactics like buying links from more established sites to juice his traffic.
Okay, so the VP of SEM for this site mentions that they tried buying links; maybe those links started to count for less. I decided to check into mysolitaire.com and see if I could find any other links that might have started counting for less. I did find a spam report where someone forwarded an email that appeared to be from mysolitaire.com:
>From: “MySolitaire Jewelry” <email@example.com>
>To: <xxxxxx @xxxxxxxxxx.org>
>Subject: Link Exchange Request from MySolitaire
>Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2006 11:59:47 -0500
>Dear Sir / Madam
> I am writing to see if you would be interested
>in setting up reciprocal links.
> We offer a unique and extensive line of
>Diamonds and Jewelry. Thousands of brides,
>grooms and other customers view our site every
>month as they plan their weddings, engagements
>and gifting ideas. Our Diamonds and Jewelry
>Links page is a direct link off our home page.
>Currently, we have less than 50 outgoing links
>in each category.
> The information and services offered on your
>site would be of great value to our visitors,
>and I believe, your visitors would find great
>value in our site. Because our two web sites are
>complementary rather than competitive, we see
>the synergy here as an opportunity for our
> To exchange links with us either enter the code below onto your site:
> <a href=’http://www.mysolitaire.com/diamondearrings/’ target=_blank><b>
> Diamond Earrings, Diamond Stud Earrings,
>Diamond Studs, Diamond Hoops, Diamond
> Chandelier Earrings, Diamond Threader Earrings</b><br /> Diamond Earrings,
> Diamond Stud Earrings, Diamond Studs, Diamond Hoops, Diamond Chandelier
> Earrings, Diamond Threader Earrings at a great value. Only available at
> Mxxxx Fxxxxxxxxx
> 62 West, 47th St #1409
> New York, NY 10036
> Phone: 866-697-6548 (866-MySolitaire)
> Fax: 212-840-5909
A quick Google search finds similar emails that were sent to mailing lists. Reciprocal links by themselves aren’t automatically bad, but we’ve communicated before that there is such a thing as excessive reciprocal linking. Note that the email above doesn’t say that they have less than 50 outgoing links; nope, it says “Currently, we have less than 50 outgoing links in each category.” I checked out http://www.mysolitaire.com/resources/ and by my count saw 329 different categories offered for link exchanging:
I know a lot about SEO, so I decided to check out the “Search Engine Optimization” category. This was the first entry I saw:
Now I didn’t click through to check out that site; it could be the best SEO site in the world. But the entry doesn’t give great experience for users; heck, it’s not even a complete sentence. And it didn’t look really relevant for users for a diamond ring site to exchange links like this in potentially up to 329 different categories. As Google changes algorithms over time, excessive reciprocal links will probably carry less weight. That could also account for a site having more pages in supplemental results if excessive reciprocal links (or other link-building techniques) begin to be counted less. As I said in January: “The approach I’d recommend in that case is to use solid white-hat SEO to get high-quality links (e.g. editorially given by other sites on the basis of merit).”
I thought Andy Beal had an interesting take on the Forbes piece as well.