If you haven’t seen it, Newsweek discusses search engine optimization (SEO). I talked to Brad Stone for this article, and it was clear that he had done his homework to delve into the world of SEO. I was worried that the article might sensationalize SEO, but in my mind it was pretty even-handed. Here’s a few comments on the article from my perspective:
- I knew Brad was going to write about Rand Fishkin because he asked me a few questions about him, but I didn’t realize that he was also planning to write about a blackhat SEO (or if Brad mentioned it, I missed that).
- Ironically, Brad decided to profile Earl Grey, one of the co-creators of a forum where blackhat SEOs sometimes chat. Why is this ironic? Well, I was doing some training on Friday, and one of the things I talked about was how to trace from one spam domain to find more spam domains. Guess what one of the examples was: Earl Grey’s sites! Small world, huh? A page on one of Earl’s sites says that he’s based in East Buffalo in New York, but we saw how that wasn’t true; it looks like he lives in Yorkshire in the UK.
- By the way, if Earl didn’t want his identity known, he may not be happy with the Newsweek article. It gives a specific search plus the positions of his site on Yahoo and MSN, so it’s not too hard to discover the site.
- The article mentions that the blackhat site doesn’t rank on Google and implies that it may be because Google can take longer to rank sites. I’m happy to say that’s not the reason; this domain was already caught for spamming (both algorithmically and manually) before the Newsweek article came out. I don’t know what else to say about this other than “woohoo!” back to the team at Google that works on quality.
- The article also implies that avatarfinancial.com is ranking higher because Rand Fishkin bought some backlinks. We’ve already covered this territory. Rand, those paid links from the Harvard Crimson and elsewhere aren’t helping the site. In fact, it looks like you bought links from the same network that the other two sites at the site clinic were buying from. And I doubt Rand was expecting any direct PageRank impact from Avatar’s prweb.com press release. But what is helping is good content like the articles about non-conforming loans and the new blog on that site. That’s why when I see strong links from Yahoo’s directory, Dmoz, and Wikipedia to Avatar, I’m not very surprised.
My takeaway: the blackhat’s site wasn’t ranking in Google (we’d caught it before the article appeared), and Rand has been building up the content on his client’s site. From a cursory look, that’s what is making the real difference for that site’s better ranking. One thing I’m really happy about is that the article didn’t portray SEOs and search engines as automatically being in opposition:
[Search engines] deplore the so-called black-hat SEOs who use unsavory techniques, like spamming the Web with dummy pages full of links, in an effort to make their sites appear popular. But they are increasingly tolerant of ethical or “white hat” SEOs like Fishkin, who primarily help their clients knock down the virtual walls that prevent search engines from fully indexing their site. … It’s good for Google and SEOs: better-organized sites increase the amount of content in Google’s index, while improving SEO rankings.
I couldn’t agree more. Google does not consider SEO to be spam. To Google, SEO only becomes spam when it goes against our quality guidelines and moves into things like hidden text, hidden links, cloaking, or sneaky redirects.
Reading through the piece, there’s a bit of an undercurrent of “SEOs must do some deep magic; maybe I should hire one?” Truthfully, much of the best SEO is common-sense: making sure that a site’s architecture is crawlable, coming up with useful content or services that has the words that people search for, and looking for smart marketing angles so that people find out about your site (without trying to take shortcuts). Google will keep working to make SEO easier and spamming harder. In my ideal world, a site owner wouldn’t need to think about SEO at all: Google would always find your content with no help. However, things as simple as a site map can improve how well search engines can crawl (and rank) your site.
In the coming days, I’m going to give some tips for great ways to get links that will help in Google. I’m sure I’ll pick on a spammer or two as well.