The End Of Google Rankings As We Know It! Rotational Rankings?

I always worry about posting new found research as some clever dick always pops up to tell you they discovered it in 1999, however I have noticed something in the rankings recently that has made me re think Google rankings.

The Story

OK so I decided a couple of weeks ago to rank for “SEO consultant”, just something I fancied really, not the most competitive term.

Anyway….. I have obviously been keeping an eye on the rankings over the past few weeks on this particular keyword and a few more as well and there has been some pretty dramatic trends in the rankings.

One day I checked and I was 7th for “seo consultant” refreshed and I was 15th, refreshed again and I was 4th!!!

It’s not just that keyword either, I searched “search engine optimisation” I was 11th, refreshed and I was 26th and again and I was 7th.

Now rankings have always been up and down but this was a little crazier than usual.

Webmaster Tools Update

So…. Google announce the webmaster tools up date only a few days ago which explains that they are now tracking click through rates in the keyword sections of webmaster tools.

Now I don’t know how accurate these figures are and they seem to differ quite a bit to Google analytics, however the data it presents is interesting.

Just take a look at the below screen shot;

webmaster rankings

Now I am only using “bing SEO” as the example but the data establishes a few things across multiple keywords.

The first thing you notice is that out of 320 impressions I only ranked first 260 times (these impressions figures aren’t accurate as I usually receive around 600 visitors on this keyword a month), this means I don’t rank number one, I only rank there around 70% of the time.

The Old Theory

The old SEO theory determines your rank based on page optimisation and the number of links your page/domain has, the only thing affecting rankings would be competition in Google’s algorithm. I now think this is outdated and wrong, over the last 6 months I and other SEO’s have seen massive fluctuations in rankings suggesting a new way of ranking sites and determining traffic.

My Theory

Well, this is what I suspect, Google have confirmed nothing yet or any other SEO authority but the evidence I have seen strongly suggests rotational rankings.

Let me explain…. You do a search in Google on your main key term and you rank 4th, so you rank 4th??? Wrong you may rank 4th in that instance but you could complete the same search 10 seconds later and you rank 10th, a huge difference not only in ranking but the traffic too.

So… Google determines the rank of your site determined on page factors and links and then ranks you in a range of positions could be 5 – 10 or it could be position 2 to 4 pages back, depending on the person searching, there location, personalised search, time of day.

Ultimately how well optimised your site is determines how often you rank in a top position.

So your aim is not to rank in the top 5, which is now impossible, your aim should be to rank their most of the time.

What Does This Mean?

It means quite a lot.

1 – Determining traffic in a certain position is now impossible

2 – Your ranking position can change every second even if you’re searching on the same IP using an incognito window on chrome

3 – You can never say I rank number one, but only I rank number one most of the time

You see there are so many websites competing for the same space that Google has no choice but to use a rotational system like this and for all we know they may use the click through rate to decide whether your ranking gets better or worse, maybe.

I’d love to know everyone’s thoughts on this and if anyone has noticed these changes.

Is Reciprocal Link Building Worthwhile?

Anybody who knows me also knows I am the enemy of reciprocal link building, this is due to many reasons, firstly because of the lack of link juice they pass, secondly they leak PageRank unnecessarily and thirdly because many reciprocal links look like spam.

HOWEVER!!!!

My point of view has changed slightly, in the last three months actually.

As many of you might know I control a whole load of niche blogs, one of those blogs has been causing me a few problems; in fact I was struggling to get it onto the first page.

After a long conversation with a close friend and a bit of brainstorming, I decided I was going to do a straight link exchange with 2 other quality sites within this particular niche, a straight exchange blogroll to blogroll. In fact I didn’t even bother with getting the exact anchor I was looking for and just used the domain name.

I was sceptical about this but didn’t really have anything to lose, the site was barely generating 20 bucks a month!

After just 1 week of the links been in place I not only moved onto the first page but into the top five! This meant 20 times more traffic, and $5 in income. This was 2 links and a week later wam!

Let me make one thing clear, this is a pretty small blog in a low competition niche, I know every link that points to the site and their aren’t a ton of them, not even a hundred. This is how I know the reciprocal links are the reason for the increased rank.

What Does This Mean

OK, before you going out trading links like a mad person let me just clarify some rules first and give a few warnings.

1. I only traded 2 links, now this is all I needed to give me a boost, but I would never recommend a blogroll of more than 10-15 partners.

2. I traded the links with related sites, this doesn’t mean on the exact topic but on a related one (ie. blenders site links to a cooking site – not exact but relevant)

3. Treat the exchange as a partnership adding value not just in your blog sidebar but within your posts as well.

4. Finally don’t trade them in one go, site wide links can mean your link popularity jumps by thousands, this can look suspicious so keep it to 2 trades a month and build from there.

