For upwards of the last six months I have been getting my hands really dirty and trying to push Google as much as possible to manipulate the ranking of 3ac.co.uk for the term domains. This is my case study, an open, honest and completely transparent look on how underhand SEO techniques can get you great rankings quickly, but as a tactic is short lived and will only get you one result…penalized.
First and foremost, before I begin…The Foreword.
This post is a testament to Google and their Web Spam team who have clearly done a HUGE amount of work at creating great algorithms to clean up much of the rubbish that litters the search engines’ results pages. Matt Cutts did a video just recently where he admitted Google’s algorithms don’t catch everything but that they are doing as much as possible to catch up with sites that are spamming the SERPs. You can view that video here:
So what made me want to create a post like this? Well, I’ve seen many SEOs writing blog posts about “tests” they have done on sites they never actually reveal; very rarely transparent and although you can take away some learnings, I always feel somewhat let down by the end result of their posts…usually a weak summary condemning black hat techniques etc. I suppose it’s the nature of the job, who wants to admit they do bad SEO? Or that it works?!
Many of you will know I own 3ac.co.uk, my domain registration and web hosting site which I have nurtured since 2009, probably most famous (or infamous, I never can tell) for my damning series of 1&1 Internet reviews…it has been my favourite project of all and has been used by me in various case studies, guest posts and SEO conferences around the world. You could probably say that if there were one site I would rather not mess up, it would be this one! Which is why it was so important to me that I put my money where my mouth is and used it as my guinea pig. If you are going to f*ck something up, you may as well do it in style…
So there’s the foreword over and done with, you can see my reasoning behind this post…this isn’t a test domain I set up and don’t care about. This is the real deal and the risks I took had the consequences of ruining a great site that I have developed over the last four years.
A Wise Man Said, Start With The End
As I am writing this post I can already tell that it is going to be a long one…so I will take direction from a wise man who told me always start with the end.
Here goes…A few months ago I challenged myself to get to the first page of Google for the term “domains” by the new year, basically by doing everything that Google said you shouldn’t…and it worked.
And so, on the 26th December 2012 (5 days before my target deadline) it hit first page and I verified this with other people on Twitter to be sure my personalised search wasn’t affecting my results:
Now, I’m no fool and I’m sure most of you reading this are only bothered about the dirty details…the exciting stuff…so let’s cut to the chase with a list of techniques I used to “game” Google to achieve a first page rankings for a competitive industry term, because let’s face it, that’s all you’re probably interested in.
- Manual SEO directory links with keyword text links
- Automatic submission directory links with keyword text links
- Paid-for SEO blog posts with spun content
- Paid-for SEO blog posts with unique content
- Paid-for Twitter re-tweets and Facebook likes from real accounts
- Paid-for Twitter re-tweets and Facebook likes from fake accounts
- Same as the above for Google+ Plus 1’s
- SEO micro-sites just for link building purposes
- Paid advertorials
- Aged-domain development just for link building purposes
- Manual forum commenting
- Paid-for forum commenting
- Link wheels, 3-way links, web 2.0 profiles with link equity
- Page rank sculpting of my internal site links
- Keyword stuffing
I’ve pretty much done everything within the realms of legality (short of hacking other people’s websites and stuff like that)
Now I don’t know exactly how many links were built during the period I started the onslaught and in fact I’m still getting automatic directory submission approvals through today from link building packages I purchased back in November!
Here’s what all this looks like at a glance
339 Suspicious Links and 56 Toxic Links
Big increase in referring domains
Massively skewed percentage of keyword anchor text
The timely spike in links resulting in the first page ranking
So let me run you through a handful of examples of these SEO nuggets of gold…
Manual SEO Directory Links
Now we all know what these look like and they used to be the foundations of any great SEO campaign…a decade ago. But I did a bunch of these, and it brought back good memories of hours of submissions!
This little beauty is called the Web Hit Directory a PR4 site with an SEOMoz Domain Authority of 52 and a Page Authority of 34 for my listing page. Pure quality…
Feedburner For The Win!
