Ryan Jones Blog – dotCULT.com Ryan Jones Blogs About Internet Culture, Marketing, SEO, & Social Media

February 5, 2007

Common Sense SEO

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 1:58 pm

Have you ever wondered what makes certain people SEO experts? More than any other field, it seems like there is a ton of conflicting information out there about SEO. Is there a Google sandbox? It depends on where you’re reading about it.

The sad truth is, almost everybody who has ever tried to do SEO thinks that they are an expert at it. Unfortunately, the author of this article falls into that category.

Some of the things he mentions just don’t seem to make sense. (I won’t point out his grammar errors, as I’ve likely made a few here as well – but there’s a lot of them!) Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Tupelo The 30 spot filter – Google preaches robustness and scalability. Automatically decreasing a ranking by 30 or so just doesn’t scale well. If looked at from a programmer’s point of view, each site would have a “number” calculated based on various factors of how it relates to a query. Results would then be ordered by that number, not assigned an actual ranking like “7 or 30” for each query. It’d be really inefficient to do things this way. Lowering a site 30 ranking spots just wouldn’t make sense. If anything, there may be some sort of factor in this algorithm that produces what seems like 30 spots, but it’s not just saying “move #5 down to #35.”
  • Hvidovre Banned for Google Bombing. I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t happen. If it did, it would be really easy for me to get my competitors sites banned from Google. Instead, what’s most likely happening is that the site which was Google bombed merely isn’t showing up anymore for that term. Google recently released a change in which it will only show Google Bombed sites for queries if that site “wants to rank for the query” (that is to say, it actually contains the text being searched for) Removing a site based on who links to it doesn’t make any sense. I can’t see Google removing a site based on factors outside of the webmaster’s control. In fact, it goes against what they say.
  • links.htm – This is ridiculous. I can’t picture a hard coded check for “links.htm” in any type of Google code. Not to mention, it really doesn’t scale well with different languages. The name of your links file should have no effect. This myth most likely revolves around common automatic linking software. This software creates links.htm pages that are nothing but link farms. Google is penalizing for the link farm auto generated pages, not the filename. It’s a case of confusing causation with correlation. Will your rank go up if you change the file name to something else? Probably – but only temporarily until Google spots the spammy behavior of the new file.
  • Google says that there is nothing a competitor can do to drop YOUR rankings. (fourth question.) The author highlights this point, then goes on to say several things that go against it. Are we assuming that Google lies in their webmaster guidelines? I’d hate to think so. One example he gives is that if you have a link on a link farm, you could be penalized. That isn’t likely to happen.

    If you have a link on a link farm, it probably won’t help you but I can’t see it hurting you either. If it did, millions of link farms would spring up where everybody just linked to their competitors. It doesn’t make sense for Google to penalize you for factors outside of your control. This misconception probably stems from people being told not to link to link farms. That’s good advice, as there probably is a penalty associated with linking to bad neighborhoods.

The point of this is simple: Use common sense when thinking about SEO. If it’s helpful to your visitors, it’s probably a good idea from an SEO standpoint. A good question to ask yourself is “would I do this if there were no search engines?” If so, you can’t go wrong.

A same common sense rule applies for penalties. If it would be possible for a competitor to sabotage your site, then Google probably doesn’t penalize. (but they probably don’t reward either.)

My question is this: Do many SEO’s lack common sense? Are they confusing lack of reward with a penalty? Are they really paranoid of everything they do? Are they focusing on search engines instead of the customer? Or are they just trying to get articles published to further establish themselves as experts?

Disclosure: I used to work in SEO, and have published several articles on the topic. Currently however, I only do SEO for my own private sites (and they all rank pretty damn well.) I’m not claiming to be an SEO expert though, just a computer scientist who approaches the topic with common sense.


  1. I bet you will be scared to post this.

    Have you ever heard of the term google bowling? Look it up and you will on how to get domain names banned.

    It sounds like you might not be completly up to date on everything you are talking. I work in seo and I have seen sites banned and I have been witness to some of these filters.

    The list it looks like was something that you need to take with a grain of salt as in “these are filters that MIGHT exsist in google”.

    To say that Joe fall’s into a catagory of seo’s who don’t know what they are talking about is a pretty bold statement and considering he writes articles for web pro news and has done seo on fortune 1000 companies is a pretty bold statement. I would trust him more then I trust you.

    Comment by concerned SEO — February 5, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

  2. Nameless,

    No, I’m not scared to post this. In fact, I welcome the debate. We were having it internally at the office after reading his article (and our entire SEO team felt it was a load of BS). I figured, why not try to debunk some of his myths.

