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I am algo proof

     
2:27 pm on Apr 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Every two years Google throws in a big change to their algo. They pick the latest thing they don't like and blow the crap out of a bunch of sites. Lots of people get hit.

This process scares the bejeepers out of me. In fact, I lived in fear of the algo for years to the point I wouldn't even meddle in anything less than pure.

I've attempted to make my main site resistant to algo changes. Initially this started out by being whitehat, that's no longer the case. I'm not blackhat, I simply do what works now, and what I expect to work in the future.

Let's discuss specific techniques we can use to keep our sites immune from the next algo shift. How do we build sites so that our rankings don't drop at Google's whim?

- my backlinks are relevant. Not all are from within my niche,but if not, they are from niches that touch my niche - either up or downstream, or sideways. And by relevant, THEIR backlinks must be relevant as well - otherwise the site isn't relevant. For example I've got links from statisticians in my industry. And there's a lot of them - no SEO company has ever gone near this entire community. I wallow in it.
- I get links where SEO companies can't get them. One at a time. Quality over quantity, blah blah blah. What I'm doing is not leaving a traceable footprint. SEO companies must automate across industries in order to scale. I don't scale anything - I am an expert and do everything one-up. Even if a competitor paid to have an SEO company do one-ups, they still have to find someone who can do the one-up work AND is expert in the vertical. Not going to happen.
- Directories only count if they fall into three categories. 1) ultra high quality. that means there are only two left. DMOZ and BOTW. Do both. BOTW is paid, just pay it. DMOZ, I already posted how anyone can get a dmox listing if you care to read the link forum. 2) niche, directories related exclusively to your niche. 3) regional directories. Directories in your town or state.
- Buy links. But don't buy links where anyone else buys a link or using methods anyone else uses. Call someone with a clean site that doesn't sell links to anyone, ever, and strike a deal to be the first.
- never do the same thing three times. Twice, OK. Three times, nope. If you're going to do paid postings, do it only a wee little bit. If you're going to do directories, do only a wee little bit. And then STOP. Do something else. Research or dream up some other way to get links. This isn't easy - and it's darn tempting to throw another shovel full of dirt on the pile - but you're digging your own grave.
- network. I call my competitors and chat. AND share. I learned that trick from someone in my industry who calls and feeds me info. No SEO company is going to do that. And Google can't track it, there's no footprint. I just got an email right now from a direct competitor. Wants my advice on whether to buy a BOTW listing. I will answer him honestly. (he's also given me some wild insider information on one of my competitors online activities in the past)
- network in areas that touch your vertical. I just got offered a link in an article that's liable to go frontpage of a national ISP. Because I called someone not directly in my niche, gave them some value and asked for a link. They wouldn't give me a link, I got this offer instead. It's better.

- do nothing for Google's benefit. And keep onpage SEO to an absolute minimum. I am the village idiot of SEO. If google does a hand review of my site, I want to look like someone who doesn't have a clue. I don't want them to smell SEO. So I don't link out, I don't do sweet in content links (or rarely). I don't use nofollow - I've never even heard of nofollow. I don't even know what their guidelines are - that's how dense I am. I build my onpage stuff to look like it's 1998.

More precisely, I don't follow anything technical. The smell test is, "does this make sense to someone else looking at it?". If so,then it's quality. I can't outwit Google. Instead, the pointyheads heads at Google can then figure out how to make my site rank. They don't always do so - but by taking this approach if I'm not ahead of the curve, at least I'm not ON the curve - I'm diverse enough that I don't get whacked.
I also have to work beside my competitors who use SEO companies. The SEO companies know more about link building generally than I ever will, and about onpage optimization, and so on. I can't compete. So what have I got? No SEO company knows more about my niche than I do, nor do they know more people in my niche. They are SEO experts. I am an expert of my vertical niche. Lots of what I do centers around that.

So in terms of content, I create calculators on stuff nobody else has even thought of. I write articles on topics others won't do. Articles take me 1-3 weeks to write and sometimes involve programmers, accountants, and lawyers.

e.g. If you're a mortgage broker, you'll write an article on las vegas mortages. Or cheapest mortgage rates. I would never have that stuff on my website. I would rather pay a statistician to analyze recent mortgage trends and find out if it was better to lock in your rate for 1 year or 5 year period. Or compare how amortization schedules vary from different countries (interest on mortgages is calculated differently in different countries BTW). 99 mortgage brokers write articles targetted at search terms. I write articles that nobody searches on, but my visitors find interesting and can't be found anywhere else - I leverage my expertise.

