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Update: I have greatly edited this post to blur out those involved. A few people who were mentioned are actually readers of this site and kindly emailed to ask to be removed. My theory has been that I have to show at least one example to verify what I’m saying, but I think I’ve probably went far enough on this topic.
These last few posts have went pretty viral around the web and while I appreciate the attention, I also understand that fellow marketers do deserve to stay under the radar. I’ve been ‘outed’ counltess times myself but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same to others. Hopefully the original readers got something out of the post, and I just want to thank you all again for your feedback and wisdom. I appreciate the audience here more than you could ever know.
To say the last few days around here have been crazy would be an understatement. I’ve replied to hundreds of comments, received hundreds of tweets for my content and basically been amazed at all of the sites that linked to me. It was hard to look far away from my analytics. They’re all referring to my recent blog post, The New SEO, which has had tens of thousands of visitors in just one week.
I wanted to use this blog post to keep discussion on this issue going while the topic is still hot. There were a lot of comments received 150, 200 and 250 comments down which will never really see the light of day. My aim is to change that and share the issues that real webmasters are having, and how Google is in its worst state that I’ve ever seen in years.
First of all, I just wanted to thank people who commented, shared and linked to my post. Things went a little viral, as you can see here from Alexa:
I also did pretty well on Inbound.org where the post is sitting at 68 votes. If you’re not a member there, most articles tend to get less than 10 (even those that make the homepage) so it definitely caused a bit of a stir. Inbound is like Reddit for internet marketers and I’m pretty sure I’m usually disliked over there, so it was nice to see some positive feedback:
This little request on Black Hat World actually sent me quite a lot of traffic. They need to update their anonym.to linking script because it’s still easy to find them talking about me in my traffic logs (they try to make external links go through a redirect so people can’t see when they’re illegally sharing content). I have to admit this did make me laugh.
The guy in question is offering $150 per article. Damn, if only I had known earlier
There have also been multiple threads on Reddit talking about the blog post and people asking about SERP spoofing in general. I was pretty surprised at how much traffic Reddit can send to marketing / SEO related sites. Then again, once there I saw some big IM names commenting in a marketing sub-Reddit, so I must be late to the party. Appreciate the link, Thesolid85, if you’re reading.
I was mentioned on dozens of forums, had tweets from some of the biggest names in SEO and generally had more emails to respond to than I have in a really long time. Some from those of you who thanked me for ‘having balls’ to talk about it and others freaking out say “oh so this is what I have to do now”.
Things were definitely out of the ordinary; almost like having a tornado of sharks hitting your small island down. But this is not Sharknado…
For those unaware, the two founders are Google are in that picture above. Don’t ask where I get the (very real) hot tub photo from though.
The main point of that previous article was that Google is giving too much weight to fresh content and sites with quality content and hundreds or thousands of quality links are getting outranked by brand new sites with no authority. From the vast majority of feedback, people agreed with me. Even on Inbound.org, where I thought the post would have got ‘torn a new one’. There were only 3 negative comments that I found at all, and that’s out of at least 500 replies I’ve seen.
The 3 negative comments all basically nit-picked my examples. “Maybe they still ranked before they changed the date”. “How to grow taller” is not a proper medical search term. “I don’t see this, you’re getting personalised results”.
I’ve answered them in the comments here and the one on Inbound.org so I’m not going to go over it again. I do want to say though that I use a Private Tunnel proxy, sign out of Google, and check the search results from Asia, Canada and America. Dozens of people in the comments reported seeing the same search results as me.
My good friend Pat Flynn was one of the people who tweeted the article and helped to spread the word, so I want to use him as part of my example. Not because he is ranking thanks to freshness – though I’m sure it helps him somewhat – but because his income reports allow us to see a hugely profitable industry: Web hosting commissions.
Here are his stats for the last 6 months:
I’ll do the maths because I’m such a nice guy; that’s $185,600 in the first few months of this year promoting Bluehost. Pat deserves every penny by the way, his blog is excellent and one of the few that I read.
If you’ve been in internet marketing for even just a short amount of time, you’ll know that some of the most popular search terms for industries like this are things like “Bluehost review”, “Bluehost coupon code” and so on. This happens for Hostgator, Hostmonster and any other popular hosting company you can think of. By the way, I learned the other week that Bluehost and Hostgator are actually owned by the same company. So much for those arguments about one being far better than the other (from myself included).
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Please note I did remove the ads from this screenshot for cleanliness
Now I’ll just wait for someone commenting to say “This is bullshit, Pat doesn’t even make his commissions from search”. Heh.
