Category Archives: paid links

New Major SERP hack in the UK

Another morning, another search results hijack appears to surface. Car insurance is one of the most competitive search terms to try and rank for in the UK and it often takes years to establish yourself at the top. However this morning when searching in Google for Car Insurance a result that was only 1 hour old appears to rank in number 3 position.

Now in the past Google has tested including news results into top positions for competitive terms but having worked on a car insurance client for a few years I was unfamiliar with this particular site, so I looked a bit closer. Here is the page that ranks number 3 in the UK for the term car insurance:

Looks trustworthy huh..

The content on the site is very small, there’s nothing I could find that indicates hidden text or mass on-page spamming. Looking at the categories on the site it’s obvious this site is used to spam multiple categories/verticals as it’s all unrelated:

What’s worrying to me on this result is that for the last 3 years I’ve not seen this happen on a keyword of this magnitude, so something new must be being used by the spammers or there’s a new hole in Google’s ever changing algorithm.

The site is 5 years old and the is a fairly low number of low quality links but nothing out of the blue – I’ll have a look further into this but if anyone has any insights please comment and let me know!

**Update – Google dealt with the spam within a matter of hours, but given the search volume for that phrase these guys probably made quite a bit of cash.

How People are Using Paid Links Safely

Ok, I just want to start by saying I do not promote the use of paid links at all but there’s a technique which I’m seeing being used more and more that does help increase rankings and has very little if not any risk from Google.

Right, so link building has been happening more a less since the day Meta data spamming optimisation died a gruesome death many years ago. For a long time paid links have worked well and as a result of that a lot of content has been muddying up the waters in Google’s search results and making it very difficult for genuine search marketers to follow their increasing guidelines.

There are methods out there, such as the one I’m going to talk about which do still work – yes it may be an old method but that’s irrelevant, I’ve seen exception results for a long time. It’s the process whereby you build links to an already existing or trustworthy link therefore indirectly passing page rank and link value to the page and those links on it. There are many names for this method, pyramid link building, link wheels, indirect link building but they all work on the same principle. This can be a genuine link building method for white hat if done correctly but paid links are creating a problem for Google and those websites who worry about negative SEO.

So below you can see how traditionally building links to a page works, a website passes a percentage of its value (or PR) to the destination link, as a result your website gets more link value.

So indirect link building (as I like to call it) looks quite different:

So when you build links to an existing link on say the BBC which will pass good value and trigger trust signals left, right and center – you are in a sense boosting whatever you already have. Now the value is going to be a lot less than if you build directly but integrated into a long term SEO strategy this can work wonders for keyword performance.

Although Google has talked about how bad paid links have been for a long time now it’s only really been in 2012 that I’ve seen any real progress from them, with updates such as Penguin and its slightly comical unnatural links warning in July – but results have been improving.

So Google’s got paid links cracked right?

Unfortunately not, as I’m seeing more and more paid links using this method – as you might expect they are not reinforcing already good links on places like the BBC but promoting content through places like PR web which are generally low quality to start with.

A very real problem with this is that people are starting to build paid links to websites that are using ethical means of link building putting them at risk. Some might call this negative SEO but in some cases they are in fact buying links indirectly without any Google risk and getting the SEO benefit.

What I believe Google might be doing about this is something mentioned in their update about the unnatural links warning:

We don’t want to put any trust in links that are artificial or unnatural. We recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links are outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action on the unnatural links instead of your site as a whole. If you are able to remove any of the links, please submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took.

So the fact Google is taking action against the links themselves could mean that they may only penalise specific pages rather than whole websites – but still any way you look at it Google still has a problem here.

SEOLinkVine Review

A few months ago I was testing a number of more what I call “old-school” methods of link building. With more and more focus on social signals and the occasional paid link penalty that gets publicised I wanted to test a range of methods which worked well 12 months ago but may not now be a viable option.

One of these methods was to use a closed network, there are a few around but one I got recommended was called SEOLinkVine. I’m sure there’s a few of you what want to ask – what is a closed network? Essentially its the method whereby a group of websites, either owned or managed by a company can be used to push content out. These networks often vary in size and you don’t get visibility as to where the content can be published, until it goes live! Usually there’s a cost to get access to this network but then you can distribute quite large amounts of content and links relatively quickly.

So I signed up (£54.19 per month) to SEOLinkVine, their sales page is quite funny to read with “testimonials” saying things like:

“I received the top spot in Google for both of them after a few weeks!”

“We now enjoy a permanent #1 spot on Google!”

“we’ve seen our ranking increase on our top 10 keywords from pages 7-10 to pages 1-3 in just a few short weeks”

You get the idea.

Maybe a few years ago some of these testimonials were true but given the current climate with Google and it’s many Panda updates I was sceptical to say the least.

So once I’d signed up with my hard earned cash for the sake of a test I started to submit my articles. The CMS is very much like when you create a WordPress blog post, you enter in your article title, body text, links etc and then chose the category that is most relevant. The final part of the submission process is whereby you choose how many times you want your article published on the network, all you need to do is enter a number.

What seems to happen is that your content will get sent out to bloggers + websites and they then get to choose if they want to post your content, makes sense otherwise people could just blanket spam all kinds of rubbish.

I had a writer create 10 articles from scratch on a number of subjects and then submitted them to the network, I was concious that by publishing the same article on different blogs the majority of them would be discounted by Google anyway. Over 45 days I managed to get 49 articles published on various blogs, according to their internal “stats”.

Now the website that I tested it on was very new and had no links from anywhere else so I knew the test would show a true representation of the quality of links generated by seolinkvine. The initial results, I have to say were quite good, I managed to get to position 11 for a keyword with a UK exact match of 1000 in about 20 days, I started getting organic traffic from this ranking too.

Then, about 35 days into the test the site suddenly vanished from the results and I subsequently lost all my traffic from Google;

So, why the drop? Well the quality of the blogs my content was submitted to looked pretty questionable. The content on all of the blogs was 100% from the networks, little written from the bloggers themselves, therefore the topics were quite varied and often irrelevant. There was little web design involved on the sites too, in fact about 98% were bog standard templates that come with WordPress, there’s was only 1 site which actually looked like it was taken care of by a human being.

I’m not surprised Google dropped the rankings, the quality of the links are very low and with Google’s Panda updates in full swing I’m willing to bet a lot of the sites are now discounted in the algorithm anyway. Simply put, this test has proved in my opinion that SEOLinkVine is not a method I’d recommend using. The only way I can see closed SEO networks being any use these days are if the sites are high quality and have few members – so if anyone has access to any of these I’d be happy to try it out ;)