While Google manipulation by webmasters is considered as “black hat” or downright spam in many cases, there is rarely scrutiny of Google’s own techniques to get attention, publicity and links. Here are some insightful black hat examples of how Google does it.
What does white hat/black hat mean?
What is white hat link building? In its modern version link building is about motivating webmasters, bloggers, editors and publishers to add a link back to your site.
Some people also call it “earning links”. In old school SEO there was a lot of manual link building going on as in inserting your links on third party sites where possible. Black hat link building meant that the owners of the websites you insert the links in either don’t know or don’t approve of you adding the links there.
Common examples of old school black hat link building were automated guest book and forum entries, blog comments and abuse of other UGC (User Generated Content) options.
What does black hat link building mean today? Today it’s about tricking webmasters into linking to you by various means. For example you could hide a link to an unrelated third party site in a widget people put on their site without realizing they are adding a link too.
Why disclose questionable Google methodology?
I have made black hat techniques articles in the past even though I don’t use these tactics myself. Writing about black hat is a good white hat means to get people to link to you.
This time I’m not only trying to create link bait I also have a special twist with this post. I will show you examples of how Google itself uses black hat techniques to get attention, publicity and links. You might argue that Google being the search engine itself and one of the most well known brands worldwide doesn’t need to use questionable tactics. Then I ask you: why do they use them then? As one of the few remaining SEOs who don’t have a stake in Google success I watch the search giant more closely than others. Thus I can reveal the dirty tricks Google uses.
Full disclosure: I don’t own Google shares. I’m not a Google certified Adwords peddler. I don’t sell Google products at all. I ban Google search on my blog and I don’t cuddle with Matt Cutts on search conferences.
Hidden widget links
Google+ widgets are a good example of hidden widget links. While it’s clear that adding unrelated links to third parties is problematic, Google has recently been even more aggressive penalizing widget links. By now any widget containing a link back to your site is meant to use the nofollow attribute. Does Google+ use nofollow on their own widget links? Of course not!
This is my own personal Google+ widget Google wants me to embed on my site. I considered it but then decided no to use it. Why? It forces me to link back to Google (my name is a link) without allowing me to either remove the link or to add the nofollow attribute to it. That’s a part of code that would be showing on my site:
<a href=“https://plus.google.com/113621097289093997513?prsrc=5” target=“_blank”>Tadeusz Szewczyk (Tad Chef)</a>
See the code below, can you spot the link above that Google inserts into the site?
<!– Place this tag where you want the widget to render. –>
<div data-href=“//plus.google.com/113621097289093997513” data-rel=“author”></div>
<!– Place this tag after the last widget tag. –>
po.src = ‘https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js’;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’); s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s);
The link is completely hidden. There is no way to customize or remove it. As a white hat SEO, I want to stay ethical and thus I’m unable to add such an unnatural link to Google.
Bait and switch
A bait and switch is promising someone something and then offering something else much less valuable or nothing instead. Google has pushed many bloggers and journalists to link back to them from each and every post of theirs on all sites they write for. How did they do it? With so called Google authorship.
Google needs Google authorship to identify each and every person on the Internet and to profile them. Are they guest posting a lot? Are they linking back to their own sites etc.? It’s also perfect to get links for Google. What do the authors get in return?
Authors can show a little picture of their avatar in the Google search results along the articles they have written. What’s the use of that you might ask? Well, I’m not sure.
I haven’t seen any proper data showing me the ROI of that tiny pic. Some articles with anecdotal evidence argue that more people click through the search results with the images. Other articles say the exact opposite and cite even more drawbacks.
Let’s be generous and assume there are some positive impacts on the CTR when a few images are showing. What happens once 10 out of 10 results show an avatar? Will all 10 get a higher CTR? I doubt that.
In any case there is no measurable advantage by linking out to Google that way but you do it anyway, don’t you? I don’t. I don’t want Google to outrank me for my own name!
Do you remember Google Wave? It seems like a decade ago that Google Wave was the biggest hype on the Web. It was just a few years ago. It was late 2009, wasn’t it? Anyway, what is a hype anyway? It’s similar to a bait and switch. The value promised is way overblown and the promise is not only directly given by the perpetrator. To create a hype, you have to manipulate the public so that it repeats your message without knowing the outcome.
I remember how I finally tried Google Wave back then and how hard it was to use.
I spent an hour testing it to make it work . I was getting angrier all the time until I finally gave up , got tired to the point I promised to never come back. Google Wave has been dropped just a few months later. You could argue that they didn’t know it would be such a failure but they could have at least tried to live up to their own hype. They could tried to fix that tool, to simplify. Instead they abandoned it as quickly as no other service before it seems. At least they have garnered huge attention and myriads of links.
The Google Buzz fiasco was similar. Now Google+ gets hyped as one of the biggest social networks on the Web but strangely enough it’s only responsible for 0.04% of social media traffic. How come? Nonetheless these publicity stunts and often even lies are always great to generate incoming links to Google.
Buying competitor sites
You probably noticed that Google is buying many startups and among them often companies offering competing products. Many of these never see the light of day again. Some survive for a while under the Google regime just to get neglected and finally killed altogether like Aardvark. The lucky ones like Postrank get their teams and features added to some extent to existing Google products.
What happens with the link equity these domains have? They simply get redirected to Google. Just type in Postrank.com
So how exactly can you learn from Google? Do what they do. Buy sites from the competition and use their links. Tell the world how you made a million in a week. Promise people some awesome features for free and then deliver them mediocre ones for money. Promote your Google widgets with hidden links to your Google+ pages, after all Google won’t penalize you for that!
Photo credit: by DoodleDeMoon/ Flickr Image