How The “Focus On First” Helps Hide Google’s Relevancy Problems

In January, I was invited to speak to Google’s search quality team about issues I had with Google’s search results. My topic? For queries where I know a subject really well, I often found Google provided some pretty poor results in the top listings along with the good ones. I wanted more perfection!

With the focus this week on Google Instant Search providing fast answers, I figured it was worth revisiting the quality of results. This post is largely built off the things I presented back in January, issues that are still continuing with Google. It explains how a “focus on first” can help cover the fact that other things listed in Google’s top results aren’t always that great.

Not Ego Search, Expert Search

My choice of queries has a strong degree of self-interest. My examples are searches where I’d expect to see Search Engine Land rank well for. Clearly, anyone listed above us is S.P.A.M. — as the old joke goes — Someone Positioned Above Me!

Certainly, one of the most common ways people will measure a search engine is through an “ego search.” You search for yourself, and if you find your own content — a blog, a LinkedIn profile or whatever — you decide if the search engine is relevant or not. It’s a well known behavior, even if it’s sometimes a terrible way to measure relevancy.

I’m not talking about ego searching, however. I’m talking about a subject expert reviewing a set of results to determine if what shows is up to snuff. It’s something that Google’s army of quality raters cannot do. These are people Google hires to review results, to decide what seems good, bad and just outright spam. That aggregate data is used to help Google improve its automated ranking algorithm. But if someone’s not a subject expert, they’re largely making their best guess — and it could be a guess that’s way off.

Before I dive in, let me stress that Google does an excellent job in general on search. It usually does help me, and millions of others, find what they are looking for. And part of that quality comes from an honest effort to improve and take criticism toward that goal, such as asking me to effectively let them have it during my talk in January.

“Search Engines” — More Than Poking Fun

Let’s start with a classic, a search for search engines. I’ve poked at Google about this query for almost a year now, including at the Google Instant press conference yesterday. Google — the most popular search engine in the world — doesn’t rank itself in the first page of results. In fact, as I look while writing this, it’s not even in the top 100 results.

That’s absurd. Yes, it plays well as a counter to the crowd that wants to argue that Google favors its own its own services. Look, we don’t even list ourselves! But it’s a flaw, an error, a bad set of results for Google not to be there.

What do we get for the first page?

  1. Dogpile
  2. AltaVista
  3. Bing
  4. Wikipedia page
  5. Ask.com
  6. Search Engine Guide page
  7. Search Engine Watch page
  8. Yahoo
  9. Search Engine Colossus page
  10. WebCrawler

That’s 10 sites, 6 of them actual search engines and 4 of them about search engines.

AltaVista: 2nd Best Search Engine In The World, Says Google

Listing AltaVista makes no sense, from a relevancy standpoint. It WAS one of the earliest search engines, launched before Google. It had its own search technology. It later gave up the search space, got purchased by Yahoo, drew its results from Yahoo which last month itself gave up its own search technology to carry listings from Bing.

AltaVista is Bing, twice removed, twice watered down. Yahoo — which says it’s still a player in search — has expended no effort to somehow maintain AltaVista as an appealing search engine. It’s a has-been, but one that Google considers the second best recommendation out of over 100 million pages that it considered ranking for a search on “search engine.”

That’s dumb. It’s also dumb to list both Dogpile and WebCrawler, meta search engines owned by the same company that do effectively the same thing. One is sufficient. Get some variety in there.

Old Man Links Rule

What’s happening is that Google rewards longevity. AltaVista was around ages ago, gained a lot of links over time, and in particular links from other aged sites. Google relies heavily on links to determine rankings, and links from old sites to old sites can trump anything. It’s like a link gerontocracy.

You can see this in action with three of the sites listed that are about search engines, rather than actually being search engines. All of them are older than Search Engine Land. All of them have gained links over time that help them do well for this query. One of them I know extremely well — Search Engine Watch.

For those not familiar, I created Search Engine Watch back in 1996, sold it in 1997 and but was hired to keep running it as editor. I did that through December 2006, when I left after failing to agree on a contract after it was sold again to its current owners.

The entire editorial staff of Search Engine Watch left with me that month, moving over here to Search Engine Land. All the editorial authority that Search Engine Watch had been built on was gone, moved to a new domain. But Google was unable to understand that.

(Note that this isn’t a reflection on the current staff of Search Engine Watch or any suggestion they shouldn’t be listed now. There’s a great group of talented people who now oversee the site there. I’m talking about what happened back when the old editorial staff left).

