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Response to SEO Questions by Rand Fishkin

First, a little note. I mentioned this to Rand when he was considering adding new companies to the SEOMoz Recommended Vendor’s page. At Virante, we use a brute-force method of research. When we want to know something, we run real experiments in the search engines so that we can exclude assumptions regarding the myriad extraneous factors that go into ranking. In our experimentation, we have covered several of the questions he mentions in his most recent post, Questions in SEO that I Can’t Answer. Check out Number 8 if you get a chance.


1. The Diminishing Value of Anchor Text
The theory goes that if a page is linked to multiple times on a single page, the subsequent anchor texts (assuming they are unique) will carry less weight, or perhaps no weight at all in the rankings. For example, if I linked to this groovy thing on utensil art, which is coolerific, the search engines would give more weight to the anchor text “groovy thing” than “utensil art” and “coolerific” – true or false?

Answer: Anchor Text Value Diminishes for Multiple Links on a Page

This experiment was more complicated than I expected. 1 new domain with 3 subdomains was constructed. Each subdomain was a 4 letter nonsense word like jkdh. (ie: sdjd.ajaksadlfn.com) The content on each page was a random 250 7-letter nonsense words. No title or meta were used, and the target keywords were not used, to avoid on-page factors from affecting the results. We then chose 3 separate non-sense words and used them as anchor text in links back to these domains. We paid careful attention to make sure that the links were always in order such that the first site received links in the order of (anchor 1, anchor 2, anchor 3), the second site received links in the order of (anchor 2, anchor 3, anchor 1) and the third site (anchor 3, anchor 2, anchor 1).

Several interesting things occurred. First, when searching for each anchor, only the page that carried that anschor as the first on a page showed, the others did not. This indicated that, orginally, the search engine ignored the subsequent two links. Eventually, all were listed, but they maintained perfect order respective of the order of anchor text on inbound-linking pages.

2. How Far Does Synonymy Go?
In a search like this one for Bryan Gumbel (purposely mis-spelled), note how Google appears to treat the search as though it were the more likely phrase, “Bryant Gumbel.” In this situation, assuming I really did want to optimize for “Bryan Gumbel,” could I conceptually rank well by having a stronger page than the top few for the mis-spelled phrase, or is Google giving weight to listings that have the proper spelling?

Answer: Google Gives Weight to the Mispelled Page When Not Stemming

This one is dependent upon stemming. Using a keyword like “Bryan Gumbel” is different from many mispellings in that it is a stem: Bryan(t). If you were to mispell “Bryan Gumbel” with an I and keep the T, as “Briant Gumbel”, you would notice that the mispellings rank much better. This is, in may ways, a shortcut method for search engines to deal with posessives, plurals, and contractions and other alterations to root words in the language.

3. Can Link Removals Hurt Rankings?
Let’s say you have a site that an editor adds at Wikipedia. A few weeks later, another editor decides to remove that link – the search engines spider and discover the addition and, later, the removal. Will the temporal loss of a high quality link affect you more adversely than if the link had never been placed at all? Is removal from Wikipedia (or other high authority sites) a factor in hurting rankings more than simply taking that link’s juice out of your site/page’s strength? (note – Wikipedia might not be a great example, since links are often added and later removed)

Answer: Yes (assuming that link is one of the most powerful and few links pointing to your page)

This experiment was fairly simple. Take a page, build about 50 links to it, and see what happens as we “pulse” a front-page link from one of our more popular, powerful properties. Like clockwork, Google ranked and unranked the pages. It was quite dramatic. Of course, the interval was slow (we did a 2 week pulse over an 12 week period)

4. Does Sharing Registrants with Spammers Hurt You?
Matt Cutts recently alluded to the idea that Google knows about all of your domains. Since this is the case, would they be inclined to penalize a high-quality, white hat site if they noticed that dozens or hundreds of other domains from the same registrant were manipulative, low quality spam (assuming you had never attempted to use the spam domains to build link pop for the legit site)?

Answer: No (assuming that link is one of the most powerful and few links pointing to your page)
Don’t ask me how I know this, but variation of whois information, privacy protection, hosts and ips should keep you safe. However, do not register a white-hat domain with the same personal information as a black-hat domain.

5. How Much of the Original PageRank Formula Still Matters?
Obviously, the toolbar PageRank is barely worth watching, but what about that original formula? This very well researched page on the subject recently made the top of Digg and shows through example how PR would be calculated in several linking examples. But, what I’m curious about is what role that portion of the “over 100 factors” PageRank plays. I had been a skeptic for a long time that it was anything more than 5-10%, but recently, I’ve been wondering if there might be a bit more weight to it than that (possibly a full 20-30%).

Answer: 37%
Actually, the relationship between PR and ranking is synergistic and dependent upon the other factors – namely domain age and no penalties. I do not have a very good answer for this one. Sorry.

6. Yahoo!, MSN & PageRank
Let’s say that Yahoo! and/or MSN decided to adopt an exact replica of PageRank in their algorithms. Yes, I know it’s patented, but how would Google ever know or find out so they could issue a cease and desist or lawsuit? Do you think they could puzzle it out to a degree that it could serve as hard evidence? Even if it’s not happening now (and I doubt that it is), is it possible that years ago, a major search engine did decide to copy Google’s patented methodology?

Answer: Who cares?
Just kidding. It is an interesting hypothetical, but the truth remains that the ranking factors for the top search engines appear to greatly differ from one another.

