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Google Ranking Mystery - Is There a Rhyme or Reason?
Sites with no links and little content are getting top ranking.
Webmeister




msg:3230766
 11:15 pm on Jan 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

I just checked Google's results on my prefered keywords for our main sites, and I am stumped by the SERPS that I am seeing. Sites with little or no inbound links and limited content are making it to the top of some very popular keywords. I run these sites through my SiteAnalyzer program and compare them with mine, and I cannot see why Google is ranking these sites higher than mine.

For example, on one of my favorite keywords, the #1 ranking site only shows nine backlinks on Google (they are all internal links). The site has only 79 pages (according to archive.org they had over 140 pages this time last year). The PageRank on their pages are all PR4 and PR5 for the most part, with about a dozen PR0 pages. The prefered keyword shows up 384 times in their entire website.

In contrast, my website - which has gradually lost Google ranking over the last year (it used to be at #1 on this keyword) - shows 118 inbound links (a mix of internal and external). My website has 213 pages. Most of my pages are PR5, with a few of them at PR4 and about 15 PR0 pages. The prefered keyword shows up 294 times in my website.

I used to be able to look at a website, view its source, and run a few search engine scripts to determine why it was ranking high or low on Google - but not anymore. Can any of you explain what kind of logic Google is currently using to determine a site's ranking, or is it just a roll of the dice nowadays? Here are a few questions that I would love to have answers for:

1. Does fresh content on a regular basis increase your chances for a higher ranking?

2. Do incoming links even factor into the SERPS anymore?

3. Does Google penalize for having a few 302 and 404 pages?

4. Do you score points with Google by using one- and two-tier subdirectories with keywords in the folder titles?

5. Does Gogle penalize for having too many image ALT tags with the same keywords in them?

6. Has Google tossed out all of the above factors and gone to a random pick to determine the top-ranking sites?

These are just a few of the questions off the top of my head. If you have answers to these or information on other factors that Google is currently using to determine a website's ranking, I would appreciate hearing from you. Thanks!

 

tedster




msg:3230888
 1:07 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

There's a lot to dicuss there, but one important fact is that the Google link: operator is not (and never has been) a place to get data for any serious analysis.

See: [webmasterworld.com...]

braap




msg:3230900
 1:23 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm seeing something similar in SERPS I watch very carefully. A search term I watch very closely, moderately competitive, has recently seen a change in rankings favoring older domains, pre '00.

Prior to December, two older domains were ranking 4 and 13 on the average. Content hasn't changed in years. Neither site has more than 10 backlinks. The three sites ahead of the site ranking number 4 are heavily optimized, white hat/grey hat, but the domains are 2-4 years old.

After December, the number 4 site took the number 1 position. The number 13 domain moved to number 6. The heavily optimized sites moved down 1 position each with the former 1 site, actually having number 1 and 2 positions in the SERPS, had its 2nd page move down to the number 11 position.

My conclusions:
1. Older domains got a significant boost in rankings for no other reason than age.
2. Heavily optimized sites took a hit most likely due to over-optimization including reciprocal links being devalued and high keyword density, to name just a few possibilities.

Haecceity




msg:3230907
 1:45 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm seeing similar oddities. There's a site that ranks just above mine that has very few backlinks (as judged by Yahoo and other tools). It also has very little information on the topic in question and what information it does have is worse than useless. It's a crank site.

It kills me that this one-page site with crappy information ranks above mine, which has hundreds of pages and hundreds of times as many backlinks (naturally developed).

I keep wondering if I'm doing something wrong, but I can't think what it could be.

[Added later] While my site was set up in 2000 the other has been in existence since 1997, although it only started ranking for the key term in question a few months ago. I can only think that Google now thinks that the age of a site is of paramount importance -- more important than quality.

[edited by: Haecceity at 1:49 am (utc) on Jan. 25, 2007]

Jane_Doe




msg:3230920
 2:07 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Trusted links from the right sites can make a big difference with Google rankings.

skweb




msg:3230921
 2:08 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

1. Does fresh content on a regular basis increase your chances for a higher ranking?

Yes, absolutely.

2. Do incoming links even factor into the SERPS anymore?

Only little. Links have been abused way too much with all the spammers and text links purchased for $30.

3. Does Google penalize for having a few 302 and 404 pages?

No.

