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Google Looks Out for The Good Guys (A Response)

John Doherty —  March 2, 2012
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On Tuesday Wil Reynolds published a post on SEOmoz entitled “How Google is Making Liars Out of the Good Guys in SEO“. I enjoyed the read and Wil’s passion behind it (it’s one of the first posts in a while that I’ve read quite in-depth), and I don’t disagree with the principle behind his post, but I think the examples don’t match up and the post doesn’t convey what he set out to convey (sorry Wil). In fact, I disagree that Google is screwing us over and I don’t think their wording is telling us what Wil’s post is telling us it is. If anything, they are lying by omission by not talking about outreach, but we all know that outreach is necessary for content.

Instead, I think Google is dealing with a broken algorithm and are dealing with it in a different way. I do agree, though, that what Google says works isn’t always what works best, but they do not deny that anchor text works. In fact, they know spam is a problem. Why else would they have a spam report? However:

I personally think Google is moving in the right direction and actually dealing with this issue in a way that will fix the problem, not require them to keep fixing a broken algorithmic problem that will always have holes for people to exploit.

I’m going to break this post into a few sections. First, talking about “good SEO”, because I find the discussion worthwhile. Then, let’s talk about deserving to rank, if you should decide it is necessary for you to rank. Finally, I’ll show some examples that will hopefully give us some hope that Google is indeed fighting, and starting to win, this battle. Yes, we’re going to talk about Search Plus Your World (SPYW), which I am increasingly liking.

In case you were wondering, I have deliberately chosen to not respond to Wil’s post point by point. I am trying to get at the heart of the issue of what he was talking about, that Google is not doing anything to help out the good guys. I’m no Google fanboy, but I disagree.

What is “good SEO”?

There is a difference between “good SEOs” and “good SEO”. I hate using that language, but “good SEOs” are SEOs that seek to add value to the search index while also getting their clients ranking. “Good SEO” has been redefined.

SEO has historically been about getting rankings and increasing organic traffic. SEO has been broadening on us in the past year or two to include more “inbound marketing”, where our work to increase traffic through organic channels has to touch social, content creation, analytics, paid search, and all parts of the SEO ecosystem. But we are still responsible for increasing traffic, and one way to do that is through getting keywords ranking. The higher your rank, the more traffic you will get from that keyword.

This is a pretty old-school way of thinking about SEO, though. What’s the point of ranking for a head term that does not convert for you, but the boss wants to see it? Maybe it will keep the boss happy, but ultimately it is our goal to build businesses through online channels.

To Wil’s point, [seo company] is a spammy SERP, to be sure. But let’s not waste our time trying to rank for this term, as much as it pains us to see how bad it is (so yes, Wil, I do agree with you that Google has been perpetuating the cycle and fighting a losing battle. We’ll get to their solution).

My point is this:

Good SEOs add value NOW while building for the longterm at the same time.

I know Wil knows this, but we have to get anchor text in order to rank our terms. We have to work harder than the spammers to get this anchor text as well, but it is possible through guest posting and other means. And as we well know, better content = more links from better sites = higher rankings. Throw in the anchor text, and you have even better rankings. This is a fact of life. In fact, SEER is ranking mid-3rd page for [seo company] with 36 links saying that term. I bet if they built more, they could rank first page in not too long.

Getting good anchor text also does not exclude creating content that will build value for the long term. Directories are a fact of linkbuilding life at this point. But just because you have to do some low-level linkbuilding in almost all niches (though I don’t think any directories have ever been done for Distilled, and I bet not for SEER or SEOmoz either) does not mean that you cannot go create awesome content guides, visualizations, and position yourself as a market leader. Plus, once Google turns down the knob more on the value of anchor text, those of us creating value will still be the ones ranking. We just have to do the work upfront to rank now as well, and decide if the terms are important to us.

