Transcript continued from the Episode 026 Show notes

Google Armageddon

It’s war out there, people. You can hear the helicopters. We’ve got gunfire. It’s Google Armageddon.

Maybe it’s not that bad, but Google has been going crazy.

What I thought we’d do with this show is spend some time not just talking about this kind of tactical stuff about what’s Google doing this week and what do we need to do next week to counteract what they did this week, but I wanted to spend some time talking about the fundamental thinking behind all this Google stuff and maybe that will help us try to understand what’s going on with Google.

The first thing I want you to do is think about something. I have a couple of quotes I pulled out of an amazingly massive blog post over on ViperChill.com. (http://www.viperchill.com/future-of-blogging/) If you haven’t seen Glen’s blog post over there. It is the most amazing massive “I was going to write an ebook, but I made it a blog post instead” blog post about the future of blogging.

It’s about a lot of different stuff about blogging, but he’s got a couple of Google quotes in there that I want to consider here from Google Engineers that have to do with the blog post, but I think they’re relevant for this discussion about stuff that’s going on with Google.

He quotes Amit Singhal from Google who says,

“With things like the Panda Update and the many other Google changes we have to keep up with, worrying too much about search engine tweaks is rarely your best strategy. After all, there are ton of them. Just last year we (Google) launched over 500 chances to our algorithm, so by some count we change our algorithm almost every day, almost twice over.”

Then Scott Huffman, also from Google, says,

“There are almost always a set of motivating searches. These searches are not performing as well as we’d like. Ranking engineers then come up with a hypothesis about what signal, what data we can integrate into our algorithm.”

So imagine this. Google is a place where they change their search engine algorithm more than once a day on average and there are bunch of engineers sitting around looking at search results that they’re not quite happy with, coming up with new algorithms to load the pipe. That’s what Google is. Google is a place where they’re constantly changing the search algorithm.

Google versus the Marketer

Let’s say you’re an affiliate marketer. I do some affiliate marketing. What is your business model? What is my business model?

My affiliate business model is basically to get traffic. What I’m going to do with that traffic is convert that traffic into money some kind of way. That’s my mission as an affiliate marketer. Usually I don’t pay for traffic, I usually look for free traffic. In order to get my money I need to rank in the search engines.

It turns out, as we all well know, Google has most – not all, but certainly most – of the search engine traffic. If you really are honest about it, most of the affiliate marketers don’t really care too much about the searchers. They care about their clicks.

Their first goal really, if they’re really honest with you, is not to delight the people who search in Google with the search results that they get on their website. Rather, their goal is to capture the search engine traffic and redirect it to another site as quickly as possible so they can secure the sale.

Are there great affiliate marketers out there that are really adding value to the sale? Absolutely.

Is that what I recommend? Absolutely.

Content is king and if you add value you can build a real business. But, the real truth of the matter is if you go out and look, affiliate marketers are about getting traffic, many of them getting traffic at any cost and converting that to money.

Let’s consider Google’s business model. Google’s business model is to get traffic. It’s the same as the affiliate marketer’s business model. They need traffic too. The way they get traffic is by being the best search engine on the planet. As soon as there is a better search engine on the planet, people will go somewhere else.

Look at Yahoo. We all used Yahoo search in the beginning – actually, in the very beginning we used the Yahoo Directory, for those of you that are old enough to remember that. We used Yahoo search, Google became better and we started using Google.

Bottom line is the best possible search results translates directly into ad revenue for Google, because if they’ve got the best possible search results then that means that they’re going to get the most traffic and they can convert that into ad revenue.

Keep in mind the searchers are not Google’s customer, but they’ve got to keep the advertisers happy. Advertisers are Google’s customer, don’t ever forget that. The searchers are not Google’s customer. Affiliate marketers darn sure aren’t Google’s customer. I can tell you that even the people that are providing places for Adsense ads to be placed are not the customer. Webmasters are not Google’s customer. The customer is the advertiser.

The bottom line is all Google really cares about in their business, and this is great, is providing the best possible search results they can. They don’t care about the traffic to your website, they don’t care about anything but providing the best possible search results. It’s not because they care about searchers, it’s because they care about market share, which drives ad revenue.

That’s really important to understand. Listen to what Jonathan Leger has to say. He says,

“Google doesn’t care about your business. Repeat that with me. Google doesn’t care about your business. In fact, I’d argue that in order for a search engine to be unbiased and fair, it should not care about what its algorithmic changes do to any specific website’s business. Whether or not Google will ever actually achieve that goal isn’t the point. The point is that you should not, you cannot, rely on search engine traffic alone in a long term business model.”

