A few months back I wrote an enormously long post on Google’s Penguin update, and basically, I ended off by saying that I’d be running tests and then getting back to you with my findings. Yes, I know that was a few months ago – and my apologies for the wait on this – but in our world (SEO), it takes a few months to see how things actually shake out.
But the good news is… it was worth the wait. And for anyone who’s feeling beaten down and confused right now – read through this post very carefully. It just might save your ass from throwing in the towel, so it’s well worth a read…
We’ve since rolled out about 15 mini-sites and have been testing several different linkbuilding methods and onsite factors with those, as well as with individual pages of our primary authority site. While it’s not universal (and every campaign / keyword / site / page / niche / etc is definitely its own animal), we’re seeing some constants that simply can’t be ignored…
And there’s some more good news – this post won’t take a year to read, either! Contrary to the previous post, I’m just going to summarize our findings and simply report what we’ve seen, and what the main takeaways are.
This is far from comprehensive, and we’re continuing to run tests, roll sites, try new linking methods – and so on – but for now, here’s where we’re at. When I have more to tell you (which should be soon), you’ll hear from me then.
First Things First:
This Isn’t Just About “Penguin”
The struggles we face, and the ranking factors and SERP peculiarities we have to deal with right now aren’t just limited to Penguin. The SEO landscape right now is a whole buffet of BS. There are a number of hurdles to jump and landmines to side-step, and it can’t all be lumped into one simple “thing”, (and nor can one single culprit be at fault).
It’s the overall combination of all these things that make up the “New Google”.
But basically, there are offsite factors, onsite factors and niche factors that you have to be aware of – based on our findings. Whether they technically fit under the classification of “Penguin” or not doesn’t matter. Whatever you wanna call it – this is what we’re facing, and this is what works. So take it for what it is…
Careful Not to Step in the Bullshit
Right now there is a lot of emphasis from the “top” (Google’s PR dep’t, Matt “Distinguished Engineer” Cutts) as well as from their boot-licking fan-club (basically any WhiteHat authority/expert) that the way forward is by focusing on “great content”, “user experience”, “relevance” and all the rest of it.
I can assure you, in all the markets I play in at least… that is far from the reality. And anyone willing to tell the truth will tell you the same thing, even if it means being anonymous.
Right now, it honestly seems like two things are happening:
1) Google (the search engine) is broken. The focus has shifted from displaying quality results, to almost entirely focusing on anti-SEO measures. As a result, the SERPS themselves are largely degraded and biased. Especially in niches with high commercial intent.
2) Google (the company) is acting desperate. Google is systematically screwing webmasters, skirting copyright laws and otherwise rolling the dice aggressively to rake in as much as they can right now from their true profit center (advertising), and they don’t care who gets trampled in their path. With recent additions like outright stealing content to display knowledge graphs and essentially forcing anyone targeting product searches into buying their spot – the message they’re sending is pretty clear.
It’s not a “user experience” or “content” that will save you. The only way you’re safe is if you’re making Google money. If not – then nothing is sacred. You’re one algorithm / manual review away from oblivion. Yes, even hugely established websites like TripAdvisor are SOL if Google wants a piece of the pie.
So you shouldn’t have any false illusions about Google, and their true intentions.
They don’t give a shit about “good content”. What they care about, and what they’re obviously focused on, is:
* Profit, and
* Discouraging SEO through Misinformation and Scare Tactics, Thereby Increasing Reliance on Advertising, which increases…
If you don’t believe me, then go ahead and leave a comment below that answers these simple questions:
1) If Google can detect unnatural links, then why do they penalize them? Why not just discount them entirely? That would eliminate Negative SEO almost entirely, while simultaneously “killing” spam methods. Provide even a SINGLE benefit to penalizing external links, and I’ll be blown away. (Obviously, it’s a PR move to scare people away from linkbuilding).
2) If Google gave a shit about innocent webasters who are legitimate victims of Negative SEO, then why don’t they follow Bing’s example and provide a Disavow tool? Now I’m the first to agree that disavowing links all day is a massive waste of resources – but hey – at least there’d be some recourse for people, now that Negative SEO is indeed a reality. But c’mon… if Bing can offer this? So can Google. But they don’t. Or should I say… won’t.
3) Why are YouTube videos, eHow pages and webmasters who embed YouTube videos and/or AdSense on their pages receiving “special treatment” in the SERPs? Search through enough high-comp keywords, and you’ll see this trend over and over again… Google is essentially just recycling its traffic into its own, or allied, profit funnels.
