I realize the title may throw you off, so I wanted to start out with just an opinion here. It is my opinion that Findlaw is unfairly gaming Google by taking advantage of Google’s new policy of discounting links from sites that are non, or little related in content to the target site, and blasting sites to the tops of the SERPS that have lots of external links from other related sites. For example, Findlaw sells lawyers “Firmsites”, and blogs, and hosts for them. All related, as they are legal sites. Following this so far? First, many bloggers have long complained about Findlaw’s alleged sordid history of gaming Google by selling links, calling it anything but that! Now we are talking about a very advanced blog network that is automated for the actual site owners (no truee authorship signals, etc.)
Do Paid Attorney Blog Networks Get a Google Pass
Google has explicitly stated that it hates blog networks that are paid and not real votes (discussed below). This is because a huge SEO company like Findlaw, or Scorpion Web Design, can easily create a huge network of sites (customers pay lots of money for Firmsites, for example), and then spin LSI content, and have in house content spinners blast them across this huge network of interlinked sites. In other words, you pay them to make you a site, and they they add other law firm’s content (actually content written by Findlaw writers) to your site and blog roll, and get even more money by making you pay extra to be part of the “network”. You pay them to help them use your blog, to help them make more sales.
My opinion is that this is simply selling links, which is a big no no. But let’s look this some more: My research has shown that “non legacy” legal sites, that are just a few years old, that never ranked for anything, with almost 100% of their links from the Findlaw Blog Network, are ranking number one on the first page of Google, for terms like “Los Angeles personal injury attorney.” The problem is, if you or I tried to do this (get people to pay us to build their blogs and then link them all back an forth to eachother) we would be blasted into cyberspace. Where is Matt Cutts on this? How can a company not gaming the system, survive in a Panda/Penguin environment?
This raises several questions: Does Google give large SEO companies like FL a pass? I mean all the sites are usually on the same server, and it is clear from my perspective these links are not legitimate votes. Most people in the early stages of learning how search engine algorithms work are tempted to test what they have learned. This can include buying fifty or one hundred domains to link all to a main website. Some people come up with a complex plan that does work for an amount of time, but does not last. But here, the Findlaw Blog Network seems unaffected.
One company, Dejan SEO, analyzed a large amount of link data from between 2005 and 2011 to see what the results were with this type of domain owner. What was found is, it did not work, attempting to influence Google’s algorithm. When this tactic is used to manipulate Google algorithm of link graphs and its signals, the result will be a waste of time, loss of funds and Google penalties.
Opting for a link scheme to bolster traffic is one of the shortcuts that is often taken and the problem with this shortcut is it can be easily discovered. This shortcut can be found by an algorithm or though human review. But here, it has been working for for months and the internet is so far silent. In fact, these sites rose quite high from obscurity post Panda and Penguin. This is a bad result, not a ?real” vote, and as crazy as having a Wikipedia show up as the first result in almost every organic search in my opinion.
Here are other methods used by gamers that don’t work like they used to.
Simple Content Networks
Content networks consume a large portion of the web and are growing fast; they are also consumed by Panda. The cost is moderately low when the following basic steps are implemented.
- Register Domains (coupons for cheaper pricing can often be found).
- Purchase cheap hosting with WHM
- Batch install CMS (one of the most popular is Word Press).
Content is the next step, content can be from:
- Cheap article writing
- RSS Feeds
Linking the sites is the next step in the plan.
- Flow Page Rank
- Collect Ad Sense money, sell links and link your main site
Due to the low setup cost and uncomplicated level is why there have been many low quality websites show up in Google’s results over the past five years. When the person then starts to diversify IP addresses and using quality content, along with designs the cost will be more to operate the domains. The cost will be much more expensive and there is still no way to know that your plan will be successful long term.
Sophisticated Content Networks
I believe that Findlaw SEO tactics are really just more or less, an unpunished, sophisticated content network. Panda rooted out most of the artificial low quality content sites in 2011, but there still can be some found that are ranking decently. One has to question if the unsophisticated level of schemes have gotten more advanced. And I think the evidence proved that the Findlaw blog network is just that, and VERY very sophisticated content linking scheme. What is happening is that some of the content set-ups have reached an in-between stage, which causes them to be more real and even have some useful information. This makes them more difficult to be killed off, but not totally impossible.
Google is resolute on ridding the web of these content farming sites and has enlarged the range of elements they use to determine if a network of websites is real or an simulated link scheme that was designed to influence rankings. But Google makes a lot of money off of Findlaw. Will this influence the spam team’s decision? Website owners that still attempt to try link schemes will find it almost a guarantee that at least one of the elements used will be found by the tactics Google is using to ferret out these sites.
Link Buying Invitations
There are many networks that invite people to buy links, sell links, link exchanges and paid blogging. One of the things that will be seen within their pages is information about Page Rank increases. These are red flags for the spam that Google is weeding out in low quality content website networks.
Domain Information and Google
Google, as a domain registrar has the ability to access information data about any domain they choose. The considerable amount of data they can access means they can compare ownership, contact details, domain naming patterns and TDL consistency.
The thought of using expired domains for you site, will not help, since Google is able to determine ownership. They can tell whether it is new ownership or if it is the previous owner restoring or re-registering a domain.
Private registration for all of a person’s domains is not a solution to avoiding Google, since it shows a pattern and including other parts of the scheme can result in red flags.
Hosting Information and Google
There is a similarity in hosting characteristics in content networks that Google can compare server information and C-blocks, which includes the hosting company, geo locations and server type. What this will mean to the person with a large amount of sites and a link scheme is expanding name server information and rotating IP addresses to a higher level. This is both time consuming and expensive.
Content and Google
Websites are observed by Google for historical content changes and for the frequency of updates, due to Google’s capacity to track changes over time. Google’s index is refined in its approach to websites.
The Panda updates have been consistent in sorting out content duplications, spun articles and article automation. Google knows that natural websites will grow gradually overtime, where the low quality content website usually will generate content fast and then slow down, unless an automated content scheme is used.
There are simple things that are a giveaway to Google, who has a large database of addresses, business and organization contact information in Google Places, Google Maps and other services can compare this data with information that are on sites they suspect of having a linking scheme. One of the other things that Google knows is that blog networks do not usually have “About us” pages that have staff profiles, with contact information, telephone numbers or local maps.
There are other signals that alert Google to fake sites, like watching the topical regularity and mixture of content. Google can determine the reading level of content, the presence or absence of citations, references, so qualitative analysis is a matter of how Google looks at a site.
The content types allow it to determine if it is commercial content, a blog, forums, news, academic or social networking sites. Identifying information can be included in the content, but it can also be in the images and media on the sites, including file naming conventions. When the content is not consistent the site can be flagged by Google as fake. The clear flag is given by Google to sites that do not have any type of buy, connect, signup, rates, subscribe or anything of that nature.
Google Link Signals
The algorithm Google uses is based on links, and for this reason it is clear that Google understands links completely. Internal links are analyzed, 301 redirects hidden links and outbound links. Sending the wrong link signal can be a bad choice.
Outbound Links and Google
Outbound links leave a footprint, when people attempt to manipulate rankings. This starts from the anchor text that is used and consistently using the “exact match phrase” links, without using non-anchor text links, like click here and read more, your site can be flagged. The location of the links and the ratio of follow and nofollow links on a page can be responsible for another flag.
Breaking the pattern of normal link patterns can cause abnormal links and cause a flag to be triggered.
Google’s Thoughts on Inbound Links
It is becoming more common to see inbound link signals, Google will look at how trustworthy the inbound links are, the topic of the pages and websites that are linking to the site. When the inbound links are forums spam, blog comment spamming, or hacked sites, Google will know and there is no chance of a long term linking scheme. The other things that Google will look for is placement velocity, link placement removal spikes, the quantity and diversity of the inbound links.