4. Do you score points with Google by using one- and two-tier subdirectories with keywords in the folder titles?

No, but it helps Google and searchers in interpreting what to find.

5. Does Gogle penalize for having too many image ALT tags with the same keywords in them?

Excess of anything is bad. The ALT tag is not for displaying what should be in the text. All you need is a few word explanation of what the image is about.

6. Has Google tossed out all of the above factors and gone to a random pick to determine the top-ranking sites?

No.

Haecceity




msg:3230944
 2:57 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

1. Does fresh content on a regular basis increase your chances for a higher ranking?

Yes, absolutely.

I have to say I haven't seen much evidence of that in my field. With the exception of a Wikipedia article, which is in a constant state of flux, the highest ranking sites mostly haven't changed in years. I add new material pretty regularly but I'm at the bottom of the first page. If I was to generalize from that experience the lesson would be to set up a site and then don't touch it.

trinorthlighting




msg:3230973
 3:21 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I have pages ranking at the number 1 postition on the serps with no links except internal links.

The days of links are long gone!

atlrus




msg:3231002
 4:01 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Rule of thumb - ALWAYS use Yahoo for backlinks checking. They crawl and index everything.

I am sure if you run Yahoo "linkdomain:" on that same website it will come with about 40K-50K backlinks.

Do it - and let us know :)

CainIV




msg:3231168
 8:34 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

2. Do incoming links even factor into the SERPS anymore?

Only little. Links have been abused way too much with all the spammers and text links purchased for $30.

Unfortunately this is very far from the truth. Links still are the absolute way to achieve high ranks. High quality links on target from great sources are gold.

Patrick Taylor




msg:3231271
 11:29 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I don't know whether it's still the case, but ALLTHEWEB used to be regarded by many as the best place to check incoming links.

simey




msg:3231280
 11:45 am on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Unfortunately this is very far from the truth. Links still are the absolute way to achieve high ranks. High quality links on target from great sources are gold.

Exactly, try ranking for any competitive keyword without good incoming links. Google can only rank based on onsite or offsite factors, and offsite's are still a bit harder to manipulate.

Webmeister




msg:3231609
 4:14 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm finding some competitive keyword phrases that still have authority sites with high PageRank and lots of backlinks in the top-ranking positions. Some of the sites competing for the same keywords, however, have little or no backlinks - and some have no PageRank at all. On other popular keyword phrases, all of the sites in the top-ranking positions have little or no backlinks and low PageRank.

This is perplexing.

Lorel




msg:3231642
 4:43 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Also, it's not the quantity of links that boost a site but their quality. Check the PR of the page where the other site's links reside and if there are few links on the pages and are they on a quality site and in the body text rather than on a list of links at the bottom of the page. This would all indicate manual submission instead of automatic and usually results in better ranking for the site.

rj87uk




msg:3231681
 5:06 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Trusted links from the right sites can make a big difference with Google rankings.

Bingo! Exactly.

Do some searches in the sesrch engine of your choice and look up the term "Trust Rank", also check up WebmasterWorld for that term and you will find a lot on the subject.

Long story short, If you can pick up an extra few authority links along with the usual then your site will be more trusted and therefore rank better.

Ramblings of an old fool? Probably not.

highrank




msg:3231700
 5:14 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

1. Does fresh content on a regular basis increase your chances for a higher ranking?

Absolutely.

2. Do incoming links even factor into the SERPS anymore?

Absolutely. They tell Google all about your site. Trusted links from authority domains are extremely important. With Google, it's all about trust. If all your incoming links are reciprocal, Gooogle knows. A lot of sites that generate their inbound links by reciprocal linking have been feeling the pain. Links from crap sites do very little good for you at all and can even hurt you. If all your incoming links are to your home page with no links pointing to your internal pages, that can hurt. If all your inbound links have the anchor text...again it can hurt you. The bottom line with inbound links is that if your inbound link profile doesn't appear "natural", than Google is going to assume your trying to manipulate the rankings. Smart SEO's know how to make their link profile look natural whilte getting links from trusted authority sites.

3. Does Google penalize for having a few 302 and 404 pages?

No.

4. Do you score points with Google by using one- and two-tier subdirectories with keywords in the folder titles?

A little.

5. Does Gogle penalize for having too many image ALT tags with the same keywords in them?

They can. I've seen many overoptimized sites be penalized. At the same time, I've seen people get away with it as well. Not worth the risk really.

