Skip navigation
SEO Website Audit

Google (and Bing) Love Anchor Text Link Spam

February 2, 2011
By

While many bloggers and the media are calling Google's search results out lately, most of Photo Credit: Elsie Esq.the focus has been on the somewhat low-quality pages that show up for informational long-tail searches. My concern for Google's search results is different, however. As I touched upon in the last newsletter, I'm tired of Google (and Bing) returning sites that use anchor text link spam to get on the first page of results.

For those who don't know what anchor text is, here's a quick explanation:

Anchor text is the words in the clickable part of any link. For instance, when someone links to my site, they typically use either my name or my company name in the anchor text, which looks like this:

Jill Whalen is an SEO consultant.

Or...

Visit High Rankings for SEO consulting.

But those links are nojavascript:t all that valuable in SEO terms. What would be better (for search engines) is for the links to be more like these:

Jill Whalen is an SEO consultant.

Visit High Rankings for SEO consulting.

...with the keywords that people might type into Google (or Bing) as the clickable anchor text link.

Search engines assign a lot of weight to the words that are in that clickable link. It does make sense because you're telling both people and search engines what they'll get when they click the link.

The problem is that it's not a natural way for people to link unless they know a bit about how search engines work. It's more natural to link using the company name, even through links that just say "click here" or "more information."

Part of what I do as an SEO consultant is to train clients to think like a search engine. I teach clients to link more descriptively on their own sites via "internal" links as well as linking to other "external" sites. But to get honest-to-goodness natural links – that is, links from others just because they really like you or your company – it's unlikely that the link will have the best anchor text for search engines. And yet, natural links are exactly what Google claims to value. It's what their PageRank algorithm was originally based on.

But today, natural links and true citations are nearly useless in helping search engines show the best sites for the search query at hand.

For instance, this past Sunday I was quoted in a Washington Post story about Google's less-than-stellar search results.

I spoke with the reporter for quite some time and also emailed him numerous examples of how some companies easily manipulate Google. He was kind enough to mention me and my company (on page 2) in the article, which was great -- but there was no link. I don't know if it is the Washington Post's policy not to link, or if they just don't think about it, or if they have never been taught to link. It seems to me that a mention in the Washington Post in this context provides me and my company some credibility, because the WP is a mainstream news outlet. Yet any credibility I may have gained with the people reading the article is completely lost on Google because there's not only no descriptive anchor text link, there's no link at all!

Instead, the links that Google (and Bing) end up valuing the most are those where people control the anchor text. Unfortunately, when anchor text can be controlled, it often means that the link:
  • was purchased
  • was traded for
  • was added to a site that is controlled by the owner
  • was added to a site in a network controlled by multiple stakeholders (like a link farm)
  • was added into an article or bio of an article and posted to an article directory or similar
  • was used in a blog comment
  • was part of a forum signature
  • was obtained naturally, but the linker had to be asked to edit the anchor text.
Only the last one of those is truly in line with what search engines want to value, and even that one is sketchy because it becomes somewhat unnatural by virtue of requesting different anchor text.

May the Biggest Spammer Win

Most reasonable people would agree that it doesn't make sense that the companies who own or take part in a network of interlinked websites should rank higher than those who don't. And why should the websites that have people "writing" boatloads of blog comments outrank their competitors who have no desire to spam others' blogs? If you're commenting because you'll possibly get some link value rather than because you feel the need to add to the conversation, it adds unnecessary clutter and should be considered spam by the search engines (in my opinion). I wouldn't be surprised if 90% of blog and forum comments fall into that category, as do most articles submitted to article directories.

Here's the Rub

All of the above types of links still count very highly in Google (and Bing). While links and their anchor text are by no means the only ranking factor for how sites show up in the search engines, they are a very large one at the moment. And surprisingly, neither the relevance nor the quality of those links appears to play as big a role as search engines would like you to believe.

You can take any product search query (both highly competitive and somewhat competitive) and review the backlinks of the sites that show up in Google's (or Bing's) top 10 to 20 results and see what I'm talking about.

Random Example

Let's look at the search query "baby furniture," which I just randomly thought of as I was writing this. I'm not going to call out any of the sites by name, and your results may differ slightly from mine, but you should get the picture.

The first site to show up in Google is a big brand, which makes sense. In fact, I wasn't even going to check the backlinks because I figured they likely deserve to be there based on their brand. But then I noticed it's just a random catalog page from their site. So I looked at their backlinks, and sure enough, there are 357 links pointing to that one page, most from completely irrelevant sites. Some are even hacked sites and porn sites. But they've got keyword-rich anchors that Google (and Bing) love. Many of the links are in blog comments and others in "partner site" areas (paid links). Wonderful.

Let's check the #2 site that shows up in Google (which for me was the #1 site in Bing). Looks like there's a whole network of interlinked baby-related sites that use keyword-rich anchor text links to get all the various sites to rank well for those words. While it's possible that all those sites have different owners and they really just want to recommend (using juicy anchor text) all those other baby product sites, it sure smells fishy to me! At least in this case they seem to be on relevant sites, unlike the big-brand one above.

