Google Conspiracy Theories

by admin on June 2, 2007

I recently had a conversation with someone who expressed a view that there are magical, secret techniques for getting top google rankings. Big companies allegedly pay millions of dollars a year for this information and access. And some SEO firms who are “in the know” can also make this happen.

One piece of evidence was that in one particular relatively competitive niche, “site a” outranked “site b“, even though “site b” was clearly “better”. Of course “site a” was operated by one of these sneaky SEO firms who had the secret.

Apparently, a number of people in this self-reinforcing circle of Google outsiders agreed that “site b” was much better, and that there was no good ascertainable reason why it was being thrashed by “site a“. (Site b wasn’t just being thrashed by site a, but by everyone. It was nearly invisible. But I’ll address that separately.)

As a Google outsider myself who is vastly skeptical of grand conspiracies (though if someone wants to bring me inside, I’m all for it… email me, I won’t tell!), I decided to take up the challenge of looking at both sites and seeing if there might be a simpler explanation.

As it turns out, at least part of the story was true. I agree that “site b” is better than “site a”. It has better and broader content, and overall seemed more compelling to me. In fact, site a seemed singularly unimpressive, and in my initial thoughts, it did seem somewhat odd to me that it should rank so highly.

But then a did a little digging. Neither site was all that old, site a went up in 2004, site b in 2005. Site a did have more backlinks than site b, but it was not a huge number, or a massive difference, either.

But after taking a closer look at the backlinks, as it turns out, site a had several extremely strong links from the home page of a very old, extremely authoritative, and topically related site (we’ll call it “site x”). Bingo! A quick look at the wayback machine showed that those links had been on that home page for 2 years. Those killer links had been there longer than site b had been in existence! Case closed!

Conspiracy theory? Well, other than the fact that site a and site x were controlled by the same SEO firm, and that the home page links from site x to site a were invisible (no anchor text! – apparently that works if your site has enough trustrank? – slimy, but successful) it all seemed quite cut and dried.

I’ll even leave out of the story all the massive problems that site b has (canonical domain issues – some pages in in index as www, some not – lots of pages in the supplemental index – no unique title tags – no meta descriptions tags – possible duplicate content problems – and more), since even if all those problems were fixed, it wouldn’t beat site a for the highest traffic keywords, though it would at least get in the ball game.

Ockham, you magnificent bastard, you did it again.

About Dave Matson

Dave Matson is the owner and operator of High Steppin' Searches. Dave Matson on g+

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