Unfairness inherent in authorities – just another flaw in an algo

Before I say too much else I just wanted to say that generally in most cases I think it unnecessary to be too specific when highlighting the failings and flaws of others. It’s too easy to point fingers and say, oh look at how crap so and so is, or look at how so and so are doing that. In most cases it’s simply not necessary, you can say the same thing without making an enemy for yourself.

Why am I gabbing on about this? Well I guess I’ve been partially inspired by a piece by a guy named Loren Baker at search engine journal, a site I read regularly and most of the time simply love to bits. Yet today, I was left with a bit of a hmmmn taste in my mouth asking myself whether it was really necessary to out the guys he did in the way he did. In one fell swoop he has effectively smashed the revenue stream of one particular website ( or seriously diminished its efficacy) and no doubt condemned the sites advertising to declining revenue streams at some latter point.

The power of the written word eh?

Ok, so sure , anyone could have dobbed these guys in via a search engine report link, we all know that and hey perhaps people have already. The point is though that SEJ is read regularly has a hefty subscriber base what is written there is practically guaranteed to be read by Googlies and Yahoos and Msn search dudes. I don’t know Loren, so I can’t comment on the type of guy he is or even try to second guess his motives. At worst he might have a payday loans site at position 11 and at best he might just be as perplexed as us all by the apparent power of the noscript tag and authority domains and is wondering why this is still so effective, I expect it is the latter.

Where is the juice – Noscript tag or Authority domain?

To think that noscript content could have such an impact on SERPs in isolation would be pretty silly.

Lets get this straight right here right now. The noscript tag is no magic bullet. The examples highlighted at SEJ are not (or weren’t) sitting at positions 1 and 3 in Google simply because of a few links contained in a noscript tag, they were there because the sites that contained their links were from sites of multiple themes and disciplines all of which contained the hit counter code from Hitcountermaster.com.

False authority too easily attained

Why does (or soon to be did) Hitcountermaster.com have so much power and authority?

For those of you who may have been asleep for the past 3 or so years, domain authority in SEM terms relates to a domains ability to rank or convey link juice or pass pagerank. The idea is that if enough domains are linking to a singular site then it might well mean that the site or sites being linked to from so many different points (domains) in the web graph, could well be an on topic site for the keywords being used to link through to it. It’s one of the reasons why blogs and SMO sites are considered favourably in the search ranking fraternity. The idea is bolstered by the belief that individual bloggers are less interested in gaming search engine rankings than the minority of so called SEO’s and webmasters that are. The democratic effect of lots of people talking about a topic dictate that this social effect should be looked at and noticed and absorbed in any over all ranking score.

This all sounds somewhat perfect and idylic even. A meritocritous way of ranking sites from the social chatter ofweblogs and other live mediums. Harder to game, seemingly more reliable in any scoring system.

The applied semantic technology of old (we were told) was a vital tool for classifying content into its various themes and classifications. People have blogged and bragged about the importance of getting on topic themed links from related sources ( me included at some point I’m sure) yet when we look at that example it shows that in reality huge aspects of all this is bollocks. Forget your themed links from the right sites and directories, feck that, just go out and get any type of link from any type of domain that you can for your singular target keyword and…kazaaam, you’ll get the rank you want.

I was going to show what I meant further by using the Google link command link:http://www.hitcountermaster.com yet curiously it shows no backlinks already, I wonder why that might be ;)

Anyways, not to worry we can use Yahoo’s site explorer with that funny old seo-rd parameter that they like to chuck in there and note that there are actually 2500 + reported backlinks for that domain. I can’t say whether this accurate or not as the SE’s may already have applied their SEO paranoid counter measures, but the point is, that a cursory glance over the sites shown reveals that domains that used the hitcounter code were from a very broad range of domains and blogs. They were not all from finance or loan related sites, in fact very very few of the sites discussed finance or laons in anyway at all!

