After Rand came Martin MacDonald of SEO Forums.Org, who I mistakenly called by another name on Twitter (sorry Martin!). His talk was entitled “Lessons from the dark side”, which makes me think of Star Wars, but that is a discussion for other times and places. His slidedeck is also available here. I did not take as many notes as maybe I should have, since I simply wanted to understand the dark side and not use any of the dark tactics.
A few memorable quotes that can be applied out of context:
“Any SEO that does not test the boundaries is not an SEO.”
“If you work in a black box (i.e. blackhat tactics) you gotta accept the consequences.”
“Buying a lot of links is not blackhat. It’s just lazy.”
I respect Martin because he knows his craft, and has the power to do many shady things if he wants, but does not use these powers for bad. His lessons are important to all SEOs.
*Disclaimer* I do not endorse any of these tactics. Martin does not either. He has done many of them, but says to NEVER risk your homepage or a client site. Rather, if you are going to do any of these, only do them to pages you do not mind burning. NEVER risk your homepage!
Martin began his talk by saying, in contrast to Rand, “To have a longterm you need a short term.” He said that a lot of people get rankings from shady tactics and gave the example of Tripadvisor, who has built a massive presence after starting with shady means.
Turning Affiliate Links Clean
He gives a tip for turning affiliate links into clean links. He said that you can use a pagerank transfer protocol, in which you simply build your links to have a hashtag and you can get link juice. For example, your URL could look like “http://www.example.com/#(content)”. A simple script will allow you to make affiliate links pseudo-clean, which you can find on his slidedeck. Be sure to change it, though, because scripts can leave a trace.
Instead of joining an offiliate program, if you have the site to support it and resources, you can start your own affiliate program. Martin recommends Post Affiliate Pro. At this point he mentioned “Should your site rank for this term? Is it a good resource?” which is the same question Tom asked earlier.
Martin has experience with “widget-nets”, which you can use to build links through free widgets for CMS systems like WordPress. These have downsides however:
1) You lose control of the network (as it grows and more people install);
2) You can’t modify it beyond the focus, though Martin did show how he could change all of the text links to say something else (he built 1.4 million links to Distilled’s website for about 40 seconds before changing it back, though 40-50 of those indexed! “Those are free,” he told the Distilled guys). This tactic scares me a bit, but it was also fascinating to know that it can be done!
3) A lot of webmasters remove attribution links, so you won’t get as many links as you hope for.
4) You might want to refocus your strategy, say if you have a new client, so you would have to start over for each new client. This is a lot of work!
Next Martin moved on to sneaky ways to get links from competitors. He said that you can use reputation management in the form of sneaky cross-domain canonicals to “trick” them into linking to your site. The execution is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is:
1) Create a dummy website;
2) Get them to link to a review;
3) Use a rel=canonical metatag to send the link juice to a page on your site; and
4) Copy the information to your site.
Boom. You just got links from your competitors.
Another way to leverage social media is to pay Twitter. You can advertise (promote) tweets on Twitter by paying10c per retweet. Every time a tweet is retweeted, you pay 10c. Retweets of retweets, however, are not charged to you! Martin got 5,000 retweets and did alright! He paid 60 GBP and ranked for a day (on the first page, I believe).
*Martin’s advice* Don’t send lots of new links to your homepage. You should only do this to a new page with no rank that you can burn. And if you burn a page that you’ve built a ton of links to, you can do the following to flow the link power to another page:
1) Disallow the page in your robots.txt file;
2) Submit a removal request to Google;
3) 301 redirect the burned page to a new page;
4) Cancel the removal request.
Once again, NEVER risk your homepage!
Thanks, Martin, for helping us understand the darkside better (and I just may use some of your grey-hat suggestions!) And as Duncan Morris said during the Q/A, “Buying links gives you grey hair.”