My View on the State of the SERPS

Any newbie’s reading?? SERPS = Search engine results pages 🙂

OK, I am sure most of my readers saw the post by Rand on SEOmoz this week talking about spam in the index, results that offer little value but are still ranking highly. He reels off a load of results in the engines that have a few ‘spammy’ sites in the top ten. He then quickly moves on to talk about cheap directories, forum posting etc… and how these cheap links are helping websites rank better.

Now you should head over there and read the article, don’t take everything that is said on face value but do read it as both the post and comments below raise some interesting points and I’d like to take a moment to go over them now.

I don’t leave many comments, usually due to time however I left one over at SEOmoz, couple of thumbs down but hey you can’t win them all.

My View

I think it’s really important when thinking about ‘Spam’ results that we confirm what they actually are;

My view is that if a website has compelling, useful content and/or provides an excellent first class product or service that is relevant to a search query, then it CANNOT be spam…

It doesn’t matter how many directory links a site has, how many forums they have pointing at them or even cheap follow comments, if it does the above and is relevant it is not spam… In my opinion 🙂

The debate whether or not these type of links should count is a completely separate debate and has no impact what so ever on the results Google returns….

Users aren’t bothered about links profiles, SEO’s and online marketers are, if a result is relevant then that’s all a user really wants.

Should Cheap Link Profiles Work?

You know what? I don’t really care about what should work, only about what does work! I may get a few Holy SEO’s pulling faces but hey the SERPS has never been a fair playing field, our Jobs’ as SEOs is to find out what works and implement it.

I am yet to see a truly excellent resource get punished because the SEOs went and submitted to a few spammy directories.

However, what I don’t want to do is encourage anyone to go out there and spam a load of directories, when it comes to your link profile the best piece of advice I can give is “be diverse”.

More on Diversity

As you can imagine ranking for the ‘SEO’ keywords I keep a fairly close eye on my competition and what they are doing, and quite frankly I’m disappointed to see some fairly mundane tactics.

I am not into outing and am certainly not going name names, however some of the high ranking SEO companies in the UK have clearly lost the plot.

In short this is what is happening;

A company is buying a load of ‘SEO’ anchor links and getting a rise in the SERPS, then Google is discounting them and they drop position, sometimes a few places back, then the same cycle is being repeated over and over again.

Guys….. Come on, even though yes you can say your ranking there 60% of the time with this tactic, how much are you spending? What is your monthly text link ad bill???? More importantly how long will Google play the yo-yo game with you??

If you have been watching the SERPS over the last 6 months and have been a practicing SEO you will have noticed a huge drop off in the effectiveness of the traditional text ad, they just aren’t as powerful anymore, yes they have some impact but nowhere near what they used to!! Bad news link sellers.

Both myself and Patrick at Blogstorm noticed this drop off early in the year and have created diverse link strategies to tackle it and I have to say the ranking increases we have seen have been huge.

Everyone should be looking to create diverse links with diverse anchor text, use all your knowledge and resources, articles, forums, directories, comments, bookmarking, guest blogging, viral marketing and if your of that persuasion maybe the odd text link.

No one tactic is going to work anymore and Google is changing there algo so rapidly it is impossible to maintain any one successful tactic (other than link bait if you in the right industry).

The Social Graph

Now there has been talk about this ever since Digg launched!! In my opinion using the social graph as a ranking model is more prone to abuse than the link graph. We have already seen how Digg, Stumble and twitter can easily be abused and already paid tweets, facebook thumbs up and stumbles are all the rage.

However, just because I don’t think the social graph will replace the link graph, I do think Google can make good use of the information and it might be a ranking factor.

I am not a social expert, I struggle with online social interaction due to a lack of ROI, however I reckon I could still figure out how to abuse it within 24 hours pretty easily, what more can I say.

I’d love to know all your thoughts on this, what links do you think should count? Do you think sites should be punished for ‘cheap’ link tactics? Do you think the social graph could take over or become a ranking factor?

Would be good to get some thoughts on this……


is the CEO of Branded3 a Search Marketing Agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in Search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

12 thoughts on “My View on the State of the SERPS

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the tip. I follow only a few folks on SEO and you’re one of them. Another is Terry Kyle. Terry seems to test everything and he’s found that varying text links is not effective as keeping them constant; here’s an excerpt:

    “Should I vary my anchor text so that it looks ‘natural’ to Google?

    Here’s where I break my ‘looking natural’ rule BUT this is only based on experience and testing with both articles and pages on my own portfolio of sites. Whenever I vary my anchor text, the page or article that is ranking well starts to fall on Page 1 (or off it!) until I revert to just one anchor text version for all backlinks. Then it starts to rise again.

    Lots of high ranking sites have very varied anchor text but it just hasn’t worked for me with lower backlink volumes than those other sites in more competitve niches/keywords. Weird but true.”

    So I’m confused as you are saying “vary anchor text”.