There’s a conflict between affiliate marketers and Google over searchers. Google wants the best possible result and affiliate marketers want traffic no matter what. The best thing you can do is provide the best result, be the best result.

You hear all these knucklehead gurus on the internet saying “content is king.” They parrot that. They don’t ever tell you why. That’s why, because Google’s ultimate goal and all the billions of dollars they have and PhD level computer scientists that they have are bringing resources to bear to try and find the best result for a search. Your best defense against that is to be the best result.

That begs the question, “How does Google decide what the best result is?” That’s what all these updates have been about is tinkering with the best result.

How Does Google Decide What Ranks?

The fundamentals of SEO are still the same. No matter what Google does to the algorithm they have to decide what a page is about and whether or not the page is valuable. They need to find the most valuable page that’s about the search topic that the searcher put in.

If you put in “blue suede shoes,” they need to look at all the pages with blue suede shoes, decide which 10 are the best, and put that on the first page.

There are two major categories of signals that they use to decide those two things. There are things that are actually on the pages that they’re trying to rank and there are things that happen other places on the internet that influence the ranking of the page. We call that on-page SEO and off-page SEO.

For on-page SEO we think about things like titles, header tags, body text, what text is bolded, what related words are on the page, semantic indexing, image tags, things like that. For off-page SEO we generally think about the most important thing from an 80/20 rule in the past, links back to the page and what anchor text is used to link back to the page.

If you don’t believe that this is the most important thing on the planet, go to Google and Google for the result of the phrase “click here.” What you’ll find, which still amazes me – if I ever get to talk to Matt Cutts I’m going to have to ask him what’s the deal with this one page.

The number one result for “click here” is and has been for years the download page for Adobe Acrobat Reader, because everybody in the world on the internet says, “If you need to read my PDF file you can get the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click here.”

Those anchor texts from all over the world have for years and years pointed to that download page over at Adobe, so Adobe ranks for the term “click here.” The words “click here” do not appear on the page. It’s amazing to me that that’s the case, but that tells you backlinks are really important.

Off-page SEO really comes down to these backlinks, and more recently social signals. That’s how they’re telling whether or not pages are important. So there are two issues here; what page is important and what is the page about.

To tell whether or not a page is important they look at backlinks and social signals. Most recently Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. But, they’re also starting to look at some on-page signals.

They’ve recently introduced this over-optimization penalty. If your on-page SEO is too good they smell rat and they will penalize you. They look at your site quality, I call this the Panda penalty. If your site matches their anti-bad-site-algorithm they’ll penalize it.

Then it’s said that there are roughly 200 to 300 more things that are known only to Google that they put in their algorithm to decide what pages are important.

The Problem for Affiliate Marketers

Because of this, as affiliate marketers our task has been clear always – it is to optimize our pages on-page and to get backlinks with the right anchor text to our site. The problem is backlinks are kind of hard to get because the average person – your mom, your sister – doesn’t have a website, so the average person can’t give you a backlink.

Let’s say you’ve got the best children’s snuggly blanket on the internet on your site and moms all over the country think that you’ve got the best description of this blanket, and you’re an affiliate for this fuzzy blanket. The problem with Google’s algorithm really fundamentally is that moms all over the country can’t give you a backlink, they don’t have a website.

Mommy bloggers aside, most searchers that are buying affiliate products don’t have the ability to cast this vote that Google is looking for to create a backlink. That is really the biggest problem.

My mom doesn’t have a way to vote for her favorite websites. Now, she does have Facebook – and that’s why Facebook and other social media is becoming more important. The general shopper does not have a website, but they do have Facebook and that’s why those kind of signals are becoming more important.

The bottom line is since people can’t really do this and we need those links and they are hard to get, that has created an enormous demand in people coming up with systems so that you can buy links. It started off with people selling paid links on different websites and most recently it has been these blog networks that have been cropping up all over the internet, some of which I use.

Linkvana, 1WayLinks, BuildMyRank, and so forth. All of these blog networks have popped up across the internet and people, including me, used them to supplement their backlinking strategy. It’s just part of playing the game.

We can talk about whether that’s okay or not. It’s certainly risky. There’s a question of whether or not it’s okay. Certainly it’s true that if you rank a junk page and you don’t make the internet a better place that’s kind of yucky. There’s a lot of discussion that can go around that. The bottom line is these blog networks have come along and created a problem.

Google Slaps and Penalties

Google has been trying to get after all this junk content on the internet created in a large part by affiliate marketers and there have been at least five slaps in recent memory that people want to talk about.

