iAcquire, Paid Links & SEO Noobs

More paid links drama?!? SERENITY NOW!
More paid links drama?!? SERENITY NOW!

It’s been a little over a year since the last big SEO scandal hit the news, so I guess we were due for a big story. And what do you know – IT’S ABOUT PAID LINKS! Good lord. Are we still outraged about people buying links? WTF, man. Get over it.

The SEO industry is full of a bunch of amateurs right now. They think buying links is a black hat strategy. LOLz. If they knew anything about blackhat tactics, they would know that blackhatters are not paying for links. Not in the traditional sense anyway. And not good blackhatters. Blackhat SEOs are much more intelligent than spending all of their time building links. They write software for that. Also, while blackhat SEOs operate in the gray area of SEO and Google’s guidelines, many of them also tend to operate in the gray area of the law. Furthermore, they are more interested in making money than giving it to someone else for a crappy link.

It’s pretty clear that the SEO industry has an abundance of  ignorant SEO noobs. They actually have no idea WTF blackhat SEOs are doing these days. Paying for links is blackhat? Shut up and get back to your title tags and robots.txt files.

As far as calling out iAcquire – no shit iAcquire has a linkbuilding component to their business! They bought Conductor’s paid link business, and everyone knows about that. Big deal. Do a little research (i.e. go to LinkedIn), and you’ll find that iAquire’s co-founders are Joe Griffin and Jay Swansson. These guys have been in the game a long time. Joe founded SubmitAWebsite and the search agency at Web.com. He was also a VP at iCrossing. And Jay Swansson used to work at Text-Link-Ads. He knows all about effective link building. These are two smart dudes who have a track record of producing results. Now everyone is under the impression that iAcquire is some evil blackhat company. That is a gross reduction of their company.

And Mike King – that guy is a fully registered SEO badass. He is the kind of person that most SEOs wish they could be. He’s got mad skills as a coder, developer, SEO, speaker, and blogger, and it’s like someone fine tuned his brain to be an SEO. If you’ve ever heard him speak at conferences, you’d see what I mean. Also, Mike is someone who shares a lot of information about modern SEO strategy. Take a look at his post on SEOmoz.org called ‘The Noob Guide to Link Building‘. Yeah. That’s some good stuff right there. I’m really not sure why Mike was even mentioned in Josh’s post.

Link building is not a bad thing. If I was approached by an SEO that didn’t have a linkbuilding strategy, I’d be like “GTFO! NOW!” Go ahead and call it ‘inbound marketing’ – it’s a service that everyone needs. It’s integral to SEO. It’s basically digital PR. Nowadays, ‘inbound marketing’ is the safest word in SEO. Some people use it as an umbrella term that covers paid link building, but it covers so much more than that. And here’s a shocker: nearly every aspect of inbound marketing involves getting links, and getting links is going to cost money. Press releases don’t write and distribute themselves. Someone has to connect with influencers and bloggers. Guest posts don’t write themselves. Building links is an art, and it can take on 100’s of forms. But at the end of the day, you’ve gotta do it if you want to succeed in organic search today.

Here’s a little secret: Every good SEO has a good link builder. Never forget that. It’s the reality today. But now that Penguin and Panda are out, a lot of SEOs are scrambling to find new linkbuilders and new linkbuilding tactics. A lot of the HPBL networks got nailed, and now those network owners are going even more private. And believe me: shit is about to get really expensive because the cost of intelligently building links on private networks is going to skyrocket. Content has to get better. Hosting has to get more sophisticated. And they’ve gotta erase any and all footprints. There can be no evidence.

Ultimately, with PageRank becoming less and less of a ranking factor, gaming it with links will increasingly prove less valuable over time. There will always be paid link networks, but eventually paid links will become too expensive to produce, manage, and maintain (for most link buyers). All the money will move over to content generation and social media, where buying Likes and Tweets and +1’s is much safer and affordable – and effective! But that’s an entirely different post. I’ll save that for some other time.