Please Do Not Do This!

There is another form of reciprocal linking that I would advise you to completely stay away from, let me show you the chart below.

reciprocal link building

As a webmaster you are going to get automated email after email asking you to exchange links, 95% of them will be set up like above.

“Hey give us a link and we will send you a link from our spammy unrelated link list.”

Some even have the links lists in categories but it is designed to do the same thing, spam Google’s index and you will get caught and banned.

This is different to having a links page with helpful links on it to sources based on your niche that don’t necessarily link back to you, that sort of ‘resources’ page is fine.

Why is this different to a site wide or blogroll exchange?

A blogroll or site wide exchange is designed to pass traffic as well as authority, if you show a link on every page of your site you’re willing to lose PageRank from every page of your site. Would you do this for a worthless link??

Reciprocal link pages are not designed for users, they’re designed for spiders, they are crowded, look terrible and shout SPAMMER!

So ignore the emails, find good, trustworthy and relevant link partners because this sort of reciprocal linking is valuable.

You may have noticed my ‘useful sites’ link on the right-hand site, yes this is my reciprocal list. I do plan on adding more but slowly, these sites are quality blogs exchanged with people I know and trust and am happy to refer traffic to and they will remain there as long as the partnership lasts.

One word of warning

Do not do this with a brand new site; first give your site some authority with one way links through guest posting, article marketing, directory submissions etc

Then when your site already has some authority, look for partners. This is for 2 reasons;

1 – Many webmasters will not exchange links until you have some toolbar PageRank

2 – One link exchange can give you hundreds of links, a new site hit with this kind of link popularity straight away is always going to attract attention.

This could well be my last post before the holidays so if I don’t get chance to publish again, enjoy the holidays and have a great Christmas. I will be posting before the New Year!! Big things coming in 2010!

P.S. My post about Bing SEO got into the “Top 50 SEO Posts of the Year” at evancarmichael.com you should check it out, lot’s of great resources on this page.

5 Reasons Social Media Is Overrated

I don’t know if any of my long standing readers have noticed lately but I have been posting a lot less and my interaction on sites such as stumble, twitter and other social networks has been almost none existent.

Now besides being extremely busy there are other reasons for this, the truth is social networking and spending time on these sites building profiles has never been my strong point, the time it takes to become involved and interact, in my opinion, cannot be justified. I have found so much more reward in developing other areas of my blog and general online portfolio.

Before I go deep into this post I want to assure anyone who I meet or who have met via social media, or those who found my site via social links, that I am not disregarding them as ‘not worth the effort’, if you found me via social media that is great, I love interacting with others who are interested in SEO and other internet marketing strategies, however the ROI of time spent on social sites is simply overrated in my opinion. WOW that was a long (probably badly written) sentence!

You see originally I am from an internet marketing background, ranking sites and making money via affiliate products and ad clicks, I soon found myself in the Google Adwords game but quickly abandoned ship when it became too expensive to use for affiliate marketing. I only really decided to test social networks when I started marketing SEO wizz back in March this year, it was a test, it was time consuming and unfortunately the stats show I have wasted my time somewhat.

Any without any further waiting, here are my 5 reasons I have found social media to be an unprofitable strategy.

The Time

If you really want to build a network via sites like digg, stumble and twitter then you are going to need to put the hours in, I found at one point I was spending more time on these sites than I was spending on my own site! That can’t be right can it? Tweeting, stumbling, answering questions etc….

I met people yes, I got to help a lot of nice people and I also got help from a lot of nice people, but that rarely turned into leads, sales or links and on that note I’ll continue.

Low Conversion Rates

When I talk about conversion rates I am referring to SEO enquiries, ad clicks, affiliate clicks and subscribers. Social media simply does not convert compared to search traffic, that’s why I spend my time building my own site and its link portfolio.

Adsense: I have messed around with adsense on the site and trust me it converts nowhere near in the same league as it does on my other niche blogs but I haven’t really optimised the site for adsense. Still I found that search traffic has around a 2.45% click through rate and social traffic has about 0.13%. That is a huge, huge, huge difference. If I wanted to advertise on a site why would I ever pay to have my banner or link on a site that receives 90% social traffic?? That’s a bad investment.

Just to clarify at this point, for the exercise of establishing click through rates I have classed all referral and Direct traffic as “social traffic”

Affiliate Links: I did a 3 month test of having affiliate links in the right column of SEO wizz and yes I got quite a few commissions from it; however the same was true as was with the adsense. I made around 56 sales and only 1 came from social traffic, yes that’s right 1!! The rest came from Google with a few coming from Bing!!! So if you are in this game to make money social traffic is probably not the best route.

