How SEO will kill google – or the problem with backlinks

When the web was young, backlinks were the perfect way to measure a sites popularity. The sites with backlinks were more popular and the sites with backlinks from more popular sites were even more popular as you would expect. And all was well.

But in today’s world no matter how much bleach you apply to your white hat, you can’t get around that little bit of knowledge you’ve acquired. Backlinks = success on Google. And by knowing this and “exploiting” this you will knock out those websites that don’t attempt to do any “SEO”. Your white hat may look white, but really it’s gray. You will do all the right things to generate backlinks. Invariably as much as Google would hate to admit it, this breeds a competitive landscape. “You can’t win if you don’t play.” It has now become essential to “ethically” build backlinks in order to get organic Google search results. And this is very bad for the quality of links on Google’s search results.

No matter how innocent you try to be, the cat is out of the bag. It is far to easy to get a large number of “encouraged” backlinks to a given site. When you search on Google the really big players come up first. And this is good. They have such a huge number of backlinks that they can pretty much be seen as genuine. It’s the middle ground. The “long tail”. These are the problems. If a smart developer/designer releases a WordPress theme with a backlink and that theme is used by several hundred people they get lots of page rank. These wordpress themes can be used on popular blogs with plenty of pagerank themselves. This is “white hat” activity. But it’s really intelligently gaming the system. The SEO gurus know plenty of tricks to get backlinks and PR.
Because of this many Google “long tail” searches that are more specific are filled with SEO’d sites both white hat and black hat spam. I know quite a few people who actually are switching to other search engines because of the “backlink” spam. “Quality backlinks” are just too easy to get, especially if you are willing to pay money for them. And that goes on everyday.

Backlinks were a good idea at some point. Now they are only showing that you are trying really hard. The people that talk the loudest and the most often aren’t always the best. And proliferating backlinks to your site with all the right keywords to game the system doesn’t mean your content is the best either. It just means that you are good at generating backlinks.

Until spiders can have a clue what they are parsing it will be hard to impossible to solve this problem and still use backlinks.
Social networks like digg.com, stumbleupon.com and reddit.com are “the next new thing”. By having people vote on pages… the crap filters to the bottom. This of course will have it’s own set of problems – but invariably will be far better and more accurate than backlinks. At the end of the day some content will be brilliant and good – and still be undiscovered. However more data will yield better results.

How do you really judge the worth of a website? Is it how many people like it? The demographics of those people linking to worth for specific topics? How long people spend on the site itself? These are fascinating questions that search engines will be forced to answer in upcoming year – or they will be inconsequential.

7 thoughts on “How SEO will kill google – or the problem with backlinks

  1. Devon
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    A major factor in determining a site’s worth for me, would definitely be the amount of time I spend there. I suppose search engine’s could find a way to determine that, if they have a deal set with the site’s author for some type of counter. I know Google has various code snippets for authors to use, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to me if this began to be a method to help determine page rank.

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  2. Anonymous
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    Well, I get paid to do SEO focused design, so I can speak to this. Unlike the majority of SEOs out there I don’t get all hung up on backlinks. And I have talked to the SEOs who have figured out these complicated link counting schemes and how many incoming vs outgoing and nofollows, etc. and I just laugh because the Google algo changes and their schemes will be sunk.

    Like everything else, backlinks are a general measure of the site’s worthiness. Just like Page Rank and meta keywords, etc.

    What I do find is that by holistically, you could say, creating a quality site. Clean markup, simple nav, strong copy, keywords, etc. Surprisingly enough, my sites don’t fall as far when the Google algo changes.

    I’m getting off of my sopabox.

    Another thing, I have found that Google does promote SERPS that get high traffic. For example, when I do a blog post, depending on the timeliness of the subject matter, it’ll sometimes go straight to the main Google Web SERP, and if it grabs enough traffic, it’ll stay there. If it doesn’t, then it will disappear in to the Google Blogsearch.

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  3. joy
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    I do SEO oriented Web design for a living, and I’m convinced that backlinks are just one of *many* factors that make a page worthy in Google’s eyes. Just like Page Rank and meta keywords, I don’t get too upset about backlinks. And I just laugh at the professional SEOs who come up with those linking schemes only to see their SERPs dip every so often with the continual Google algo changes.

    What makes good optimization (and if you think about it, optimization is just a method of displaying information to the search engines) is a holistic approach. Clean markup, minimizing scripting, simple relevant nav, descriptive labels on buttons and links, use of the title and h tags, strong (I mean really strong copy) keywords that *actually correspond* to the site content.

    Also, I have seen evidence on my blog especially that Google does take traffic into effect when determining SERPS. If I have a newsworthy post, I will sometimes see it in the Google Web SERP within a day or two after posting. If the post grabs enough traffic, it will stay on the SERP, if not, it will revert to being on the Google Blogsearch. YMMV, as always.

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  4. Steve Riley Post author
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    Devon,

    I agree – time spent on a site is a good indicator to some degree. Ironically though some sites you will spend a lot of time on only because you know what you need is there but you can’t find it easily.

    Reply
  5. Steve Riley Post author
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    Joy,

    Even though “black hat tricks” don’t work Google is still all about the backlinks. If you have no backlinks, or just a few, you will be at the bottom.

    Google can’t take traffic into effect because it can’t tell what traffic you get. Now granted it may use Alexa data, its own toolbar data, or the organic links click info (that it now captures). This is just a fraction of the “real traffic” and not representative – and Google knows that.

    The reality your missing is how you get all that “traffic”. Most of the traffic is coming from links on sites with a decent pagerank. Newsworthy posts get links if they get submitted to social networking engines. A backlink from digg can give you a link with a pagerank of 8. And that’s the kind of thing that puts you in Google listing within 2 days.

    Reply
  6. Steve Riley Post author
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    Anonymous,

    I actually do “marketing” as well as part of the web site services my company offers. With little effort you can get on the front page of Google for hundreds of search terms. Hundreds. The trick isn’t to get hung up on the “black hat” details as you mention. Do the right thing. Get plenty of backlinks from high PR sites. Don’t buy these links. Get them by having quality content.

    But that’s the point. Great content is one thing. “Spreading the word” for the sake of backlinks is a mechanism for gaming the system. I would never do anything more than promote backlinks. Google’s algorithm changes. You will no doubt get burned.

    Companies that don’t have the resources to have or hire a “web pr” guy will find their listings sink. Which is great for those of us selling services related to SEO.

    As far as clean page markup, etc is concerned…. everyone learns those bits as well. Site name, URL names (separated by dashes so keywords standout), title with keywords, h1 with keywords…. etc. No clever Javascript… nothing important embedded in Flash. That’s all great for those with time to learn the modest “tricks of the trade”.

    I do look forward to some day when spiders can understand semantics better – to put an end to all this silliness and start concentrating on human beings 100%.

    No matter how you look at it plenty of comapanies (including myself) find themselves benefiting because they know how to make websites Google friendly – with the best of intentions.

    Reply
  7. Zubair
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    I’m trying to build my tennis academy website and get its ranking up. I don’t try and ‘play’ the system, but I do try and keep the code clean and use good descriptions everywhere, not just in titles and headers but in the css as well for example (I’m not sure if that even makes a difference).

    Yet, for now, my ranking is still very low for the key words that I think people with use.

    While I don’t want to artifically boost my ranking, I’m not sure if I have any choice. I hope that Google’s algo keeps getting smarter so the playing field is fair.

    Reply

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