The #3 site that I see on Google is also a big brand, and it looks as if many of their links are purchased from mommy blogger-type sites, based on my random clickthroughs of their backlinks. While they at least seem relevant, most are anything but natural. I would consider them akin to ads, aka paid links. Nothing wrong with them purchasing ads on relevant sites, but it's Google's job not to count paid links, and yet they do.

The #4 site is owned by a big brand, but is separate from the brand's main website. It looks as if this one may not be spamming...yay! They seem to do well based on links from their parent company site and actual recommendations from other sites. I am basing that assertion on the fact that the links are mainly the website name, not a keyword phrase. So Google may have gotten that one right! (That site doesn't show up in Bing's top 10 for me, however.)

Spammers Rule - Google (and Bing) Drool

I think I'll end my backlink checking here because it upsets me to see how easy it is for link spammers to get pages ranked for highly competitive phrases. Remember, this was just ONE random phrase I checked. I have no clients in the baby furniture space or anything like that. You can type in any type of product search for yourself and see similar results. Seriously, I'd be shocked if you could find a Page 1 general product SERP in Google (or Bing) where most of the sites WEREN'T link spamming their way there.

The conundrum for Google (and Bing), as I mentioned in my Google Sucks article, is not that the pages or websites that show up in the results for these searches are necessarily bad or irrelevant. Those top 4 results for baby furniture all seem like good choices at first glance -- which is what makes it so sickening that someone felt the need to link spam on their behalf. On the other hand, can we fault them for using techniques that work?

My Question Is, Why?

Why would Google (and Bing) allow companies who spam to show up anywhere in their search results, never mind in the top slots? I can spot the spam quickly and easily in just a few minutes; surely with Google's fancy tools they could do the same. Are there really not enough sites that don't link spam that are worthy?

I'm not saying that the search engines should penalize the sites in question. That would leave things open to rogue competitors who might spam on their behalf. But why doesn't Google stop counting the spammy links? And why not stop counting anchor text so heavily, since it's nearly always contrived? I have a feeling that Matt Cutts from Google may tell me that they aren't counting those links already, but I just don't believe it. In most of the results I looked at, there were not enough other factors to explain the Page 1 rankings.

I'll leave you with one additional thought...

If Google doesn't want to (or doesn't know how to) not count spammy links, perhaps this is an opportunity for Bing to set itself apart and become the better search engine. I can't help but think that completely discounting unnatural links and anchor text could only be a good thing for the search engine that eventually implements it.

Jill

Addendum: On 02/12/2011 The NY Times wrote an article outing JC Penney as a site that was using egregious webspam methods to rank highly in Google (and Bing) for thousands of competitive product phrases. JC Penney was also the #1 result I was talking about in this article.

Addendum 2: If you see blatant webpam such as discussed in this article, please report it to me at Rat Out Your Competitor. I'm experimenting to see if Google will do anything about the mess they've helped create.

Addendum 3: I've definitely seen some improvement since the Panda Updates but things aren't completely fixed.

Addendum 4: 04/16/2012 And we are making progress! Google is apparently really cracking down on the whole link spam thing. They're sending messages to offending websites via their Google Webmaster Tools accounts and are enacting real penalties. There's a good article here describing what's happening and why, as well as how to deal with it if you were using bad linking techniques that have been penalized.

- Jill

 
Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Services Company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
 
 
Post Comment

 Christine Wade said:
Jill...I enjoy your articles every week! Because of you, I have learned that if I can't beat them, I might as well join them...within reason. So whenever someone is linking to my site for whatever reason, I ask them to use a link that looks like this: Real Estate Virtual Assistant - is it natural and conversational and the best for readability by our site viewers once they get to our site...probably not. I thin our reading has changed and our brain is adapting to it though. I know that it helps Google to decide my site is more worthy to be read...and without that...I couldn't give as many viewers an opportunity to even attempt to read my content. The rules are constantly changing...we either attempt to reform them (as I think you so eloquently do) or we have to adapt to them. Great article.
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks, Christine!

And yeah, I don't want to adapt, so I'm hoping to reform. That was a great way to put it!
 Christine Wade said:
Sure, I am actually writing a piece to share your info with all of my clients right now...so I will send a trackback to this article. And notice...my new name below...I am no longer Christine Wade, I am "Real Estate Virtual Assistant"! I need the traffic and the business...so I am forced to adapt...while being totally in admiration of those of you who attempt reform :-)
 Jill Whalen said:
Christine, sorry, that's not allowed here. I changed it back to your name. I consider it comment spamming and is part of the problem with Google (and Bing). (The links are nofollow anyway.)
 Christine Wade said:
Good for you :-)
 Al Toman said:
"Why would Google (and Bing) allow companies who spam to show up anywhere in their search results, never mind in the top slots?"

Because both Google and Microsoft are multi-billion dollar businesses which have little to do with intelligent search.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Al, well I know that, and said as much in my Google Sucks All the Way to the Bank article, but it still doesn't really explain why they'd want to allow link anchor text spammed pages to dominate their results.

