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Too many of you are suggesting that Google takes action against Zeus sites which is too risky as a large percentage of my traffic comes from Google
Is there any new evidence to support either side of the argument?
I would have to conclude that Zeus is a risk factor for Google, but not necessarily fatal if it's used properly. I know of Zeus-generated sites that continue to do well, but they are quality link directories, not the obvious spammy-looking stuff some Zeus users generate. (I guess it's also possible that many of these aggressive Zeus operators are amateur SEOs, and are employing other dodgy techniques that get them penalized. A very high percent are penalized, though, so I certainly wouldn't dismiss Zeus as a factor.)
If you go the Zeus route, I would make the directory completely customized. If someone can look at the directory and say "aha! Zeus!", I would guess the risk factor would be increased. In quickly examining the sites that were affect by PR0 and those that weren't, I didn't spot any obvious distinguishing factors.
In an ideal world, it would come down to whether the directory is useful to your visitors. Useless, spammy directories would get banned, and well-organized, useful ones would be fine. In reality, if there is some kind of automated screening process at work, the good may get nailed with the bad. Proceed with caution...
In case the moderators have to delete the link to what could (one day) be a rival forum, I'll summarise my own interesting findings and questions here in brief.
They provided a list of sites plucked from the collective that did not have PR0. I took the first site on that list (at random) and saw something that I found very curious.
The link provided by the topic starter went straight to the Links Directory on the domain, and it had PR3. Now, PR3 is hardly great, but its a hell of a lot better than PR0. :)
I looked at the homepage of the site, and that had PR5. Then I noticed the thing that intrigued me:
The navigation links on the homepage went to all the normal things such as product pages, company info, policy info, etc. Every one of those pages also had PR5. Even the Request info page and the FTP page had PR5. In fact the only link from the homepage that went to a page with PR3 was the link to the links directory.
Now, I did notice that the Links Directory link had been given low prominence on the homepage, so I thought perhaps that was the reason. however, the last, lowest prominence link of all, was a link to the Shipping info page, and that had PR5.
For whatever reason, my conclusion is that Google PR is reacting negatively and specifically against that links directory. Perhaps it is the word 'links' in the link text? Perhaps there is some other factor (internal link pop?), but there is certainly something penalizing that one link to that links directory over all other links from the homepage.
The interesting question is what are the characteristics that set apart the truly dangerous (to your site's PR) directories from those that are mostly benign? Of course, the sites with zero PR across the board may well be doing other dicey stuff - hidden links or text, repetitive doorway pages, etc. - and the link directory might be just one contributor to their problem.
I would assume that the first red flag would be a link directory who's HTML/appearance was obviously structured with a standard auto-generated template. A lot of zeus-generated sites I've seen have identical page layout and structure, as well as a lot of super-specific, but very loosely related directory "categories," with relatively few listings in each. In short, the whole mess looks like someone installed a script, and set it to run on autopilot, and never took the time to ensure it was creating a quality information resource.
The biggest moral to any zeus penalty anyone might suffer is to beware of shortcuts. Even the most skillfully automated directory building tool will leave distinctive footprints in autopilot mode... and if Google is actively trying to combat link-farming and other linking-related manipulations of it's pagerank system, those "distinctive footprints" are the last thing you want tracked all over your site(s). A widely used auto-generated page template would be one of the easiest things to find & flag using an automatic site indexing script (ie- Googlebot).
Anyone remember the fabled WPG auto-generated doorway pages? Same idea... let's not play dumb here. Chances are if a large percentage of your site content is obviously automatically generated by a widely distributed & well-known site promotion/optimization/"enhancement"/whatever script, your site probably isn't at the top of the content quality heap, and therefore, the SEs aren't going to want to see you at the top of their SERPs, no?
Ammon, I don't believe there's a myth being perpetrated that they get you banned, but there is a caution being sounded that they have a serious potential and verifiable track record of reducing Page Rank to the point of uselessness.
As rogerd pointed out:
a recent inspection of sites in the Zeus collective showed about 80% of them to be PR0. (I just scanned the top sites in various sorts of the collective.) In some cases, the PR0 hit just the directory, in other cases it affected the site as a whole.
>Is there any new evidence to support either side of the argument?
Gerry, while BK is not one of them, and is merely being kind enough to provide us with some balance in the discussion, out of 7 moderators participating at the forum referred to, 5 have prominent links on their sites to the Zeus/cyber-robotics homepage; one has a an entire page dedicated to the software. In fact, one of the moderators there is the owner of the Zeus/cyber-robotics web site - it's listed as his homepage in his profile there.
So to remain balanced, we have to consider that fact when examining the evidence presented there in weighing the decision whether or not to use it.
There is , I believe, evidence to support the wisdom of hesitating to use it, Gerry. By what rogerd related to us, what an examination of Google SERPs and most web sites using it reveals, and straight from what Google themselves advise webmasters.
From Google's do's and don'ts [google.com] for webmasters:
Feel free to exchange links with other sites that are compatible with your site's content and users' interests.
Participate in link exchanges for the sole purpose of increasing your ranking in search engines.
Google lightened up on the penalty this time because of so many Moms and Pops getting hit by it; however, most of them cannot afford high-priced SEO services to set their sites up, as some of the web sites cited at that forum as not having problems seem to have availed themselves of.
In the final analysis, anything at all, no matter what it is, that could potentially jeopardize a site is worth serious consideration. All we have to do is examine all the posts by the people suffering both emotionally and financially from the PR0 penalty to be advised to use precautions with whatever we do, not just linking.
>Ammon, I don't believe there's a myth being perpetrated that they get you banned, but there is a caution being sounded that they have a serious potential and verifiable track record of reducing Page Rank to the point of uselessness.