Using Related Websites
This is what I believe Findlaw is benefiting from. The available link metrics combined will assist in helping Google form a picture of your website and understand the relation of your domains using cross-site interlinking patterns, cascading Page Rank flow and Page Rank sources that have common elements. Google wants to see your content on related sites. But Google is interested in how you got that content. If you have attorney friends in other states who do not compete with you, and they have a great article, and don’t add their own SEO anchor text to it, and ask you to post it on your site to help educate consumers, that is a legitimate vote based upon my understanding of the ever evolving spam regs. You, not knowing SEO, would probably just add some naked anchor identifying the attorney who wrote it, and that is a legit vote! But simply paying to be part of a content network that is trying to manipulate your link weight with a certain percent of no follows, do follows, anchor, etc., is a dangerous shortcut in my opinion. Be careful.
The Technical Elements and the Site Architecture
Without using manually created websites in various ways and using a number of technologies they leave a footprint. When Google looks for low quality content farms Elements Google is used and includes consistency in the CMS platforms used, consistent themes, plug-ins, the page extensions, such as htm, html, php or aspx, URL structures and URL rewriting rules.
Even when the site is manually set, there still can be an amount of recycling and this is common in the navigational level, the file naming conventions and the CSS classes. Looking at the footer is often a way to tell if a website is a part of a network, since this is regularly duplicated or overlooked during the coding.
Google Focusing on Social Media
And although this is part of the matrix, one of my blogger buddies, smokes every site on the FL blog network, with his social profile, has over a 140,000 backlinks from mostly related sites (unfortunately mostly anchor text though) and he is getting ruined by these Firmsites that rose to the top as soon as the new Panda/Penguin updates went live. He came to me and said he thinks that Google is paying off sites like FL with this new algo update, because of the revenue Google gets from selling ads to FL. Could that be true? Well, I personally looked at the social profiles of many of the FL sites that rank, and I could not find any who even had a Google+ profile, so I will just say: “seems fishy”.
During 2011 Google has focused on social media and uses it as a way to verify people and businesses. They use it to determine the influence of the business or person and with Google + flagging potential spam and validating valuable resources will expand. But with the new algo that apparently only wants a 1-3% anchored text profile – or it is not natural – a new site with a better profile weight (since now everything Google said you were supposed to do, like use anchor text is suspect as an SEO effort instead of a vote) will easily beat a legacy site. The FL Penguin and Panda defeating backlinks make this happen rapidly.
Data Google Has at its Disposal
Google has tremendous amount of browsing and behavior data at its disposal about internet users and websites. This makes it easy for Google to determine the manipulated or low quality content site, the high search result bounce data and other flags that are generated with their link graph analysis algorithm.
Who Your Competitors Are
The content farms will find their competitors are people that are also trying to manipulate the system and want to be above you in the results. There is a chance, even with the most sophisticated setup of your scheme being picked up by a competitor and reported to Google. If you think Findlaw has created a sophisticated interlinking blog network, you can report FL for content farming and link spamming here.
Google might penalize your websites when a quality review is done and Google spam people keep the information and you will be required to explain in detail what you did to fix the problem, prior to a reconsideration request to have a successful website. That will mean that your setup scheme is useless and you will not be able to attempt using it again. There are only two choices, do things the right way this time or find a new scheme and risk being penalized by Google again.
It is getting harder every day to play against Google’s algorithm, unless, apparently, your Findlaw, even though Google has made their intentions clear. G will improve upon the evaluation of content through authorship signals. Let’s hope so, since the only authorship signal I am seeing here, is that FL is authoring content, sharing it across sites of attorneys who probably don’t even know eachother, and making a killing off parasitic sites. Google plans more intense assessment of social graph and the improvement of understanding semantic qualities of content on the internet. Let’s see if they nail FL, or give them a pass.
Having a successful link matrix, you will need to invest time, energy and money in a white-hat SEO campaign. How to do this? Ensure that you or your SEO people like me recognize fake sites, use sustainable practices and expand content development power. When these are followed and SEO is done in the right way, you will know your links are safe and you do not have a content farm that will be penalized by Google. If you want to learn more, you can visit me at G+.
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