At least I can't see the connection.
 Christine Wade said:
I think I see it a tad differently...I agree...people who post just to spam and stick their URL & anchors out there...that's SPAMMY and shouldn't be allowed. But when people are out in the cyberverse and posting quality content and comments that are actually related to their business on other sites that are also related to their business - then what difference does it make if the anchor text contains their keywords or just their domain name or "click here"? If I have to sign my posts as "Real Estate Virtual Assistant" and then somewhere in the content add a signature like:

"All the best~
Christine Wade"

In order for the great Google to understand that my website focuses on my Real Estate Virtual Assistant services - then that is a sacrifice that I am willing to make...along with quality content on my site and blog posts & articles out there in the world. I think there is a difference between "strategic marketing tactics" and SPAM. (ducking, cuz I know it's coming at me now!) I certainly wouldn't go out on the web looking for a website about little blue pills and post to it using my keywords in the Anchor Text pointing back to my website - but would I do so on a website related to real estate - You Betcha!
 David said:
Jill...I love your newsletter and I'm usually with you 100%, but today's article has me confused. Regardless of how the baby furniture sites did or didn't create their links, it seems to me you got four excellent results from your Google search...and perhaps likewise for Bing (it's hard to be certain, since you didn't identify the actual sites).

When I try the same search on Google, the search results all look highly relevant to me and totally useful. Whether they are that way because of "unnatural" links, or in spite of them...well, I don't really care. For me, as a searcher, it's the results that count.

What am I missing?

David Sarokin
 jonathan scott said:
After reading that I was malicious enough to try "click here" as an exact phrase on Google. "Google's goal is to provide users with the most relevant results ..." So it seems Adobe has the most relevant information about "click here". OK, so maybe I don't understand the word 'relevant'.
After running the query on many other engines, I tried DuckDuckGo which returned:-' "Click here" is a verb phrase that may be used as the anchor text of a hyperlink on a web page' (from Wikipedia) - and no other results. Not bad. But then I'm always screaming because I try to rank for a phrase, only to be beaten in Google's SERPs by what seems an irrelevant or barely relevant entry in Wikipedia.
I'm not playin, I want my ball back an I'm goin home!
 Jill Whalen said:
@David, you're correct to a certain extent, and that's why I think Google overlooks the "problem."

But look at it this way. What if there are 100 highly relevant and good pages to be returned for the baby furniture phrase? (Which there likely are, if not more) Why should the one who comment spams, or who sets up a fake network of blogs to link to their one baby furniture page, be the ones considered the most relevant, and show up on the first page of results?

They are cluttering up the internet with the spam, and should certainly not be rewarded for that behavior!
 David said:
@Jill...you're convinced Google is heavily weighing the spammy links, even though you suspect Matt Cutts would deny that they are. I'm not sure why you feel that way, but when I look at the 'baby furniture' results, I don't see anything out of whack, and I'm not sure there's really a problem there.

Having said that, I have noticed...as have many people...Google results becoming less reliable and spammier over time, so I'm not saying there isn't some sort of problem. I'm just not convinced the problem is with the anchor texts.

David Sarokin
 Mike Kern said:
In racing there is a saying "If your not cheating, your cheating your self, because everyone else is". Maybe the baby furniture sites were the least spammy, maybe the algorithum weights the spam, page content, pr and other data and found the amount of spam tolerable. Or to put it another way, the best of the worst???

Anyway, I love your newsletter, thanks Mike
 Jill Whalen said:
@Mike could very well be. In which case, we certainly live in a very sad world :(
 Marcus said:
Jill, I suspect that when social signals become the main piece of the algorithm for ranking, that some of this will work it's way out. I am sure there will be ways to spam re-tweets, likes, and shares, but it will be much more difficult. I think it will be easier for people to produce good content they can syndicate then to try to spam social networks all the time.
 Samantha said:
How do you locate backlinks to a site? Google says they do not list them all. I am trying to recreate your example with no success. I want to see for myself and be disgusted.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Samantha, You don't need to find them all. I just use Yahoo's Site Explorer and randomly click through some of the links. It's amazing how they are so easily spotted that way.
 Samantha said:
@Jill Whalen Got it. WOW! So where does a big name retailer go to get a spammer to create these links and thus improve their Google ranking? Is this what happens when you hire an SEO firm without checking references?
 Greg said:
Hi Jill,

Google's main blog confirms exactly what you say.

In their post on the "Bing Copied Us" controversy, here is a direct quote about the nonsense queries they created to trap Bing:

"To be clear, the synthetic query had no relationship with the inserted result we chose—the query didn’t appear on the webpage, and there were no links to the webpage with that query phrase. In other words, there was absolutely no reason for any search engine to return that webpage for that synthetic query. You can think of the synthetic queries with inserted results as the search engine equivalent of marked bills in a bank."

Inadvertantly, Google has confirmed that on page use of the keyword, and keyword in anchor text of a link, are two big ranking factors. It's so normal for them, apparently, that they don't even try to keep it a secret.
 Mary said:
Sigh. Well, what would or should we expect when we have a machine "read" links? So should we all just march out and buy links? I don't think that is really the answer -- but it is hard to compete when someone else can simply buy links and rank more highly, regardless of content, isn't it?