I'll do all that other stuff generalized stuff that others do, but not on my main website.

- listen to blackhats, spammers, affiliates, anyone that you want to have a lack of respect. Watch what they do. Clean it up, brush it off, make it respectable. I'm not going to give specifics, but my best, most 'white hat' ideas come from the nether regions of the web. Spinning - it's automated and it sucks. Can you make it automated but not suck? Article directories, low quality crap. Can you do it with high quality? I'm an expert in my niche and well networked, maybe I can.

- One site? Hardly. You will get whacked. It's not if, it's when. I guaran-freackin-intee it. I have at least two sites that have seperate backlink profiles and content. They rank OK. They are ready for a push for the day when I do get whacked. Behind that, I have a half dozen old, well backlinked sleeper sites ready for strong content and a push, sites I've gathered or bought through the years. Behind that I have numerous one trick pony websites that help diversify my traffic. Combinations of {color}{widget}{demographic}{niche} make for interesting sites. I am not algo proof - I am algo resistant, with a backup plan. I'm not that smart, but I'm prepared.

In short, leverage your expertise that SEO companies don't have. Do lots of different things, and not much of anything specific. Network. If you leave footprints, make them small, and leave lots of different profiles. If Google dials down one profile, you don't get hit hard. If Google dials up another profile at the same time, you'll benefit.

that's some of what I do. What've you got? How can we make our sites proof against an unknown future algo change?

Note to mods: resist the urge to modify my title to something more palatable to the masses :).
4:49 pm on Apr 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

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The result is that I am extremely hesitant to touch my best site at all for fear my rankings

Millions of siteowners/webmasters share that exact feeling ~ it's just one of the ways that Google has hurt the vitality of the WWW. Whether they've done that purposely or inadvertently is something I'll leave to others to decide. Either way, the end result is a significant percentage of online content is not changed for fear of a ranking drop.

And simultaneously they've managed to kill one of the fundamental building blocks of the internet ~ people freely hyperlinking to anything they find interesting at any source (a principle that dates to at least 1965). Google has seriously hurt hyperlinking, for fear that the link may result in a penalty, because of their continued over reliance on Page Rank within their algo.

I certainly acknowledge that Google has done a lot of good for technology & communications, but a candid analysis makes it clear that they've done a lot of damage too. In addition to the 2 examples above, we could also add their willingness to rank scraper sites higher than original content, but that's already in another thread...

ps. An embossed copy of Wheel's Law should be included with every new domain registration:

"Do nothing for Google's benefit"

......................
5:04 pm on Apr 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

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people freely hyperlinking to anything they find interesting at any source

That's one of the reasons I love Twitter right now. Yes there are marketing links, but that joyous spirit of discovery and sharing has also been regenerated.
5:15 pm on Apr 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Yep, I do far more daily reading & sharing from twitter links than I ever got from my RSS reader.
6:19 pm on Apr 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Hello wheel, this is a very interesting post.

I'd be curious to visit your site, too bad it can't be shared here.

Such a perfectly promoted site must be a very instructive experience to visit and analyze SEO-wise.

Thanks again for sharing your theory.
8:33 pm on Apr 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I had a similar experience to a lot of you on Florida update, literally lost a 7 figure income over night. Not an experience I ever want to endure again. Now I play the game as safely as I can, try to make the best possible sites for Google visitors searching the specific terms they are using to come to my site.
I build lots of great unique content, but still very little of it seems to rank that well. So you do wonder what is the point? What's the incentive? Especially when it incurs the risk of maybe it will sacrifice your good rankings somewhere else.
I want to make the best site I can for my visitors, but no point if I lose my visitors doing it. Perhaps this is the most important algo that Google needs to work out, to motivate webmasters to really improve the SERPs.
9:04 pm on Apr 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Perhaps this is the most important algo that Google needs to work out, to motivate webmasters to really improve the SERPs.

And one way to do that is to get past their entrenched attitude where they intentionally muddy the water whenever the opportunity arises, as a way of protecting their crown jewels.

A perfect example is with Panda ~ they made all their self-serving pronouncements about "improving quality", but never once (to the best of my knowledge) came out and defined what they meant by "quality". No one is asking them to say what aspects of the algo get the most points and/or attention. Just tell us what the most relevant terms actually mean (in this case, "quality").

It's no different from a politician saying we "need change" or Proctor & Gamble introducing "New & Improved Tide". That kind of language is nothing more than fodder for press releases that makes them look concerned, but without true clarity, does as much damage as good in its implementation.