On another note: I’ve seen the term ‘myopic SEO’ flying around Twitter today. Myopic should not have a negative connotation. That isn’t fair. Some SEOs are myopic by nature because that’s how they survive in their niche. They are nearsighted because all they care about is making money RIGHT NOW! Today even! Those SEOs are probably some of the most industrious, entrepreneurial people you will ever meet. But guess what – they are not out there sharing their secrets, and you’ll probably never meet them.

In the past, SEOs would share their secrets at conferences, in forums, on blogs, etc… But around 2009/2010, SEO went back underground, and the people who know how to make quick money sealed their lips (and/or their keyboards). Oh sure. You may still catch people blabbing about their victories on forums here and there, but DM any of those forums’ senior members, and they’ll tell you that the forum is full of noobs and that it’s nowhere near what it used to be in terms of content. And if someone on a forum goes public with a strategy that works, 99% of the time all the readers will go out and beat it to death.

So if you’re not the myopic SEO, you probably fall into the group of SEOs who is interested in sustainable SEO. In reality, this bucket is where most SEOs reside. They promote the idea that SEO is a longterm strategy, where good guys finish first in the SERPs and Alt tags make a difference for your rankings. Sustainable SEO means that you are most likely working for a client where you are fitting into a larger marketing machine. You can’t act alone, and if you do something dumb, you could end up costing yourself and/other people their jobs. SEO for this group is a longterm strategy, and you’d better get buckled in because it’s going to be a long flight.

Sustainable SEO is the place where you have to be really smart about link building. You might even call it white hat link building…which is kind of an oxymoron. It means that you need to be smart about your link building strategies. 2011 was an amazing year for building links via private blog networks. You can’t rely on that any longer. You also can’t only go after unbranded anchors. You’ve gotta diversify. When it comes to paid link building, there’s a lot of stuff to consider these days. Do your research and be smart. You don’t want the Penguin catching you.

BTW here’s a great post Danny Sullivan wrote about all of this. I’m really looking forward to Aaron Wall’s blog post about all of this.

Well, that’s my rant. Smell ya later.

Link Rules Hyrule, Links Rule Google SERPs

The Legend of Zelda was awesome! I remember opening it on Christmas Day back in 1987. It had a shiny golden box, and then the game itself was a brilliant, glowing masterpiece of golden plastic. Just take a look:

The Legend of Zelda golden cartridge
The Legend of Zelda golden cartridge

I had never seen anything like this. It was like opening up a golden ticket, but rather than a fattening journey through a chocolate empire, this golden ticket delivered instant access to the magical land of of Hyrule. For me, the greatest thing about this game was that it opened up my imagination like no other video game had ever done. I was used to games that only moved right-to-left or down-to-up, and those games made following the steps from beginning to end fairly simple. The Legend of Zelda was the first game where I remember getting involved in the story. I wasn’t riding Falcor and chasing the Nothing, but it was the first video game I ever played where I could not take things for granted. I remember wandering around forever looking for a certain level, and I ended up finding it by blowing up the side of a mountain on the other side of a stream. It’s as if the video game was teaching me to open up the boundaries of my mind. Secret passages in the mountain. Secret passages underneath tombstones. It was amazing to me. After all, Zelda was probably the 3rd or 4th Nintendo game I owned, and I never had more than 10 games. Regardless, I was still used to Atari games that placed playability and functionality over imagination and plot. [Note: Back in 1987, Nintendo games were like $60, and that was a lot of money back then. That still is a lot of money, but it seems like a crapload of money in 1987. Looking back, I’m surprised my parents even bought me 10 games through the years.]

Link battles in Level 1 of The Legend of Zelda
Link battles in Level 1 of The Legend of Zelda

Another awesome facet of The Legend of Zelda was the fact that the main character was a little dude named Link. He starts off as just a regular boy, but through trials and tribulations he becomes a hero. Like any other 8-year-old boy, it was easy for me to imagine that I was Link, the hero of Hyrule. And as it was a game that considerably expanded my imagination, it quickly became a world that I could escape to. I mean, sure, homework and soccer practice were fun, but I could not wait to get home and turn on my Zelda game. I got to be a hero in a magical world where I could explore the limitless wonder that was Hyrule. Unlike other Nintendo games, I wasn’t forced to go one way. I could choose my own path. I could go left, right, up or down. I got to navigate the entire realm. And I got to defeat Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, and save Princess Zelda. For me, it was an adventure that I would not find in any other 8-bit game. [Note: I played several other RPGs, like Ultima, Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. Perhaps I liked Zelda so much because for me it was the original. I guess I’m just sentimental or something.]

