(Editor’s note: See Peewater, as defined by Urban Dictionary)

You’ll hear the following question/argument asked at just every online marketing conference, discussion/forum, and I’m asked it at least a few times a month.

“Why should we play by the rules when it’s still possible to cheat and rank?”

I understand your frustration, and I can’t argue your point, because every day my own analysis shows the exact same thing.

It annoys me as well because I will not use those tactics nor advise a client to try them.

When I begin working on link development for a client, I study the inbound link portfolios of the top 30 or 40 ranked sites across the four largest engines. And plain as day I see countless examples of pure peewater ranking well.

But…

Taking a deep breath, I begin to crunch the backlink data, and I mean hammer on tens of thousands of backlinks across 40 or 50 competitors, all fed into my old school but wickedly cool macro laden excel spreadsheet (60k records at a time, anyway).

What I see emerge time and time and time again is that it isn’t always JUST the crappy links and tactics that are working. In other words, the crappy links are there, yes, but there were also some sort of merit based earned inbound(s).

I’m not saying this is the case every time because it isn’t. Yes, some sites do rank with nothing more than pure peewater for links. But almost every time I’ve seen that happen, it’s a site in a niche where there is little to no hope of getting merit based links in any volume in the first place. If the keyword searched for happens to fall into one of these niches, Google still has to do what Google does, i.e., rank them. And even if the signals are nothing but the aforementioned junk, Google will faithfully do its job, and rank someone #1 and someone #100, according to whatever signals Google can find, even if those signals are weak, or yellow. After all, is it Google’s fault you are lying cheating stealing online pharmacy? No it isn’t. (online pharmacy was only an example, please calm down.)

I repeat what I stated, and stick to it…

“…Yes, some sites do rank with nothing more than pure peewater for links. But almost every time I’ve seen that happen, it’s a site in a niche where there is little to no hope of getting merit based links in any volume in the first place.

Since I know the engines are all trying to improve detection of junk links from impacting their result pages, I can’t in good conscience recommend or use a tactic I know helps make the results that much worse, and which will stop working, whether tomorrow or next year.

But I also understand business. I just choose not to participate in tactics that make the web uglier.

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