Thursday, July 30, 2009

LinkMoses Resurrected #3 - When Cheaters Win, aka Peewater for Links

(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.

Next up on LinkMoses Resurrected: How To Make Sure Your Press Release Is Completely and Utterly Useless

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About The Link Building Best Practices Q and A
The Link Building Best Practices Q and A is provided free by Eric Ward. For sites with high value content, I offer several fee-based strategic linking services on a project basis.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

UPDATED: .edu Inbound Link Fallacies

One of the bigger link building hot topics is the impact that IBL (inbound links) originating from .edu locations can have on your link popularity and search rankings. Lost in the discussion is that the quality of IBL's from within the .edu domain varies significantly.

Rather than making this concept more complex than it needs to be, let's boil it down by example. A link from a student homepage or school paper web site isn't as valuable as a link from a professor's page, or better yet, the University library site. Why? because it's easy for those who are into black hat stuff to buy links from students, wheras a librarian isn't likely to be bought. Thus the content EARNED the link, and the source and citation can be trusted. Engines know this and will tweak algos until they get it right. I hope, anyway. Give me 10 library links instead of 100 student page links any day.

Likewise with .gov and others. Any TLD has crap, and any TLD has gold.

Another linking topic that gets folks excited is geographic IBL variety. This is another way of saying you need links from a bunch of countries. Not true. Links from around the world may not matter one IOTA for your particular site.

More fallacy regarding directory inclusion. I can say with complete certainty that the older the site the more useless those directory IBLs are. I rank 1st for all key terms and I'm in only two directories. Why do I rank? Simple. Because a). I never went after rank, and B). I stayed true to my content and expertise. That said, since I do rank high I can reverse analyze my links and learn why, but just because I can tell you doesn't mean you can get those links. You have to earn them via meritorious content.

For a newer site, the game changes. The new site's IBL profile or "link transcript" or "link signature" needs to slowly percolate towards becoming something that looks natural and trustworthy. I see evidence every day that the links that help me rank 1st will not help every site site rank 1st.

So what works for one site WILL NOT work for every site, which is why it's such a challenge to create software/tools that can analyze links with any degree of confidence. In the end, a human still has to make some very tricky decisions about whether or not ANY link is worth pursuing. The answer will be different for every site, and thus the potential link target sites need to be different as well.

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Eric's Note: I included the updated version of the above article as it appears people are as in love with .edu based link targets today as they were many years ago. I base this on several inquiries I received, the last one of which I have included below.

Dear Mr. Ward,
We are a manufacturer and seller of high end playgound equipment designed for municipalities. Our site is http://xxxxxxxx. We would be very interested in a quote from you for the following...
- obtaining 100 .edu based inbound links
/snip

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About The Link Building Best Practices Q and A
The Link Building Best Practices Q and A is provided free by Eric Ward. For sites with high value content, I offer several fee-based strategic linking services on a project basis.