Detecting Unfair Linking Practices … by Whose Definition?

Each of Google’s recent algorithmic updates shares a focus on improving the quality of search results by detecting and removing factors that give some sites unfair advantage over others in the rankings. The criteria for fairness in search results are highly subjective, but Google and the other engines consider content and behavior from “real” people who act without personal gain the most valuable.

For example, imagine that two sites sell the same brand of widgets online. Each site has 100 links from 100 other sites pointing in to it. The first site has attracted 100 links from media sites, bloggers and other people who write unique and relevant content about shoes simply because they’re passionate about them.

The second site wants to get ahead fast, though, and builds links in all the directories, article sites, wikis and blog comment sections they can find. They don’t focus on building the content and relationships necessary to earn links naturally. The second site has the same number of links, but the quality and topical relevance of those links are much lower because they’re manufactured artificially by the company to improve rankings. To the extent that the search engines can detect these lower value links, the second site’s ability to compete in the search results will decrease.

Why is this “fair” in Google’s eyes?

When real people write real content with real links, those mentions and links vouch for the value of a site. After all, why would real people bother writing about or linking to another site if it didn’t have some value? And if real people value a site enough to write about or link to it, it stands to reason that searchers will also value that site as well. Compared to the first site, which has earned real links from real people writing real content, Google considers the second site to have less value. After all, the second site had to artificially create their own links because other sites weren’t linking to them.

In reality, very few actions happen online without some form of self-interest. Writers are paid to write articles. Ecommerce sites make money when they sell goods. Publishers make money from ads. Nonprofit sites accept donations. Even unpaid work online is often done to increase someone’s credibility or build relationships that my later bear fruit in other ways. Regardless, our personal thoughts on the fairness of Google’s link spam definitions are irrelevant.

Google’s search results pages belong to Google, and their definition of fair is the only one that matters if you want to drive organic search traffic.

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.