You Can’t Take Your Google Reputation With You

Google, which does things to fight spam and improve relevancy such as discrediting links in some cases when a domain was sold, was unable to transfer any reputation that I or my staff had built in covering the search engine industry to where we continued to cover that industry.

I think it’s fair to say that Search Engine Land is one of the top sites about search engines. But if you search on that topic, the site remains buried somewhere in the 40s on Google, behind even more old search engines and outdated articles. It ought to rank higher. Someone who knows a lot about search agrees with that, Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google, when I talked with him about relevancy issues last year.

I’m acutely aware that there’s a lot of self-interest in writing about this. But I’m not alone in this type of situation. Consider Andy Beal, who once ran a site called Search Engine Lowdown and then had to abandon it, to start over at Marketing Pilgrim. None of his reputation transferred to that new domain. Google’s link-based system can’t handle that.

This will grow as a problem for others. You have any number of sites that switch hands, have personnel changes or which change entirely in focus, yet Google doesn’t register a change, a transfer of authority. Over time, the new sites should grow. Make no mistake, Search Engine Land gets plenty of traffic from search engines. But still, after three years, it still hasn’t cracked the top ten for “search engines?”

Hey, maybe I need to take more of my own advice and get out there and do some link building! Interestingly, I never had to do much of that at Search Engine Watch. It had a good reputation and drew links naturally. That’s largely the same with Search Engine Land. We’re just a much newer site, and Google loves the old.

Actually, there’s an exception to that. Google also loves the fresh. It’s an odd spectrum. It rewards old links heavily, but then it also will give a boost to recently published content, for a short period of time. What it needs to do is focus on a better balance for that big gap in between.

Get Me Some Links!

Back to building links, if I really wanted to do it right, clearly I should start an SEO company and get all my clients to link to me, perhaps not even realizing it. After all, that’s what Google rewards for one of the most competitive searches out there, a search on SEO.

Here’s the screenshot from my presentation for results on SEO from back in January, which is virtually the same as you’ll see for the same search today:

I went through each result during my presentation to further explain my comments.

Wikipedia is required by law to have a top listing on Google, as I’ve often joked. But do we really need it twice? Especially when the second page is simply a listing of various things that SEO might refer to (and this still happens today on Google).

Google lists its own long-standing page about SEO, which I think is a very good choice. Other good choices to me were SEO Book and SEOmoz. I know both sites well. Both are good resources. I was less familiar with SEO Chat, hence my “suppose” about it being included.

SEO-USA.org seemed to make sense, if Google was going for diversity in results. Not everything called SEO refers to search engine optimization.

Down at the bottom, my questions about this set of results really kicked in. A tool I’d never heard of was ranking at number 10. Number 10 out of over 100 million possible matches. And at number nine, an SEO firm I’d never heard of. But they must be really good, for Google to rank them number 10 above other things, such as maybe the WebmasterWorld Forums (which, as I noted, didn’t make the list).

These Are High Quality Links?

Hmm. How did that company end up there? I brought up my next slide:

Turns out, this company had links from the oddest of places. Some seemed to be clients. I think one was a comment link from The News Tribune. As for the one from Brooke Skye Lesbians, that appeared to be part of the default links in the WordPress theme this site was using.

When I look at something like that, it’s hard to believe the “good links count” line that Google puts out. By the way, this particular site no longer ranks. Maybe my talk brought greater attention. Maybe something else happened. I noticed in writing this that some of those links are now gone. Either the company did a clean-up, or whatever tactics it used to gain links were relatively short term.

Looking At Links Yourself

But no matter. There were plenty of other firms to take its place, using similar tactics. Test it yourself. If you see an SEO firm listed, simply take the URL of the firm and search for it with the command “link:” in front of it, like this:

link:http://www.nameofthecompany.com

Especially be sure to do this with some of the companies on the second and third page of results. Some at Google will tell that what’s listed on the second or third page of results aren’t that important, since few people go past the first page of results. I totally agree with that behavior. And yet, what Google considers to be the 11th or 15th or 25th most important page on a subject out of millions of choices still ought to be damn good. And often, they’re not. Often, they’re garbage.

Do some of those link searches. You don’t need to be an old fart SEO to understand when you’re seeing really odd backlink profiles, and to understand that getting links from anywhere still seems to work, and for a topic that Google ought to have under extremely tight scrutiny: SEO.

