27
Jul
11

The Trouble with Backlinks

Google started it. Yeah, blame them. Blame them hard and often. Back in 1996, two Stanford PhD students came up with a “better” way to categorize and rank websites in order to create an index that would help people find treasure amid that horrifying mess of 488,000 registered domains. Can you even imagine? Almost half a million websites?

Growth of Internet Domains from 1996 to 2011

We used to think 500,000 was a big number.

At the time, the search engine landscape was pretty impressive, with such luminaries as Alta Vista, Infoseek, Lycos, and others whose fame and glory lives on to this day…. no wait. Check that. They are all completely forgotten. This is because every one of them relied completely on things like keyword density and the keyword metatag to rank sites for their search results. Which, it turns out, was really really really easy to game. So you’d see sites selling tennis shoes with the words “free sex mp3” appearing like 4 thousand times at the bottom of the page. Fun days for us SEO youngsters!

Until those Stanford brainiacs came up with a little thing they called “Backrub.” Which was an algorithmic way to categorize sites based—not on their content—but on their popularity. Well, the boys took out a few patents, tweaked the thing by adding a couple of hundred other mysterious ranking factors, named it Google, grew to gigantic size practically overnight, went APO, and became the richest geeks in the universe.

Which is getting ahead of our story, just a bit. Because at first, this new approach truly ruled the net. Google grew to enormous size because their search results were amazing. Compared to all the once-was engines, it was revolutionary. If you entered something into the little white box, you actually stood a decent chance of finding a relevant page or two. Remarkable!

Pages stuffed with irrelevant keywords suddenly dropped way, way down the ranks in favor of sites that lots of people had made lots of links to, just because they were awesome.

Time passed, and Google evolved. They tweaked and fine-tuned. They worked tirelessly to make their little engine the best little engine. And all the while, we SEO-types schemed and plotted to mess it all up. What we wanted to do (and still want to do, of course) was trick the Mighty Google into thinking our sites were better than our competitors’ sites, whether they were actually relevant to the search or not. We did this in many ways. We’d come up with something that really seriously gamed the algo and won top ranks, then Google would counter with more tweaks. So we’d think of something else.

This escalation cycle has gone on continuously since the first Google release. Google wants to make all the content on the internet easy to locate through a simple keyword search. We want to sidetrack, obfuscate, control, and manipulate those searches to point you to sites that have paid us to do so.

Sniff. Sometimes we’re a little ashamed. Most of the time we’re figuring out new ways to short-circuit Google’s algorithm.

Which brings us to backlinks. And the Trouble with them.

As of the latest survey of SEO pros from the good folk at SEOMoz (which we highlighted as a Site of the Week a few weeks ago), the consensus is that links still account for something 40% of the Google algorithm. So they still carry a boatload of weight.

Even though we SEOs have been busy jamming up the works with fake links, crappy links, irrelevant links, imaginary links, 8-way reciprocal links, purchased links, blog comment spam links, and any other kind of oh-so-clever link garbage we can imagine, backlinks still work.

Which is a pity, really. Because goddamnit, we might be SEOs, but we want to be able to find stuff on the internet! And just like you and everyone else, we frequently can’t. Find. A. Damn. Thing. In fact, we just spent something like 2 hours trying to find the data for the graph we posted above. Pssffffffft.

I guess you makes your bed, you gets to lie in it.


1 Response to “The Trouble with Backlinks”


  1. August 11, 2011 at 6:24 am

    That may be good information. Especially the very last feature.


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