The recent Google update, known to some of us as the “Google shuffle”, had a number of people freaked out. Seeing your site’s ranking suddenly change is a reality we all face. Sometimes the changes are legitimate, reflecting a shift in the algorithm, or in the inbound link profile of your site or your competitor’s sites. But sometimes the changes are a temporary blip, caused by any number of factors, and after a few days or weeks your ranking returns to wherever it was before the shuffle, and you breathe again. Like a game of musical chairs and your site keeps winning.
One way to tell if the rankings shift is legitimate or temporary is to see if there are new sites ranking above you that you had never heard of or seen in the rankings before. Two weeks ago, for the fourth time since last October, a site showed up in position one at Google for the search term “link building strategies.” Now, this is a keyword phrase that I have ranked first or second forever, and it annoys me if I don’t rank well for it. Given my history and focus, if I can’t rank high page one for that phrase, then send me and my Link Moses Linking Commandments packing.
But this time I wasn’t bothered by being outranked. Why? I could tell right away it would be temporary. The site that was showing at position one above me was a link spamming service from another country that was so bad it was funny. I did a little research and found thousands of junk links. Blog comment spam. Sitewide links from sites in different countries. The more I analyzed that site’s inbound link profile, the funnier things got. I found links from .edu student pages, and hundreds of links coming at them from sites based at .info and .biz domains, a dead giveaway when the site ranking well came out of nowhere.
Given the blatant link spam, how could Google give this site such a high rank?
A week later, my site was back at position one, page one. The other site was gone.
I hadn’t done a thing, so what happened? My hunch is that at any given moment there are millions of calculations and computations taking place at various data centers. Rankings don’t just change during major updates. They are always changing. And rankings can be different depending on where you are when you search. I’ve been on the phone with clients in other countries and we each perform the exact same search at the exact same time, yet we get different results.
If this scenario happens to your site, rest easier. For a few days Google may give another site credit for links that Google will soon recognize as not credible. Then the site that was ranking above yours will vanish.
You should be more concerned when the site that starts outranking yours is a true competitor with a link profile that was not achieved via link spam techniques. When that happens you need to look for the links that enabled them to pass you by. The Search Engine Land site is a great example. Less than two years ago this site wasn’t even a thought in Danny’s mind. Now it’s already ranking in the top eleven for the insanely competitive phrase “search engine news.” That’s both amazing and indicative that the SEL site is a bullet on its way up, rather than a flash in the spam pan. I’d be shocked if Search Engine Land doesn’t rank even higher as the months go by.
The larger lesson to be learned from this is Google, Yahoo, Ask, and even Live are doing their job, as they should, analyzing links, discovering the good, the bad, the ugly. Some do it a little better, some a little worse. Some are more susceptible to link spam, some catch it quickly. If your site is on a solid foundation of inbound links, stay the course, continue pursuing high value inbound links, and don’t do anything crazy in a knee jerk response to an unworthy competitor.
Postscript: After three false starts, Abram Trentham Ward arrived last week at 6 pounds 7 ounces. He was still several weeks early, but was able to breathe on his own and is already here at home. Thanks to everyone who sent email!
Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.
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