One is the Panda slap. We’ve been over that before. This is an engineer named Panda at Google who wrote algorithms to look at sites that had been reviewed by humans, learn what the humans saw, and then apply that broadly over the internet.

It was recently announced that Google was starting to penalize sites who had ads above the fold. The idea being if you’ve got an ad above the fold you don’t really care about your readers, you’ve written that to optimize ads and that may not be a good thing.

Google recently has talked about the over-optimization penalty where if SEO keyword density is too high or there are other flags that they’re looking for they will give the site or the page a penalty.

The big thing that set off this firestorm was the de-indexing of blog networks. The first one to announce this, at least that I became aware of, was BuildMyRank. They had thousands or tens of thousands of blogs fall out of Google’s index overnight.

For those of you that don’t use blog networks or don’t know what they are, let me talk about what a blog network is. Usually with a blog network you pay money and you’re able to submit articles with backlinks to your site, spun or not spun, and propagate them to tens or hundreds or thousands of seemingly unrelated blogs all across the internet. Once all that stuff gets indexed it looks like to Google that there are tens or hundreds of backlinks to your site with the anchor text that you pick.

As we knew they eventually would be able to, they started uncovering these blog networks and de-indexing them. Of course, once they’re de-indexed then their links have no backlink value to the user – so the blog networks are dead.

The BuildMyRank guys, much to their dismay, woke up one morning and thousands of their blogs had been de-indexed. I was very impressed with the way they handled it. They emailed their users and they said, “Game’s up. We’re shutting down. Thank you very much. We’ll be back when we get this figured out.” That happened and the question is how did that happen.

Zac Johnson had a guest post on his blog that was pretty interesting. (http://zacjohnson.com/did-google-use-their-privacy-policy-changes-to-find-and-de-index-private-blog-networks/) The guest poster speculated that maybe this has something to do with Google’s Privacy Policy.

You’ll remember Google changed the Privacy Policy just before all of this stuff going down. A lot of people are speculating are they using Adsense IDs or Webmaster Tools information, or other information that they’re gathering from websmasters, and then turning that around and using it against them to uncover blog networks. I thought that was a pretty interesting speculation.

The blog networks, the thing that seems to be true after talking to some friends of mine that have blog networks that have run analysis on how they were able to uncover these blog networks is they found candidate blogs that looked like they were in a blog network. You can usually identify these because they have tons of unrelated posts, a lot of times the posts are very low quality, always have three or four outbound links per post, and every post on the site is like that so they’re pretty easy to find.

Once you find one of them, one of the ways that you can find more of them is by looking at the domain registration, the WhoIs data, and finding other blogs that are owned by the same person and inspecting them.

One of the signals that my link network buddies are seeing is that in the cases where they have multiple blogs with the same domain registration information, when one of them goes down multiple go down and they go down in groups. It’s pretty clear that Google is doing that kind of analysis as well. These things aren’t impossible to find and you can definitely uncover these blog networks.

Not all blog networks are affected and some are affected at different rates. I haven’t talked to the Linkvana guys lately, but Jon Leger at 1WayLinks has been public about his de-indexing rate. He runs a very high quality blog network at 1WayLinks, everything is human reviewed, every blog is on a separate class-C subdomain, and he is very particular about how things are done over there. His de-indexing rate is higher than normal, but he is surviving.

Josh has been publishing at his blog over at EthicalIM.com that he’s got some experimental case study blogs where he had ranked them with links from Linkvana and 1WayLinks and those are still ranking. His blogs are unaffected; his backlinks from the blog networks have not been de-indexed to a point that would affect his rankings. (http://www.ethicalim.com/search-engine-optimization/my-take-on-googles-deindexing-of-blog-networks)

So not everybody is affected uniformly, but that’s the kind of stuff that’s going on.

What Happens Now?

The question is now if you can’t get links from blog networks, what do you do? Instead of tackling that question, which is going to be the question for the podcast episode two episodes from now – instead of talking about all the things we can do besides blog networks, I’m going to argue that blog networks are not going to die.

Certainly crummy blog networks that are easy to detect are going to die. Certainly people who use blog networks carelessly are going to be penalized. I’ll tell you, one penalty that we’re seeing there was a pretty good article that I read the other day and I’ll put a link in the show notes about micro sites.

One of the signals that we’re seeing is that in cases where lots of anchor text is identical Google is detecting that. So the threshold of the analysis that I saw was sites that had backlinks where 60% of the backlinks had exactly the same anchor text and the anchor text was the money keyword.

Let’s say your money keyword was “blue suede shoes” and your anchor text didn’t vary, 60% of the time it was exactly just “blue suede shoes” and that linked back to your website.