Let’s see what’s behind this epic review I’ve just searched for because I’m very interested in how customers feel about the service of Bluehost.
If this is the kind of content Google wants us creating then sign me up.
Okay, maybe I’m being harsh. They do have a comment section after all. Maybe that’s where the awesome reviews are kept?
Sorry, my screenshot is slightly wrong. The Google snippet says July 29th but the post is actually much older than that. Google is taking the date of the latest comment and using that as the date for when the post was updated. Obviously the webmaster caught on to this, as there’s no other explanation for why comments are getting replies a month or two later. Sneaky or clever, you decide?
Some of the comments are actually from as far back as January 2012. Either way, that’s surely not what people are hoping to find when they perform the Google search, which is Google’s job after all. The owner of the site commented on this, here.
At first glance, this is the most confusing website result to me. Why? Because Whois registration shows that the domain was registered in June 2013 yet the Google snippet preview is showing December 2012. I know Whois isn’t everything, but Moz doesn’t even show backlinks to the website – suggesting how new it is – and other tools show links only very recently as well. There is nothing to suggest the website actually did exist back in December 2012.
Could this be the first case of someone faking the date the wrong way?
I’m literally typing this as I’m figuring it out so please forgive the weird thought process my mind goes through. Now at this point, all I can think of is that the Whois isn’t wrong, but the domain moved to another registrar and thus the data is old. Especially since the copyright in the footer of the website suggests 2007 – 2013.
My next step was to check two more Whois tools (which give you information about the owner of a domain) and see if they had more recent date. Nope. They both show records just from June 2013.
Again, the reason I’m so curious about this is because this is the only time backlinks were registered in the certain search tools as well, and Moz’s Open Site Explorer doesn’t show a single one.
I am aware that Moz has a tab right at the end which does show backlinks to the domain, but that is only for links found very recently. Side note to Moz staff: Unless I’m missing some obvious reason, put those links in the main search results. Otherwise people are just going to miss that tab and think your data is really old, and move to tools like Ahrefs or Majestic.
My next step is to check the Google cache of the search result to see how old it is. Sadly it’s from July 25th, so that doesn’t help me very much.
After this, I went to check out the Way back machine. Keep in mind that I’m typing this as I’m figuring it out. As of the second I’m writing this sentence I have no idea about the date on that page. I assumed the Way back machine, a tool that shows how websites used to be in the past, would solve this mystery:
Nope. I’m still confused.
Does it make a big difference? Not really. But since we’re so focused on freshness and Google is ranking something slightly older than the other results, I would like to know why that date doesn’t appear to be correct. Manually changed? Error with the WordPress database? The site flew under the radar and every tracking tool I have missed it?
Here’s your chance to shine: Figure it out for me in the comments and I’ll post your answer here. Just like in my last post, I hate the idea of ‘outing’ websites, but the extremes at which Google are ranking sites these days needs a few examples to showcase what we’re referring too.
Scrap that, I think I’ve just figured it out. The domain [removed, see update in the start].com (notice the lack of ‘s’ at the end) now redirects to the [removed]s website. The original site – without the s – appeared to host the content back in December 2012, which would explain the publication date.
First of all, let’s look at the backlink profile for [removed]S.com in Ahrefs.
Your first thought may be – at least mine was – that it’s simply picking up old links from the billboard.com extension and that’s why it looks like they built links so fast. Looking into it deeper though, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. All of the links from other sites are actually linking to the s.com extension, suggesting that they were actually built recently. I’m also thinking that they’re all been paid for via some network, since there’s the possibility that they’ve just been updated to include the new URL, but were previously linking to the old.
It’s not easy to get so many webmasters to change your link so quickly, trust me, without some kind of automated or paid solution.
I’m so interested – sorry if you aren’t – because these search results are probably bringing this website 6-figures per month in income on the low end. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration either. Think about what Pat is making just with Bluehost and how many hundreds of hosting providers this guy is promoting. I do not actually think their website pages are bad, and I’ve gone off the tangent of freshness a little, but damn do I love this stuff.
After a bit of digging, here’s what I got:
I’m not going to go into as much analysis for each of these results because this blog post would be ridiculously long and I’ve already used too many images.
Result #5, Say Web Hosting
Not much to say on this other than their domain was only registered in May 2013 and all of their backlinks were built very quickly over the last month or two. You’re welcome to go ahead and analyse for yourself where they’re getting those links from.