    Also can you advise me on what percentage to focus on for each linking strategy if one category has more effectiveness comparatively to the others?

    first in effectiveness)profile links – 60%
    2nd) blog commenting – 20%
    3rrd) edu links-
    etc.)gov links-.
    etc.)guest blogging-

    What would be your list and the percentages?

    Thank You

  2. I think you are absolutely spot on – the search engines are not showing spam if the content is correctly targeted to the searcher. Linear, one trick tactics are the most obvious seo implementation and easy to eliminate by SE quality control. So many sites seem to focus on one track cheap link building (i.e. spam-like comments) but then no investment in other areas such as quality content or decent optimisation.

    I think the seomoz article though may be exactly influenced by the forces you referred to in your 5 link building myths article. They are not the blog to get straight-forward commentary on any contentious issue!

    You say that you are finding it hard to see ROI on social interaction – this is something that is echoed strongly in certain industries but where user generated content builds momentum obviously the payback is greater in the medium term. With reference to abuse – from the networks point of view, the majority of business generated content is far from aspirational.

  3. I’ve found that building ‘low level’ links works pretty well when added into the mix, they certainly prove useful at expanding a sites keyword reach which is all thats needed once youve established a site as an authority in its niche.

  4. Hi Mark,

    Totally agree, we work with a lot of brands and you’d be surprised the effect a little article marketing can have, once you have the big hitting links building up keyword authority is a lot easier.

  5. Hi Tim,

    I like the SEOmoz blog, however as you say things can get a little politcal over there. I’d love to have a chat with Rand in person to discuss his ‘real’ views on cheap links.

    Social media is a tricky one, I know lot’s who invest time in it, but personally my experience has been kind of shallow. People only follow on twitter if you follow back, stumblers stay 1 second on average, Digg is an impossible click with the same sites hitting the front page continually. I’ll keep struggling on with it to see what fruits are born.

  6. Hi James,

    The reason why I advise changing up anchor text is to help you stay away from anchor text penalties also known as the -50 penalty. Mixing up the anchor text doesn’t necessarily help a particular ranking but does increase overall keyword authority.

    Link strategy is always a tricky one and depends very much on the website involved. I think you need a constant flow of links and recommend article marketing and/or forum and blog posting to keep this going. Then back it up with a few link requests reciprocal links and the odd text link.

    Guest blogging is a good way of increasing exposure and the links do help however it is very taxing so once a month max. Apart from that take every opportunity to get a link where ever you can.

  7. Seems like SEOmoz wants websites penalized if they have spammy links aimed at them. This would make it open season for everyone to be sending spam links to all their competitors.

  8. Hi Tim….

    Just about anyway that Google or any search engine can come up with to determine who should rank highly will be figured out and exploited.

    Just for the record, a site like Wikipedia which seems to be trusted and placed in the number 1 position a lot, sometimes give me totally useless information. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

    I think that spam is kind of like pornography. You know it when you see it.

  9. Hi there,

    Long time no see……

    Your right, users simply refine their search or click on another website, or adsense 🙂 , as long as Google has the major sources on the first page the users are going to be happy. Hardly SEO Armageddon like Rand is suggesting.

    I have been in this industry a long time and there has always been talks of Google penalising and search results becoming polluted, SEO dieing etc…. The truth is it just keeps getting stronger and stronger as more and more businesses realise the potential of ranking highly.

  10. I’m a bit late to this post (nearly four months) but I thought I would share my thoughts anyway.

    Firstly, using links to measure the quality of a website and where it should rank is so flawed it is unspeakable. However, this is the playing field which we have been set so we have to make it work in the best way we all can.

    There are thousands of “quality” SEO guys out there who will swear by their own methods, convinced at what they are doing is the correct way. However, I don’t believe this. I believe every link building method works to some degree.

    Let me give you a brief outline:
    Buy High PR Links – Picked up quick buy Google however very odd for any site to get many high PR links in one go, result – sandbox like ranking.
    1000x Directory Links in 1 Day – Once your links have been approved it can take sometime for Google to find them (if at all), when it does the levels of links built are so unnatural the rankings have no effect.
    1000x Paid Directory Links Over 6 Days (low PR) – Much better, the links are consistent and are not from big hitting websites.

    Conclusion: Build low to mid level links consistently, build 10 links every 10 for 2 months and you will see great results – and this is based on experience. Using this method I have sites ranking Page1 for some very competitive terms.

    I hope the above helps and I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts. As for social, I’m not into this (yet). But it WILL play a part in Google rankings, again it will be manipulated and again steady links building will prevail.

  11. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your input, I think your right, there are pros and cons to every link strategy out there, however I think the best ones are those that resemble natural growth, both in terms of link type and rate.

    I certainly think there is too much emphasis on high PR links and yes if you go and buy up a load it is going to look odd, I personally find much more value in links on freshly created pages like blog posts and news articles, not only is this more natural but it also gives a freshness boost, also the sites don’t have to be the best in the world 🙂

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