Change Happens

Chances are, the results you see in Google this week are not going to be what you see there next week. We are predicting another massive change to listings over the next week, based on our analysis of how Google is looking at incoming links and its recent behaviour patterns. If you are about to stop reading because this sounds complicated, hold on a minute. It’s actually quite simple, in a sad sort of way. Google, which seems to have developed a taste for SPAM, has in the past 24-hours, radically upped the link-count on most of our clients’ sites. For example, StepForth has about 1000 incoming links from sites around the web. We measure the number of links recognized by Google twice daily on a rotating sampling of client sites with the StepForth site included in each sampling in order to provide a continuous baseline. Yesterday, Google only recognized 105 of these links. Today, Google shows 220. The last time this sort of link-recognition happened, the StepForth site moved back into the Top20 on Google under our target keyword phrases. Before I dive into link building and what we think Google is rewarding, I would like to make one thing really clear… There is no single magic technique you can use to achieve strong rankings at Google. You need to apply a smart combination of good SEO and writing copy along with a very strong and well thought out link-building campaign. We have spent hours on our site over the past few months and have found the combination of SEO and link-building to be the only ethical solution, short of spamming the heck out of Google.

What is Google looking at?

We’ve spent the last three months examining and analyzing the relationship between incoming links and Google rankings. One of our early assumptions was that November’s Florida Update was a major algorithm change built on changes we perceived in the early summer 2003. This assumption was confirmed by several other SEOs over the course of the past few months and it is now widely accepted that Google is implementing some or all of the Hilltop algorithm. Hilltop (in the most basic terms), applies several levels of analysis to each link it sees directed to a specific site. The links are measured against the content of the original page and the target site. The value of each incoming links is also measured against elements found in and around those links such as anchor text and the text that appears near the link. We are almost certain that text denoting a paid-link such as “Sponsored Site” will be not be considered beneficial and in fact may be considered negativity. We have also found that the anchor text, or the text used to comprise the link (in the link above, the words “Hilltop algorithm” comprise the anchor text) has a major effect on how that link is perceived. We have noted that by mixing up the text used in links, we are able to see steadier improvements than our former method of repeating the same anchor text in all links we acquired for our clients. Lastly, we have discovered that the bad old practice of link-farming, though officially frowned upon by Google, is again being rewarded. We continue to advise against using link-farms as the tech’s at Google will almost certainly fix this hole in their next algo update. On a final note about links, StepForth Link-Building expert, Scott Van Achte speculates that the position of the link on a page also has an effect on the ranking of the site the link is directed to. We have not had enough time to vigorously test this speculation but Scott’s incidental observations are taken pretty seriously around these parts.

How Long is a Long Time?

Google is going to be in flux for long time folks. This algorithm is not bringing Google any pleasure and is in fact increasing the pressure on their engineering staff. We continue to see multiple visits by Google-Bot in our logs and our client’s logs. We continue to see numerous changes in Google rankings often from hour to hour. This tells us that the engineering team at Google is working overtime as it likely has been for the past three months. As I’ve written in this space at least a dozen times, Google is very aware it has major problems in the results it is returning to its users. Google, which has built one of the most recognizable brand names in the world on clean and relevant search results does not want this controversy to linger any longer. While most in the SEO field believe that Google is simply trying to produce a better product, outrage over the results pages is growing and could attach itself to other issues and scandals that are about to hit the Googleplex in the solar plexus. As geniuses go, the folks at Google are pretty smart. Hopefully they will be smart enough to find a way out of the growing mess before things get really messy in Mountain View.