Result #7, Bluehost-Review.com
A really unoriginal website simply using the default WordPress theme. There are just a few pages of content as well. It seems like the site was registered a long time ago, left to die and then it came back in the last month judging by the Whois data. There’s nothing of real value here at all to any kind of searcher.
I’m sure the domain is helping them quite a bit here.
Result #8, Best Hosting Search
I would say this is actually a pretty good result. There are hundreds of reviews on the site that appear to be at least moderately genuine. I say moderately because they is an odd similarity and a consistency in typo’s in the comments. I found numerous comments around phrases like “worth my every penny” “values my penny” and even “penny my values” which just seems a little fishy. Then again, I’m probably being picky here.
The reason they’re ranking based on date-based freshness is because Google are using the date of the comments that are left. It’s interesting that Google isn’t doing this for bloggers and their blog posts. My WordPress SEO blog post gets comments every other day (500+ now) and yet my search snippet shows 2010 when the piece was published.
If you’re thinking search term variations are much better around the Bluehost brand then you haven’t been using Google a lot lately. Let’s try “Bluehost coupon code”. This is not just some arbitrary term. It might only get a few hundred searches per month but there’s a reason people are competing to rank for it.
Put simply, the buyers are already in purchase mode and they’re just looking to cheapen their purchase before going through with the deal. Bluehost allow you to create your own Coupon codes – as do Hostgator – so you get a commission when someone uses that particular code. This means that conversion rates are high, and affiliates can make some easy money.
I guarantee that tomorrow it will be changed again. I assume the change is manual, purely because of the two-day skip in the footer part of the post. Also the guy just couldn’t be bothered to change the minutes option on the post date and changed the hour instead. I understand there is a time and a place for freshness and changing the date on your content, but let’s not pretend he / she isn’t having fun with the system.
Don’t get too caught up on the specific terms and phrases I’m using here. As I mentioned on the last post, there are industries and phrases where you cannot take advantage of this. I’m not going to rank for ‘Compare credit cards’ – said to be worth $10,000 per day – overnight. There’s still millions of dollars on the table every single day though in more industries than you could think possible.
I’m lucky that I’ve been blogging about SEO here for such a number of years that I have a large audience of very smart people who are following this industry at every turn. Just because it’s easy to make an argument look one-sided when you’re the ‘host’ of a blog, I wanted to highlight the comments from other people.
There’s quite a few images coming up, but their content does paint an accurate picture of the search landscape I’m seeing on a daily basis…
I also reached out to Yoast on Twitter to see what he thought of owning the top 5 search results for the term ‘WordPress SEO’ which I highlighted in my blog post. I have to admit, I respect his reply:
On a more serious note, I have taken some flack via email for admitting I am involved in this kind of thing. It really does not bother me in the slightest. When you discover legal (yes, buying links is legal, even if Google don’t like it) loopholes in a multi-billion dollar industry it’s hard not to be looking at how you can take advantage of it. I like to think I’m one of the “better guys” (don’t worry, you can disagree) for at least being willing to share some of my findings.
My position is this: I’ve built quality websites with quality articles and 100% legitimate links and been penalised in a number of industries. Then I see brand new websites with a page or two of content at most either buying their way to the top, or more likely spamming their way to the top very quickly. I see nothing bad in building new websites in my same industry and trying to get back some of the traffic I lost to my quality website.
If Google ‘fixes’ things, which I don’t see happening anytime soon – don’t forget freshness is there for a reason – then I have sites in both positions: Old with quality links and young with links that should just not be working. If you’re not taking advantage of this time, that’s totally your prerogative and I understand your patience. I, on the other hand, don’t want to lose traffic after the years of work I’ve put in.
I’m not sure how much this goes into conspiracy theory territory, but I was interested by how many comments and emails suggested that search results are so bad because Google want more people buying ads on Adwords where results are more stable. Remember that Google are making billions of dollars every single quarter and seem to violate their original “Don’t be evil” slogan at every turn. It’s easy to forget their aim is to make their shareholders a lot of money.
I share a lot of things online, but it doesn’t make sense to publicly share everything. Just like I didn’t tell you the exact PPC campaigns I promoted, I don’t tell you exactly what I’m doing in Google in public. Some things have to stay private-ish, in courses like XXX (please forgive the landing pages, still split-testing for cold traffic experiments) and so on. If you’re interested in hearing what myself and Diggy can potentially do for you in private – I’m not looking for more than 15 people to start with – please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A lot of people are stressing about rankings right now, but myself and my “private circle” are certainly not among them.
Thank you for reading!