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Denver Mortgage: Can SEO Keep Google Honest?

Everyone knows Google defines the web experience for Internet surfers today. Everyone also knows Google defined search relevance (the quality that determines which pages rank for specific Google searches) based on linking, such that web pages getting linked from other sites, on specific topics, earn relevance for that topic in the Google index. Alot has changed over the years, but Google still defines relevance, decides which pages rank at the top, and serves up the “winners” when consumers search the web.

So why does this page rank #1 for “mortgage co 80202“? Should this page be #2?

That’s a zip code in the heart of Denver, Colorado. That search term (sans quotes) is a target for mortage companies in Denver Colorado especially because the two letters “co” represent CO, Colorado, County (there is a Denver County), and Company. I picked 80202 as one example of a central downtown Zip code… it could have been 80201, 80203, 80204, etc. You can see from the SERP highlighting that Google matches the CO on those appearances.

The page being served as the #1 result is a template page from TheDenverChannel, which is the website for Denver’s Channel 7 ABC affiliate. The Denver Channel premiers as a News channel website in Denver, Colorado. Next to Denver.org, it is arguably the most relevant website for the topic of DENVER COLORADO in the world. Given the update frequency of an ABC news affiliate website compared to a local government website (even an excellent one like Denver’s), it should certainly rank well for Denver searches as long as it publishes on local topics.

But that page is search spam. The Denver Channel has contracted with Premier Guide (and/or Yellowpages) to syndicate Axciom data for displaying local directory listings. That’s all it is… a display of commonly-available broker listings, beneath the powerful “denver”-relevant ABC News domain. Oh, and notice the AdSense ads top and bottom.Is this a quality result? Is it an MFA page? (made for adsense). Is it duplicate content?SEO practitioners work hard for their clients to get relevant websites to rank at the top of search results. There is no doubt that ABC News Denver will be a top-ranking site for Denver searches, and if there is news on Denver Mortgage Companies or Denver foreclosures I would expect them to rank at the top. But not with spam pages like this.

This post of mine should not be taken as a “spam report” or an “outing”. Any of that is collateral damage of the SEO discussion, and I am sure the Denver Channel can survive an SEO noting how some of it’s spammy MFA pages should not rank. I think the important thing to note is that Google directly benefits from this abuse of earned (and granted) page rank, via that AdSense monetization. With such an obvious abuse of “authority” by the ABC News website, Google is forced to acknowledge the conflict of interest OR do something about it. Otherwise, Google loses it’s authority (granted by the Internet-using public), and loses the faith of SEOs working hard for their clients. I can hear the white hats getting dirty as we recoil in disgust.

The listing that premiered on that spam page when I viewed it was “Cherry Creek Mortgage Company“, located in zip code 80202. But the spam page had no backlink to the Cherry Creek Mortgage Company website. A look at the Cherry Creek Mortgage Company website shows it to be a powerful “denver mortage” relevant website. Especially note the depth of this library of Denver mortgage resources on the site. Clearly these guys went the extra mile to rank, publishing tons of on-theme content. I don’t know these players so I am nofollowing here, to avoid an apearance of conflict of interest myself.

I didn’t look very hard but I didn’t see any AdSense on the Cherry Creek Mortage website. If those pages are so useful, why don’t they rank? If they had AdSense ads, would they rank? Google?

Local search is very interesting to both consumers and businesses, and represents a frontier in search not just because it’s a relatively untapped opportunity, but because it represents the ultimate challenge for search engines (and SEOs) to rank user-serving, quality local results. If the web finally becomes useful for “finding a local plumber”, the Internet will take another giant leap forward with small touchscreen devices showing up in every kitchen in America. I don’t think Cherry Creek Mortgage Company should have to publish a thousand “articles” of text on mortgage law and Denver neighborhoods in order to rank well for “denver mortgage brokers”, because there are not that many local brokerage outfits truly serving the Denver area. But if Google is going to start rewarding every super-category authority with sub-category relevance just because they syndicate business listings…. when they do no other work to make themselves relevant to the end user, well that really shows Google as the bad guy.

I know this might come across as just another rant about Google permitting MFA pages, but I think it’s a different case. The Denver Channel seems to have no purpose for those pages but to rank and monetize with AdSense; they are exploiting a solid earned authority for “Denver, Colorado” that is not likely to go away as they continue as an ABC News channel, and the user is not being served nearly as well as she might be by any number of more relevant contenders. If ABC News had even bothered to simply list morgage brokers in Denver I wouldn’t have commented. But they haven’t even done that much work.

Can SEOs working the local SERPs keep Google honest and deliver results for their clients (and web surfers), or will Google simply make it all irrelevant while it cashes out of the true “search” engine game?

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7 Responses to “Denver Mortgage: Can SEO Keep Google Honest?”

  1. Fred Says:

    Thanks for bringing this up — it’s an SEO-related topic I don’t see addressed very often but that comes up pretty frequently in my office (an Internet Marketing and Web Development Company in Maine). A lot of our customers are small, local area businesses that serve their niche market very well, but the top SERPs are dominated by directory knockoffs like the one you mention above, often by national websites with huge PR but no real quality Maine-based services or content… Just oodles of keywords and links to sites which they extort a huge amount of money from to list.

