John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?  Competitive Web & SEO

With gone, SearchEngineLand gets Dirty

I previously commented on how I didn’t see SMX Seattle as being any more “advanced” than SES. I did go to SMX Seattle, and while I did enjoy meeting some people there I didn’t come away thinking it was any more advanced than other search conferences. But, as these things go, I did see that the field is changing and the definition of “advanced” may also be changing. I’m still mulling that over.

But when shut down suddenly, I wondered what would this mean for SEOMoz and SearchEngineLand. They obviously have a lot to gain from the shutdown of ThreadWatch. Those ThreadWatch community members have to go somewhere, and it’s not likely to be WMW. But I doubt it will be SEOMoz because of the obvious clash of culture. Will they go to SEL? Well, with article after article in Forbes etc. quoting Danny Sullivan as supportive of Google, I doubt that, too. I know, Danny will show how he has been critical of Google as well. But seriously Danny, it sure seems to me you support Google way more than necessary.

Anyway, tide shift today over at SEL. A truly black article on gaming Google. Although it is prettied-up and colored the light blue of SearchEngineLand, Stephan Spencer’s Deconstructing Grouped Google Results is more black hat than I ever remember reading over there before the demise of ThreadWatch. I suppose I am contributing to SEL’s gains by saying this, but man that’s one nasty tutorial.

First, it’s titled mildy - sort of an “understanding Google” approach. And that title is attractive, as I think many people will suspect it has to do with Google’s sitelinks as opposed to indented links. Clearly the article is skewed to support the SMX Advanced conference via reference. Stephan credits SMX Advanced with this competitive insight, but really the credit goes to Stephan. I believe it was even his own tid-bit that he’s now expanding on here(?). Anyway this article is now published on SEL and it is indeed very black hat competitive, aimed directly at manipulating the Google search results for competitive advantage. I wonder what Matt thinks of this.

Stephan certainly starts out describing some observations about Google:

You probably know that Google will group two results together when they are both from the same site, indenting the second of the two results indented beneath the first one. Let’s say, for sake of argument, that a competitor of yours is ranked #1 and #2. But did you know that the listing ranked #2 is most likely not actually #2, rather something between #3 and #10? The second, indented result could very well have as its “true” position #10.

But then he immediately notes how this highlights an exploit opportunity:

If that’s the case, the second listing is much more susceptible to getting bumped on to page two of the Google SERPs. And if that happens, your competitor goes from having two listings on the first page to having only one. Nice!

You gotta love that “Nice!” exclamation. Noticed a weakness in a competitor? …. NICE! Anyway, as Stephan drags SEL down to the dark side of Black Hat SEO, he focuses not on his helpful demonstration of how one can iteratively tease out the true position of that indented listing (as it was presented at SMX Advanced), but how he can use that insight to manipulate the Google results set. Want to understand the true position of your own indented pages? No… it’s “understand the true positionof your competitor’s indented pages”. The article is basically tease out your competitor’s weakness, identify your opportunity to exploit it, estimate the magnitude of the effort needed to knock them off “your” page, rank more of your own pages in their place, and if necessary, boost a neutral third party into passively supporting your aggression. Nice!

Oh, and, along the way, as if to be sure we are truly nasty, Stephan includes a reference to gaming Wikipedia into helping us in our exploit (bold added):

Because the competitor’s second listing has 9 as its true position, I would need to push two listings from page 2 to page 1 in order to kick the competitor’s second listing to page 2. Whereas, if it were truly #10 instead of #9, we would have only needed to push one. So we will also need to send some “juice” to a noncompeting siteā€”such as the one at #11. We do that simply by linking to it. It’s especially handy if there’s a relevant Wikipedia article you can push onto page 1, because you can wield Wikipedia’s super-powerful internal linking to give it the boost (e.g. through links from Categories, Disambiguation pages, related articles).

