I’m sure you’ve heard of them–I call them the Google hit squad.
They’re the dynamic duo you don’t want to be paid a visit from. When they do show upf at your site’s doorstep, politely let them in because they’re going to be doing some evaluating judging whether you like it or not.
Yes I’m talking about Google Panda and Google Penguin, and they were built to judge how smart, authoritative, and liked you are online. Their final scorecard is simple:
- Green – you’re all good with Kingpin Google
- Yellow – you’re on the watch list and still found in Google, but nowhere where anyone will find you unless they specifically look for you
- Red – you’re screwed and swimming with the fishes
The Primary 2 Ranking Factors the Kingpin Considers
In my experience, Reputation is the most important factor, but we’ll get back to that in just a moment because the following is an important point to make.
A) Google is built to try and figure out what humans want.
B) Google is an algorithm, so is its hit squad; the problem is that they have to rely (mostly) on statistical data to determine who ranks well and who doesn’t. Things like bounce rate, page views, time on site, how many Facebook and Google Shares an article has, number of quality backlinks etc. all go into figuring out if content is good or not.
This sort of ranking system promotes authority websites in their search engine and makes it a long uphill battle for the little guy to “prove” themselves.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Could you imagine if the world ran solely on statistical data?
Statistically in America, 50% of marriages end in divorce (source). As I recall from my days in grade school and college, a 50% grade is failing.
If humanity ran off this statistic, what would be the point in promoting marriage?
Furthermore, there would be very few, if any, heroes in war. Taking a risk would be a thing of the past. Smoking cigarettes would be abolished because there’s no health value. Humans would never drink to the point of getting drunk because statistically only bad things happen at that point.
There’s good and bad which go with running the world via statistics, the problem is, it’s not the way the world works.
Yes Google uses human reviewers, but if your site is not ranked it’s logical to assume a human reviewer won’t see your site until a Google algorithm change gets you ranked and in front of some eyes.
Does the Hit Squad Favors Authority Sites?
Let’s take a look at one of my sites as an example of why I believe Google and its hit squad favor authority sites over the smaller guy’s higher quality, and much more focused, review site.
A friend of mine, James Chartrand, is a well known A-List blogger whom I have known before she really hit it big. A couple years ago she came out with a premium writing course called, Damn Fine Words.
I was lucky. Before she launched the site (and because we were friends), she granted me free access to check it out, review it, and see if I could poke any holes in it. With no surprise, the site and information was solid so I asked her if I could register the domain name, damnfinewords.org, join her affiliate program, and do a review of her course.
With a green light I built the site and did my best to make it read well for humans while also playing nice with Google’s hit squad.
Before building the site though, I made sure to do my best to adhere to what Google asked us to do:
We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.
Okay, my site wasn’t “amazing”, but it did a specific job.
Initially, my review was the only one out there because I published my review a couple days before James launched the course. Back then (about a year or so ago) it was a simple one page review of her course (with a contact page and About page) with optimized content for the terms Damn Fine Words and Damn Fine Words Review. Also, exact match domain names worked a little better back then as well, so I had that going for me.
I floated between the number 2 and 4 positions for quite a while until about 6 or 7 months ago when I noticed the site had been pushed down to page 2 and at times, 3.
Keeping in mind that Google didn’t want us to do “off page SEO” and just let it handle ranking my quality site, I decided to up the quality and design the site so that my statistics would show Google that I have a good user experience on my site. I then did the following to the site:
- Upgraded its WordPress theme
- Added a Disclaimer and Disclosure page
- Updated the About Page
- Added more content and split them between multiple pages with Tables of Contents
The redesign and formatting worked. In about a week I jumped up to the #2 spot for my keyword terms, listed just under James’ actual course site, and I felt a sense of accomplishment because I was ranking over big authority sites like Copyblogger, Problogger, and such.
Then came the Exact Match domain name hit Google recently put out.
Okay, we all know the Kingpin has been kicking down doors and cracking down on exact match domain names, but here recently they really have been cracking down on these it seems and because of the timing, I believe my site fell victim to this hit.
So let’s recap how Google has decided to deal with my “White Hat” SEO Optimized review of this course…
1. I seemed to have been penalized because I used an exact match domain name for someone else’s product.
2. Even though my site is a tightly focused site designed to give those who are curious about James’ course an inside peek at what it’s all about, it got pushed way below other more authoritative websites which have a measly 500 word article on “how great the course is” and lightly touching on topics you’re going to learn (in contrast to how my review site breaks down each section and tells you specifically what you’re going to learn).
So though I chose to keep it White Hat as far as off page SEO goes (the only backlink is from my blog on another domain), that didn’t seem to help me.
What This Tells Me and You…
…is that Google values authority (aka reputation) over relevancy and quality.
Google “Damn Fine Words” and take a look at what results are returned. Then head over to my review site and tell me who has the better review?
What I Could Do To Rank Better
It’s not impossible to get my ranking back. If I wanted to, here’s what I’d consider doing to get the site back to its first page position:
- Set up a blog (and categories) on freelance writing and content writing in general
- Consider restructuring how I promote James’ course by promoting it in a newsletter vs. on the front end where Google can see my affiliate promotion
- Get active in social media and build a Facebook page, Twitter page, and Google+ page
- Create a Google Authorship link
- Guest post on related blogs about content writing and get links that way
- Exchange links by offering up some of my online assets as currency (kind of like reciprocal links but not reciprocal)
- Ask my friend for a link from her site
You know, the kind of stuff you learn in Matt’s IM Super Elite (affiliate link).
Is Google Picking On the Little Guy?
You tell me.
Do you think Google’s algo updates truly promote the best content out there or do you think it’s structured in a way that gives an unfair playing field for the woman who blogs while also holding down a full time job?
A Quick Disclaimer: I have no quarrel with Google. I know they are doing the best they can to figure out which websites are great and which are not so great and/or junk. Unfortunately, its ranking system doesn’t always seem fair–but then again, neither is life.