When poor links like this can produce top rankings, it gets harder and harder to convince people that they should focus on content, that content wins out. I still believe that, by the way. If you’re in it for the long-term, a focus on content is right, in my opinion. But you can see why so many get tempted by the short term gains. They can work.

Broken Things Even Rank

Here’s another search to try: pagerank. Run through some of the PageRank tools that are listed in the first few pages of results. Many of them simply don’t work. But they’re old, been out there, and Google still rewards them. Don’t know much about PageRank? Read my article: What Is Google PageRank? A Guide For Searchers & Webmasters. It’s pretty comprehensive and still fairly fresh. Pity it’s so hard to find on Google.

I could do this all day. In a few minutes, give me a query, and I can usually find at least one result that doesn’t match the quality you’d expect to be in the first page of results on Google. If it’s an area I’m an expert it, I can do it even faster — and find more outliers. And if you go to the second page of results, it can sometimes be laughable.

Saved By The Focus On First

Google survives this because for the most part, a few good answers are good enough. As Google research director Peter Norvig said recently in a Slate interview:

If I do a search of the New York Times, I want nytimes.com to be the top result. But what should the 10th result be? There is no right answer to that. If a hardware error means we dropped one result and somebody had a different result at No. 10, there’s no way of saying that’s right or wrong.

Actually, there can be results at number 10 that plenty of people would agree are wrong for various reasons, and some even higher than that, when talking about non-navigational queries. But I agree with Norvig in general. Sometimes having enough good things is good enough, given what a searcher perceives.

Beyond perception, Google has another way to isolate itself even further from the bad picks that slip through: Google Personalized Search.

Personalized search starts to elevate the sites you like. If you ego search, it’s fantastic — your sites can do really well. You’re probably not aware that your results are personalized. You’re probably not aware that others are seeing results you might think aren’t so great. So you’re happy.

Now add Google Instant into the mix. At its press conference, Google emphasized how people would move their eyes from what they entered into the search box to the first result that was listed, using that first result in a way to effectively judge if all the results they might get matched their query. Google’s really just got to make that first result hum, for most people, most of the time. If results 2-10 are so-so, it’s not a mission critical matter.

It shouldn’t be that way, however. We ought to get 10 solid results on the first page. That’s what I expect from Google. But maybe I expect too much. Maybe good is good enough, especially given how people search.

My Wish List

Still, I hope. I’d like all 10 results for a query to be absolutely great. I’d also like them to be from 10 different sites. It’s long overdue to end the “indented” listings where two pages from a particular site might show, one indented under the other, with Wikipedia in my SEO example above.

In addition, if you actually do click to go to the second page of results, the quality of those listings still ought to be pretty high. They shouldn’t be laughable. Otherwise, don’t give me a second page of results.

Further, if you are going to “page” your way through results, Google needs to stop serving up pages from the same web sites that you’ve already rejected. For example, Google might show me a Wikipedia page (or two ) on its first page of results. If I go to the second page of results, Wikipedia might show up again. And again and again, as I drill into the results. If I bypassed it the first time, I don’t want it continually shoved in my face. Give me something different!

Finally, for years Google has deliberately degraded the backlink data it shares. You can’t look up a site on Google and see all the people linking to it. It has done this because, we’ve been told, potentially people might abuse this to game Google’s algorithm.

News flash. They abuse you already. All suppressing that data does is make it impossible for some of the most knowledgeable people outside of Google to really understand exactly how Google might be gamed in violation of its guidelines. If Google wants people to report spam, then give them the proper tools. Full link data now. The time is overdue.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Instant | Google: Web Search | Stats: Relevancy | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    I turned off Instant Search. It’s just too mind-annoying.

  • http://www.gulpmedia.com Jeff Rosen

    Danny -

    Great post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Full disclosure: My knowledge of Search and SEO is just above zero Kelvin, but you hit on some very interesting points that made me take a moment and think.

    Imagine having to index the world’s telephone numbers and all you were given were the listing name, telephone number and the number of times that number has been dialed.

    You can’t verify the identity of the account name and with respect to businesses may not even be listed under the “Doing Business As” name.

    You will not be notified if someone (or a business) moves. You will not be notified if the business closes or expands.

    You will have some success using area codes and exchanges to geographically represent them, but they may have their numbers forwarded to another line in another location.

    How effective do you think a search for a name or term would be?

    This may not be a great analogy for what Google accomplishes, but in my very humble opinion, sure seems to be.

    Granted, they have the added benefit of combining that data with scores of additional terms as they crawl actual pages, but are those same terms indexed in context?

