I want to start this case study with a warning. I am about to bash the “content is king” argument really hard – from an SEO/SERP point of view – so if you are a Moz blog lover or a “content is king” kind of believer (again from a purely SEO perspective) I suggest you close the browser and move on to another web site which replicates Google “best guidelines” videos.
I am not saying focusing on content is a bad thing, quiet the contrary, content is mandatory for any online marketing agenda. What I questions is Google’s statement that Good quality content will help your rankings as well as 95% of the industry SEOs who claim that White Hat always win.
Well, white hat is not winning. At all. In fact it never did. Yup there you go, I said it.
I am more than happy to get into this argument even deeper but this is not the purpose of this blog so if anyone wants to engage further about this please do email me your enquiry. Also as I love to talk with proofs, please as you compose that email include a couple of examples or evidence of a white hat web site that ranks on page one for commercial terms ( and not your 5 long tail keyword article which generates 10 visits per month). Good luck with that.
Now moving on to the purpose of this blog post, as a practitioner who respects himself, I wanted to try my own tests and not rely that much in Google’s theory and present you with some data of my claims.
What you will read on this post in a nut shell:
- Will content generate interest? Yes.
- Will content get you more traffic? Ofcourse.
- Will content give you great ammunition to further your engagement in social media? Absolutely.
- Will content get you rank 1 on page one for your target main keywords? Nope, unless you get links.
- Can you still rank 1 on page 1 without good quality content and purely with links? Unfortunately Yes!
- Will it take you less time than writting good quality content? Yes it will.
- Will it last forever? Not a chance. The moment you pay for a link, you light up a fire. When the fireworks start, sit back, enjoy, have a drink but please don’t moan! You have been warned!
So back to the purpose of this case study. Does spam link building work? Are all these case studies about penalties to big companies a threat to everyone who exercises similar link building techniques? How long will they last?
I decided to take the journey and run my own tests in order to answer these question.
Black Hat SEO Case Study
- Case study: 2 web sites
- Keywords: 2 highly difficult to rank long tail product keywords. No variations, use of the exact keywords (since I can’t reveal the true keywords as the site still ranks on page 1 rank 1 and 2 up until this day we will use as an example the keyword: For site A “buy electric cooker online” and for site B “Best canon camera lenses”)
- Competition: Major brands of the caliber of Whirpool, Phillips, Samsung domination top 10 results
- The challenge: Rank them on page one in less than 3 months and survive Google penalties. Only one site will use fresh content, the other will do pure link building.
- The method: Pure black hat SEO techniques – Will use mostly known techniques from the past (one in particular was a huge case study back in 2006 where BMW got de-indexed from the web)
- The proof: See if they will survive automatic updates or how various updates affects them (better be ready for this).
- Conclusion: I want to see if most of these penalties are algorithmic or manual
Both web sites were launched beginning of September, same template, exact match domains (.com) and with 5 articles perfectly optimised for the targeted keyphrase. Both web sites run Adsense and have Amazon affiliate links (nofollow).
Each of the 5 pages include a YouTube video, an external link to an authoritative site and are roughly 1000 words each. I included a 6ht page on both sites which is basically a slideshow with product pictures. No alt img tag, no description or any kind of seo. I linked both of these pages with an exact anchor text of the keyword “electric cooker” and “canon lenses”.
After the sites were ready I practiced the following link building techniques. The only difference with the 2 web sites is that on site B I upload a fresh unique high quality article every single week.
Link Building Practise
In September I started with social bookmarks.
The first 2 weeks of October I sent some spam links from trial SEO software such as NoHandsSeo and GSA for 7 days non-stop and then I sent 100 high PR blog comments (minimum PR 3, maximum PR7). The comment campaign ended beggining of 3rd week of October. Let us know see the ranking results on site A below:
BANG!!!!!!You will notice that Site A was ranking between rank 40 and 100 until it exploded to page one rank 1 and 2 for 9 different keyphrases. I included 4 slide shows to keep this page loading speed at a minimum. I beat all relevant brand queries and rank higher than the very original product page. Almost 50 days later, the site is stable there. No further link building has taken place.
Site B did not have the same results in terms of ranking on top 2 positions, I am currently stuck between rank 12 and 14 but this is something expected as it is a much more competitive keyword with numerous authoritative blogs on page one owning millions of links. I keep uploading 1 fresh page each week but rankings are still unaffected.
Next Steps to take Site B on page one
1) I built a bit more High PR blog comments. Few PR 2, lots of PR4 and 5 and one PR6
2) I bought a 2008 domain with PR3 that has very high authoritive links pointint and 301 redirected it to the money site.
3) Execute a brand new link pyramid
I will come back and edit this post in a week or so once the links get indexed and present any ranking changes I observe.
