First, I want to thank Michelle MacPhearson for sending in a support ticket, asking me a series of questions about http://www.articlemarketingautomation.com (AMA), and prompting me to write this in full explanation (Note: http://www.rapidfreetraffic.com is a white label of AMA - they use the same backend engine).
Second, I wanted to put this out last week, but some nice fellow decided to delete a few key files. I love the tree hugging world we live in :D
ON WITH THE SHOW!!!
WARNING: Opinion-based wall of text incoming: D Could also be taken as a rant, but hopefully you can extract the necessary value to be able to "future proof" your business ;)
If you've been living under a rock, you'll know that BMR (BuildMyRank) and pretty much every other private network (meaning sites owned by one, or a small group of people) out there has been deindexed. Destroyed. Gone.
"Why," you ask?
Well, before we go into any specifics, let's take a look at "what's happening" and what direction I believe Google is taking shall we?
Let me make one thing clear.
Google has one goal in mind - provide what they believe to be the best possible experience to the user.
And for what they are doing, this is the right goal to have.
To take it one step further, I believe their ultimate goal would be that if someone comes to Google, they search for their desired "thing" and there is one result.
The only result they need.
To accomplish this, we would need AI. No level of algorithm will ever accomplish this feat, and so Google has to work within the boundaries they are given.
But Google is not a "not-for-profit" organization.
They have a responsibility to their shareholders, and that responsibility is to provide the highest possible return on their share value.
This ultimately means that Google is, at its core, a contradiction. It is not possible to provide the highest and best value to the user (as in, a single result, or single core set of results), while simultaneously being paid.
Either they are a paid organization (which I have nothing wrong with) or they are intent on that wholesome, pure end goal.
The next thing you need to understand is also how Google make decisions.
It's worth watching this:
The decisions they make are based on how much a decision will improve their results vs. time to implement vs. load on their network/algorithm, and those decisions can be made (as in the example in that video) if they impact just .1% of all searches done.
It means that there is collateral damage.
It means that you, as a site owner can do everything 100% perfect. Do everything 100% for the user, provide amazing value and give exactly what that user is looking for, and you can still be taken out simply because you somehow matched a part of their algorithm that they have decided needs to be improved.
Next, I want you to take a look at their philosophy is on SEO (or in their words, things to look out for when hiring an SEO). - http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35291
Basically, "A good SEO will only optimize your site" - there is nothing in there (positively) about the need to link build to achieve rankings.
Then the contradiction (go there and have a read or simply read below for the key points):
And more specifically the first line:
"Your site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity."
Wait... so to do good SEO, we need links?
Who'da thunk it!
In all seriousness, if you have been in this game for any length of time you know that you need to actively build links.
Period. There is no way around that.
It is at the very core of Google's algorithm, it is their USP, their unique proposition in the search engine market. No other search engine did it the way Google did.
So if it's at their core, why the contradiction?
"Examples of link schemes can include:
* Links intended to manipulate PageRank"
It means any link that you actively build, breaks this rule.
Posting in forums? Yep
Comments on blogs? Yep
Articles to Ezinearticles? Yep
Directory Submissions? Yep
Guest blogging? You betcha!
Any link that you actively build, is punishable.
Don't believe me?
Think your guest posting isn't for link building to manipulate page rank? Then don't have a link?
"Ohhh but that defeats the purpose" I hear you say.
Then make sure any active links you DO build, have the no follow tag associated with them.
"But but but but..." Yep, sorry you too.
Google is not silly. And I can't say I'd do differently in their position.
They need the protection.
They've done this to give themselves an out, so they can totally control the playing field at anytime because when push comes to shove, they own the playing field as well.
They name the rules.
They name the players.
They name the stakes.
It's their game, and they know it.
"The best way to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Before making any single decision, you should ask yourself the question: Is this going to be beneficial for my page's visitors?"
Now, if that is the only way and no active link building can be done, in a pure self regulating market, it simply means this:
The big guys with the biggest marketing budget win, the little guys will never have a chance.
How can they?
They have no way to actively promote their site to gain some momentum for other places to pickup their amazing content.
And if they do actively promote their site, they run the risk of being banned or removed from Google.
In this market, the new site has about as much chance of being picked up and beating out a major player; as I do in creating a new form of "Pepsi" and taking on Pepsi and Coke (hey, it might happen! Pigs might fly first though).
To give you an extreme example, let's take the "old spice" commercials (amazing viral marketing).