7. Text Placement Weighting
Remember Michael Murray of Fathom’s quote from last week? While I’m not a big believer that text placement in code is given any significant measure of weight in the algos, I do wonder about how the content structure of a page might impact rankings. For example, let’s say you had three unique article pages with three paragraphs each and each had one paragraph on lemmings. If the first article had the first paragraph on lemmings, the second made the middle paragraph on lemmings and the third used the last paragraph for lemming discussion, which one would rank best, or would it matter at all?

Answer: Yes, content at the top matters more.
It blows my mind how many sites get thrown into duplicate content hell just because the top 30 lines of content on every page are a nav bar, a company name, slogan, and login form. It is ridiculous. Nevertheless, on one of our major properties we moved the “tags” for the article to the top of the content of the page, rather than the bottom. Rankings skyrocketed.

8. Higher Links = More Weight

Take a page with 6 outbound links, all to different, never-before crawled web pages, and use images as your links (thus giving no anchor text). If all of those pages were targeting exactly the same nonsensical KW phrase and each had precisely the same degree of rank-worthy content (though not duplicate), would the higher-placed link (link 1 of 6) from your linking page carry more weight than lower-placed links (link 2 or 3 of 6)?

Answer: YES YES YES!
This was the primary method used to create the “Five SEO Excuses” campaign we ran a few months back. The phrase “Five SEO Excuses” was used as anchor text for 5 links placed sitewide on a Virante property. This keyword phrase did not occur at all on the original five sites we were attempting to rank. This is what happened…



Anyway, with a little research and a lot of time, there are good answers to most of these questions.

Response to SEO Questions by Rand Fishkin by No tags for this post.

19 Comments

  1. randfish
    Dec 20, 2006

    Truly amazing work, Russ – thanks for sharing. I hope we hear even more from you in the near future. Straight onto the daily read list with googlecache!

  2. Malaiac
    Dec 20, 2006

    Hi Russ,

    AWESOME article !

    You may have a typo on the 4. answer. (…) text does not add up.

    Do you have any mail somewhere ? I can’t find any, and contact@domain is not responding…

  3. Dave Dugdale
    Dec 20, 2006

    Great answers. I just found your blog and added it to Bloglines.

    Dave

  4. Erik Dafforn
    Dec 20, 2006

    Russ – very impressive – both in terms of your results and your willingness to share them. Thank you.

  5. ROI Guy
    Dec 20, 2006

    Nice work, especially the answers to questions 7 and 8. I always enjoy reading answers from people who actually do the research!

    Any idea whether the link order matters for internal navigation in terms of passing page rank?

    Does this apply to site navigation links the same as text links within the content?

  6. ribaldmanikin
    Dec 20, 2006

    This is great information. I’m big on testing, but don’t have the resources to do anything close to what you’ve done. I’ll be checking this blog regularly.

  7. reesh
    Dec 20, 2006

    Russ,

    Thank you for sharing a great article. However one minor caveat to your answer to #3 ( Can Link Removals Hurt Rankings?). Rand’s original question asked whether the addition and subsequent removal of a high quality link will hurt a site more than if it had never acquired the link in the first place. Your answer makes it apparent that removing a high quality link can be detrimental to a site’s ranking, but it doesn’t properly answer Rand’s original (and very interesting) question: does it hurt the site’s ranking more than if the site never had the link in the first place?

    Thanks again for a great response to interesting questions.

  8. Luke McCallum
    Dec 20, 2006

    Thank you very much! this is one of the most invaluable posts i have read!

  9. laura lippay
    Dec 20, 2006

    pretty good stuff & great (data-driven charts & graphs) linkbait on your site!

  10. rmccarley
    Dec 20, 2006

    Great stuff but I don’t think you really answered #3. Your test just showed that the site would lose the effect of having that link, not that it would be punished below the line it was originaly at when the link was taken away.

  11. Seo Practices Guide
    Jan 30, 2007

    Great interview, thanks. Rand Fishkin has a great knowledge of the seo world, I read his blog everyday (seomoz.org).

  12. Cris Socarras
    Feb 23, 2007

    Great answers here, since I’m a newbie in the SEO world this info is just like gold. One question about your answer No. 4 ( Does Sharing Registrants with Spammers Hurt You?). If I get a domain for each one of the products i have in store, and place real, valuable info in those domains that should not be considered spam, right? even so, would it be better to have those domains in different servers or i can go easy and host them in my server?

  13. Dave Davis
    Mar 13, 2007

    Some great answers. I honestly thought they would never be found. Some people seem to have more time than others to test the “important” things.

    Great work Russ!

  14. sawan singh
    Aug 7, 2007

    how to answer the following question in interviews:

    How can you decide targeted keywords for your website?

  15. Gotham - Sydney Design
    Sep 14, 2007

    An interesting read, certainly gave me something to think about with all the SEO stuff that we have to do on a daily basis for our clients (and our own) websites.

  16. DKB
    Dec 17, 2007

    Really makes me look at my sites a little differently now. Great information – I’ll be adding you to my blogroll! Glad I found your very engaging post.

  17. SEO Consultant
    Jan 13, 2009

    i am still looking for the answer of this question; How Much of the Original PageRank Formula Still Matters?

    here are some simple seo question and anser as well might be helpful for some one
    http://www.theecommercesolution.com/blog/2008/12/11/seo-question-answer/

  18. Nice to see how willing you are to share your tests and results! I am planning on spending a lot more time focused on SEO for my own site, so this is a great help in staying on top of the ever shifting environment that is SEO! Thanks!

  19. Backyard Bargain
    Oct 2, 2010

    Its a nice information and we must give proper time for own site and do quality off page optimization and on page optimization as per search engine guidelines.

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