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Come On Google …

There’s been a lot of shuffling around in the SERPs on Google over the past few days as many of you have undoubtedly noticed. I got my first wind of it 2 days ago from a client who dropped from #4 for his primary phrase to #5 (then to #6 – then back up to #5). Others have witnessed larger moves and this update seems to coincide with a recalculation of PageRank (visible) for many sites.

The Beanstalk site felt the affect starting yesterday when I first noticed that we dropped from our #1 spot for “seo services” to #2. Of course as an SEO I just had to spend a large part of the evening trying to get to the bottom of it and unfortunately I did. On the down side, I don’t like the update (and not just because of where we ended up) but in large part due to what I found. The page that took over the #1 spot was www.bitwiselogic.com/website-optimization-services.aspx (I’m sure you can appreciate that I’m not going to hyperlink that URL. ;)

We’ve always tried to follow the best practices of link building using ethical methods. It’s generally slower but it kept us in the #1 spot for well over a year. So what had changed?

When I looked into the keyword densities I found that the BitWise site had abnormally low densities for the targeted keywords (hovering at around 1%). So we know it isn’t keyword density. Their internal linking was good, I’d go for higher densities but this revealed that what it was coming down to was links. So where are their links coming from? (I asked myself in hopes of some great revelation of a new and superior link acquisition tactic)

A counter. Ugh.

BitWise had managed to get a counter that linked back to them put on thousands of sites. No anchor text – just an image link with an alt tag, likely (though not necessarily) established through either building blogspot templates that included the counter or “sponsoring” one.

And so I have to say to my friends at Google, there was once a time when we would jockey for #1 with WeBuildPages. Jim Boykin and crew are talented SEO’s and link builders and I could feel OK with being #2 (though of course, worked hard to take back the #1 spot when we slipped to them). But this? Somehow being beaten by a hit counter just doesn’t feel right. Something is wrong with this update.

So What Changed?

Now, while I don’t love the effect, the cause shed great light on the current update. It is obvious that Google is giving weight to sheer link numbers. There were definitely some good links in the BitWise mix including a couple .edu sites but overall the quality of the links was low so it’s pretty clear that they’re winning by sheer volume. The new algorithm favors volume.

So What To Do?

What are we doing about it? Very little. Knowing that Google can and will occasionally weigh volume more highly is a good reminder that for ourselves and our clients we need to take this into account when we’re doing our link building however an algorithm like this can’t hold. It’s too susceptible to sp@mming and thus, it must be readjusted.

So if you too have watched your site fall to a competitor that appears to have poor backlinks I would recommend to take our lead, build links – that’s always a good policy – but don’t panic (as hard as that may be – trust me I know). There will be another update. If we were to follow the lead of the site that jumped to #1 we’d build thousands of low-quality links overnight and drop our keyword densities down to 1%. And where would we be a few weeks from now?

SEO news blog post by @ 12:44 am on May 16, 2008

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