But instead of being able to launch it on YouTube (actively promoting it), their site (pre-existing authority), and their customer base (instant eyeballs), they had to, instead, register a brand new domain, put their video on that domain, and wait for someone to pick it up and go viral.
Isaiah Mustafa's (the guy from the commercials) follow up videos, would have to be retaken when he was in his 60's. If ever.
Understand, this is my view and my opinion...
How you structure your site (all the "on page elements" of SEO) gives you the foundation for being able to rank in Google in the first place.
Active link building (even though all types of link building are breaking Google's terms of service, there are link building activities that I just won't engage in - for example, spamming comments or forum profiles to me is bad, but commenting on blogs and providing value to that blog with links back, or participating in forums to help out that community with links back, is fine) will get you to the top of Google.
But how your site performs, the content on your site, the engagement, how valuable it is, what your conversion rates are (if you're a merchant), all determine whether you STAY AT THE TOP.
For 90% of us (totally made up statistic), ranking in Google is not about "gotta get to the top so I can scam some people out of their money!!!! ROAR!!!!". It's about setting up a site that provides value and actively pushing that site to the top.
If your site gets to the top, and you're doing something to rip someone off, or you're just ranking with complete junk content, then in my own words - Piss off! You're ruining it for everyone else.
Does that mean that you have to have the most perfect content in the world?
No, it means that you should be constantly improving that content to provide a better experience, to maximize the value for the visitor, to give them EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT. Which is exactly Google's goal and outcome?
Does it matter that the site that got there actively built links? No, it shouldn't matter one bit.
Does it matter that the site that got there "over optimized" their site for SEO? No, it shouldn't
Build for the User first. SEO second.
As a site owner, this is the mantra you need to have.
Why do I say piss off to those that don't have this mantra?
"The decisions they make, are based on how much a decision will improve their results vs. time to implement vs. load on their network/algorithm, and those decisions can be made (as in the example in that video) if they impact just .1% of all searches done."
So if 1% of the "SEO" population are completely smashing and abusing a certain type of link building to get to the top of Google (remembering there are only 10 spots and the rest are irrelevant)
Google creates a "profile" of that user; and does a calculation that says "if we apply this change to our algorithm, it will improve our search results by x%, and will cause y% of sites to be destroyed, is this acceptable?".
The crimes of a few, cause the punishment of many.
How does all this relate to "blog networks" and BMR (or any type of link building really since we're all doing something taboo except for the hermit on the mountain that hums about his good content hoping for someone to pass by!)?
It's not the blog networks (or link building activities) themselves that are bad, it's how they are used, and what people do within them that make them bad.
Which leads me to my final, nail in the coffin, point.
What is negative SEO? Active link building to a competitor's site to deliberately negatively influence their rankings.
Google have always followed the mantra of "no external link shall ever negatively affect your rankings in Google" (they also said in 2009 that over optimization of SEO would never negatively affect it as well but hey, times, they are a changin!)
The theory was (and used to be) how could an external link negatively affect a sites rankings when all a competitor needs to do is go out of their way to link bomb (in a very specific way, no I'm not telling you how) your site?
Well, to understand this, let's take a look in their support area back towards the end of last year, where they said was part of their "guidelines":
"Can competitors harm ranking?
There's nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you're concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don't control the content of these pages."
Then, in November, it got "slightly" modified... just a TINY fraction too:
"Can competitors harm ranking?
There's ALMOST nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you're concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don't control the content of these pages."
Wow, what a difference one word can make! So hang on, saying "almost nothing" means "can", no matter which way you spin it.
Then on March 14th, they caved.
"Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you're concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don't control the content of these pages." - http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66356
In case you missed it, the key difference is in that first line:
From "nothing" to "almost nothing" to "perfect political answer"
It means that anyone, anywhere, can harm anyone else's site through link building alone. Yep.
In effect, anytime Google makes a change that causes a type of external link (by specific diversity and velocity profiles) to devalue a domain, they are opening up a can of worms. One that now has the lid blown wide off.
Congratulations Google, you just told every SEOer in the world, how to manipulate your rankings, destroy the very thing you love (great content), and jam their own "white hat sites" in the serps.
In the words of Mr T.
I PITY THA FOOL!
Now, is this all me just bashing the crap out of Google?
No. I actually love Google. What they are TRYING to do, is right (albeit in a contradicting manner but hey!).
What they need to do though, is forget the social game (facebook have won it), and concentrate on providing the BEST RESULTS FOR THE USER. Stick to your roots. If you don't, you'll not only lose to Facebook like you already have, but you'll start losing ground in the search game too.
