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May 24 / Black Hat Cat

On a way to better SEO tactics! Or not?

The turmoil after three-level update (a combo of Penguin, Panda and “confessyoubastard” mailing) came live is tremendous. It is quite likely that only 3% of all SERPS were influenced but there are only so many commercially important SERPS, and most of these fall into that selection. However one month past the strike it is quite clear what should be done. In fact solutions for prospering under Neue Ordnung new rules were always there. It is just that we were not listening…

The ultimate manifestation of Google-approved and totally risk-free strategy is available in Mike King’s e-books on effective link-building. These are not actually e-books but rather “get-and-implement strategy” instructions. When reading these my imagination was sparked by this phrase: Those marketers are too impatient to properly build links because link building is a process wherein you are convincing people who don’t know you to take a real world action that benefits you.”  This sole phrase is a key to anything we do when building links. If the activity is industrial-scale you are to stick to this paradigm and the only difference between tactics is the way you perform the “convincing” – be it hacks,  interaction with low-quality sites (where you are welcomed for some reason with your spam) or the kind of approach praised as “community-oriented” and “content-driven”. Problem is ther is more than one way to convince people.

What Google achieved with Penguin (and they keep pressing) is that low-level link building is not a kind of activity which allows to rank. If it is not yet the case I have no doubt it will be. Just imagine the sheer volume of Google’s intellectual potential and resources. They will get us all! But if their goal is better user experience (and that is not an axiom) with SERPS, what they achieve as a result may not be quite what they expected.

Let us imagine that all the spam-prone bookmarking and directory sites, all the low-value blogs and meaningless articles are zero. Right from tomorrow they all are eliminated. Totally. Will SERPs disappear? Certainly not! They will still return you 10 good links and those will be better due to the fact they are supported by solid communities and plenty of links from authority sites. Add here Google+ effects and “rel author” as a measure of publishers’ authority and we find ourselves in a world where no spammer has a place. Now that is  going to be great!

Theoretically.

Things which spoil perfect picture (IMHO) are following:

- In most of the commercially attractive SERPS competition is not between “outright spammer” and “nice good guys”. There are plenty of investment-intense commercial providers with similar-level content and similar offers (there is very little you can do to create some incredibly unusual content on Viagra, Casino, Loans, Fashion etc. without compromising your ability to deliver “call to action” and sell). Therefore winners and losers will be determined by marginal portion of “authority”

- Each SERP has its own maximal achievable amount of “authority” which is distributed among market operators.  In the age of Majestic SEO and Blekko there is little chance you can hide some outstanding links from your competitors (and with spammy “white noise ” links eliminated there are even less chances to have a profile hard to analyze). So we are able to create similar link profiles. And due to “outreach Glass ceiling” described in my previous post none has real chance to gain extra valuable links using commonly-available technology.

- Another problem with the “authority” available is that overall amount of this precious resource is limited due to relevancy consideration. Indeed there is not much  fun in getting link from Chanel homepage for a dental clinic in Minnesota.

- “Content driven” and “community-serving” approach is absolutely incredible in everything  apart from predictability. Much like with Hollywood films and Broadway musicals when it comes to box-office revenue chances are that best director and great actors will not be able to earn you success. With limited budgets available to most online marketers it is clear our risks are even greater. The technology will work anyway in a long term but you need to survive long enough to see that “long term”. Believe me – that is not something pleasant for financial people analyzing investment prospects.

What results will these considerations have for tactics? Let us develop a simple logical pass:

a)  With increased numbers of people hunting “authority” links in a “whitehat” manner we will see more competition for “authority” which is limited by relevancy considerations and will of the “authority” bearers to engage with “less authoritative resources” (Glass ceiling)

b) Requirements for predictable and less-risky campaigns will press marketers into different tactics – preferably those with more clear mechanics

c) With Google paying more and more attention to brand becoming a brand is an ultimate goal of any marketer.

d) Introduction of Google+ and “Search+ My World”  creates perfect instrument for Google to take into account signals from real life about your brand meaning. Add YouTube, Picasa and tons of available social measures and you will see that Google is able to see when real world people consider some entity to be well-known= “authority”=brand .

e) “Glass ceiling” is higher for your outreach if you are well-known entity in real world for obvious reasons

f) Based on statements a-e what are the most appropriate tactics for SEO?

If you have limited budget you go and buy links. If you have more money go and buy banner ads and then buy links. If you have plenty of money go and hire offline advertisers. With 150 years of marketing and 60 years of TV advertising they do know how to convince people  you are a brand (Just witnessing that happening – a huge international company is entering a local market. From none to brand in TWO WEEKS.) After that you go and buy banners and after that you go and buy links.

And on top of that – go and bribe Google+ “middle level” authority users.

And only then you apply what they tell you about  ”community interaction” and “content strategy”

That is already happening. Personally I witnessed an authority link to be placed on a non-profit organization site to a travel agency in return for sponsorship. Now here comes a fresh story : http://searchengineland.com/learn-from-brand-called-out-for-paid-links-122156

With further development of the way to transfer “real – life” signals into search (and that is directly stated goal of Google) it may be that Penguin and Panda were the last spells to open a hellgate in which Lucifer of offline marketing will enter SEO replacing “algorithm gaming” with nightmare of  TV-style consumer brainwashing, social media bribery disguised as “authority opinions” and clever link purchase disguised as “sponsorship”.

 

May 4 / Black Hat Cat

On the Virtues of “Black hat” Vs “White hat”

One of the worst things a cat can encounter when browsing SEO publications flow is constantly reiterating  materials  which are supposed to prove that  the time of “Black hat” SEO is over and your campaign online should look totally “White hat” in case you want to rank . Here and there some noname companies claim they are delivering “Ethical SEO services” and carefully explain you that “Black hat” is bad” because …. well, basically because it is bad and that is it. These guys can even refer to industry authorities like Rand Fishkin or Michael King.

