Yesterday morning my site was ranked #31 in google, down 3 from the previous evening, when it was 28. By yesterday afternoon it was 25th. Fist Pump! Checked today and it was 32nd.
This nauseating fugoid is known in the industry as the “google dance.” I’m not sure if my heroes Pat Flynn and Spencer Haws experienced it this way though – the arcs their sites took seemed pretty direct.
Here’s the second-most unsettling part: I’m not exactly sure why my site started ranking so well to begin with (a little while ago it popped onto the radar in the high ’60s), and I’m certainly not any more sure what’s causing it to rise or fall.
Here’s the most unsettling part: I’m not sure even the experts know what’s working.
We’re in the google-update hinterlands: the idea of keyword-anchored niche websites arose in part as a way to exploit a loophole in the search engines. In 2007, they still weren’t that good. At their quintessence, search engines are supposed to determine the difference between sites recognized as “authorities” on the web and those that aren’t. Small problem – it would take human beings far too long to look through all the content on the web and make determinations about its value, so they wrote code, so that robots can do it.
In the beginning, the code was simple. Any site with a lot of links ranked highly. Then it got more discerning. At that point, a small number of links from pages of high perceived authority was enough to raise your rank, but google didn’t look very deeply into what gave sites authority, so it was possible to game the system by submitting “spun” articles to article distribution robots, which those robots would then distribute to hundreds of article directories, all pointing back at your satellite site, from which you would then link back to your central site. It was fraudulent – you were creating the appearance of respected bloggers using your site as a source when it was really just you.
Then came the Panda update. Panda addressed several big things – exact match domains and anchor text. It also refined further page authority. Now you could no longer use spun articles with the same anchor text, because an algorithm compared the frequency of exact match anchor text pointing back at your site to that occurring “in nature,” and the fake identities didn’t pass muster.
Now the game is expired domains, where you buy real domain names with lots of existing links pointing at them, refurbish the sites, and link to your landing page, being careful to keep the exact match anchor text below 20%. (It reminds me of the part of Catch Me If You Can when Frank Abagnale starts printing “real checks”.)
Starting to see a pattern here?
If your layperson SEO meta-analysis is anything like mine, you’re probably thinking “this is a racket not long for this world.” And you’d have online gurus Fraser Cain and Spencer Haws mostly agreeing with you. Then you’ve got people like Hayden Miyamoto and Alex Becker on the other side, proponents of the expired-domain method.
So whom to believe?
The jury’s out. I know expired domains will work now, but I’m not sure about the future. In the end I need to address this on two levels – practical and personal. On the practical level it makes sense to diversify and experiment. If I rank for multiple keywords it’s less consequential if any one falls off the top ten. How to get there and stay there? I can use several small sites to experiment with different SEO strategies. For my primary site, I want to be the most conservative, in case any particular strategy results in a penalty.
Some strategies I know won’t result in penalties are-
Social media profiles like a Facebook and Pinterest page and a slideshare account: While the types of links social media platforms provide are inconsequential in google’s eyes, they do give you eyeballs on your site, and some of those eyeballs may belong to bloggers who may want to link to you.
Start relationships with other bloggers in my niche. Tim Ferriss has a great approach for this – simply asking people questions about their blogs and only volunteering information about my own if asked, and then only in the form of a single article I think they may find interesting. (Just the way I emailed this to you and you’re still reading, if you’re someone I emailed this to;)
Links from blogs I already own, like this one, though multiple links from the same root domain don’t have much more effect than a single link.
Second is the personal level. On that front I have to balance being hungry for success and the motivation that gives me with focusing on process more and short term results less. The mind-hack is to try to view the google rankings like experiment data rather than as a reason to jump up and down or pound the floor.
I’ve seen the summit, folks. (Of this first little hill – breaking the top ten for the first keyword and earning dollar one from Adsense.) I don’t know how much distance lies between here and there – could be two weeks, could be months – but I’ve seen it. Now the challenge is keep calm, keep doing what’s working, and stay in the pocket.
By the way, if you’re seeing a video for potato chips below this copy, I’m making no money from it – it’s WordPress.com’s way of covering its expenses, though I’m already paying an annual fee for hosting. Point being, if you like delicious lays chips, click away, but it’s not an affiliate link or my own Adsense.