4) Why does Google ignore your title tag and display what “it feels is best”? My ass they can detect what’s best for the user. They can’t. What they’re doing, though, is thwarting organic CTR’s for everyone by literally removing control from how your site’s pages are displayed in the SERPs. If they leave your title’s alone, you’re favored. If they’re screwing with them – you’re in the shithouse. It’s as simple as that.
I could go on and on.
Folks – this company is not your “friend”. They don’t care about your “good content”, or your business. They care about moving their profit line up a few percent points every year to keep their shareholders happy, and that’s literally where it ends. In fact, these are just rumors, but there’s actually some pretty compelling evidence that came to light a few days ago that shows you just how anti-webmaster Google might be…
…and if it’s true – it’s beyond cruel.
As webmasters, we are the fodder in their supply chain. And I should add – it’s FREE for Google. All they have to do is spider & scrape YOUR hard work so that they (and their big-brand friends) can make billions, while you watch your traffic dangle by a thread.
So, you know what?
GOOGLE AND THEIR FANBOYS CAN GO TO HELL.
And in the meantime – here’s the reality of how the SERPS actually work, and how to rank for pretty much anything you want in record time…
Everything I Know About Ranking Right Now, Post-Penguin…
Admittedly, it’s not much, but at least what I’m sharing with you is stuff I’ve actually seen with my own eyes, on my own campaigns. So here goes:
1) EXACT MATCH DOMAINS.
That is the word, folks. Right now, that seems to give you a free pass to rank well, and rank FAST. We’re talking inside a couple weeks, sometimes.
I can speculate as to why this might be. I think it’s simply because if the domain contains a keyword, then that keyword is technically your brand. And brands are “good”, and therefore your inbound keyword-anchors will be seen as “natural”. Or something to that effect. Perhaps it’s just a “get out of penalty free card”.
In all honesty I have no idea. But it definitely accelerates and drastically reduces the effort normally required to rank.
So for your mini-sites, right now, I would only focus on EMD’s. You don’t have to get the actual EM keyword. Let’s say your primary kw is “Porsche 911 Turbo”.
It’s okay to these kinds of variations:
Porsche911TurboCar.com, Porsche911TurboWeb.com, etc.
Throwing a short suffix on the end like that doesn’t ruin the effect. In your linkbuilding, just make sure the majority of your anchors are naked URLs and actual brand kw’s, ie. “Porsche 911 Turbo Web”. More on that below.
2) PageRank Still Matters. Alot.
Social signals and relevance possibly matter, somewhat. I think they’re important to have for no other reason than for diversity and withstanding a bit of manual scrutiny (in the case of real sites, actual biz domains, etc.). But compared to sheer PR?
Nope, sorry. PR still reigns supreme.
However, by “PR” I really mean a combination of actual green-bar PR, and the arbitrary “TrustRank”. Basically, a High PR site by my definition is this:
* PR4+ Green Bar PR
* Real site with real backlinks
How do you obtain these? Buy them discreetly, or guest post and then build in major linkage / juice to the page that links to your site. Basically, inflate the PR of your backlinks, on real sites. Note that many (many!) “real” sites have a review fee or whatever (normally just around $200 or so) where they will “feature” your site in a dedicated post.
I just had a site do this for one of our sites; it’s a PR7 and has an Alexa rating just shy of 600. It cost us $199. That’s pretty damn good. So keep an eye out, this stuff is everywhere…
Do that for real sites, for sure. If you have the time/budget, then do it for your mini-sites if there’s ROI to be had. If not, then just buy shitty HighPR links from SMALL private networks, individual webmasters, etc. Very easy to find this stuff on TrafficPlanet, WickedFire, BHW, yada yada.
Avoid popular vendors or networks. Avoid blogrolls/sitewides. Go for “smart” networks, limited availabilities, one-offs, etc.
They’re not as effective and do carry some risks – but it sure beats “creating great content” and letting the magical link fairies find your site and link to you. (In reality, the only links you get without any outreach/effort in most cases are from scrapers, domain info sites, etc.)
And it’s definitely still about as strong as it gets from a linkage perspective, especially for minisites and EMD’s.
Right behind outright link purchasing is high-quality, High PR blog commenting. NF comments will actually still pass authority and some link juice. We’ve seen this many times. DoFollow links are stronger, though. But they’re rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. Milk it while you can. (Don’t post anchors in comments. Don’t post links in comments, either. Just use a normal-ish name and enter the URL where it asks you to do so – commenting is purely for PR/juice).