Subscribers: This is a figure I was quite surprised about, as I expected social traffic to do a lot better than it did. Search traffic has around a 0.6% subscriber rate whilst social traffic is a little better at 0.8%, now yes social traffic is ever so slightly better when it comes to developing a readership but only just and those readers aren’t going to buy from you, they’re simply going to read, which is fine but don’t be under the illusion that readers = profits.

SEO Enquiries: I won’t even go into this, just believe when I say the percentages are that low for social media that it’s not worth bothering with.

Social Visitors Are Not Looking For Solutions

I think this is the main factor to consider for any new online business and that is “social visitors generally aren’t looking to a solution to a problem”, they want interesting content and funny articles (the majority do anyway). Visitors that come to your site via search are inputting keyword after keyword into Google to try and find help to a problem or a need they are looking to satisfy. I get loads of long tail search traffic on terms like “how to rank higher in search engines”, “Where have all my links gone”, “Why is my site not ranking” and “how do I get more traffic”. These people are looking for answers, for products and for services.

Social traffic fulfils a purpose but does not provide profit.

Link Acquisition

When I was spending hours on twitter and stumble I kept telling myself, hey it’s a great way to build links. The truth is 90% of my links have come from my own link building efforts like, article marketing, directory submissions, blog carnivals and press releases. Yes I have links from some viral posts not from social media sites but from other websites that have found my content. Saying all this one of my biggest link building strategies has been through keyword targeting. I published a post on Bing SEO back in the summer, I did and still do get search traffic to that post, over 500 a month and it is still continuing to pull in links for me, around 350 as it stands. The long tail targeted posts on my site get search traffic and convert into sales, clicks, readers and links better than any other form of traffic.

High Bounce Rates

Now this is only a minor factor but still social media traffic involves huge bounce rates, I think stumble averages around 85% with Twitter not far behind. Now I know there is no concrete evidence to show this effects search engine rankings, however no matter how you look at it high bounce rates on a content rich site never looks particularly good. In comparison bounce rates on search traffic is around 50%, again which would you prefer???

Right I have battered social media enough, let me offer a little consolation and make a few points about what social media can actually do;

– Help you brand your site
– Help you rank for your company/site name (first page domination)
– Build friendships
– Help you find advice on topics
– It can be fun :)

Despite these facts, in my opinion, social media should be kept in its rightful place and that is to assist in connecting with people and not as a business building tool, because the truth is that it is a highly unprofitable way to spend your time online.

Just so I don’t get scorned, Yes I do use twitter a little and every now and then I login to my stumble account, however I am sick to death of the spam!!! Stumble my “diamond shop” home page and review it??? Come on guys, even if I stumble it it’s not going to make your site profitable!!! Spend your time doing something more worthwhile, like ranking for “buy diamond rings” (hmm I wonder how much search traffic it gets?).

Also just to clear something up, I mentioned at the beginning of the post I have not been posting as often as I once did and there are a number of reasons for this;

a) I decided to post once a week, this allows me to put together a better quality post.

b) I have been so busy with client work

c) Link building does more for my traffic than posting 3 times a week for the sake of it ever could

Has my traffic levels dropped? Nope they have increased.

Have I lost subscribers? Nope they have increased.

Have I lost anything? Yes!! The pain in my hands from typing 3 or 4 times a week :)

Seriously everyone the advice you read on most social blogs, in my opinion is false;

– You don’t need to post every day

– You don’t need to create endless pointless lists

– You don’t have to spend all your time on digg, stumble and twitter

Don’t let huge subscriber lists fool you, it does not equal success or profit (unless your goal is to get as many subscribers as possible, then it equals success).

Remember it’s easy for the high profile bloggers to say “just create great content and submit it to social sites” the fact is they have a load of loyal readers who hang on everything they say and go out and push their content all over the web, meanwhile 98% of start up bloggers do the same thing and realise it doesn’t quite work the same.

Don’t bother submitting your posts to these sites, if someone really likes your content they will submit it and pass it around their network. This is where social media comes into play, not by spamming social sites but by allowing networks of friends to share content easily.

I hope I haven’t offended anyone with this post; I value all the friendships I have built up via multiple means. I enjoy writing and interacting with those who read and interact with my content, all I am saying is that none of this = money, profits or anything like that.

If you want to read another excellent post with a great take on social media head over to Jason’s business blog (sorry Jason I pinched your image).

Also if you want to read some more posts on the value of social traffic head over to Allyn’s Blogger Illustrated post on Social Traffic (very funny guy) and Griz’s take on social media traffic. Both are a no holds barred assault on social traffic, so if you think you might get offended; best not click the links :)

Until next time!