    I have experimented with varioust formulas and have concluded that in the future, sites powered by people, will offer much more effective and valuable results.

    Enjoy your weekend.

  • Stupidscript

    Danny,

    Nice detail of some of the Google relevancy problems. It almost made me forget the reason I clicked through to read this article. I was expecting an article with relevance to the question: “How The ‘Focus on First’ Helps Hide Google’s Relevancy Problems.”

    Seriously interesting is my behavior … I was presented with a link to an article written by a certified authority, identified by its title and a brief sales pitch; and based on the title and sales pitch, I calculated that the article was relevant to my interests, and I included reading the article in my index of relevant activities.

    And yet, the article, despite the title and the authority SEL/DS hold, was practically irrelevant to my interest … which is about how “Focus on First” helps to hide the relevancy issue, not about the relevancy issue, itself.

    It’s almost as if SEL made the same mistake as Google … intending to present relevance, but tripped up by their own cleverness.

    Fascinating … physician, heal thyself … yaddayadda. Still, a nice article, Danny, even if it did not live up to its billing.

  • http://andybeard.eu AndyBeard

    Poor Jeffrey of SEO Design Solutions
    3 years a Sphinn member
    http://sphinn.com/user/submits/SeoDesignSolutions/
    1400+ Sphinns cast… very few submits but a large number were other people’s content.
    Outed on Search Engine Land for having a WordPress plugin that isn’t bad… has a few unique features, and from memory an option to give a credit link to the author.

    He writes some good content, has 12,000 RSS readers etc

    At least one regular writer on Search Engine Land has had similar success with WordPress plugins.

    Even worse you didn’t even mention his company name so it won’t even come up on a Google alert.

    I also wish I could see the same search you see – best to somehow have personal off, a fixed geolocation etc.

    I am not seeing Jeffrey anywhere close to first page with a slightly better query for demonstration purposes.
    http://www.google.com/search?q=seo&pws=0&hl=en&gl=US

    I could give you an explanation into why Google doesn’t rank for search engine… the simple reason is that it ranks for other things instead.

    Matt Cutts probably gets tons of search traffic for cats and Linux so doesn’t rank quite as high for some stuff.

    Going any deeper would be delving into my weird freaky wacky stuff for which I have no conclusive test results.

    If you wanted SEL to rank for Search Engine (at least a little better), you might think to construct your internal linking such that the first text link to the home page isn’t “home”.

    There are tests out there that show that a text link takes priority over an image link alt.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Andy, that set is from January. The set I see now is largely the same, except the bottom two don’t show for me. I get one geo-located SEO firm ranking, because Google makes some assumption that I really want an SEO firm located near me. I’ve also noticed that geo-located results can’t be turned off. Used to be able to, but somehow that seems to have been dropped or forgotten.

    As for the firm, it wasn’t outed on Search Engine Land for having a WordPress plugin. It was outed as a “why is this ranking” question as part of my presentation. You think that’s the 9th best page on SEO in all the world? And if we’re talking about “hey, the firm has a great blog,” then Google should rank the blog, don’t you think?

    The answer as to why it was ranking it that it seemed to have collected plenty of links from clients and other places that Google would have us all believe don’t really count. But clearly they do. Clearly they still work for other people. I thought that was worth illustrating.

    Google should rank for “search engine.” I don’t care really what the explanation is that you have, or heck even that I have, about why it doesn’t. It should. That’s the point. It should, it doesn’t, and it illustrates a flaw in Google’s search engine.

    Same thing on your suggestion that changing one single link ought to push us further toward ranking for “search engines.” Ideally, Google should do the right thing. We’re a site about search engines. That’s obvious. Google knows this.

    Heck, Andy — our name is “search engine land.” Do you know how many links, external links even — we have to us using our exact name in the anchor text? Plenty. Plenty that you’d think we’d rank for the singular “search engine” by now. Nope — page three, behind a lot of old search engines, some failed ones and older information sites.

    Bottom line, we’re competing against really old links that others in our space have. That’s an issue — not just for us, but for anyone coming in. And if Google can’t solve it, then people will keep turning just like that firm you’re concerned about to what does work, getting a lot of links however they can.

  • http://www.cmsbuffet.com/ CMSBuffet

    Great post Danny,
    I am glad Google is using stickiness as one of the parameters. it seems like this is the best way to remove my competitors’ bad content and good linking strategy from Google page 1.

    in the long run, content will get you to the top.