I’d argue that we are not “bad SEOs” for getting good anchor text. In fact, we are bad SEOs if we don’t get anchor text at all, because we’re not going to rank! Not “bad” in the sense of “unethical”, but “bad” in the sense of we’re not doing our job and doing well for our clients!

Good SEO is adding value now AND getting your clients ranking. And no, I’m not saying to go do comment spam and that crap. Write some good guest posts that you get you traffic + links. Invest in a PR that understands the value of linkbuilding. Do outreach for the awesome content you create. Create awesome content to target terms you want to rank for. THAT is how you can win in a whitehat way. And most importantly, set your client’s expectations about how long it will take to rank and what will be required (aka it’ll be risky and not sustainable).

Deserving to rank

We can’t expect to rank for terms like [seo company] if we don’t have the foundation to rank. Distilled has not optimized at all for [seo company] or [seo agency]. If we wanted to rank for this term, we could. We could spin the spam up to do what is required to rank. But why would we?

Russ Jones expressed in his comment exactly how I feel about it:

Similarly, for Google to even begin to index and rank the entire Internet (wow, that’s a big job!), they must do so in a scaleable way from the beginning. Because different keyphrases, and ultimately different niches, are more or less competitive, they must find a way to rank sites accordingly. Now they focus on page authority (via links), site authority (via links and probably social buzz to balance it), and the other factors that we know about (on-page, etc).

Google is moving away from this static search algorithm and more into entity search (see Dan Shure’s video about it here).

It is becoming possible to rank without Anchor Text (with SPYW)

Even today, you ARE getting rankings to people on Google+ that you engage with. Check this out for [seo company] when logged in:

That's better!

Also, check out this search for [philadelphia seo] logged out:

SEER is at #2!

The guys above SEER have 83 linking root domains saying “Philadelphia SEO”. The guys below have 23.

SEER? NONE saying just [philadelphia seo]. In fact, there are a lot of partial match anchor texts and they rank #2!

So yes you have to work harder to beat the low level crap. You can do it. SEER did above. Get on it.

Remember:

Let’s not forget what quality links get us

Quality links make your site stronger and you can rank for more keywords. Obviously I don’t have access to SEER’s Analytics or for any of the people who rank for [seo company] in depersonalized organic search (which is meaning less and less these days), but I bet SEER’s traffic is better than anyone who ranks in the top 15 for [seo consultant] or [seo agency].

Let’s look at what has happened to companies who have been creating awesome content and building few links:

Distilled's Traffic (up about 40%)

SEOmoz 1 month before Panda to now (240k to 600k+)

Let’s also see that Distilled ranks for most of the articles that have 10+ linking root domains that Wil mentioned. We’re not getting our sorry  butts handed to us for [linkbait guide], which is MUCH more important for us than [seo company]:

Or any of these:
ImportXML Google Docs
ImportXML
Excel Guide
Agile SEO Tools
Mormon SEO Strategy

And check out who ranks for these:
SEO Blog
Philadelphia SEO

Huh. Good content wins ultimately.

Search is changing

Let’s remember that search is changing, precisely for the spammy reasons that we all know about and see working. To hear more about the details behind it, read this awesome post about not breaking search.

I did a search on Google+ for [seo company]. Look what I got:

That's a pretty good result!

Then I did one for [seo agency]:

Also familiar!

Google’s getting better at this.

Check what happens when I search for [seo] (depersonalized):

Google is starting to win the battle. They’re getting there. I, as well as Wil, am interested to see what unfolds over the next couple of months and years with Google+ and search becoming more and more social.

There have been some awesome posts written about how to do SEO and get found within Google+. I highly recommend you read them. This is the future.

As I said above: I personally think Google is moving in the right direction and actually dealing with this issue in a way that will fix the problem, not require them to keep fixing a broken algorithmic problem that will always have holes for people to exploit.

What I think is inconsequential here though. What do you think?