......................
9:26 pm on Apr 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Perhaps instead of employing thousands of PhDs, they could also employ a few hundred SEOs. Webmasters are what makes Google, they are nothing without us. It is in their best interest to facilitate the development and growth of our sites.
Everyone knows too many occasions when they have re-developed their site, with the latest technologies, making their sites way more user friendly and better all-round. Except in order to do, they had to change their urls. Then their traffic drops as a result, even if you use 301s, they don't always seem to work. Why take such a risk?
9:40 pm on Apr 7, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I think they already employ hundreds of thousands of webmasters indirectly and we are a very compliant bunch of lab rats.
2:12 am on Apr 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Hadn't been by to check things out in a while, though webmasterworld was the first thing I +1'd. Awesome post mr. wheel. you are one of the wise ones that always shares valuable insights here. thanks.
2:42 am on Apr 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

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The result is that I am extremely hesitant to touch my best site at all for fear my rankings


Same here. I did take a couple ads down, but then I added them to another site. Other than that, nothing. My ranks have been moving up slightly, but for the most part, they didn't fall that much after Panda. But it doesn't take much of a drop in the SERPS to cost you money.
2:50 am on Apr 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

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very cool and nice post. thanks for sharing.

do nothing for Google's benefit. And keep onpage SEO to an absolute minimum. I am the village idiot of SEO. If google does a hand review of my site, I want to look like someone who doesn't have a clue.
I disagree with this part though.

I have a website with the most back links among my other websites for a popular term on a controversial topic. there's over 65 Million search results for this term. my site used to rank number 3 for about 3 years, but with a little tweak on the Page Title, it literally jumped to #1 within a week and it stayed #1 for over a year now.
7:33 am on Apr 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Nice post
I go for the "little bit of everything" approach to SEO - a few articles, a few squid lenses, a few blog comments.
I also work on the principle that most SEO is not blackhat or white, but just shades of grey and I try to keep to the very light shades.
I also don't use no-follow links on the (probably misguided) basis that if I start using them I'm putting myself in the firing line.
I wonder though if the true "village idiot" approach to SEO is to stuff everything with keywords, which I don't think would be a good plan!
5:12 pm on Apr 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Thank you, wheel, for another well reasoned post.

do nothing for Google's benefit

Perhaps the most iconoclast piece of advice, which I second most heartily, although I approach this from the flip side: do everything for your business/site/customer benefit.

I build my onpage stuff to look like it's 1998.

And here I thought I was old school. :) Thanks for making me feel avant-garde.

Do lots of different things, and not much of anything specific. ... If Google dials down one profile, you don't get hit hard. If Google dials up another profile at the same time, you'll benefit.

Diversification is long term survival. I wish more webdevs understood this, it might lessen the frequent anguish that inundate fora.

My couple of extras:
---optimisation is an inclusive activity. I have a reasonable understanding of onpage SEO but refuse to separate it from conversion optimisation, usability optimisation, etc. It should not be a patchwork quilt effort. If one optimises for the target audience(s) the SEs tend to come along gratis, long-term the reverse is rarely true.

---I still like Yahoo Directory (paid) and consider it up with BOTW and above DMOZ. Of course, niche and audience may alter things.

---have business/site traffic goals. Without targets to work towards one can only react; with targets one can be somewhat proactive.

While, as tedster puts it "I have been algo-proof so far" I prefer the term algo-resistant. The old carny approach: "what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts."
1:14 am on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Wheel (and others), have you guys had any luck with social marketing in terms of improving your algo-proofness? I created very successful websites 10 years ago (and continue to do so), but I am behind the 8 Ball on social marketing. I am thinking about using AddThis or ShareThis to put some interactive links on my articles. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

I have some friends who Tweet, with pretty big followings (I guess they are big followings, 500 to 1000 people). I'm sure I could get some content tweeted from time to time.
2:15 am on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Placing "Like" or "AddThis" buttons can slow things down a bit which has been noted as something that could potentially hurt ranking.

I haven't noticed any real ranking change since I added both to one site in January. The activity was a bit underwhelming, but I believe that's a demographic thing.

My theory is the slower page loads will be offset if/when/as the social graph becomes more important. So maybe no real benefit now, but I'm comfortable letting those little counters run.
3:41 am on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Placing "Like" or "AddThis" buttons can slow things down a bit which has been noted as something that could potentially hurt ranking.