3) Link Shields Work Like Crazy With EMD’s!!
Link shields (tiered structures) are working VERY well right now with EMD’s. We literally ranked on page 1 for an insanely competitive keyword (in a notorious financial niche) with a 3-page minisite in a total of 10 days… and all we’d done is order the $200 “Results Package” from HOTH.
(HOTH is a well-known link shield / tier service. There are many others out there and many are effective, but HOTH is definitely worth mentioning, and I recommend it).
This won’t work for every keyword, and I think an EMD is almost required, but when it does it’s magical.
What’s crazy is that – really – all you’re building is a handful of boosted links. But Google responds to it – and generally, much more quickly than I’ve ever seen in the past with this kind of method.
Definitely give this a shot. HOTH is well-priced, and there are several other options out there spanning from riskier (cheap) options to far more diverse options costing several hundred $$’s. Use what works best for you and your niche/budget.
4) Use Short, Not-So-Obvious Title Tags
Long-winded titles will often be REPLACED by Google’s own “title writer” algorithm, which is designed to apparently describe your page to users better than you can yourself.
So make them as short as possible to avoid getting “help” from Google.
Don’t just use your primary kw target as the the title (standalone) but be sure to include it “naturally”.
If your title tag is “Black Mold DIY Guide”, then use something like “The Definitive DIY Guide to Black Mold Removal”
5) Dilute Links and Anchors, Steady Drip.
Blasting your site won’t get you far. We’re seeing that a “soft touch” is really the key to seeing rapid SERP gains, again, particularly with EMD’s. Your rankings will generally come from High PR backlinks and “boosted” premium web 2.0 links (like Link Shields), but this needs to be “insured” and diluted with a nice spread of everything else.
Your primary keyword should only comprise maybe 10 – 20% of your overall anchors. MUCH of your anchor portfolio should be random/generic. A big portion should also just be naked URL and brand signal. Between nakeds/brand and generics (“this site”) you’re basically looking at about an 80% chunk, at least.
Well, that’s what we’re doing, anyway – and it’s working.
As for link type – just get as much stuff as you can, as steadily as you can. Press Releases, articles, bookmarks, web2′s, twitter/FB, some wikis, even profiles & crap links – it’s all good IN MODERATION.
Just automate this and buy packages, etc. Again, peruse the above mentioned forums for literally endless options on these.
Drip this stuff out. Slow burn is the key… that way you have no “link velocity” issues, you just have a steady link profile growth that stays under the radar. Again, the purpose of all this crap is mainly just to HIDE your “real” ranking factors. Namely, paid / inflated High PR links.
So keep that in perspective when you’re budgeting your campaigns.
6) EMD Minisites Only, Right Now.
I strongly advise you to just focus on rolling out a perpetual production-line of exact-match-domain minisites, one after the next (or preferably in batches of 5 or 10, if the budget allows). Spread these out a bit, between a few different IPs/hosts, and also spread out your link types/services from site to site.
This is MUCH SAFER than going and investing all of your time into “one big site”. Keep in mind that Panda’s “all it takes is one page to tank all pages” policy directly works against the viability of building larger properties.
Plus, Google’s philosophies on what’s “right” will perpetually change, as well. So you might as well build a giant network of feeders that are largely self-reliant.
Rather than “building a brand”.
I really hope that changes, some day – for what it’s worth. I really wish providing great content / UX and building real sites was worth doing. But Google is making it clear that they are at war with all SEO’s, that webmasters are pawns in their empire of scraping / stealing value, and that major sites can tank overnight for “sins” (even retroactive sins) that are often far outside one’s ability to control.
You are a source of free content and increased ad revenue to Google. You don’t matter, to them. But they’ll happily use your hard-created content, and display it far below their plethora of top-fold adverts.
So let’s return the favor and make the SERPs our little bitch – a source of free traffic and increased profit for us… and ride the gravy train of FAST EMD Rankings for as long as they last.
See above for instructions.
P.S. On Thursday I’m sending out a very comprehensive (and enlightening) interview with that guy who made $1.8MM from 3 wordpress blogs (John) I mentioned a while back. It’s pretty eye-opening in terms of:
1) What’s possible
2) Why diverisified ORGANIC traffic channels (ie. minisites, vids, web2′s, etc) are vital for longterm success.
Keep an eye out for it…