I just stumbled upon Jill's site, so I'm going to review it -- I'm sure there are some SEO jewels here!
 Jill Whalen said:
@Greg that's all been confirmed ages ago and is common knowledge in the SEO industry.

@mary welcome to High Rankings!
 Gerubo said:
I hear your frustration, Jill, but at the same time, I can imagine that it's hard to be a search engine. If somebody searches for "luxury car", just what is the correct order of results?

But remember what it was like before September, 2002, when they changed their algo to weaken the importance of anchor text. I remember back in 2001 or 2002, I accidentally got a brand new site ranked on page one for "pets" even though the word wasn't even on the page, just because I got 50-70 links all with the word "pets" as the underlined link text. You could publish a site and get it on the first page on the very first indexing. That was before somebody decided to call it anchor text.

I think that Google has made progress through the years, but I agree with you in that any such progress has certainly slowed down in the last few years. Is it because they are putting most of their effort on mobile, paid and local?
 Michelle Adams said:
Sigh. Jill I've thought about this so many times before but thought I must have been missing something. I wondered how the heck I could approach lovely people who naturally linked to my sites with weak anchor text in terms of what I needed Google to see and value, and ask them to change it...now that wouldn't be natural now would it.

Of course we don't know how Google weight everything but I just hope they can do better in terms of relevancy maybe? Wouldn't that make the most sense? So if I link to you using the anchor text: Jill writes, but my entire article is about SEO, ranking in Google etc, then surely even a machine can take all that into account along with my other content and weight the link accordingly, ie as if the anchor text was: SEO rankings or similar. Surely Matt and co can work this out and perhaps they have and we just don't know it. Perhaps there were no better matches for baby furniture. But that is just one example.

I've been frustrated with the amount of talk yet lack of actual evidence in the SERPs that Google are getting a better hold on their search results. I was really pleased to see their latest claim to doing something about spam and less weighting on exact match domains but I have plenty of examples of just how much an exact match keyword domain is still getting Google love in the SERPs. It's actually so obvious it makes the algorithm look quite useless really.

I have to add that I'm getting into the 'can't beat 'em join 'em' mindset but honestly, I think I'd perhaps rather give up than resort to spamming the search engines.

Thanks for your frank view on this, it's refreshing.
 Sheryl Sitman said:
Jill, thank you so much for taking a stand and using your prominent position and industry respect to do good. I mean that with all my heart.
So i took a look at the example you gave and could not help but get a kick out of the Thailand tourist site that has chosen to place just 3 prominent links in it's "Did You Know?" info box towards the bottom of their homepage -- one link is for GPS Phone Tracking, one for Baby Furniture and one for Laptop Screen Repair Seattle. Obviously 3 items you need to take care of while planning a trip to Thailand.
I get contacted by agencies on a daily basis asking how much I want to place a link on one of my properties. I have never accepted an offer but I guess I could make some decent cash on my many high PR pages.
Anyway, do you agree that Google is working to correct themselves by moving towards placing more value on social media? And then of course, this opens a whole new can of worms for taking advantage.
Do you think all of us here are just naive to think that there is any way to beat the cynics?
 SEO Bedford said:
All that makes me wonder what Matt Cutts and his team are doing all day long.

About you examples Jill, I have client that I've encountered the same problem, they are an UK Utilities brokers that rank well for energy related terms, now we are focusing on gas related and when I went to analyse the competition for the term "Business Gas". What did I find? The site ranking at the top has a whole network of links from irrelevant sites/blogs and in all of them the "rich" anchor text of there, either in a "write to rank article" or in the blogroll (who said Google doesn't like blogroll links?).

What upsets me the most if to find out that a well established UK SEO agency is using such technique and make me wonder. Should my company start using the same tactics? If it is working for others why not do it ourselves?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in all this Jill.
 Craig Chant said:
The whole web community is built on spam these days, so I'm not suprised in the least with your findings Jill.

Just look at twitter, ok you choose to follow someone's twitter page, but all you are really saying is send me your spam.

And what about retweets, it's simply forwarding someone elses spam to all your followers.

Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Sphinn... the list goes on and on... they are all fed a diet of spam and regurgatated spam... Until these spammy forms of communication are no longer vogue, I don't see the SE's or SEO's behaving any differently.

But I guess as the saying goes 'one man's rubbish is another man's treasure', so true can be said, 'one man's spam is another man's supper!'
 Rick Crombie said:
I agree with you that for Google and Bing to count these types of links so highly for ranking purposes does not seem right, especially if it's from a non-related site.

I think that if Google and Bing placed more value on the relevancy of sites that the links came from, that it would provide better results for the searcher instead of just being contrived or manipulated simply for search engine rankings.

I don't think this is what they had in mind when they initiated "Universal Search" and said, "We like to see a real diversity of back-links from different sites for the purposes of ranking".
 Dan Cristo said:
Hey Jill,
You know what would be great... if search engines gave you credit for that Washington Post story, just as if a link had been there. They should pick up your name or the site's brand mention, grab the context of the surrounding words and consider it a special type of citation.

I'm rooting for Blekko!

