Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that Google didn’t change their algorithm just to knock John Chow off the first page for “make money online”. But the title is less dry than “Examining Google’s New Algorithm”.

I thought newcomers to search engine optimization might appreciate a discussion of what might have been adjusted in Google’s algorithm. I stress might since nobody outside of Google knows for certain.

First, some background. Google lives by the word “relevancy”. They made their money by showing first in search results those pages that were most relevant to the search term the user typed. The basic algorithm they used was to examine links to a site.

Back in those days, a link to a site represented a site owner’s opinion of another site. If a site owner linked to a site using the anchor text “make money online”, then you could be fairly certain that the owner thought the site was highly relevant to that phrase. If lots of sites did the same thing, then Google concluded that the site was highly relevant, and showed it highly placed in search results.

That’s an oversimplification, but will do for our purposes.

Fast forward to today. Google hates paid and solicited links. The reason is that these links do not represent a site owner’s opinion of another site. As far as Google is concerned, those sorts of links destroy the relevancy of the web. John Chow’s review for backlink scheme was just a high profile version of what goes on quite a bit online. It’s been duplicated often enough, though, that Google could have decided to discount the effect of such a review scheme on search engine rankings.

How do they know if a link is due to a review scheme like John Chow’s or not? Google can look at two qualities to have a fairly high degree of confidence in identifying review schemes.

First, normal posts on a blog have a relatively low link density (the number of links on the page compared to the rest of the content). John Chow’s review posts had a high link density. They were short with lots of closely spaced links.

Second, each link from one of those review posts went to a site that then linked immediately back to JohnChow.com.

That sort of reciprocal linking isn’t unusual, but combined with the link density of the review post, it’s highly suggestive of some organized review scheme.

My guess is that Google put those two qualities together, and then discounted the relevancy value of any of the links involved. That put JohnChow.com back where it normally would have been, before the review scheme started. Which, in my opinion, is a fair indicator of his blog’s relevance to the phrase “make money online”.

The lessons we can take from this is that any sort of review trading or reciprocal linking must appear to be natural to Google to avoid being penalized. Natural links don’t spontaneously appear closely spaced in time, or as direct reciprocal links in pages with high link density.

So I think a review scheme like John Chow’s could still work, but the approach would need altered to make it seem less artificial and more organic.

What do you think?

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