Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model: A Scalable Solution to Paid Links?

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Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model: A Scalable Solution to Paid Links?

Google recently released a patent based on the browsing tendencies of “reasonable surfers”. Within, it details that previously, Google had followed a “random surfer” model – that every link on a page was equally important, without process or thought on user tendency or where the most used links would lie.

This new development, the reasonable surfer model, means that Google now judges a link based on standard user behavior – or is in the course of perfecting said process – giving more weight to links that are more likely to be clicked on, and less to those buried away in the nether regions of a page.

This means that certain links, like footer and sidebar links in particular, are likely to be devalued. And it’s as they should, right? If a link is tucked away in the footer, the webmaster is stating that he doesn’t care much for it – or it has little value other than for extraneous pleas to the search engines.

When this was released, my initial thought was that this made sense, sure, CTR, rationale, important links, etc. But what I didn’t weigh was the thing that it most importantly impacted – paid links.

Spammy, nefarious paid links litter sidebars and footers all over the internet. In droves. So, then, was this implementation one that was meant to find the strongest links – or, otherwise, had the most reason to devalue the spammy ones?

Not so long ago, Matt Cutts came out as saying that Google takes action against Conductor’s paid link network – one known to purchase links on some of the biggest, most valuable sites on the internet.

Conductor paid network

Despite this, murmurs persisted – and rankings seemingly backed up – that these sites still had value being passed to them – and for sure, none of them had been de-indexed or heavily penalized. So, then, what did Matt Cutts mean when he said “we do take action in response (to Conductor’s paid link network)”?

Maybe – maybe – what he meant was that Google was actively applying the reasonable surfer model to devalue these links – just as they were on every other website on the internet.

Yes, that’s right. You can guess where these links – Conductor’s links – are located on the biggest sites on the internet — the deep, bottom right section of the sidebar.

A Scalable Solution

There’s been complaints about the state of webspam, particularly from one of the biggest voices in the industry. However, I think Google is doing a fine job – and they’re doing it in a way that makes sense for them. Scalability. It is my theory that one of the biggest reasons for this patent is that it offers a scalable solution to paid links – devaluing a large majority of links that were improperly skimping the index.

Hand picking at scale is just not a reality – and in many ways, becomes extremely unfair to some webmasters who get picked out – and lose their welfare – while others continue to thrive based on brand identity alone. Scalable, reductionist models like this are the scalable offerings that make sense for the future. Identify paid link signals, and devalue them. Don’t penalize or de-index (unless done en masse) – just find the common threads, and cut them down.

Oh, Wait — The Problem

Before we go, let me offer one point of error with this model – sometime users don’t matter. Think about most reasonable blogs on the internet. Do you think the body content is the part where links should be given the most credence? No. The links on a blog – a natural blog – that are the biggest indicator of a “vote” for a website are in the blogroll – something that frequently goes ignored by the user.

In this instance, user behavior should be ignored – because the blogroll is the spot where the webmaster is willing to put their neck on the line. They are willing to put their neck on the line for links that sit there. And are sitewide. These are the links they visit frequently – and if someone who runs a website with 50k backlinks says THIS site is worth having in their blogroll, the users shouldn’t mean a damn.

Of course, this leads to manipulation. And paid links show up there frequently. But the thing is, the blogroll should still be the spot where SERP positions are earned. Perhaps Google should uniquely identify this area (and maybe is?),  and completely ignore those links with commercial anchor text – thus removing any problem with manipulation. But it’s a difficult thing.

No matter, the reasonable surfer says the reasonable surfer generally ignores this area. But it’s the biggest damn vote on the internet. IT’S THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE OF THE INTERNET.

Google – the body content’s votes don’t matter – but the blogrolls do.

Frequently ignored links for President.

Ross Hudgens
Ross Hudgens is an SEO in the Seattle area. He frequently blogs about SEO on his blog and specializes in dynamic content creation for websites... Read Full Bio
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