Thanks for the great write up,
Dan Cristo
 Joe Mangum said:
I agree with you Jill but I have to raise another side to the story. The fact is that this controversy creates jobs. SEOs make money because they understand how the search engines work and they leverage that knowledge to help business that "get" the internet and the need to succeed online. It's like you said, all of those top sites probably deserved to be there anyway because they are the most relevant sites for that keyword. The fact that they had to hire an SEO to do link building to ensure that they get and stay there I think is irrelevant. I see it as they understood that they were the best and they needed to do what it took to make sure that they rank the highest.

For some reason when I hear people complain about how search engines are rewarding spammers, I can't help but think that these people are crying about losing something that they believe rightfully belongs to them... like the #1 spot was stolen from them because the company ahead of them spammed their way to the top. The fact is, nothing was stolen. If you want to win, you have to play... and as Tom Hanks would say, "There's no crying in baseball [internet marketing]."
 Jill Whalen said:
So much to reply to, thanks everyone for the great comments.

@Gerubo you said:
I can imagine that it's hard to be a search engine. If somebody searches for "luxury car", just what is the correct order of results?

Yes, it's most definitely hard to be a search engine, which is why we're basically down to 2 (or 1 since Bing copies Google ;)

What is the correct order of results is the $50 million question for sure. My feeling is that the order should not take into consideration those who are best at spamming, however. They should be last. This would discourage the fake blogs/comments, etc., rather than encouraging them like what happens now.

Or why not randomly show different results in the top 20 if they are all truly equally relevant? They do this to a certain extent with personalized results, but it could be done for everyone's results.
You also asked:
Is it because they are putting most of their effort on mobile, paid and local?

I do think it all has to do with paid search, as I mentioned in my last post, Google Sucks All the Way to the Bank.

@Michelle wrote:
So if I link to you using the anchor text: Jill writes, but my entire article is about SEO, ranking in Google etc, then surely even a machine can take all that into account along with my other content and weight the link accordingly, ie as if the anchor text was: SEO rankings or similar.


I believe they can/do take the context of the post into consideration for sure. Likely not as highly as actual anchor text, however.

You also said:
I have to add that I'm getting into the 'can't beat 'em join 'em' mindset but honestly, I think I'd perhaps rather give up than resort to spamming the search engines.

Please don't join them. I've felt the same, but can't/won't do it. The more we can convince not to, and the more we can hopefully convince Google to fix things, the better we can make the Internet for all. (I know...stupid and naive, but a girl can dream!)

@Sheryl, thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you looked at the backlinks from the sites I was referring to. When one does that, it all becomes very clear what the problem is. Unfortunately, I don't think most have bothered to look. I hate to point out specific sites with specific links because I don't want to be involved in any law suits, but it seems most are too lazy to do the work themselves to see what I mean since I'm not spoonfeeding them.

My hope at least is that Google will do the work. But I can't help think that they have to already know about this, since it's embedded in every single Google (and Bing) SERP.

@SEO Bedford. How can you complain about others doing exactly what you're doing? I changed your spammy link drop. [Sigh...it takes all types.]

@Craig, I completely disagree with you about Social Media. You must not be following the right people. Twitter and FB are what you make it. If you're following spammers, then you'll get spam. Don't follow them!

@Rick said:
I think that if Google and Bing placed more value on the relevancy of sites that the links came from, that it would provide better results for the searcher instead of just being contrived or manipulated simply for search engine rankings.

Agree to a certain extent, but how does one determine relevancy? Look at TV ads. They're not typically relevant to the show, but they are to the target audience who watches the show. It could be the same online. Just because you're reading a car blog, doesn't mean you don't also buy shoes.

Which is likely why relevance as we would think it should be, is not much of a factor.

@Joe said:
SEOs make money because they understand how the search engines work and they leverage that knowledge to help business that "get" the internet and the need to succeed online.

Agree. They're only giving Google (and Bing) what they want. Which is why I'm trying to focus more on Google fixing things so that said SEOs might stop polluting the web.
It's like you said, all of those top sites probably deserved to be there anyway because they are the most relevant sites for that keyword.

NO! I didn't say that. I don't know if they do or not. If they do, then they shouldn't have needed to resort to link spamming. So my guess is that they don't deserve to be there. Certainly not any more than the hundreds of others who are likely just as relevant.

But as I said, I don't blame the SEOs too much for giving Google what they want. It does sadden me though, that so many have no problem with Internet Pollution. :)
 Bill Kruse said:
I think you'll find there's already a better search engine. It's Blekko.

BB
 Jill Whalen said:
In case anyone wants to see if Google will do anything about this issue, I've created Rat Out Your Competitor where you can report your spam to me.

I'm planning on looking at lots of it lately so I can hopefully have enough evidence to present to Google at some point regarding the crap that they seem to give value to.
 Left Hand Luke said:
Serious question here:
At the foot of every page of the High Rankings forum, it reads:
"This forum is sponsored by High Rankings, a Boston SEO Agency", with "Boston SEO" as anchor text.
Why? If that's not trying to game the search engines, then what is?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Left hand Luke it is and it does and it works very well.
 Left Hand Luke said:
"Bill Kruse said:
I think you'll find there's already a better search engine. It's Blekko."