6. Has Google tossed out all of the above factors and gone to a random pick to determine the top-ranking sites?

Yes. They are now going for random results. Matt Cutts spoke about it at a recent convention. He said Google is tired of SEO's trying to manipulate the search engines so they are now pretty much relying on random results. He compared it to a lottery system. Every site now gets a chance to rank well. He also said they are working on a time machine and they are close to completion. If I were you I'd buy as much GOOG stock as possible. Can you imagine how many people are going to want to buy Google time machines? Man, those guys are brilliant.

ConfusedWriter




msg:3231737
 5:40 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the good info, but I have one question that's always bugged me in regards to "non-controllable" issues.

In your post, you said that inbound links from bad places can really harm you, or inbound links with similar text can as well.

I've never been able to get over one little issue: does Google really penalize you much, if at all, for things that a site cannot control?

Case in point: Let's say I finally made it to top 3 in SERPS, and my competitors are foaming furious...and decide to take action. Maybe they decide to go and hire one of a million cheap link farm building sites out there, and get your site posted on about 1 zillion link farms, porn sites, warez sites, useless directories, and so on.

What happens when something like this occurs? Do you contact Google and say you didn't do it, that you're innocent?

If Google does punish a site for this (it would have to be very mild) then wouldn't this just be the greatest tool in the world to off your competitors?

Help me to understand what it is I"m missing in this picture.

highrank




msg:3231768
 6:02 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Definitely, inbound links can harm you. Yes, your competitors could potentially do that (buy tons of cheap links and point them at your site with all the same anchor text). It's been done before. Do a search for "google bowling" or "googlebowling". It sucks, but it's true. Certain powerful sites are immune (Disney, Adobe, etc) but most sites are not.


rj87uk




msg:3231780
 6:16 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Definitely, inbound links can harm you.

I don't think this is true. Regardless of what people say but then again we are all allowed to have an opinion.

I will say that the websites that you link to from your website can affect your ranking, maybe not harm your ranking as such however Google IMO looks at who your linking to and thinks, if this website is linking to "blah" then it must have some relation to "blah" so lets rank it slightly better for the term "blah" and also if "blah" is not mentioned on your website then it could be used against you Google might say well it has nothing to do with "blah" and its pointing to that website so lets no rank this website for this term because it has nothing to do with it and lets look at the other website, "blah".

Anyone agree?

ConfusedWriter




msg:3231816
 6:40 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Definitely, inbound links can harm you. Yes, your competitors could potentially do that (buy tons of cheap links and point them at your site with all the same anchor text). It's been done before. Do a search for "google bowling" or "googlebowling". It sucks, but it's true. Certain powerful sites are immune (Disney, Adobe, etc) but most sites are not.

I wonder how many "holes" like this that Google has in their algorithms. You would think that continuing to pile issues like this on top of one another will only lead to one thing - poorer search results in the end.

I would think that G would be smarter than to let something like that happen.

[edited by: tedster at 7:06 pm (utc) on Jan. 25, 2007]
[edit reason] add quote box [/edit]

CainIV




msg:3231850
 7:03 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Yes. They are now going for random results.

Dont see it in many of the sectors I watch.

kapow




msg:3231875
 7:15 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

It never ceases to amaze me just how many conflicting opinions there are from people who 'know'. A lot of stuff people say about Google ranking is just not true, and a little bit of it is true :) Sorry to be difficult but here are some points to consider weather you can really say what does and does not work:
  • It is VERY hard to truly know what does and does not significantly affect Google rank. If you do nothing your site can go up or down because things change naturally at Google and with your competitors. If you do something the same applies. So how do you know what you did (or didn't do) caused a change?

  • Lots of people are not learning from experience with Competitive Terms. If your experience is with easy terms, you don't know why the page ranks, because there is little stopping it from ranking. You make a page about "Buckets of blue sand" its going to rank easily because Google doesn't have much else to put in the SERPs for that term. Now try the same thing for 'Online Poker'.

  • To know, you should have access to multiple sites, that actually rank for the same (or very similar) competitive terms, AND you have to experiment different ways on those sites, AND you have to repeat this at different times (over years) to eliminate Google and Competitor changes... AND probably some other stuff I can't think of right now.
    Otherwise you're guessing!

m1t0s1s




msg:3231905
 7:42 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Have you tried building more links by offering some kind of service or web directory on your site or linking to high quality sites?