Unfortunately these people are following the standard track of a fundamentalist – they hear quite a sound idea and take it to the extreme where it gradually loses any logic.

 

 

Such posts rely on a selection of ideas which I would like to discuss here one by one in order to highlight weak points and shortcomings of the fundamentalists’ argumentation. The shortlist as I can formulate it:

-           (Quality) content is (absolute) king

-          We should all go “social”.  Everywhere. Linkbuilding is all about delivering value to “communities”.

-          We are becoming a large industry and therefore should accept moral imperatives and approaches of such.

-          Long term “White Hat” effect means more than short term TOS violation tricks.

Generally speaking when reading another article about “being a Jedi SEO instead of a Sith SEO” I can’t help recalling these two images:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left is a 13-year old boy’s idea of war, right is the reality. Same applies to SEO where your real time experience may differ quite a lot from what they showed you in the cinema. Let us proceed to examples.

“Create new quality content every time you build a link! Content is King! Cheap content is (always) wrong! Mighty Panda will eat you!”.

I would really like to share the opinion. Trouble is you cannot create quality content for every link built. Period.

That is because content is expensive. Content is time consuming. Content is not easy to get even if you have money since there is no Shakespeare in every Oxford campus – let alone every oDesk group. And after all even the best content on linking page is NOT working for humans (e.g. not able to bring direct traffic). Trick is that in most imaginable cases your story is not going to seem exciting being 5th or 6th text on similar issue, and that is what happens all the time – decent texts covering well-researched fields are not able to attract enough attention – and there is little space for going to different sphere since you cannot neglect relevancy of content to anchor text.

(Note: I do know that proper SEO locks on the content interesting for target audience and thus often delivers eye-catching and linkbait-capable content. However scalability of the process is quite questionable at the moment. Public attention deterioration, content-to-link relevancy issue and cost considerations persist thought.)

And on top of that – your creative, unique, “white hat” content worth Pulitzer Prize is not better when tested by algorithms than well-prepared spintax! Thing is Panda is not able to say whether a text is good or bad by just crawling it. Simply because there is no AI behind it and thus Panda relies on indirect methods of content evaluation, which are quite effectively evaded by smart spin-writer.

(Note: that has NOTHING in common with pages on the promoted site though. There you can hardly have “enough” quality. )

Social media and SEO. The overall idea is that social is going to determine the SERPs completely and therefore we are obliged to “get social”. Future linkbuilding is described as mere combination of “community” ass-kissing for which you may (or may not) get links from some “reputable” sites and community ass-kissing intended to bring in some reputation and customer loyalty. The idea fits many people completely and it is quite obvious why. Talking about “social impact”, influencing your “community” or “delivering useful content” is an easy way to show your client you are working hard and a perfect subject to write a nice article on. Cool. But as a reasonable cat I would like to express certain doubts.

The main problem with implementation of an SEO strategy for social media is scalability (and thus cost) in real life outside the SEO-community bubble. Spending much time on conversations and e-mailing costs you a hell of money anyway and what you get in return may be quite disappointing – not because you are not doing a good job stalking interesting people and reaching prominent experts. It is quite obvious there is a “glass ceiling” over there. It is different for a man representing a site on “car insurance” and SEO of  Toyota. Since most of us are not going to get to the Fortune 500 company SEOs position anytime soon, our ceiling will be rather low. This means that from some point receiving 1 link out of a “prominent” blogger becomes less cost effective that getting another 100 links generated by force linkbuilding – just because your “prominent” blogger is not that reputable for Google, and you cannot break the ceiling and get a link from really important people.

I am afraid this point escapes the attention of people like Rand Fishkin just because they can create much buzz by simply publishing something on their blog – which is hardly the case for those concerned with traffic for a “Kitchen Hardware in London” page.

As to the “become serious businesses” issue… They say Big Companies always had Strong Moral Values Which Cannot be Neglected!

ORLY?

Purr, Purr, Purr, let us see…

 

 

Nice pictures – a product of culture relying on Strong Moral Values rather than sex, envy and herd effect in order to sell something.

And that is not to mention Enron, Arthur Andersen, Rover and Lehman Brothers.

The ugly truth is that profit goes first and moral is only mentioned in nice printouts. You dig deeper the shiny corporate world and find some really serious trouble everywhere – from Foxcom labor conditions issues (hello iPod) and to Ivory Coast chocolate beans slavery. Until you are below the radar pretty much anything goes.

So maybe there is any good news regarding long term effect of “being a good boy”? Unfortunately no. Much as with Social Media, here we have “big business” trap. Those advocates of such effect tend to exist in a world of “Big Brand SEO” where reality is altered significantly by the hypocritical approach of Google towards big brands and relatively low effort necessary to get reputable links by editorially approved methods. Unfortunately much of SEO work is done far from those nice places. And here is where two things are critical – timing and cost. Yes, it is possible to get positive long term effect of community building and quality content generation in a long run, but chances are you are not going to survive long enough to see that.

To sum things up I would like to say following. It is clear that moral pressure is going to become harder on SEOs to abandon “black hat” tactics and go after “completely white” and expensive technologies. It is already a fact that Google tries to eliminate any “shortcuts” – particualry that was Penguin intention regardless of doubtfull final effect. It is quite clear why it is going to happen, thought motivation of different parties in this case is different (and worth separate study). Yet, we should remember that on a field – level SEO will definitely rely on forced link building for a number of years to come. Therefore while mastering new approaches where they are applicable (which is sometimes nearly nowhere) we should not abandon standard techniques. As they say – “Good girls do same things as bad girls- they simply do them better.”