Ok. That’s good and all, but why am I talking about The Legend of Zelda on an SEO blog? That’s a good question. Let’s see if I can provide an answer that makes any sense.

I am an SEO to the core.  My being exudes a nerdy internet search aura. I eat, sleep and breath SEO. It’s not all I think about. There are a few hours each week when I watch Lost, 24 and House. Most of the time I’m thinking about SEO. While I’m thinking about SEO, I often notice similarities between SEO and seemingly-unrelated things in life (you might have noticed this fact from my posts about Walter Sobchak, Frogger and Grimlock). And since I’m nostalgic, I’m often thinking of events from my childhood. Today I was thinking about link building, and I pondered the future of SEO and the power of links. And then it hit me: Links are the undeniable rulers of organic search realm that is Google. And because I am a search marketer, when I think of the plural (links), I also start thinking of the singular (link).It’s like an SEO reflex or something! [Note: Link is the main character in The Legend of Zelda.]

Link defeats Ganon in The Legend of Zelda
Link defeats Ganon in his Death Mountain lair

As it turns out, The Legend of Zelda is a great metaphor for search engine optimization. Don’t believe me? Well check this out. Here’s how the Zelda characters would match up with important SEO concepts:

  • Hyrule = Google SERPs
    Hyrule is a magical land that requires a lot of time to navigate and explore. Much like the Google SERPs, you won’t master Hyrule on the first day. Diligence and hard work is needed to master this landscape, which is highly varied and constantly changing (like the Google SERPs).
  • Ganon, the Prince of Darkness = PageRank, Google’s Natural Search Algorithm
    Ganon is a badass. The first time you set foot in his lair, trepidation sets in. It’s a feeling like the one you get when you first set foot into the world of SEO. After the first step, you realize the size and scope of the SEO world. It’s intimidating and scary, but you will eventually learn to master many aspects of the game.
  • Princess Zelda = #1 ranking in Google
    Until you defeat Ganon and get some top rankings for your clients, peace will not exist in your SEO world. Or in Hyrule. When you achieve a #1 ranking in Google, it’s a lot like rescuing the Princess from the grips of Ganon. All your hard work and long hours finally paid off, and everyone is cheering for you. If only Google had a “Congratulations, you’re #1” screen to celebrate your success. That would be cool.
Link rescues Princess Zelda
Link rescues Princess Zelda
  • Triforce of Power = Basic SEO Principles
    The story of Hyrule is cool. Ganon and his army steals the Triforce of Power, an artifact that bestows amazing strength. Princess Zelda takes one of the pieces, breaks it into 8 pieces and scatters throughout Hyrule’s secret dungeons. In order to defeat Ganon and rescue the Princess, Link has to find and reassemble those 8 pieces. Those 8 pieces remind me of the most basic SEO strategies. In order to win at SEO, you must have these 8 elements optimized: title tags, meta tags, keyword tags, H tags, Alt tags, Link title attributes, internal navigation, sitemaps.
  • Link = Text Links
    Link was created to eventually defeat Ganon. It was going to happen. It was only a matter of time. No matter how many times the game changes, Link will find a way to rule Hyrule. The same thing goes for text links in the realm of SEO. We know that there over 200 signals that PageRank uses to determine rankings, but in the end, text links rule the world of Google SERPs.
Link rescues Princess Zelda (Peace Returns to Hyrule)
Finally, Peace Returns to Hyrule.

Despite the message in the final screen, I never once believed that the story had ended. Now, go forth and prosper in your SEO realm. Whether it be ringtones, phentermine or gambling, I wish you luck in your endeavors.