    While there’s a place for large directory listings, the unfair advantage of a mighty domain really does make it hard for small local players to compete. I especially agree with “I don’t think Cherry Creek Mortgage Company should have to publish a thousand “articles” of text on mortgage law and Denver neighborhoods in order to rank well for “denver mortgage brokers”, because there are not that many local brokerage outfits truly serving the Denver area” — relevant content is important, yes, but I can’t see how it’s fair that a local company should spend thousands of dollars to compete for a key phrase that in the local area they earn based on years of quality service and significant investment in local offline advertising. I look forward to the frontier of local search and hope it helps to correct this conflict rather than exacerbate it.

  2. Denver Mortgage: Can SEO Keep Google Honest? Says:

    [...] Denver Mortgage: Can SEO Keep Google Honest? [...]

  3. Stuart Says:

    Clearly just a huge MFA site, which again brings up the topic of “Do the big boys / premium publishers get special treatment?”

  4. Alex Goad Says:

    Until Google adjusts the overpowering influence of domain trust in it’s algorithm, i think it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing more and more of these types of results.

    @Stuart: Can that even be a question with results like these, the NY Times story, WMM and BMW? There is a clear bias…

  5. Dave Larson Says:

    While Google encourages businesses to use AdWords so they can be found in search results, it’s not just difficult, it’s COMPLEX for a company to be found for competitive terms, even in localized phrases including those terms.

    By premiering Cherry Creek Mortgage Company on The Denver Channel spam page and having it rank at the top of the organics in Google, that company (phone number without backlink though it is) can be found in some form via search. (I couldn’t otherwise find Cherry Creek in ad or organic results, even for phrases targeting them somewhat more specifically.)

    But notice in the subresult for thedenverchannel.com, the resulting spam page shows Clarity National Mortgage (listing as Mortgage Colorado) with a phone number AND a link to their home page.

    So what if a competitor sees that and says to their SEO “How can we get a listing like that?” And the SEO sees Acxiom–>Denver Channel–>Google, one company with main result, phone only, another with subresult, phone link, and thinks “So this is why they say SEO is easy!”

  6. » Google Content Widgets, by Family Guy Guy - John Andrews - johnon.com Says:

    [...] Cloak it any way you like, but the message was less fraudulent clicks, more lock-in of users about which we know more than ever. So even if stalwart historical journalsitic sources generated reams of spam pages deep within their domains, it was “quality” and it ranked because it was good for “economic expansion”. An advertiser branded with the idea that The Denver Post was a quality advertising avenue back in the day, would not object to a large presence of ads on the online Denver Post, even if they were mostly spam pages. [...]

  7. denvermortgagelender Says:

    Google’s motto is, “Do no evil” Well, corruption is evil, isn’t it? Google is greed squared. At some point the mfa diectory sites that dominate and trash the local listings will have to be eradicated by Google. But by this time Google’s reputation will be destroyed which is already happening. First the SEO’s and webmasters noticed it. Now the business owners are beginning to see it and they can’t ignore it any longer. Most of the internet savvy already know how to spot the “junk” and avoid it by going further down the organics on the page. It won’t be long before Google will take the hit to their reputation as a corupt and dishonest enteprise. I have nothing against them for making money. I applaud that. But the organic listings should be sacred. If a legitimate Denver Mortgage Company ranks higher in Yahoo and MSN than it does in Google becuase there are 20-30 directory sites with adsense on the google organic results, then the results are corrupt. Period.

    If you are looking for a local business, use Yahoo search. Their search for local business is way better. More business’s and less directories with adsense. I have owned a mortgage company in Denver for 15 years. I would like to rank for that. Evidently, my options are to place competitors ads on my website using adwords or hire SEO firms that charge thousands to put links, blogs, and extra pages of keywords on my site so that Google will recognize me as a “important and relevant” Denver Mortgage Company. To me, the worst option is Google PPC ads. They have so many fraud clicks, and they will usually say that the minimum bid is $10 because I’m not “relevant” for “Denver Mortgage”, which of course is not true. But to them it’s the mathematics of money. Countrywide will pay them millions and I won’t. Why in the world would they not sign agreements with Countrywide to push me down.

    Everything about Google is secret, vague and ambiguous. Some people read that differently than I do. Some people think that Google is run by god-like geniuses that are keeping a “remarkable” trade secret from us. Guys like Matt Cutts are worshipped publicly by webmasters. I don’t buy it for a second. Their secrecy makes makes me suspicious of them and is a dead giveaway to their real intentions. And I have seen time and again that dynamically generated “city,state” directories with adsense rank better than everbody else for no apparent reason other than enriching Google. The glimmer of hope is that it is getting worse and that tells me that something is about to give.

    Lawsuits, anti-trust, or better competition. It will be something because Google is corrupt. And time exposes all truths, especially evil ones.