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

11 responses to Google Looks Out for The Good Guys (A Response)

  1. With algorithms being updated with such frequency and the ranking factors varying with the changing times one can easily understand the challenge of achieving search engine presence and then maintaining it.

    The Panda update focused on improving the search results by rewarding original content with high standards of quality .

    The other updates and modifications focused on the ownership of content. Integration of social and search was proved when Google introduced the +1 button and also launched Google+, its own social networking site and went one step further by reflecting all this data in Google Analytics.

    I am sure all these changes are perceived differently by website owners and search industry professionals depending on their field of operation and what elements of the web they have a focus on, for getting meaningful traffic to their website depending on budgets and beliefs.

    But, one thing is for sure that Google is aiming for better quality results by attacking the content farms , link farms and the spammers and the search behavior of the users is also evolving .

  2. When I first read Wil’s post, I grabbed my pitchfork and was ready to join (again) the Google hate parade. I don’t disagree with anything Wil said, but I commend you for this informative post. You’ve done a great job adding balance and a different perspective on Google.

    So, I’ll put the pitchfork away. One of your subheads is ‘Search Is Changing’. This got me thinking, what is Google becoming?

    Is Google still a search engine that, oh by the way, offers advertising sales? Or, are they becoming an advertising sales company that, oh by the way, offers a search engine?

  3. Great Response John!

    Comment on this though:

    “Plus, once Google turns down the knob more on the value of anchor text, those of us creating value will still be the ones ranking.”

    It’s not necessarily true, even with anchor text turned down, the sheer quantity of the links will keep them ranking.

    On that note, ranking is not very important, (currently writing a post on why that is now =P ) but in point, the recommendation from well respected people, bloggers, and websites, are what matters. Example: If distilled recommends a product, or a website, or someone to follow, it is given authority, whether or not it ranks in search.

    So what matters is not SERPs, but how respected you are in the community. Organic is great essentially “free” traffic, but PPC and ads can provide a solid customer base for doing business.

    For local and small business (just like large organizations) owners need to be pitched and made aware. They are also more likely to work with a local company that they can meet face to face with. Offline marketing is essential to getting online clients.

  4. I don’t have any background in SEO and I only knew what SEO was recently. I personally feel that SEO is manipulation. I dislike the practice of having to code words in order to make those words reach an audience. Perhaps the problems lies in how searching works, and it seems that what Google sees as the problem as well.

    At the purest form, you are sending a message to an audience when you are posting content on a website. I feel that the quality of the message should determine it’s breadth. Just as it is in real life, the amount of people who will hear your message will depend on how much influence you have as a person.

    SEO does not define a persons influence. SEO sets up gates and fences that have nothing to do with the message being said, but change the environment it is presented in. What has happened, in my opinion, is that the SEO has become a contest of who can set up the tallest fence or who can make the loudest megaphone.

    The message itself, is ignored, and that is sad. I like the direction that Google is taking with having searches being based on content and interactivity rather than who can hand out the most $ to find the best manipulator of html code.

  5. Raymond, saying SEO is a manipulative tactic to reach people and earn their attention is like saying things like blogging, meetups, conferences, webinars, videos, and eBooks are manipulative ways to build relationships and trust with people.

    Can those types of marketing tactics be used manipulatively? Of course. SEO, as both a strategy and a tactic can be used to build authentic relationships.

    It’s all about the intent.

    • Perfect point David! (“…saying things like blogging….)! Link building is just “building authentic relationships” as you say, in a way that people & Google spiders understand, no different than creating physical posters or digital banners that can be read. Google is frustrating in its contradictions but its search results speak for themselves and will improve as the technical programming catches up with what needs to be done :)

  6. Google traditionally has been a directory, which is why exact match domains have been one of the key things in getting a good position with anything less than the most competitive terms.

    It seems to want to turn into a conference facilitator, pointing out and drawing attention to the delegates with the most relevant thing to say. That’s a huge leap to have to make without human intervention.

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