This has been one of my concerns, but I ran a test with Addthis, and it only pushed my load time up from 13s to 20s on 56k (using a popular webpage loadtime tester). I don't have any large template files or memory-hogging widgets running, so I may have a little wiggle room on load time. I just wonder if it would really make a noticeable difference for my SEO. With the exception of popular news from major news organizations, I rarely see an enormous number of shares/likes/retweets on pages I visit (even within popular SEO websites)
4:42 am on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I already posted how anyone can get a dmox listing if you care to read the link forum.


I have looked through the link development forum and haven't found that. I looked through the Library of that forum and it didn't seem to be there...
6:16 am on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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@crobb305

I really don't see it as a major issue right now for SEO, I see it as development for what may become more significant for future permutations of search engine priorities.

I don't see any downside if someone "likes" your site as long as your server doesn't choke.
8:07 am on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I added the AddThis, FaceBook like, Twitter buttons to one site about 3 months ago. I have not added it them to any other site I own / manage. The site with social buttons was hit by Panda while the rest of my sites were not hit. Is it possible that google does not want us to promote social media?
9:28 am on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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@Planet13, wheel probably means this post:
[webmasterworld.com...]
2:51 pm on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I rarely see an enormous number of shares/likes/retweets on pages I visit (even within popular SEO websites)
Unless your site is similar to FMyLife I wouldn't add the button cause your visitors can and will just Copy/Paste the URL if they really like the content.
5:11 pm on Apr 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

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@Planet13, wheel probably means this post:


Thank you, leadegroot
12:18 pm on Apr 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Although I was not actively promoting sites before Florida update, I think 5 strategies can make one half handicapped vs full handicapped following future algo updates:

1# Having a couple of sites in your core niche. This does not include microsite or "helper" sites erected for the sol purpose of links. Depends on competition, but I will start with 3 main sites. It's hard to maintain and share the same "love" around, but at least it harder for all of them to loose rankings at once if you,

2# Diversify you backlinking strategies or don't take the same grey/black hat risks on all sites

3# Diversify you niche. This is true for algo change as well as whatever goes pear shape in your niche economy wise

4# the mortgage and loans industry is an example these days. If relay solely on online income this can be very handy in hard time to avoid going back to corporate cubicles.

5# Hope for the best - this alone can keep the energy in willing to keep up.
12:34 am on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Wheel, you are my favorite WebmasterWorld poster. The more I read your posts, the more I find your noBS approach to SEO to be sheer genius. You remind me of myself, but on crack lol ;)

I also have to work beside my competitors who use SEO companies. The SEO companies know more about link building generally than I ever will, and about on page optimization, and so on.


You seem to have gotten what real link building is all about. Your approach is leagues ahead than most SEO "experts". Trust me, I've inquired with the best of them.
2:25 am on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Genius?...No.

Trust me, I've inquired with the best of them.


I very, very much doubt that...or did I ignore you? :-)
9:36 am on Apr 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Most of this is either what I always did (especially when it comes to not doing things), or stuff that I am trying to do.

I have never seen my rankings drop or jump sharply because of an algo change (disappearing a couple of times for a week or so because of re-indexing excepted).

My entire site is an exercise in leveraging my expertise - I see myself (at least with regard to my own existing sites) as a writer first and a webmaster second.

I still need to become better I finding link building opportunities though. I truly suck at that.
10:18 am on Apr 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

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People shouldn't be too quick on the self-congratulation. This is the first time an algo affected one of my site, I have others that weren't affected, and some that gained traffic, but after all these weeks I still can't really tell for sure what made one climb or the other one sink. It could be just the topic. Panda is not exactly a doozy.
1:33 pm on Apr 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

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<tongue-in-cheek>
Finished post-PANDA analysis. My core rankings are not just algo-proof, they're fueled by tiger blood. Traffic up, conversion rate WAY up. Ave order value up too- and in a freak result, revenue up over 100% yesterday (one day only)

#winning

</tongue-in-cheek>

Apologies. I know a lot of people have been unfairly hit. Some of our competitors are gone, and a few of them didn't deserve it. Being UK-based, we had forewarning. Our analysis showed we should be in good shape, its good to see that borne out.
People shouldn't be too quick on the self-congratulation.

I hear you. I really do. But for the time being, I'll take the money while it's there. Who know's what's round the corner.
7:35 pm on Apr 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

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@koan no one can guarantee a site is completely algo proof. wheel or I might be torpedoed next time. We may also be pushed into obscurity for a time by people gaming the current algo. It is a matter of levels of risk: wheel is advocating a long term, low risk, approach.
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