    I worked in SEO too. I was really good at it, but left when I was offered 30% more to write code. If you search for my other sites, I’m still top 5 for my desired keywords. I also have a CS degree, and I too have written articles about SEO. I too have done SEO for some really large companies (sorry, I don’t list clients.) The only difference between Joe and I is that Joe goes around calling himself an expert, and I don’t.

    I’ve looked up Google Bowling, and all I seem to see about it is fear mongering articles (mostly all spinoffs of the same article)

    The strange fact is, nobody offers an actual site that experienced this effect. Plus, most of the articles are dated back to 2005. (and you’re calling me out of date?)

    What sites have you seen banned? Are you sure they were banned and not just fell in the rankings? (IE, does a site: still return results for it? If so, it’s not banned)

    How are you sure this is a direct result of “google bowling” and not an algorithm change or a data refresh?

    Secondly, let’s look at this from Google’s point of view. Do you think they’d want this? Being able to sabotage another site would mean that less relevant results would be showing up. Less relevant results means that users aren’t getting what they’re looking for, so they’ll search somewhere else.

    If this problem ever did exist, (back in 2005 when it seems to have been written about) you can bet that it surely doesn’t still exist.

    If you have proof of sites that are currently banned for this reason, please post them. I’d love to take a look.

    Comment by Ryan — February 5, 2007 @ 3:38 pm

  3. Hey Ryan,

    I understand that you might not be to familiar with some of the filters I discussed and I was thinking that maybe other people might be like you so I went back and I put resources next to some of the filters you had a problem with. Hopefully this will help educate and inform our ever so changing seo community and offer some insight into how google “Potentially” filters rankings.

    Everything I posted was from experience and from discussions and articles from other seo’s. I never claim to be an expert but I have been doing this for over 5 years and been very successful doing it. This is my profession and since google does not release this type of info into the community it is our jobs as seo’s to test, test, test and share what we found. This enourages communication, education and helps people when they are making seo decisions. I never claim that all of these exist or that an seo MUST abide by these to be successful. I am merely stating “possibilities” to think about.

    Thank you for voicing a challanging opinion.

    Please be sure to recheck my site to see the updated links showing some of my sources.

    Comment by Joe Whyte — February 5, 2007 @ 10:46 pm

  4. Joe, Ryan..

    I read both the original article and dotCult’s commentary on it I have to say that Joe’s approach to Google and SEO is underdeveloped in the same sense that a child’s mind is.

    Google’s algorithms are so complex that it is obvious to me Joe that you could not understand or make use of them even if Google disclosed them to the public.

    As long as Google keeps its algorithms a secret, there will be time-wasters passing off their SEO techniques as servicable because they can never be proven or disproven.

    I fear, Joe, that you are one of those people. And Ryan, you used to be.. but to your credit atleast you’ve moved on to something (apparently) more lucrative and undoubtedly more productive. Get a different job, Joe.

    — Jeff

    Comment by Jeff — February 6, 2007 @ 9:30 am

  5. Hey Joe, thanks for stopping by.

    If you’re reading this, shoot me an email (ryan at noslang dot com). I’d like to invite you to participate in a little experiment I’m dreaming up.


    I’ve heard of all these filters before, many times. I stay up on all the latest SEO news, and I still do a lot of regular SEO on the 4 or 5 other sites I run. (although lately my SEO plan consists of nothing more than build something useful and people will come. It’s working, top 5 for all my desired terms.)

    It’s not that I’m doubting your knowledge (the advice you give for dealing with each filter…if taken on it’s own, is still all good advice)

    The problem is, I don’t believe that many of these filters exist. I believe they’re myths. I think that some people experienced ranking decreases, and assumed there must be a filter at play.

    Like I said I have a programming and engineering background, I try my best to think like a Google employee. To me, it doesn’t seem like any of these filters I mention are robust or scalable (Google’s design principles) They don’t make sense to me from a programmer point of view.

    A lot of them seem like they could have other, more probable causes.

    let’s look at the 30 spot filter. Sure, Google could have dropped them 30 spots… but, it’s more likely that they changed things so that thin affiliates no longer get as much love. (all of the sites I’ve seen claiming 30 spot penalties are by Google’s defintion thin affiliates)

    They all only claim one keyword that dropped 30 spots.. which to me doesn’t make much sense. Wouldn’t it apply more across the board?

    It seems more likely that they just gave more weight to sites that aren’t thin affiliates, and ranked them higher. The difference here is that no penalty was given to the fallen site, but it just didn’t score as high as the sites that moved above it. I believe that’s the system at work.