February 2014 Update: Site A is still on page one but between position 6 and 10. Site B climbed at the top of page 2. No link building activities than the ones mentioned above has taken place since.
Google’s 14th of November Update – Was I hit?
On November the 14th Google updated the algorithm. MoZ posted a relevant blog article in regards to this and the speculation was that Big sites probably win big. All of a sudden I noticed a huge increase in my adsense earnings, so I logged in to my Webmaster Tools only to see that my web site impressions increased by 83,233% on the keyword “electric cooker” and “electric cookers” (remember this is just an example and not the actual keyword) with a total of 60,000 impressions in a day. So what has just happened? How come my keyword “buy electric cooker online” and Google’s new update pushed the impressions of the sort tail version?
So how is this possible?
After a lot of digging in Google Analytics, I found out that all this traffic was generated via Google Image search results, as Google decided to rank all my pictures between #1-#20 for the short tail keywords as mentioned with the cooker example above. The page that got boosted was the one that included the slideshow with the menu anchor text “electric cookers”. My best guess is that Google decided to boost images, maybe as part of their new carousel SERP on the top of their search results but not sure if this is the case…yet!
Regardless that proved to me that I dont have to stress that much from now on in optimising my web site images.
So if I was not hit what Anglo Rank Penalty really means and why I don’t trust Google anymore?
“There are absolutely NO footprints linking the websites together” Oh, Anglo Rank.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) December 6, 2013
Fast forwarding today, we are all aware that Matt Cutts hammered another link building network as you will see from the tweet above. Apart the usual chaotic SEO screams all over the internet by the usual “experts” let me tell you very quickly the 3 things Matt Cutts did without realizing it.
1) He openly admitted that link schemes not only work, but can rank spam sites on page 1. If they weren’t he wouldn’t bother like it is some sort of achievement.
2) He drove tons of traffic to one of the best black hat forums in the market. Expect sales to rise.
3) He just gave a great “negative seo” weapon to people who were looking to send over links to their competitors. Buy Anglo Rank links, send them to your competitor and report them after a week. Profit!
Matt Cutts carried on his tweets by saying that “Penalty notifications arriving on WMT inboxes sortly“, which means that this is a manual penalty and not an algorithmic one. But why a manual penalty? Anyone?
The reason of the manual penalties is that Google simply can not change the algorythm to track link networks. If they could, they would make the change and move on. What they do is, buy those links, track which sites uses them and penalising them. Webmasters gets scared, Disavow tool (Google’s biggest outsource link removal project ever) works overtimes and the web is a cleaner place. For few days at least.
What did matt cutts gained from this? Enhancing the fear factor. People now are like “OMG buy links and you are done”. Ofcourse if you buy links you are done. . But on the other hand, you got 100 blog posts today on how content is king, earn your links etc etc while the opposite has just been proven through my 2 site networks. And no don;t get me a case study around major brand because you sound like someone who goes to an SMB social media course and show a StarBucks case study as a best practise example.
So to answer my original questions and known SEO myths that got tackled by this test:
- Does spam link building work? Unfortunately it still does!
- Are all these case studies about penalties to big companies a threat to everyone who exercises similar link building techniques? No they aren’t. Algorithm can;’t track blog comment spam or private link networks. Atm it can track low quality links but for some reason it doesn’t see blog comments as low quality.
- My web site will not get ranked the first 3 months as Google Sandboxes it in order to test my activity and link profile right? Myth, or should I say, Google’s PR trick. My site ranked on page one in 40-45 days from its official launch on a brand new registered domain.
Nobody can fix Google algorithm not even Google itself. The past already shows, that their algorithm gets a lot of things wrong and penalized or downrank sites that have good content while on the other hand rewarding sites that do not deserve it at all or have a spam link profile. I have given some good examples on an older blog post about 5 unusual reasons your site might not rank as high as you deserve. Google still ranks spam high. They did with my blogs when I decided to practise a 2006 blog commenting technique. A technique that got BMW penalised. Here is the press release where you can see the date.
The only reason Google makes public displays like this is because these types of links from blog networks are strong. Anglo Rank is simply Google’s monthly Press release– every now and then they do a very public crackdown as it is impossible for them to manage blog networkds and spam techniques via algorithms. Blog network and high PR comment links are very powerful and as long as your competitors are using them you will never outrank them or even get the rankings your site and content might deserve. And before I get bashed with “these tactics are sort terms” let me remind you that blog commenting got banned in 2006, anchor texts carry on the last 5 years, exact match domains are still dominating and link networks are 90% responsible for your rankings since 2002. yes 2002! Sort term huh?
This is why I turn every single customer over social media and why I think Google will not be king of search forever. In social media you have the chance to be rank one on page one of your fans facebook wall, twitter feed or even make your blog post your client’s wikipedia source. And that is something that Google will never achieve. Where you want to allocate your small resources for your marketing is entirely up to you.