TL; DR - Google's end game is the right end game to have. Expect collateral damage based on their approach. Active link building isn't bad, spammers make it bad. Kick spammers that aren't adding value in the nuts. Oh, and if you build any links... you're breaking Google's Terms of Service... sorry.
Now, with all that aside, let's get to the questions I was actually asked, which prompted me to write this heavily opinionated (though based on fact) post.
Kudos to Michelle from http://www.fromideatoempire.com for asking me, you can see them here (along with her philosophy and a post from Linkvana too):
Thanks so much for taking time out of your day to answer these questions - I know people are in a tizzy about blog networks and I want to help shed some light to an area that's clouded with misconceptions and confusion.
1. First, can you tell me a little about what AMA is and your role with the company?
Marc and I started AMA back in 2008, it was started as the (as far as I'm aware) first community driven blog network (when blog network wasn't a dirty word) but as the "genre" has been more defined, it's become less like the "typical" blog network (aka BMR), and more akin to a semi automated guest posting system.
2. Talk to me about what kind of marketer benefits most from using AMA? Who's your ideal client and why?
Our ideal client that understands AMA is someone who understands SEO, understands link building (diversity, velocity and quality) and most importantly, doesn't spam (many people understand SEO but just don't give a crap).
3. You may have seen Matt Cutt's response to Dan Theis re: blog networks.
If not, it's here: https://twitter.com/#!/mattcutts/status/180392083427823616
4. How is AMA preparing for - or have you already prepared for - this kind of search engine scrutiny?
Ultimately, if Google wants to take something down, they'll take something down. They have people infinitely smarter than I am; I'm sure as hell no wonder boy genius. :P
With that said, private networks (where the sites in the network are owned by one person) of any kind are dead, or will shortly be dead. What people don't seem to remember, is that Google sees all, nothing is hidden, no matter the layers of "protection" people try to put in place. Never forget that.
The thing about that tweet, and ALN (and from that seomoz.org and the post that it surfaced from - for anyone interested feel free to look into it) - the core of it (and this is just speculation since Google is as Google does), is that one site had 5k odd links from the ALN network. And guess what? It was a (excuse the language) piece of $%@! site.
Would everyone have screamed so hard if it was http://www.allstate.com or http://www.nationwide.com ? Nope, you would never have heard of it. The fact is, that site should have ranked for 24 hours maximum, and then periodically "retested" to see if it was worthy of the user.
Google needs to place MUCH more emphasis on the sites performance once it ranks, not the links they used to get there. The moment they do that, is the moment links become an irrelevant part of history that spammers can never use to manipulate. Because if spammers built quality sites, they wouldn't be spammers (I can't see a spammer going out of his way to take the time to build a http://www.allstate.com but hey you never know).
5. We all know Build My Rank's network was deindexed, as they announced on their blog. How does AMA stand out / differentiate from Build My Rank and other services out there?
The main distinction is this: In BMR the sites in there have one purpose, which is to generate backlinks back to the sites being promoted. Regardless of content quality, whether it's good or bad, there is no incentive to NOT link to that site, because its primary purpose is to build links.
AMA is a self regulated social/community body. If a site owner doesn't like the content, or the site it links to, they can reject it (and many do). Site owners can have full control over the content.
So for the users that submit rubbish, they either submit that rubbish or get it rejected by the site owner. And if it's really bad, the site owner can flag them, in which case we review their account and give them a warning or kick them out (and if they rejoin and do it again, we ban their email/details. If they do it again, we ban their PayPal, etc. etc.). The better alternative is that the user improves. They realize that they can't just keep pushing crap. So they get better, write better content, build better sites and grow.
6. Should someone who's used any kind of blog network - yours, Build My Rank, another - be worried?
Absolutely! But it goes for any type of link building. Link building is about diversity. Google will always be chasing spammers (as they should), which means Google will always be devaluing certain link types, and revaluing others (until they day they go all AI on us, at which point link building won't matter a hoot). If you've only built blog network links, or worse, only one type of blog network link, you'll live a short life.
7. What's the best way to use AMA in this current SEO climate?
As with any type of link building - do it properly. Do it within the realms of my pre-amble above before I answered these questions. Don't spam. Do the right thing by the user on the site you're promoting. Don't give me a cause to kick you in the nuts. :P
So what is the end result of all this?
Keep building sites of great value, keep building links, and you'll keep ranking well. And if you don't... well... maybe you need a dose of this:
If you would like to watch a private webinar I held covering blog networks and link building and what you need to do for the future, watch this: