This is a question and answer forum about blackhat and whitehat techniques from some of the experts of the industry in both arenas.
Moderated by Detlev Johnson Speakers: Bruce Clay, Todd Freisen, Dave Naylor, Jill Whalen
Question: We had a blogger account for the past few years, and we moved to Wordpress and we have scrapers. How do we establish authority on the new site so that people don't rank higher for our original content? Jill: You need time to get that authority. You can't really fake authority. Todd: After you use the blogger.com platform, once you move, it's gone. You need to move that content over. Bruce: It's best to start a blog on your own site, but you can get it with time. Dave: Get someone to email your reader community.
Question: Will you be in trouble for doing click arbitrage? Dave: You'll be in trouble.
Question: We work in Canada and we are a bilingual country. Is there a way to spot the Googlebot and differentiate between what type of bot is coming to your site? Todd: The bots don't differentiate between language. Dave: If you want to go technical, host the DNS in France. Do the same for the US - put a proxy in the US.
Question: What triggered you to get out of the Viagra thing? Todd: It was a professional decision - I wanted to get into the agency world, managing people. It wasn't really a reason of competition. Dave: I moved away from that industry. It is very aggressive. You have to dig deeper. The black hat got much more illegal and it will be a matter of time until people get caught. Detlev: Black hat isn't always a fix for marketing. Dave: When BMW got kicked out of the rankings in Germany, that was blackhat spam. Most corporate clients should be kept on the straight and narrow - they need to think search and not user. It's more about educating the larger sites about doing things the whitehat way. Bruce: I've been playing on the whitehat side all the way through (Dave says - "yeah" and the crowd laughs.) A lot of big accounts didn't let you touch their site. You had to do things external to some of these sites to get them traffic and rankings. As of late, billions of dollars are being given to spammers. There's about 6 weeks from the time a new technology is discovered between being caught. Is that valuable - to be caught immediately thereafter? You have to think about that. Bruce: If we were to play the game telephone and said "whatever you do, do it right, don't spam" to everyone in this room, it will take one blackhat to put white text on a white background. (Crowd laughs.) In the early days, we couldn't tell what was clean. It's easier to tell what's not clean - people want to come to conferences and do it right. In a few years, it will be 10 times harder to do things blackhat. Dave: I disagree with that. People will always take advantage of blackhat techniques.
Question: I'm using the scrolling marquee tag and I am afraid it will hurt me. I add corresponding text as well. Jill: Is the content relevant? (Yes.) You need to be careful if they start looking at that stuff. Make a site or pages for the search engines without flash and things like that. Todd: We just redesigned a site that had Flash from top to bottom. We cloak to search engines and offer the same exact content to users in Flash. This is a perfectly valid solution. Dave: Blackhat wants to get as close as humanly possible to do whitehat solution. Blackhats put divs off the screen and you wouldn't notice. How would crawlers notice?
Question: Regarding looking at the first page of results and seeing so much blackhats, how do you compete with that? Are there ever results in the top 10 that you can't explain about? Dave: There's always a reason. In the Viagra industry, you look at Pfizer, they are bending the rules ever so slightly to compete with generic Viagra. That's more for reputation management. We once ranked for flowers and it ranked on top and it just redirected somewhere else - that's blackhat. You really have a six week lifecycle - every week a blackhat is popping out thousands of websites. Every six weeks, when that batch dies, new sites come up. Whitehats tend to make it safer for themselves. The .edu stuff will fade away. Detlev: Pfizer is not doing what they need to do whitehat to get there. They listen to a little white hat and a little blackhat, but they don't have any hope of getting up there. Dave: If you're going to go for a little blackhat, you're going to fail miserably. You need to be either blackhat fully or whitehat fully. Don't cloak partially - just cloak fully.