Never heard of Blekko before. IT'S FANTASTIC!
 Craig Chant said:
Jill, I don't think you appreciated the comment 'one man's rubbish , is another man's treasure' it's all down to perspective.

I don't follow anyone on twitter nor facebook nor do i have an account for either of them, why?, because I think it's ALL spam.

But that's my personal oppinion and others may vary , that's the point!

Either there is something seriously flawed with the G! algo , or what you consider spam , G! doesn't!
 Jill Whalen said:
Either there is something seriously flawed with the G! algo , or what you consider spam , G! doesn't!

Agree with that for sure. And that's what I've said a million times in the forum, that apparently it's okay with Google to obviously buy links, and create multiple domains, and all that other stuff that they say in their propagandizing is not okay.

And that's my point of bringing all this to the surface (yet again). Either fix the search engine so that it doesn't reward what they say is spam, or stop claiming stuff is spam that obviously isn't.
 Elijah said:
Well you know Jill it just isnt true. Comments for link spam has as close to a zero value as you can get with Google. Comments are usually on pages that have no Google PR. Anchor text means nothing to google and has no value if the anchor text is not about the same thing as the website it is pointing to. Also let us not forget that Webpages with no Google PR where there are links published, are of very close to 0 value as they can get - link wise. I couldnt even read the whole article, just too many things contained there that are just not true.
 Jill Whalen said:
If you say so, Elijah.
 Joe Smith said:
Thank you Google and for writing this article Jill !! I have been struggling to get my non spammy business off the ground - trying to be honest - but like another poster said - if you can't beat them by playing by the rules - join them! I will milk this loophole for all its worth. Time to get to work!
 Karen DeCrane said:
Jill - I have noticed that Bing is not counting as many links as Yahoo did. Yahoo used to accept pretty much anything. But they still accept a lot more spam than Google. In addition, I noticed that Google may give links initially and later take them away.

Here's an example. Some clients of mine were submitting the same article to ten article directories. Initially Google allowed and counted every one of those. However, later in the month, those links were cut back to just one - in one case it was the Buzzle link, in two others the eZine link stuck, and in another case it was Go.

We also did a test with blog post and forum comments. Those links all "stuck" regardless of how useful they were to the conversation. All links from sites picking up articles and republishing them also "stuck".

When we suggest a content creation and distribution strategy for a client, it is difficult to try to keep them on the straight and narrow when their competitors are being rewarded for spam. I see sites with tens of thousands of links and I know those aren't kosher, but yet they have the top position because of it. How do I convince my clients it's wrong to spam when spam is rewarded? That's the question I want to see Matt Cutts answer!
 Jill Whalen said:
@Karen, I don't follow. There's no way to know which links Google counts and which they don't. Are you mistakenly thinking that what Google shows using their link: command are the links they count?
 Lorelle Smith said:
JC Penneys finally got busted doing exactly what you are campaigning against. I'm guessing they were one of the major brands coming up for random searches you noticed when doing your research. Great article in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html. On the last page it talks about Google possibly looking the other way for months and months because of all the money Penneys spends in AdWords.
 Sean said:
Jill, I think you're completely missing one key point. Google is the most popular search engine for a reason. It's not like people use Google just because they have heard it's popular. They use it because it consistently gives them the results they are looking for. End users have no idea why a site is ranking where it is, they just know and trust that Google is going to show them a relevant result and then let them make the decision on where to go next. The users could care less how a company gets its links. It's all about relevancy, and what's the foundation of Google's algorithm? Links. Juicy anchor text links. Why would Google all the sudden change the one thing that made them who they are? What are they supposed to do? Fire up the time machine and start using Meta Keywords and other easily manipulated on-site metrics to drive their algorithms?

Of those 4 sites you mentioned, they're all relevant to the search term. Wouldn't that mean Google is doing a good job?

Also, I find it a bit hypocritical that you say anchor text shouldn't be controlled by the site's owner, yet let's take a look at the footer of your website. How is that any different than buying another domain, hosting it on a different class-c IP, and putting an anchor text link pointing back to your main website? Your main point is that Google shouldn't be easily manipulated by links and you refuse to be a part of it - but your footer says otherwise.
 Eugene Aronsy said:
Very good article. But my question is this, if Google were to exclude anchor text links, comment links etc... how would they rank sites? Links are a key factor in the way that a page ranks...
 Jill Whalen said:
@Eugene, I didn't say they should exclude links in general. Using links has typically worked well for them. As I mentioned in the article, though, keywords in anchor text is often less than natural.

Therefore, I propose giving less weight to the anchor text (not necessarily the link). I'm not a search engineer and have no idea if that would help or hurt, but intuitively to me, it seems like it could only help, since natural links rarely use keyword-rich anchors.

And @Sean, I didn't say anchor text shouldn't be controlled by a site owner, I said Google shouldn't give it as much weight as they do. But since they do, I'm going to take advantage of it as much as I can, which is why you see the links on my site the way they are.
 johnH said:
Jill, yes, when I heard that keyword-filled text links are needed, I thought it was not natural at all and was really hard to get it instead of company name. Yes, natural...Thanks for the articles. I just filled internal links with the keywords because other websites, they just use our company name link.
 miamiman said:
The limits of google are becoming more and more apparent. The king has no clothes.
 Don said:
Hi Jill, you are making some great points.