Sorry Marcia, I only used the word 'Myth' in the context of the discussion I quoted, the topic for that discussion thread being such. That said, I think there are people who believ that using Zeus will automatically get you banned, just as there are people who believe the same about ip delivery, or doorway pages.
These things are all tools and techniques. One never gets banned for using a tool correctly, wisely and ethically. Abusing a tool, or using it poorly and creating bad results does get people banned though.
Exactly. It was being used in the context of the apologetics. Your point is well taken:
>>>These things are all tools and techniques.<<<
Unfortunately, sometimes it goes into overkill and the baby can get thrown out with the bath-water, or gets abused to where it's only understandable that it trigger flags. Not being "people" search engine spiders can't differentiate between the motivations of those who deliberately intend to fudge and Grandma who's selling her homemade fudge on her web site and sets up a little directory to exchange links with her friends.
Sure, some of us can possibly look at the well-done sites that have survived and know how they've done it, or how they're getting away with any number of other things. But Grandma is probably a default user on AOL (which seems to be why Google lightened up this time) - she wouldn't know how or where to begin looking. ;)
My conclusion based on the limited data was that there is a siginificant risk factor, but it's by no means absolute. Mivox's analogy to WPG is quite apt - well-optimized pages created with that software didn't get you banned, but pages with "l**k no further" and "bluelin*.gif" did. Probably directories that are obviously machine generated (or, perhaps, lack topic focus) are far more risky.
If PR has remained or been restored to your homepage and it's not currently getting Google traffic that's related to it and/or other pages on the site that aren't affected by the penalties at this point, then either the directory didn't contribute to the in the first place, or the traffic's affected by other factors.
Another point is that if you move the directory off your site, you could have 1,000 people to contact, since they're most likely expecting reciprocal linking to help their link popularity. If their good links are pointing to your current homepage those are contributing to your Page Rank, but with a penalized directory the recipients of your links, while they may get traffic from the links themselves, are not receiving any benefit as far as their link pop is concerned. Some won't bother to check, others will, and they'll consider it an inequitable situation. Moving the directory to its own domain would change the focus, but you could end up having to write to 1,000 people to change where their links point, and that would no doubt affect the Page Rank of the current homepage.
We know that quality traffic can come from many sources. For example, if I may point out a couple of our solid members here - europeforvisitors (travel) and brotherhood_of_LAN (biology) have incredibly excellent information sites. There isn't very much they need to do to get inbound links because their sites warrant spontaneous links because of value. They'd certainly never need to set up the type of directory to generate recips that Google dislikes, and if sites like that did, they'd change the whole flavor of their sites.
Every tool has its place, but IMHO it's sheer foolishness to use any of them that could in any way jeopardize the standing of a quality site when there are so many other alternatives.
Some sites naturally do better with methods other than search engine rankings, depending on their nature. A number of other ways were delineated in a post by Brett entitled Mostly Viral Top Traffic Alternatives to Search Engines [webmasterworld.com].
I'm now wrestling with two decisions over a project that would lend beautifully to link exchanges because of having a solid, legitimate theme in addition to selling products related to a target niche. It's made to order for a directory. Unfortunately it would also lend itself very, very well to techniques mentioned in this thread:
After over 3 years' experience with message boards and chat rooms, knowing a little on how it's done, do I send clients out with how-to instructions? And knowing the risks of directories attached to sites, do we go for it for the temporal benefits, or forego because of the risk?
With all we know at this point, there are ethical and moral issues that are raised in addition to ranking and business issues, and I suspect that some of those enter into Google's decisions both with applying penalties and their recent rolling back of the penalties. It's not quite as simple as it seems, imho.
I will be "unzeusifying" the directory. I cannot imagine that any search engine would penalize for including a set of links pages. The whole purpose of the web is to link.
Google used to love them, but I think I'm seeing lower PR for link directories in general. I don't have a problem with this, although I object to blasting their PR down to zero (or penalizing the entire site, if that's what has happened in some cases). I'm sure it's a tough thing to automate - discerning good, useful directories from useless spammy ones. One site I work with has a truly unique directory that picked up hundreds of mom & pop sites in one topical area. Far better coverage than any commercial directory or even ODP, but the owner is considering deleting the whole thing because of PR issues. Before he got hammered by Google, the directory got a lot of traffic, too. It's too bad, for many of the little sites this was the best link they had.
I have a travel planner of 200+ pages and hundreds of article pages that consist mostly of links, and those links pages haven't hurt me a bit. Indeed, I'm getting about 40% more traffic from Google since the latest update. Why? Probably because my links have annotations (which frequently provide useful information in their own right) and captioned photographs. Such content probably makes it obvious, even to a search algorithm, that my links pages are editorial content and not "link farm" listings.
When sites were penalized with PR0 (zero) it's like someone in the military having their stripes pulled, with all their rank stripped down to nothing. It was a penalty imposed for people trying to artificially manipulate search engine rankings by falsely inflating their link popularity by setting up directories that were mostly created through automated systems.
To be fair, there might have been other factors involved, and some did get caught up in the penalty who didn't deserve to be. Some were PR1, which isn't much better. Some were recently restored to PR3, which isn't too much of a help, since it appears that the value of PR3 links has been degraded this update. Do a site search on page rank and be prepared for a lot of reading.
And while we're on this again, I did visit richlowe's site a while back, only for a short time, because I found a content page on his site with information and a link to something with just what I had been looking for. No way is that a trumped up deal, his is a quality site and is a perfect example of a site that got caught up in something that had negative consquences quite by accident.