Dave asks - how many people think that cloaking is a bad thing? How many people think that Google Website optimizer is a good thing? How many people think that it's the same? There's a show of hands for everything, but not so many. Google seems to have made cloaking a-okay to do. Dave: The word cloaking is such a bad word, but Google has cloaked for years. Detlev: And people who cloak are not taken out. Dave: BBC Kids does that - they have a Flash website. Detlev: Let's do our duty. Does that mean that people should all cloak then? (Crowd laughs.) Todd: Not all sites are created equal. If you're not one of those websites and you get caught, you can be gone for good. Jill: Dave, when you say the top 10 are using blackhat techniques, you're talking about very competitive terms. Dave: Yes. Just the markets where there's real money. (Laughter.) Bruce: If you are cloaking in a deceptive way, like if you are offering baby blankets to the search engines and then the person clicking goes to an adult website, you're gone. But if you see identical content on the engines and as the user, then it's not evil. It depends on what you're trying to do with it. Detlev: It's more difficult to draw the line then when you're doing it. You might keyword stuff in cloaked content which might show up in the listing in your search result. When you cloak, you're divorced from the knowledge of where to draw the line. You can get banned in that case as well.
Question: What's your take on the future of social media sites and how they're being treated by the algorithms? Now that blackhat SEOs are really spamming social media sites, how do you think algorithms are going to adjust to this? Dave: The Squidoo lens has gone onto the blackhat scene. We've known about that for 9 months. When we did blackhats, what worried me was that blackhats were too aggressive. It's like Wikipedia. I would work for free with Encyclopedia Britannica to release that content. Why? Because I don't like that dominance of Wikipedia. It's human edited content - it's not always correct. Jill: Black hatters ruin things for everyone else. People create spam articles, automated crap, whatever. I do think that these social media sites might not be good in the end. Detlev: I think that paying Diggers to rank that content higher will have a negative impact. Dave: Matt Cutts talked about Digg once - don't play in high traffic areas without reading the warning signs. Digg traffic might take your site down. I hate being Dugg. It costs me bandwidth and there are low conversion rates. Bruce: I think it's worth mentioning that social media is not going to go away necessarily. A lot of us probably grew up and we paid attention to brands that appeared in TV or traditional media. Many people today don't watch TV or follow traditional media. If you have a brand, you should have a presence in that space because otherwise those potential consumers (social media users) may not know who you are. My larger clients are considering projects in the social media space. Detlev: Those projects are very effective. You can certainly drive traffic. You can use social media for link building and social media in itself is a traffic driver. You don't have to be blackhat at all. Whitehats can do so but they should play in the same way with the right attitude. You don't want to piss these users off - it's a hornet's nest. Todd: You have to be very careful in this space. Consmerist.com is a site that will highlight your screwups. It's second to Digg traffic. If you do something right, on the other hand, then consumerist.com can be your best friend. Dave: One of my clients just made an island in SecondLife. It's expensive to play it but you need to measure that traffic. It can help you.
Question: How do you successfully get out of cloaking when you're hooked on it like heroin? Todd: Why would you? Are you doing the evil bad cloaking and are afraid to get caught? Audience member: Well, I'm concerned about other sites -- my competitors -- that have gotten caught and banned. Detlev: Is it that much difficult to provide the same content to your user? Audience member: Probably not. Detlev: You can take those steps into rehab. (Laughter.) If the material is almost the same, how much of that information is used in your rankings and how much is inbound linking? Inbound linking is not cloaking. Audience member: But the problem is that regular pages are not ranking at all. Detlev: I don't think you wouldn't have that much trouble at all. With "miserable failure," the whitehouse.gov page didn't mention that phrase at all on the site. Dave: As a safeguard, download Google Website Optimizer and check your site. Todd: The risk is that you could lose rankings. Audience member: I happen to be ranking now because of cloaking. Dave: Then just do it. Jill: Start a new site the whitehat way so that you have a backup in case something happens to your cloaked sites. Todd: Right now you're ranking. You're saying if you take it down, you won't be making money. Detlev: If your rankings go away and you're not banned, it's better than being banned. You're now in line to be banned. Todd: I'm going to guess that there's shady work in your industry. Dave: If you put a sword out and people have guns, you're in trouble. Bruce: There is no one answer. It really depends.
Question: I have a site that has a bunch of different tools and I want to move one of them that ranks well to a different domain. Can you talk about the best way to redirect? Dave: The best way to pass authority is a 301. Audience member: Does it have to stay there forever? Dave: There is a risk that if you take it away, you will flip flop back again, so I would say yes. When is the right time to take it down? I don't know. That's the million dollar Question. Bruce: I think it's at least 6 months. The Question is - why would you take it down? Todd: As long as you control it, leave it up. Dave: Google Webmaster Central is a great tool to see backlinks. Check your site after you have that 301 redirect and tell those people that you moved the site to avoid looking stupid. Detlev: I advocate telling these people. It will pay off in the long run. You want one site, not two. This also goes for the cloaking member. You do better when you have more links pointing to one domain. Jill: You will lose some rankings if you go on a new domain. You'll get caught in the aging delay even with a 301 redirect. Audience member: It seems that there is more attention on my site to break up the sites because I offer tools and they get attention on their own. Dave: 9 times out of 10 you lose rankings because when you move from site A to B, you have changed the site navigation. Make sure these move over to the new site as well.
Question: I wonder if you can help us about analyzing backlinks. Is Yahoo still the best way to analyze backlinks? Todd: I don't think anything shows you the order of importance anymore. The best way would be Google Webmaster Central. Detlev: Yahoo is more comprehensive in its listing. Google only started this a month or two ago. You'll see a different list in MSN. Look at them all and assume that there are even other backlinks that search engines haven't found. I don't think there is any search engine that would be more important than the other for this. If you have a huge list of 10,000 backlinks, you'll probably find the more important ones in the first pages. Bruce: If you have 3 search engines and you have a list from all engines, those lists are not identical. Look at all of them and aggregate them. You may very well see 10,000 on one, but there really are 15,000. Assume that they are disjoint sets.
Question: Someone mentioned that you can see something in your backlinks even if there is no juice spilled over. How do I know this? Why should I pay for links that don't give me much juice? Detlev: You're going to be in the dark for that one. Example: Washington Post. You can pay for their directory. Is it worth it for you? Chances are, it's not going to pass rank - like for a site of Viagra, not many people are going to be using it. With regards to search engines, some of the things you buy, you might not get any rankings.
Question: I need to point the traffic of one domain to another because of a trademark issue. How do I do so efficiently? Todd: Set up a 301. Audience member: You're going to lose rankings. Todd: Not if you do it right. Get a wildcard 301 for every page. If it's the exact same website with the exact same URL structure, and you're not on a Microsoft server, then it will be easier to do. Dave: Don't leave both sites live at the same time. 9 times out of 10, the newer domain will be penalized.
Question: I wanted to know if you have seen anything that shows that search engines count clicks to emphasize popularity in the results. Todd: For awhile back, you could view the search results on Google and you could see click tracking going on. I haven't noticed anything that is attributed to that but Google has done a lot of things. Bruce: The problem is, it's self-fulfilling. If you're #1, you'll get more clicks. I'd put faith in the fact that Google can find out if people bookmark you as a way of emphasizing your value. Dave: AdWords can work - once you are in the top spot, you don't have to focus so much on your side rankings. MSN is awesome - they use MSN messenger to profile you. They are great with personalized search.
Question: Do search engines prefer friendly URLs versus other URLs? Dave: Yes.