My issue is similar to what jonathan scott said. Many leading SERP results are not relevant at all, Wikipedia, Youtube, FaceBook and and endless supply of "dictionary" type websites with the search word repeated umpteen times and the page full of advertising and bold lettering and full of links.

Google should not be giving any weight to a useless article on a Wiki, just because it is part of a massive website with millions of pages. Likewise unless I'm searching explicitly for a "video clip" I don't want to see anything from YouTube in my search results.

These big websites are being promoted often because they contain "Google Ads", or have fallen into some kind of "legendary status" were what is delivered today isn't in reality anywhere as reliable or relevant.

I like Matt Cutts and I think he is genuinely trying to provide better results but as you have so clearly demonstrated why, when we can see so many spammy websites indexed and returned in high SER's isn't Google performing better? The answer in my opinion is because they are still making too much money.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Don, could be. I wrote about that in the other referenced article, Google Sucks All the Way to the Bank.
 Tom Aikins said:
You mentioned in your first example on baby furniture that some of the sites that linked to the catalog page were from unrelated sites and even porn sites. I thought Google didn't count these types of links because these pages have nothing to to do with the content on the linked-to page. Matt Cutts is always saying now that content is the most important determining factor for page ranking but this is obviously not true. Links of any type seem to be more important and this will only continue to create more spam.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Tom, yes we all thought that, but it's obviously not true.
 Keyword Rich Link Removed said:
I think what you said about Google/Bing potentially letting spammers win by putting weight on anchor text may be true but Google/Bing will know this problem and be working on ways to identify artificial links, they may count these spammy links but changing their algorithm to not give as much weight to anchor text would probably destroy their whole system which on the most part produces good results (if you disagree please name a search engine that does better).

What I’m saying is that it is a compromise, they have to accept people will play the system with anchor text but if they take the value of anchor text away it will produce bad results all round, lesser of two evils. Fixing the anchor text problem would be a lot easier than inventing another signal which is as effective
 Jill Whalen said:
Says the person who spams my comments...
 MrSmith said:
You are a noble woman apparently. But if you know something works and are not using it. Then you may be letting an overdeveloped sense of morality adversely affect you. :D

Particularly when it comes to representing anyone who's link text may in fact be relevant. If you represented someone in the baby furniture business. You know their intent and their sites content is highly relevant to that. Then why not use the exact tech you're griping about ?

I'm trying to become an online marketing guru atm. My motto is going to be ... highest return and best results poss for clients. End of the day I have to earn my keep and keep those people satisfied and seeing the kind of results they should have. If that means less than whitehat behavior on my part, shrugs.

Im jealous of google ... in that they have a license to print money. However Im sure the backend of google is no small thing to manage. That part I don't envy them. Google tries something ... People learn how it's algo works and take advantage of it. Google tries something else ... same thing.

So seems like it's a constant race between google trying to keep the money rolling in by giving the people who use it "relevancy" and "good user experience". And all the people who are constantly dissecting google to figure out how to take unfair advantage.

As for this ... it'll all be settle when they start putting more weight on social. It'll never be settled ... It'll just be one more evolution for people learning to game google's algo's. They'll learn how to spam/manipulate the social rankings too.

Might not be an ideal situation. But it's what we all have to work with. So use what works ... then evolve along with the madness. If what works changes, ... adapt and change to whatever works now. Nice girls/guys finish last ... Is there anything new about that fact ?
 Jon said:
Well said, Jill. Sorry I am a little late in the conversation here but I just found your site today. I agree that Google has sort of created this spam monster that they now are trying to kill. Can they really fault link spammers when they are rewarding them for their efforts? But I was also wondering, how else can Google determine who should have the top rankings? Seems like they need to redefine what is relevant. And having the same boat load of anchor text backlinks does NOT make a site relevant. But they can't really use on site measurements either because that's how the keyword stuffing thing got started. If they want to truly reward quality content they need actual humans sifting through the results, but that is a task that not even Google can afford to take on. Interesting debate.
 Anonymous said:
@jon , I dont think its that difficult for google to redefine the things, Just one basic priniciple to follow avoid spamming tactics, i think they know what they do and they can flter good sites, it will also motivates ppl to work on their businesss/website rather spending their energy on getting links and thinking about tricks, what benefit the business owner can give thru this link building to their customers although it may be misleading as in case of jc penny
 David Radovanovic said:
Thanks for sharing. I happened by your SEO article and found it very informative. Conclusion is that spammers are always one step ahead of the two major search engines?
 Colin Smith said:
Dear Jill,

All fair enough, but what happens, as in our case, when the name of a registered company and the domain name correspond? It would seem a bit churlish to deliberately use different anchor text when the company was set up to do what it says on the tin.