The Google Search for Google

Today I thought I’d do a really random search, so I searched for google on google.com. The question: Will Google rank Google.com #1 for a search for google? Or if they do rank themselves #1, why would they do that? If someone is already on google.com and they search for google, would they even click on the search result for google.com? It would make no sense. Confused yet? It only gets worse from here. And here are the results:

search results for google on google.com
search results for google on google.com

Well, there you go. Wait a minute! Google.org?! WTF? What’s that? Oh, it’s the ‘philanthropic arm’ of Google. Why would they do that? According to a linkdomain: query on Yahoo.com, google.com has about a jillion links (actually ~1.19B links) and google.org only has about 270k links. From what I’ve heard about Google’s ranking algorithm, the key to ranking is the quantity and quality of backlinks and anchor text. However, google.org does have a lot more content. Maybe that is the key element driving the top ranking. But seriously, what’s going on here? How does google.org pull a #1 ranking? That’s like me showing up to SkyBar with Megan Fox (btw, she just separated from that dude from 90210). I mean, I’m a nice guy and all, and I’m kinda philanthropic. Plus I once rescued orphaned nuns from a burning cathedral, but that’s Megan Fox. She’s like the #1 ranking these days. [And what about the fact that Google.com is advertising Google.com as the only result in the paid search ads? Is that logical? I guess it’s about as logical as searching for the term google on Google.com.]

Obviously, something is going on here. Most likely it has to do with the fact that if you’re on google.com and you’re searching for Google, you probably don’t want to see google.com as the #1 result. Google recognizes this. They know you’re probably looking for something else besides google.com. I think its for this reason that Google has purposefully placed google.org in the top spot. After all, according to Google’s Keyword Tool, google.org only got ~40,500 searches in January. Google.com got ~13.6M searches, and the term google got ~83.1M searches. It stands to reason that google.org needs some help with exposure, and Google probably wants to get more exposure for the philanthropic arm of their company. Aw shucks. How nice?

It appears Google likes to help out the tired, the hungry and the otherwise unable-to-rank-for-themselves type of sites. But is that philanthropy extended outside the family? Let’s find out. How about a search for the term search engine:

google search results for search engine
google search results for search engine

Okay. Now I’m going to throw up. Dogpile.com? Seriously? That’s a little too obvious because dogpile.com is a site that let’s you search for anything, and then it piles (get it?) all the results from G, Y, MSN/Live and Ask into one results page. [Once again, it’s very odd to go to google.com and then search for the term search engine, but it doesn’t change the fact that these results are not necessarily up to par with Google’s reputation for providing the most relevant search results for a given query.] I guess Dogpile is a reasonable #1 result, but the strange thing is that this site is not the most well-known search engine. Google is. The word google is used as a verb in our vernacular these days for heaven’s sake! Furthermore, according to Alexa, google.com is the #1 trafficed site in the world. Dogpile is #1,825. Typically, Google gets this kind of stuff right.

According to the Google Keyword Tool, the term search engine actually gets some searches:

Google Keyword Tool: search engine
Google Keyword Tool: search engine

See that? Google reports that the term search engine had over 2.4 million searches in January 2009. If I had an awesome anchor text analyzer, I’d totally compare the anchor text in links to google.com vs. the anchor text in links to dogpile.com. I bet that 99% of links to google.com have Google as the anchor text. Dogpile.com, on the other hand, might actually have more links with the term search engine as the anchor text. I can’t imagine that would be the case, but it’s certainly a possibility. It also occurs to me that Google shouldn’t even rank itself for this search. Why would a user click on the google.com result when they are already on Google. It really doesn’t make any sense. Kind of like this post. It’s filler. And I’ve dragged it out as long as I possibly can. Now I’m kind of hoping no one even sees this one.

Update: I just did another search for google, and after refreshing the search a couple of times, I saw some shifting in the organic results. Google.org, google.com, Google Reader, etc… – they were all changing places. WTF? I’m still confused. It’s pretty clear that this search result does not play by the typical algorithm rules. Me thinks Google has its hands in the search for google.