Question: About personalized search, how do we optimize for this? Dave. This is the best thing for an SEO. How many people go to their own site? Personalization shows you that your personal site is most important to you - your client will go to his site all the time, and he will be so happy when he ranks for those keywords. (This is all sarcastic and everyone laughs.) Todd: Don't ever log off your Google account. Jill: It differs via geographical, personalization, and it's a good reason why people shouldn't be looking at rankings but more about analytics. Todd: At the end of the day, it's about measuring metrics. A lot of people focus more about ranking reports, but it boils down to making money. Bruce: Once of the things this fringes upon is behavioral search. If people search for Java and want programming, and you search for Java and need coffee, pretty soon search engines will know that you meant coffee or you meant programming. From an organic point of view, you need to just know your audience. You need to make your site the best way you can be so everyone wants your site. Todd: Behavioral could be a good thing for search. Dave: Unless the search engines screw it up. Bruce: We're going to see a lot of behavioral stuff going up.
Question: There's a theory about backlinks in our company. Is it true that if you buy PPC links, you'll get more backlinks? Todd: Those links don't count as backlinks.
Question: What about a content management system site that has a unique timestamp in the URL? Todd: You want to stop that quickly. Dave: We have a client like this. We need to send the spiders to a caching server that lacks the timestamps in the URL.
Question: Do caching server solutions work for sessionIDs? Dave: Yeah. Search engines should see the content in the same place. They just need a cached copy of the content without the dynamic content. It's not easy to achieve; it's not a quick fix. From a search engine point of view, the hard copy of the content is really important. That is legitimate cloaking.
Question: I'm not as tech savvy. We push different content to users than the search engines. Is that the same thing that he's talking about? Dave: Yes, pretty much. A specific IP address gets a static page and other IP addresses get other pages. Audience: Is it a negative nightmare for the search engine? Dave: Give them the content in a way that they can handle it. Don't make the content totally bloody differnet. If you do, you're going to get banned. Audience: What we're doing is legitimate. Todd: IP Delivery (ip-delivery.com). You should look into that - it will provide spider lists and other tools to get you going.
Question: Can you link-build too aggressively (can this sabotage your competitors?), and how important is varying your anchor text? Dave: They removed the Google bomb for George Bush's website. How many people noticed that he put the word "failure" in his page a few days ago? He's ranking for failure again! You don't need thousands of links. It's the quality of the link and the trust of that domain. My domain is trusted. God only knows why. They should know better. I made a post about "buy viagra" and Danny Sullivan linked to me. I was #5 in the UK for that for at least 6 months. Google changed the terms and conditions and says that nobody can do Google bombing anymore. Audience member: Are we talking about a couple of thousands of links, or a hundred of thousands of links? Dave: If high profile sites are already linking to you, that is going to push you up. Jill: Authoritative site links will boost your rankings. Todd: Not all sites are created equal. You can throw any piece of crap link on a trusted site and it is going to help it.
Question: I have an established domain and I'm going to release a huge amount of data on a subdomain, and for advertising reasons I need to protect the traffic. Are there any guidelines that I need to know about spidering per month - is there a percentage amount? Todd: It is hugely dependent on the website. I would get signed up with Webmaster Central, Sitemaps, Site Explorer, etc. You're looking at 4-6 weeks to get your site crawled a lot. Dave: Are you concerned about the spidering of it? Audience: No, just the advertising of it. Dave: I got 2.2 million pages indexed in Google in 3 weeks. I managed to get 2 PR9 links. Detlev: The key to push it over the top is your inbound linking. There is no amount. The amount of links determine how deep they will crawl.
Question: How much time should you be spending on AdWords or organic or on building your website? Todd: I'd be serious to say that it should be what's making you the most money. Dave: One of our clients is spending 80% of their time doing multivariate testing - how to convert the users. He has 25% conversion rate. I never thought that would be possible. Someone who is a conversion expert brought a site that had a 2% conversion rate to 88% rate. It has taken 2.5 years. It's commitment - they test everything - logo size, slogans, etc. Example - "discounted product" changed to "cheap" - raised conversion rates. "Discounted" in the UK doesn't work. "Cheap" does. Todd: There are many places that do multivariate testing for you. I resell for one of them. Come talk to me.