It might be offtopic, but can anyone decipher matt cutts comment on his blog post: Infrastructure status, January 2007 [mattcutts.com]


Kirby Said,

January 10, 2007 @ 11:04 pm

To follow up on SEW’s post, I heard your interview with Mike Grehan. You mentioned you understand more about what its like to be a webmaster now that you are a blogger. You also mentioned how many SEOs are getting creative in obtaining links. However, they represent a small segment of the web.

Try being just mom and pop who dont know how to play the Digg game, dont blog endlessly and dont go to SES or PubCon. They wont attract many editorially given links without a little help.

Matt Cutts Said,

January 10, 2007 @ 11:06 pm
<snip>
Kirby, there are steps that we take to try to help those Mom/Pop sites as well.

[edited by: m1t0s1s at 7:50 pm (utc) on Jan. 25, 2007]

abbeyvet




msg:3231906
 7:42 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I don't know how relevant this is, but it may be interesting in figuring out the importance of linking. A 2 year old site, travel/popular destination, competitve and with many established sites.

I have limited time to spend on this site and find link building boring and excessively time consuming so, apart form submitting it to DMOZ where it is listed, never sought a single link for it. But I enjoy researching/writing and so the site now has over 600 pages of original and well researched/well written content.

Anyway, the interesting thing is that this site has bypassed many much older sites (including the official tourism body site) for many key words/phrases.

What strikes me is that:

1. Except for about 3 or 4 links from vaguely relevant sites which I created at the begining to let Google find the site, ALL of the incoming links are naturally acquired.

2. Most of them are deep links, very few to the home page

3. Most of them are from the body of an article or listed at the end of a relevant article, very few are on links pages

4. The majority are one-way links.

5. A lot of them are on personal rather than commercial websites - blogs posts, groups planning trips to this destination, personal sections of .edu sites etc

6. I link out a LOT.

I seek no direct advertising for this site (again, too time consuming), just use Adsense, a hotel affiliate and links to relevant books at Amazon with articles. I just spend all the time I have to spend on it writing articles, and that, for this site at least, seems to be what Google wants. The site is a very good earner.

[edited by: abbeyvet at 7:46 pm (utc) on Jan. 25, 2007]

ConfusedWriter




msg:3231909
 7:45 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

In other words, falling back on the good old: "content is king"?

Webmeister




msg:3231926
 8:04 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Definitely, inbound links can harm you. Yes, your competitors could potentially do that (buy tons of cheap links and point them at your site with all the same anchor text). It's been done before.

I don't believe this is true at all. Google has more intelligence than that. They would not setup a policy that would allow a website's competitors or enemies to be able to destroy the site's Google ranking.

On the other hand, it's a proven fact that exchanging reciprocal links with sites that have been banned or penalized by Google can harm your Google rankings. This policy is supported by the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

cfx211




msg:3231932
 8:16 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

My 2 cents/what is happening with us in regards to google:

We run a free hosting business, very basic one page sites similar to Geocities. Lately spammers have had a high rate of success ranking high in Google by:

A. setting up a page on our service

B. link spamming comments and forums with a single keyword and the link pointing to the page on our service.

C. inserting a javascript redirect on the page to dump it into some pharma/porn site.

I am a little surprised to see that such an unsophisticated, brute force approach is working so well, and that their algo does nothing to shoot down something that should be easily detectable.

tedster




msg:3231935
 8:20 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

can anyone decipher matt cutts comment... Kirby, there are steps that we take to try to help those Mom/Pop sites as well.

Just a guess here. I sometimes build brochure sites for friends who have a small one-man business, and I often see what appears to be a PR bonus of some kind. One site, for example, has a PR4 home page and even one
PR4 internal -- with 12 inbound links total across all urls, none from authorities, directories, or high PR pages at all.

For most of my clients, I would expect to need links at least a level of magnitude greater than that to hit PR4.

thedigitalauthor




msg:3231943
 8:27 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Does anyone have a link to anything written about MC's comments about random results - or better yet, a transcript?

GerBot




msg:3231967
 8:41 pm on Jan 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

highrank
Disney was "Googlebowled" before the term was even invented and before most SEOs here even started doing SEO!

What is this nonsense about the days of links are gone. bah.
That is either massively underinformed information or an attempt at misinformation.

This 45 message thread spans 2 pages: 45 ( [1] 2 > >
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