That’s very unnatural, because normally if someone is backlinking to you they’re going to say “look here for great shoes made of blue suede,” and they’re going to say, “you can find great blue suede shoes here,” and they’re going to anchor text that whole thing, so there’s going to be a lot of variation around the theme of blue suede shoes. In fact, Google has picked up on this and apparently (at least anecdotally) it looks like that’s one of the things you need to watch out for.

Mark’s Advice

This has always been my advice. Don’t use blog networks as your only source of backlinks.

That has always been my advice. I still think that blog networks and, for that matter, article marketing, which is not that different from blog networks, is still a viable part of backlinking strategy. Provided that the blogs of the blog network are indexed. In the case of Jonathan over at 1WayLinks, he is making changes that he will implement sometime this month. He’s hoping to be up and running with 1WayLinks 2.0 by June. He’s going to make changes based on what we’re seeing with Google.

It remains to be seen whether or not this blog networking thing will survive. My suspicion is that used more conservatively blog networking will survive, as will article marketing, as will guest posting, as will the rest of these things that we’ll talk about in a couple of episodes that you can still go do to get backlinks.

I’ve read articles from Matt Cutts before and if you read Google’s Webmaster Policy what they will tell you is that fundamentally is they don’t want you doing anything ever that results in a link for the purpose of manipulating rankings. That’s their main thing. They don’t ever want you to do anything on the internet that creates backlinks to your site for the purposes of manipulating ranking. That would be article marketing, blog networks, guest posting, and so forth.

I have two problems with that. One is other people are doing it, so in order to compete I don’t really have a choice because they don’t have a way to distinguish that. The second thing is if I make a great web page about blue suede shoes, who in the world is going to link to that? The people that are buying blue suede shoes don’t have websites. So the blue suede shoes bloggers, all four of them, are going to link to my page? Probably not, because they’re selling blue suede shoes too.

Particularly with affiliate marketing I think this is problematic. I think ultimately there’s no way for Google to tell the difference between a link that you put there in a guest post in a do-follow web comment or whatever. There’s really no practical way. Certainly technical ways exist, but there’s no practical way for them to sort all of that out.

Diversity is key, both in life as well as internet marketing. I think blog networks will survive this. We’re going to have to be a little patient while guys like Jonathan Leger figure out exactly what they need to do in order to have a viable blog network. But, don’t panic.

With regard to panic, a lot of you have seen the other post on my site that went live yesterday regarding the Corn Sheller site. (http://www.latenightim.com/internet-marketing/google-update/)

This turns out to be a really good case study for this problem because I threw that site up very quickly, it was to demonstrate the ease of ranking for the keyword that I got from Keyword Canine. You can check that out over at KeywordCanine.net.

Keyword Canine was able to find a keyword that was easy to rank for and worth some money. I grabbed that keyword, threw up a site one night, and a week or two later I was ranking for the keyword. I did that primarily by throwing a couple of hundred of blog network links at that website.

That’s not my normal site build process. I would never normally do that with just backlinks from blog networks, but I did this time just to see what would happen. What happened was the site ranked really well, it was up to over 100 visitors a day, it was making a few dollars a day. Then overnight Google identified the weird link profile, as was my expectation, and shut it down because I wasn’t careful about the link profile. Everything was “corn shellers” and “antique corn shellers.” It failed that 60% test.

My point there is that people, me included, are having sites go down, losing traffic, losing money. Hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month just gone due to these changes.

This last update called Penguin, which apparently has something to do with anchor text, has a lot of people upset because a lot of really good websites with legitimate link profiles are falling in the rankings. A lot of people are calling it the stinky penguin.

In any case, these changes are going to come. What Jon Leger says about not depending solely on Google for your business model is absolutely correct. We’re just going to have to move forward through this.

Wrapping Things Up

That’s what I’ve got for you today. I hope that helps you understand the backlinking situation, the blog network situation, and the Google update situation a little better. There’s a ton of material online.

I’ll give you a disclaimer that I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible with this. Things are changing very fast. If you have comments about something that you think I got wrong, I would love that. Come on over to MasonWorld.com, look for episode 26, and let’s talk about it. Let me know if you’ve got sites affected, tell me what’s going on. If you’ve got a question, give me a call on the voice feedback hotline and I would love to talk to you about what’s going on with your websites.

The big thing is, don’t panic, don’t freak out. These things are going to come and go. The only thing that is constant on the internet is change – and that’s never going to go away.

I hope you have a fantastic day. I’ll talk to you in a week.

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