Their backlinks came from .edu’s, .orgs, .coms, .co.uk blogs, websites about religion, books, wood, horses in fact you name it and there was probably a site of one sort or another linking back to hitcountermaster.com’s advertisers.

What it sreveals is that Google in particular doesn’t appear to work too hard in establishing domain authority. It seems to rely on numbers and not very much else. Why else would an uber competive term like payday loans be so easily and readily attainable?

Success for attaining payday loan SERP numero uno status was arrived at just like this.

1. Create a keyword domain that discussed finance and loan stuff within its content.

2. Get lots of links from lots of different domains with your ideal keywords

Yep, that was all there was to it. No need to get the right types of links from the right types of sites, just get links of whatever type and you are good to go.

So they went to hitcountermaster.com and checked out their advertising rates and happily used their advertising program to boost them up the SERP’s. Hitmastercounter.com had domain authority, built upon the juice conveyed back from the 1000′s of domains and sites that linked backed to it within their code. This told Google and perhaps other search engines that here was a site that was being linked to from lots of different domains and IP addresses. It must therefore, be some kind of useful resource and worthy of whatever authority score the algo decided to bestow.

Yet, if you look at that and weigh it against the idea of the social web and multiple voices linking to singular things with related keywords then you see that in this regard, hitmastercounter.com just shouldn’t have been in the same kind of crowd. It hadn’t done anything wrong, hit counters have been around long before Google or link text algorithms; it’s how they work, they sit on a site and link back to the mothership to read things like referals and times and dates and click paths.

So to me at least it shows that the whole ‘authority’ thing is at best a little weak and at worst completley and utterley underdeveloped. Why isn’t the algo detecting multiple same text incursions?

Why doesn’t it count the number of instances of keyword anchor text and decide that a number above a certain threshold or % maybe skewed and perhaps marked down a touch?

Why doesn’t it look insider the containers of where these links are found and make a judgement on that basis. In the payday loan example all of the links were inside a noscript tag! Yet, the algo again didn’t detect this fact and allowed the domain to rank for its keywords.

Why doesn’t it look at the placement of the code itself and notice a pattern? Whatever happened to the concept of Block Level Link Analysis?

The tactic as described is nothing new, there are 1000′s of others all doing the same. Just go to do a search on Google or yahoo fro free hit counter and see who is advertising. I’d bet that most are employing similar tactics to boost their own sites or sites of clients up the SERPs. It’s an exploit that is likely to be grown and adapted.

Is it going to be closed anytime soon? Hell, who knows. Surely it doesn’t take too much effort to say if link is this or that then discount its value. It makes you wonder what some of those search guys get up to all day…

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4 thoughts on “Unfairness inherent in authorities – just another flaw in an algo

  1. Andy Beard

    I have mentioned a couple of larger organisations in the past who use noscript effectively, but actually using it to link back to yourself as publisher of the widget or advertising is good practice.

    It is hard to give someone a penalty for conforming with European accessibility recommendations ;)

    I am pretty sure in the webmaster guidelines I have read that javascript should use noscript, just link images should have alt tags.

  2. robwatts Post author

    Absolutely, from a user POV there is a right way and a wrong way; yet all things like this do is encourage others to do the same.

    Almost every website owner wants to rank for something, what better advert than that?

    If I had a pound note for everytime I saw a working tactic only to think hmmn, nice idea but they’ll squah down on that in a week or so, only then to see, a year or so later it still working, I’d have considerably more money in my pocket than I do today!

    I’m amazed this stuff still works. Astounded even.

    Maybe its all just a rusical honeypot ;)

  3. mudflation

    I completely agree. Why an article written in 5 minutes by an editor on an authoritive site ranks better than a webpage completely dedicated to a topic is beyond me

  4. Joe

    Great post about the SERP and juice. I liked the content inside your sub-topic “Where is the juice – Noscript tag or Authority domain?” and “False authority too easily attained”. I agree with your posting that the tactic used by every person is the same and can be closed at any time as you rightly said.

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