Why Google Needs The Manipulative Web

The Internet sometimes doesn’t work as we hope it would, or think it should. In certain verticals, great content doesn’t create great links, and because of that, in my opinion, SEOs are often forced to resort to manipulative link practices to get their clients and websites to rank.

Websites with low “content link efficacy” are vertically positioned in areas that aren’t socially friendly, such as health insurance or payday loans, and because of this, are often incapable of truly (and naturally) driving lots of links to their site, no matter how impressive and link-worthy their content is.

Websites with high content link efficacy, on the other hand, can occur when sites expect their fair share of links when great effort is put into a piece – because it exists in a space, such as Funny or Die or I Can Has Cheezburger, where users aren’t afraid to use word-of-mouth and also, because the users expect that their friends would also enjoy the content.

In verticals with low content link efficacy, many sites are ranked almost exclusively on the basis of their manipulative link acquisition practices – and very little on the sheer strength of their content.

Google’s Stance On Manipulative Linking

Google publicly recommends that webmasters do not “participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank“. So, given what we know about certain content verticals, and also, that Google is “against” link manipulation for the acquisition of PageRank – something doesn’t add up.

If these verticals were to exist solely on content strength alone, they’d do so based more on random chance and variance more than anything else. Who happened to discover what site? Did Robert Scoble happen to have an explicit interest in pornography that day on his blog, and instead of by quality, picked one with a terrible reputation – or just otherwise, happened to pick the worst of the top 10?

What if a high quality news site decided to link out based on something negative a business did? These kinds of things would lead to razor slim link profiles – elastic SERPs – and a final first results page that damages user experience.

My argument, then, is that Google needs the manipulative web.

In these two environments, one where sites are chosen mostly by variance and other sporadic factors, against the other – one where SEOs are forced into manipulative link practices – it is my thesis that the manipulative environment supplies better search results.

Manipulative-Web-Chart

Don’t get me wrong, these results won’t be nearly as good as those driven in the verticals with high content link efficacy – but beggars can’t be choosers. These websites that have the ability to invest in manipulative link practices are still, in some outside way, showing that they have the resources and backend to stimulate link acquisition – even if it’s not in the way we like. Venture capital investment, money to throw at links, business connections – all of these things in some way correlate to a strong website.

In this environment, the websites with the ability to allocate resources to manipulative link acquisition are most often the ones with the best websites. The multiple factors that contribute to this outweigh the random, varied linking that would other occur through strong content creation alone.

In this scenario, perhaps Google “turns the other cheek” to many of these manipulative link acquisition practices, because, for all that they hurt many other verticals, they, here, in the areas of pornography, payday loans, pharmaceuticals and elsewhere – help inform a quality website more than content ever could.

A Problem For Webmasters

The dilemma here, of course, is that this reality would mean that Google would have to say one thing and do another. Their public statement against manipulative link practices would be a partial lie. This makes for an ethical conundrum for many webmasters, leaving those incapable of determining this reality for themselves at a gross disadvantage.

In a portal where they only – failingly – try to acquire content-driven links – they will not compete near close enough to a level needed to rank in these manipulative-driven verticals. These concerns are abound even in the higher efficacy verticals – so to say they play an even bigger part in verticals where “white-hat” acquisition is practically a myth would be for the most part, an understatement.

It’s also possible that Google is unaware of the inability of these verticals to acquire links naturally at a volume capable of accurately sorting the SERPs (unlikely), and still moves steadfast towards an internet completely devoid of manipulative link acquisition practices.

This, unfortunately, would likely leave many of these low content link efficacy verticals in even worse shape, and the people needing their services likely scammed or otherwise, unable to find what they’re looking for.

A final scenario exists where Google imagines these kinds of verticals – manually or algorithmically – just as they are – the “slums” of the SERPs, and largely ignores them. Few Google cop cars drive through (not even the robot cars) – and non-explicitly-black-hat spamming tendencies are deemed as OK – for the benefit of the long-term viability of the SERPs, and otherwise, intelligent time allocation for the webspam team.

In my eyes, I see this as the most likely situation, and one every intelligent webmaster competing in these verticals should be aware of. Clearly, every vertical and SERP is one that webmasters should take a hard, deep look at – and from there, adjust search strategy – and ethical stance – accordingly.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column

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About The Author: is the SEO Manager at Full Beaker Inc, a Seattle online media company. Ross is accomplished link building expert with a history in a diversity of roles, from in-house, consultant, agency, to a hybrid of all three. His strengths are in content creation, and also, rambling on link building strategies and theories over at his SEO blog.