But what’s even better than directory listings like this is when you go to the efforts to register an aged-domain, build a micro-site with unique content on it, get a Feedburner account for the site and put a keyword text link in the footer so that every new post you do gives you a juicy do-follow link…(I have made the site anonymous purely because the domain is now owned by someone else.)
So who said micro-sites aren’t a legitimate SEO strategy? If you want to hear me talk more on this subject I wrote a pretty comprehensive post about it here on James Agate’s website, SkyRocketSEO.co.uk.
I reckon I’ve probably done about 10-15 micro sites like this, ranging from one-pages to full blown sites. (Well I should say, purchased sites that I have just stuck a link in) … Here’s a beautiful example on www.amkhosting.com of stunning SEO mastery whereby I hand registered an expired domain with a BOTW listing relevant to the domain/hosting industry, populated it with content and stuck a link right in the middle of the home page back to my blog.
With the template it took about 30 minutes to set up the hosting package, create the site, re-churn a load of old content and the cost of registering the domain itself. Highly cost effective I’d say! (tongue in cheek…)
Automating And Outsourcing (Oh And Looking Authoritative!)
I knew if I was going to get some traction I couldn’t be doing it all by myself. I didn’t have enough time (nor the patience) but I knew I had to build a few hundred links in a short space of time. (Just like you have seen those pay day loans spam sites cluttering up the SERPs) I was also concerned/nervous about how this sudden influx of links would look to Google and the thought of an impending penalty dawned on me… but I cracked on nonetheless, commissioning the man or woman power (I’m not sure which) of India’s and The Philippines’ finest.
I sourced a great company, I won’t give you their name because that’s unfair on them, they are just doing their jobs, but here’s my shopping list which cost me the princely sum of approximately $125 and comprises of:
- 500 directory submissions
- 200 article submissions with spun content (because I couldn’t be bothered to provide my own article)
- 50 PR2+ directory submissions (pushing the boat out for that)
- 100 Facebook Likes
- 100 Twitter Re-tweets
- 50 Google Plus Shares
They even give you a weekly CSV report to show you where the links have been built. A brilliant service to be honest with you, I can’t fault them for efficiency and good customer service.
Here is an example of one of their articles for 3ac.co.uk on goodinfohome.com:
So three months on…
I am no longer on first page and in fact it lasted just a week or so before my site was re-crawled and it seems now as every day goes by my ranking for the term “domains” is getting harder to maintain. I’ve now got over two third’s of my link profile taken up by crappy SEO links all going against Google’s quality guidelines for Link Schemes.. a dangerous place to be… and have just run a Link Detox report again today using LinkResearchTools.com which I would highly recommend and am ready to get rid of as many of these links as possible and disavow where necessary to clean up my profile, before I get any penalty (which to today’s date I have yet to receive, thankfully!)
I even tried some last minute keyword stuffing last week; see below, before writing this post to boost my rankings…it didn’t work. Google is clearly too savvy now.
So it appears that Google are doing everything possible to keep their SERPs free from dastardly tactics like these. Again I commend them, because short of doing something really untoward/illegal. It’s now very, very difficult to get quick wins.
Of course, we need to bear in mind that what I have done was based around an extremely competitive term and my guess would be that some longevity of ranking would have occurred in a less competitive industry, but that doesn’t make it right.
Preaching To The Converted?
So do you think you can cut corners? Are you comfortable trying to game Google with bad SEO tactics? Funnily enough I’ve seen worse from people who should know better, and an important point to make should be that when you are dealing with national brands, or any company for that matter, big or small, you are playing with their future revenue and earnings. Messing with their sites rankings and cutting corners could mean a penalty for your clients…a penalty that could cost them revenue and earnings that pay their staff’s wages.
So next time you want to play Captain SEO and go for glory, the likelihood is you’ll only end up with one military-grade nick-name…Major F*cking Dumb.
I’d like to dedicate this post to my mum.
P.S – To Matt Cutts and the Google Web Spam team, if you’re reading this please don’t penalize my site…I’m doing an Interflora sized clean up as we speak! ☺