Yes, you read that on SearchEngineLand. Knock your vulnerable competitors off page 1 using strategic linking in order to rank yourself and non-competitors better, and use Wikipedia as a tool because of the internal cross-linking opportunity within Wikipedia. I acknowledge that Stephan didn’t go so far as to clearly state the obvious - that once you boost a wikipedia page into position for your target terms, you can go in and edit the various interlinked wikipedia pages to further enhance that position without any evidence of SEO dastardly-ness, but it is so obvious I doubt anyone needs that prodding anyway.

Personally I like this new post-ThreadWatch SearchEngineLand. More competitive, more honest about gaming Google, and more willing to state the obvious - that search marketing is a competition, and this stuff is what really goes on behind the scenes in SEO world. If your competitor has an SEO on call, you can’t afford not to. If your competitor has Stephan Spencer on call, it seems you will be needing some more black crayons in your art box.

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5 Responses to “With gone, SearchEngineLand gets Dirty”

  1. Danny Sullivan Says:

    John, I only wish I were this calculating. Seriously. I mean seriously, let’s think about all that I had to have going to get this working.

    So first, like five months ago when I programmed SMX, I would have had to think right, Threadwatch is out of here! Hey, I suppose I might have put that in motion months ago as well, right (

    Then I’ve got to be smart enough to think wait, I don’t want the news to come out in June. Let me wait until Threadwatch closes in July. I’ll slap an 30 day embargo on the news. Yeah, that’ll do it. And I have to hope no one spoils that.

    Miracle of miracles, it holds. Well, almost didn’t. I mean, Stephan was going to run that column like two weeks ago or so. Go on, ask him. Chris and I thought you know, we told everyone to do this embargo thing, so we’d better not run the tip so that people don’t think we’re somehow being unfair. But really, it was part of my master plan to wait until Threadwatch was no longer snarky so I could really slam Google.

    Hee! It was brilliant, all played out the best I could hope for.

    Right. Look, John — I am critical of Google. Here, I’ll do what you want:

    I remember when Google was a search engine, with a philosophy that said, “Google does search.” Now it puts ads on TV, in radio, in print — serves as a payment platform, provides web analytics, pitches software “packs” to us and more. Does it really need to have our web surfing histories as well? When’s enough enough?

    Not critical enough? You see me not being supportive of them but instead providing balance. When everyone is happy to talk one side, I like to put balance back. If it were Yahoo constantly attacked, I’d be the one saying “wait a minute” about them, because that’s my nature. I like balance, so that people can make up their own minds.

    That’s also why I’ve long had “black hats” speak at conferences, to the degree that Doug Heil over there at Ihelpyou will happily tell you what an evil spammer I am (there were plenty of Threadwatch posts that covered this, you know). The black hats do indeed provide a big needed dose of the “real world” where it absolutely is a competition.

    I’ve talked about real world SEO for years, honest. And I’ve been critical of Google plenty, honest. And what you saw at SEL in Stephan’s column wasn’t some new shift. It’s just Stephan doing what he does best — passing along real world knowledge. That’s why we have columnists and have them talk.

  2. john andrews Says:

    Actually, I do recall ThatDougGuy calling you a spammer, Danny. Hmm… and now this. My eyes are being opened - LOL.

  3. IncrediBILL Says:

    John, considering SML posts the actual threads and you appear to be watching those threads, hence this post, then you may be becoming the new thread watch!

    So when are you going to allow guest posts to commence?

    … and it sounds like Danny’s trying to position himself like Fox News being “fair and balanced” to Google.

  4. Jill Says:

    THAT’s blackhat SEO?

    Stephan definitely had the best tips at SMX, but I guess I don’t see why they would be considered blackhat. John, you seem to think being competitive = being blackhat. To me, only being deceptive = blackhat.

  5. john andrews Says:

    Don’t shoot the messenger, Jill :-)

    Black Hat as per Google, where the *intent* is clearly to manipulate the search results. This article is very blatantly all about adjusting the SERPs, even including causing someone else to drop. It was not cloaked in a “just work to improve your own site” mentality, as so much of the published material is these days.

    You don’t see this as something new for SEL?

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