“This guy comes up to me
His face red like a rose on a thorn bush
Like all the colors of a royal flush
And he’s peeling off those dollar bills
Slapping them down
One hundred, two hundred…”
U2 “Bullet The Blue Sky”
The Cincinnati Kid
I attended our recent Portland SEMpdx Event on “Link Building in 2011”. The speakers were most excellent as usual (like I’d say anything else since I’m a SEMpdx Board Member), but the final speaker, my friend Scott Hendison, brought forth a concept (that shouldn’t be new to most of you) that I felt should be explored in more depth and detail (his ideas, my writing & spin):
Society has “laws”. Google has “guidelines”. Google’s “guidelines” aren’t laws and shouldn’t be considered as such.
Google has total control of each and every aspect of their index. Being included in Google is a right not a privilege and in order to stay in Google’s good graces, your website needs to comply with Google’s guidelines. However, Google’s algorithm is imperfect and no matter how advanced it gets and how much they tweak it, sites that fall outside of their guidelines may not only be included in their index but actually rank well and achieve much profit for their owners.
As a publicly traded company, Google’s is only beholden to its shareholders and Google is obligated to put forth programs and policies that will return the maximum ROI to all the stakeholders in the company. One important metric to Google is “market share” and the folks in charge of the search algorithm are tasked with making sure the results presented to the searchers are of high quality so that searchers find the information they are looking for and keep coming back to use Google again and again.
Webmasters know however that great content alone won’t get them top search engine rankings. They must optimize their site so that the metrics that Google favors weigh heavily enough in their favor that they will rank high enough to bring visitors to their site and generate revenue for their efforts.
All this leaves an interesting question…how will a “quality” website that plays outside of Google’s guidelines be treated?
Apparently, in early 2011, the answer is that “quality” sites can get away with quite a bit and still succeed (though it’s not known how much shady tactics are being dampened by Google’s algorithm). It seems to be like speeding…one can almost always travel 10 MPH over the speed limit safely. At 20 MPH over, you start risking getting caught and the faster you go, the higher the risk. Some seem to think that Google has pulled many cops off the road and isn’t really focusing on certain linking schemes (with the exception of paid links since they threaten Google’s revenue base).
So, it would behoove a website owner in a competitive marketplace to study the link tactics of those sites in the relevant vertical that appear to rank well and replicate their strategy. That would seem to be a safe play even if some of the tactics seem to fall outside of Google’s guidelines.
Because Google’s guidelines do not have the force of law, how you manage your site and its tactics doesn’t involve ethical decisions (so long as you aren’t violating any laws) but business decisions. You should employ any and all tactics that can and will increase your revenue irrespective of Google’s guidelines. However, you should remember that Google is monitoring their index with an eye to their self-interest and if your tactics conflict with Google’s programs, you will get steamrolled.
The aforementioned precepts assume that we’re talking about “your” site and not a site that you are managing for a third party. Under no circumstances should you take risks with a third party site without their informed consent. People who play dangerous games with client sites should be flogged.
The Passion Of The Christ