  • http://andybeard.eu AndyBeard

    I haven’t found a way to turn GEO off other than using the query I suggested.

    Alternative is to specificy a location

    &gr=US-NC&gl=US&gc=1021048&gpc=28134&near=28134

    “Good”
    “How, Seriously How”

    I look on that as not just a question on why a particular site is ranking, but also of relative worth.

    Website owners choose what they want to rank for and use optimized content and links to tell Google what their pages are about.
    Anchor text from other sites confirms (or not) that that is what the content is about.

    Altavista even based upon OpenSiteExplorer data has links from 60K domains, and the most popular non-brand keyword used in Anchor text is search engine.

    Google don’t want Google.com to rank first for search engine in Google – doing so from a business perspective isn’t logical.

    The most logical page to rank for Google for search engine is
    http://www.google.com/cse/ and after that maybe site search and enterprise.

    Google even block the link from the CSE page to the Google home page with the following link.

    http://www.google.com/search?

    How you link to yourself really matters – I have thousands of links to me for Niche Marketing and they are good links, every time I appear on Techmeme, Adage150, lots of top ranking lists that themselves get lots of links and authority etc.
    It could be blamed purely on a change of title tag, but the title tag still has marketing in it (diffuses Google bomb), there are lots of related synonyms on the page etc.

    The biggest changes however were when I changed sitewide linking to the home page, and when I dropped category listings (that removed the specific term form the home page)

    It isn’t a highly competitive term, but the drop is from 2nd or 3rd down to the second page of results.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Andy, Google’s a leading search engine. Arguably, the leading search engine. It doesn’t matter what they do or don’t do in terms of trying to show up for “search engines.” The fact is, they list other search engines there but not themselves. If it’s relevant to list some search engines, then it’s relevant that Google should list itself. It doesn’t. It’s a flawed results set because of this.

    SEO certainly can help influence whether something will rank well for a term, but you know it’s far from perfect. And plenty of sites that to all the wrong things from an SEO perspective may still rank well, primarily because the links make up for whatever their errors are.

    For us, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to make the first non-image link on the page — “Home” — say “search engines” on the off-chance that this one factor alone might push us up. It makes sense from a human perspective that we have a home link there, for people trying to navigate and who don’t consider to click on our logo.

    We could add a navigational link called “search engines,” and maybe that would help — but it’s not like our SEM, SEO and PPC links are doing much in that regard. Those are more recent, however. Perhaps they might pay off.

    But still, in the end, we have so many external links pointing to us and saying “search engine” as part of the links, since they use our name, and we still don’t pop for that search. Very trustworthy links, too. That should count far more than internal linkage. It’s clearly not. Why is unclear, but I suspect that despite the external links, we still get done by the “old man” link factor. That, and also that Google may apply a strange mix of relevancy for different classes of searches.

  • http://purdue512 purdue512

    Danny –

    I know you were invited to make criticisms, so that was the entire point… And forgive me if this seems like undue criticism myself. Overall, I thought you raised a number of interesting points here. Specifically, the overemphasis on age and links…

    However, I also felt that your arguments are a little bit fantasylandish (a word I just made up:-). Sure, you can take anything and say how it can be better. I find that every Monday-morning quarterback has that routine down.

    “I’d like all 10 results for a query to be absolutely great.” — Seriously???

    The elephant in that room is SUBJECTIVITY… What you think is great is not what someone else thinks is great. This one drives me nuts because people talk about SPAM as if it is black-and-white… Not so. SPAM is really a sliding scale… And should really be called “QUALITY” or “COMMERCIAL INTENT” – which is the best I can figure that it really is. Or perhaps there is some “SPAM LINE” that justifies the label once it is crossed. I once listened to Matt Cutts say “I know SPAM when I see it, I can almost smell it.” And part of me agreed with him… But that’s a far cry from being able to build a computer program to reliably identify it. Are we really expecting Google to produce TRUTH? Doesn’t it take peer-reviewed journals from leading scientists to product truth? And even then, they usually don’t agree… :-)

    What really interests me are ideas that explain exactly how some complex process might be improved, with an emphasis on the practical. And in the case of search engines, we are talking about implementation at a staggering scale. I didn’t see much here to address that. In the end, Google has an extremely reliable process. The bottom line is that if you ran every other query in Bing/Yahoo vs Google, and recorded your satisfaction with the query results (which will mostly be driven by relevancy), I’ll bet you will see a serious Google advantage.