    I believe that many SEOs are very quick to claim “penalty” when in fact, their site just isn’t scoring as high as other sites. Things that a site doesn’t rank well for aren’t a penalty… they’re just missed opportunties.

    Comment by Ryan — February 6, 2007 @ 9:34 am

  6. Jeff.. There’s a lot of SEOs out there who lose sight of their purpose.

    I actually turned down an SEO job interview request from a company down south (who wanted to move me to a bigger state, AND a bigger paycheck) because their goals were misguided.

    Their job requirements listed things like “achieve top 5 rankings for 3-4 terms per website.” To me, that didn’t make sense. Ranking #1 is useless unless it drives targetted traffic to one’s website.

    From their email, it seemed like they were so caught up in trying to be at the top of Google that they forgot why they wanted to be there in the first place.

    Example: I’m #1 in Google right now for “fuck me hard mother fucker” But it’s not making me any money, nor is it driving any targetted visitors to my website. But hey, I’m #1!!

    The whole point of SEO is to increase traffic. The best way to do this is to build something that visitors actually want. Sadly, many SEOs lose sight of this goal and focus on insignificant things.

    It reminds me of a forum I was reading last night in which the person debated whether or not having ASP.NET headers in the top of your code affected your Google ranking.

    I wish more SEOs would focus on what matters, and stop stressing out over little things that really aren’t significant.

    That was one of the points of this article – to say “hey.. if you’re actually building a useful site, you shouldn’t worry about these things”

    Comment by Ryan — February 6, 2007 @ 9:45 am

  7. Ryan,

    Oh it definitely is the most sound strategy I’ve heard of in terms of building a website: building a good site and the search engine rankings will take care of themselves.

    You’ve got it right, in my opinion, in terms of a good long-term strategy.. SEO people seem to be caught up in a never ending loop of working to get results, sometimes they get them sometimes they don’t, then something changes in the search engine – and it’s time to start over.

    I suppose it’s one way to ensure job security..

    But people trying to manipulate search engines in the long term will just end up banging their heads on the walls.. like you said, just build a good site… As for poor Joe, he’s in for a life of banging his head against the wall.. in a never ending loop..

    Comment by Jeff — February 6, 2007 @ 9:52 am

  8. That’s right Jeff..

    I’ve never had a dip in my rankings throughout any of the results changes. I’ve only ever moved up. That’s taking into account about 20 different sites I run, in all different categories.

    Of course, I’ve never been one to run out and replace all my b tags with strong tags when Matt Cutts mentions that Google may slightly prefer one over the other.

    (note: Google doesn’t prefer one over the other, but at one time, years ago, there was a common belief that they did. I don’t remember which one seo’s thought was better)

    Comment by Ryan — February 6, 2007 @ 9:55 am

  9. I was reading another blog a few days ago which mentioned that he replaced archives with Sitemap, as he said, Google likes the word sitemap.

    Comment by infonote — February 6, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

  10. Yeah cutts said google prefers B over strong but not enough to matter…

    i cant say for certain, but it is my ‘hope’ that Google sticks with what i belive was the mindset of not ever negatively affecting your rank based on what occurs outside of your domain.

    i have read that bowling works, but i havent seen it first hand and ‘hope’ that google only Negatively hits you for your own dumb mistakes on your site.

    Comment by Doom — February 6, 2007 @ 11:08 pm

  11. Aaron walls post on getting a site banned for gaining to many links to fast.


    Comment by Joe Whyte — February 7, 2007 @ 1:36 am

  12. I would have liked to be able to query this when the site he mentions first launched.

    It “could” be that it got a penalty for too many links,


    as everybody knows, Google uses multiple data centers, and each time you search you could be hitting a different data center.

    Since the site in question was really new, it could have been that it didn’t propogate to all the data centers yet… so it was there, then due to a data refresh or something… searchers hit a different data center that didn’t yet know about the site, then boom a few days later as data updated througout all the servers… boom it was back again and ranking well.

    I’d really like for Matt Cutts to chime in and issue a statment on whether or not there’s anything a competitor can do to harm your ranking….

    as I still haven’t seen any evidence to make me believe that factors 100% outside of a site owner’s control can penalize him. (the key word here being penalize, as many seos tend to confuse “lack of reward” with “penalty”)

    Comment by Ryan — February 7, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  13. I think you’re pretty good, but have you tried any of this stuff at bluehatseo? Most of his ideas are more grayhat than strictly whitehat or blackhat seo.

    Rose Water

    (Ryan’s Note: Was it really neccessary to add that Rose Water link in here? They all get nofollowed anyway)

    Comment by Heather Paquinas — February 8, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

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