I understand your concerns, but...
 Steven Border said:
For me it's not hard to see the reason that Google counts this type of link. If top results are taken up with spammy results, what better way to create the need to use Adwords. If perfectly formed links and content by their standards really meant top rankings then the need for Awords would be less and I don't think Google wants to make less money.
 Paul said:
Wonderful article. It came to me a part of SiteProNews Newsletter.
I'd it was the most interesting article I have read in some time! The thing is once there is a system there will be ways to manupulate it for profit!
It is like government! Or traffic tickets... You get one! Hire a lawer - pay the lawyer - but dont pay the ticket. The same thing is happening online. There is one huge country google or a smaller county of bing.
paid links, or paid ads - in those countries - are some sort of taxes - for the appotunity to live in their sapces.
Thanks again for your article. I will bookmark you site.
Paul.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Steven, yep, which is exactly what I talked about in my article about Google Sucking All the Way to the Bank! (Referenced within this article via the Google Sucks link.)
 Gareth Oakes said:
A well-thought through article...for the most part. I always think that if you need to tell the visitor to 'click here' or 'click for more information' you (or more likely your web designer) have failed to design the web page and the content within so that it is an intuitive and where stumbling blocks are not placed in the visitor's path. We all know what to look for and know what to expect when we come across link text - to start reverting back to 'click here' text seems like a retrograde step in web design to me.
The bigger problem is with the fake sites which have been created simply to supply keyword-rich anchor text links to target site. The big players with truck load of cash can easily squeeze out the little guy and keep them out of the picture with little chance of competing in serach engine rankings by throwing their money at these spammy sites. And there was me thinking the web was a level playing field, a force for good and democracy where everyone was treated equally and had the same oppotunity.
Google (and to a lesser extent Bing) have perhaps too much influence, but perhaps they should be thinking how they can do their part to return the web to those high-minded 'don't be evil' values; otherwise it's just words.
 Sid said:
This is a wonderful article. I am frustrated by this too - I know my content is far superior to my competition and all they have is spammy backlinks they purchased at dime a dozen from shady internet places.
Oh and yes, I have submitted a report to your site, let's see what happens!
 Abhishek said:
Well, your thoughts are true Jill but its easier said than done. Search Engine algo's are getting more robust with each passing day but that doesn't means they will end up being 100% perfect.

I guess at the end of the day its the intellect of the searcher himself that will get him what he is looking for on an search engine. He she should be able to differentiate as to what information is credible and what is spam or useless content. And further if you don't find relevant results on first page whats the problem in turning over to next?

Rocket Science also tends to result in Disasters. But it can improve from the failures.
 AWAA said:
I'm happy to see others are just as infuriated as I am with how Google not only accepts link spam but rewards the perpitrators. Search engine rankings shouldn't come down to how much cash you can throw to link outsourcers or paid links.

My partner opened a 'baby quilt' site 8 months ago. Unless we were prepared to buy links and what not, achieving high serps on Google for high competitive phrases was virtually impossible. Personally I've been in the affiliate industry for years. Depending on the niche it's one area which certainly attention because frankly just about everyone purchases links.

That's why I've always like Yahoo!
Unless I'm mistaken this SE ranks its listings on site relivance and not keword rich links pointing to it.

If Google did penalise sites using artifical means to inflate their link popularity, I dare say we'd see less spammy pages in its index. It is however ironic that Google claim they are always trying to improve the quality of sites in their index but by allowing sites to purchase links (which are pretty damn obvious), Google is doing nothing more than assisting these link spammers.
 Trish said:
I have learned to judge Google by what they do and not what they say they are going to do. I can list several examples of Google BS. The biggest has to be that they want quality user content blah blah blah and at the end of the day, you pick any keyword and you'll find generic boring about.com and wikipedia articles. Wikipedia's strength comes mostly from their internal linking to other wikipedia pages which is just such an example of anchor text spam.

This is the most ironic part though. Since "Panda", where they claimed to be cleaning up this link spamming, clickthroughs on Google are now 20% lower which means people are having a more difficult time finding what they were looking for than they were during the height of link spamming.

There is a simple lesson in all of this. Don't listen to Matt Cutts if you are building a business and do in fact, link spam. :)
 Cloud Computing said:
Yes indeed for the time being link spam with keyword rich anchor text works. Until it stops being the single most important factor for the Google Serp then I am going to link spam. I'm from the - If you can't beat them, join them philosophy. Nicely written article though Jill, thanks.

Keyword rich anchor text spam link removed - Jill
 Meredith said:
Thank you for this article. I am glad to see someone who shares my frustration (pulling my freaking hair out) about Google SERPs the recent few years. It is completely out of hand. I have been dealing with a serious spammer who now has four or five sites ranking on the first page. Is he is our business? No. Does he sell the product he ranks for? NO. He's trying to make money from driving traffic through the ads on the sites he ranked. How did he rank them? Simply purchased links. He doesn't even have content on his site that makes sense. what the crap?!
 Akash said:
I believe we'll have to give the search engines a bit more time. No one can be just perfect so cant be a search engine. I am very sure Google is trying very hard in improving its algorithm to put a stop to this link spam.

They are improving day-by-day, we have seen a lot of improvement in the past few years. They still are not perfect but if not they will get as close to perfect.

Add Your Comments