    Again – I know you were invited to make criticisms, and that’s what you’ve done… Perhaps your idea was just to dream up what *could* be better and leave it to others to translate into practical implementation. Good work if you can get it ;-)

  • http://GeeKen GeeKen

    My problem with Google’s relevancy is how searches increasingly don’t think my search terms are relevant.

    I find more and more often when using several terms to narrow down the scope of my search that Google will ignore one or more words, so that I have to force them to be considered with a + or – before the word.

    If I didn’t care if the word was to be used, I wouldn’t have typed it in to begin with. Too me that is a result of sloppiness, not just relevancy.

  • http://www.seodesignsolutions.com seodesignsolutions

    @Danny:

    Damn??? Since when am I not invited to my own roast? And thanks Andy for at least chiming in with semblance regarding why we were pegged for a flogging.

    For the record Danny, we ranked organically for 1.5 years + (between SEO Moz and SEO Book) in Google on Page one for SEO “Before we released our WordPress plugin” in 2009.

    The links referenced in the link:seodesignsolutions.com query screen capture you illustrated was a result of those sites linking to us from the attribution link “which has an optional toggle to disable” in all fairness.

    Also, the inbound link velocity (at one point 150K links in one month) was in fact responsible for us tripping a link velocity filter and slipping (for that keyword only) from our prestigious perch.

    So, don’t make snap judgment chronological assumptions about our firm, air it as spam, then think its ok “just to poke a stick at someone for ranking for a VERY competitive keyword.

    We worked very hard for 2 years to produce that position; so, I don’t necessarily appreciate being made an “example of” particularly when the context is on the topic of someone “deserving” to rank on your personal editorial process of what you think Google’s take is on what is relevant as “SEO”.

    I have respect for you for your contribution to search and coining the term, but that was a roast on SEO Design Solutions merely because we offered a plugin and had a wide array of link diversity.

    Let’s leave the sorting to the algorithms as well as the snap shot shotgun approach of who, what, where, when and how… ok?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I didn’t poke a stick at you, nor did I say you spammed Google.

    I poked a stick at Google, for saying that it’s all about getting high quality links to rank and yet, when I did a backlink look up, I got lot of stuff that didn’t feel like quality. Not spam, but not necessarily quality, either.

    If you think your company is one of the top 10 things that should be listed for “SEO” in the entire world, I get that. But I don’t know that most people would agree.

    You can’t service the entire world, for one. There’s no evidence that you are better than many other firms (and equally, no evidence that you are worse). There’s no particular reason for your company to have been there other than, as best I can tell, Google liked your links.

    That’s Google’s problem, not yours. That was the point of this article. Google would suggest that it’s great content gets great links and that leads to top rankings. In reality, it leads to a few good sites and then sometimes a crapshoot about what else goes on that page.

    That fact that your firm disappeared, and that there wasn’t a huge outcry, is a pretty good sign that Google’s searchers were in particular missing you. And similarly, if we were there — and then went away — I doubt searchers were notice. They’re interested in “good enough.” But “good enough” is not what Google tells the world that its results are all about.

    To get into the specific about the link, OK — so apparently, you had a bunch of links from your client sites. Apparently, they could toggle these off? That’s fine — but then is that the best way to decide who ranks for SEO? Because someone can go out and offer really, really low cost (and probably cruddy) SEO and do the same thing, and out you go again.

    Now apparently, you were ranking well for SEO and then decided to put out a WordPress plugin, completely with SEO as a link, because what — you weren’t feeling solid enough? And that “inbound link velocity” harmed you. So what was working wasn’t broken until you broke it?

    This was an overview of my take on search quality (and yes, it’s my take) against the stuff that Google says is suppose to matter, in an area where I feel I’m a subject expert (it’s hard for me to say, for example, what seems odd to be ranking on botany).

    I’m sorry if you feel you were made an example of. That wasn’t my intention. It’s one reason I didn’t call your firm out by name (as Andy suggests). If it were intended as a roast, I’d have done this about your firm. There’s no need for that. Your firm didn’t do anything wrong.

    What it did do, however, was stand out as a sore thumb in the results. It (and there are plenty of other firms like this that come and go) makes someone think “how” or “why.” Why is Google putting you there above all other things, if the quality of links is supposed to be so important. And what I see is that what Google says and how it acts are radically different things.

    Which I know you know! And I’m sorry you got caught in the crossfire on that, me poking at Google about Google’s quality. But maybe it’ll help you and your clients down the line.

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