Although he originates from Southern California, he is not a reasonable surfer, nor a model, and most certainly, not a reasonable surfer model. You can follow him on Twitter @RossHudgens.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter



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  • Dennis House

    I have to disagree w/ the premise that “the websites with the ability to allocate resources to manipulative link acquisition are most often the ones with the best websites”.
    I think we’re forgetting about the large amount of marketers out there that who have the resources and knowledge to acquire extremely manipulative links whose only goal, most often, is the short-term profit associated with spammy, “blackhat” techniques.
    I can’t see google ever seeing this as OK, or, ignoring it as the “slums” of the SERPs. I can’t see them ever being okay with any portion of their product being considered a slum and I think we all remember the spam that took place, i think last year? ..surrounding Ugg boots. You could argue this is a vertical that might not be able to “acquire links naturally at a volume capable of accurately sorting the SERPs”,
    and we could imagine the implications that would be associated with Google leaving the SERPs the way they were under the premise that their product (Google) couldn’t produce a better result without those spammers manipulating it the way they did.

  • http://ninebyblue.com/ Vanessa Fox

    Unfortunately, this article suffers from the false premise that “If these verticals were to exist solely on content strength alone, they’d do so based more on random chance and variance more than anything else”, which assumes that Google has no other signals for valuing content other than links.

    Content owners looking to achieve long term success probably shouldn’t build their businesses based on the assumption that Google will overlook violations to its guidelines for certain verticals.

  • http://twitter.com/rosshudgens Ross Hudgens

    Vanessa, that statement isn’t an absolution. Definitely, other factors come into play, but if these factors rolled on the variance link standpoint, links – the most indicative factor – would likely outweigh many accessory factors, at least in the current model.

    Of course, Google could pivot to some other model like they do for Local Search and almost completely eradicate these editorially cited SERPs (and maybe they should), but, for now, it is my belief that these manipulative links actually enhance the search results in the taboo sectors. I would agree that perhaps, though, webmasters shouldn’t be moving forward with these practices just because that fact is currently true.

  • http://twitter.com/rosshudgens Ross Hudgens

    Clarification – “Definitely, other factors come into play, but if the SERPs were sorted as they are currently, with links being a most improtant factor in competitive SERPs – links, even is less, random amounts – would likely outweigh many accessory factors, at least in the current model.

    Of course, Google could pivot to some other model like they do for Local Search and almost completely eradicate these editorially cited SERPs (and maybe they should), but, for now, it is my belief that these manipulative links actually enhance the search results in the taboo sectors. I would agree that perhaps, though, webmasters shouldn’t be moving forward with these practices just because that fact is currently true.”

  • http://twitter.com/rosshudgens Ross Hudgens

    Meant to say “even in less” above, I’m really good at this comment thing.

    Dennis, I would not consider Ugg boots as a manipulative vertical. Although not as social as say, sports news, it definitely is capable of brand mentions and etc that would sort itself out should manipulative link practices not exist. I mean the worst of the worst – pharmaceuticals, porn, payday loans – etc.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/seoservicestwitter Jill Whalen

    This is, in my opinion, exactly what is wrong with Google right now (and for the past few years). Relying so heavily on links as they do, they miss a lot of the naturally good stuff, in favor of the manipulated “maybe” good stuff.

  • http://www.organicSEOconsultant.com/ Miguel Salcido

    Ross, fantastic topic and bold hypothesis. I agree that not everyone has the vertical, or the means much of the time, to produce link worthy content consistently. This is truly and art form and only the most creative, and most expensive, consultants can execute in low link efficacy verticals.

    The foundation of Google’s algo is based on linking, it is what set them apart from everyone else back in the day. If they remove the foundation the algo crumbles. Linking will always, IMHO, be a heavy factor. I have yet to hear anyone with any good ideas on how Google could ever replace linking as a major factor. And I am sure that Google has had some of the brightest minds in the world working on this for years and years now.

    But are Google’s results really that bad? I hear alot of people complain about what is wrong with Google’s results. Sure there are some queries and niches that are spammy but those results are such a small percentage of overall results that it is laughable. For the most part Google is a fantastic, highly relevant search engine that the great majority of the world gladly uses to “find stuff” online every day.

  • VinceLin

    Found this on Ross’s blog. If you think about it, most really competitive verticals that have a ton of money – it makes sense to invest in link building and also invest on the site itself. Wouldn’t it correlate to a higher quality website? Over time, the amount of continuous, ongoing effort to remain on top means that these sites have earned their due, survival of the fittest.

    @37a7cbdafe4473cfdc6a1716a15d6710:disqus 
    Agreed – however, NO ONE else has been able to come up with a replacement for links, (the idea originated from Stanford research PhD papers where the more referenced a paper was, the more likely it was of higher authority)

    There simply isn’t enough computing power to analyze things otherwise right now. Maybe once day we’ll figure out pure semantics and even then, you need a variable that extends beyond time  and measures ongoing “useful”, “valuable” effort…

 

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