This questionnaire was initially published on the Search Quality Alliance site, and later moved here to my personal blog.
Some time ago we received a request to answer some SEO related questions from a few users at the Romanian SEOPedia forum. We happily agreed to the challenge and did our best in helping them with advices and sharing our approach to SEO from a former Google Search Quality viewpoint.
We believe these questions are beneficial to everyone who might have similar questions so we agreed to publish the outcome here:
1. Which are the penalties/filter factors involved in Google Panda? Just a small percent of websites were able to recover after this penalty. Can you offer more details?
While we are not allowed into specifics on how algorithms work, but we can say that Panda targets mostly thin content or poor performing content according to user behavior. Around May this year I wrote about what is quality content and how Google sees it.
2. Do nofollow links count in any way for SERPs? Is it important the dofollow/nofollow report? If a website has 100% dofollow links, for example, this is a spam signal?
Well the text counts for relevancy purposes in the page it is placed. But the answer you are looking for is no, nofollow links are not considered for ranking purposes. Also we don’t believe there is a measure to what can be considered “too many” or “too few” dofollow or nofollow links. If you choose to put a nofollow attribute on a link it should be because you don’t want to pass part of your reputation to that page or site, websites can have nofollow links for many reasons and these reasons are what has to be considered and evaluated before assigning a blank statement to nofollow links. So wether a site has only nofollow or dofollow links or a mix of both it’s not something that can be considered a spam signal.
3. Which is the optimal report not be caught by spam alerts (brand, url, keyword, picture, irrelevant anchors)? Example: brand – 40%, url – 20%, picture – 10%, keyword – 15%, irrelevant words (click here, original source etc) – 15%.
I assume that by report you are referring to ratio/distribution of types of links. If so the optimal report to escape spam alerts it to make content for the users and let the link in a natural way, don’t obsess with anchors. Write something that you would like to read instead of focusing on magical or scientific mix of percentages and factors. Again the best advice would be to read the blog post by Pedro mentioned in the first question.
4. Backlinks with the same keyword anchor are considered spam and will negatively affect your ranking for that keyword?
Using the same keyword anchors is not likely to be seen as a negative factor unless those are manipulated on purpose. But making an analogy with the real world, how likely is that all persons use the same exact words to mention something? Taking all this in consideration, building links in a unnatural way may cause you trouble in the future.
5. Is there an optimal report between root and internal pages? Is it better to have more links to internal pages instead of the main page?
When people link to a site, the big majority will go for the root domain except in specific cases when they have something to say about an article or product. This pattern has to follow an organic distribution. So no, there isn’t an optimal distribution as every niche and site will have different visitor profiles so, naturally they will behave differently.
6. After Penguin, was there a decrease in the importance of links? Are the on-page elements + social signals enough to rank well? The difference between sites is still based on links?
Penguin had as primary target to be harsher towards all kinds of webspam in an algorithmic way, not just links. It happens that links were the among the most targeted forms of manipulation, hence the association most SEOs made between Penguin and links. We have seen sites with great content ranking well with fewer but better quality links than sites that have hundreds and sometimes thousands of links. So obviously the difference in rankings is not only based on links.
7. The citations of a domain/brand (without links) are important for Google?
Again, real world analogy is the best way to answer this question. I would put it like: How important is for a consumer/user to hear and see the name of a brand in different context and scenarios? We believe something that falls out of natural behavior is not natural. So while brand mentions without links might not be a direct factor, they will influence the overall perception of your brand :)
8. Rich snippets implementation will help a website to be better viewed by Google? Google will understand better a website with rich snippets included?
We would say it’s not a direct factor, but Google will be able to get a more complete set of information because of all the data included in the semantic markup. Also it will not only evaluate the information but how important and useful it is for the users that see it.
9. Why the weak design/weak content sites are ranking better than sites with good structure but low link quality? Google pose more accent on backlinks instead user experience/content?
This can’t be answered with a blank statement. You have to look at the long term strategy and decide how far you want to take your business. Links are easy to manipulate, that is not a secret, and most Search Engines might not catch manipulation instantly, but that doesn’t mean it is a good strategy plan. A site with good content, good design and where everything has been considered for the user experience will be more likely to have a brighter future and success than a weak site that lives solely on manipulated links. Nevertheless you also have to look at how “good design” sites are built. Sometimes designers forget to make the content easily accessible to search engines, good design has to be interpreted by information architecture, usability and accessibility and not only for how beautiful and artistic something looks.
10. Is it true that for Google the artificial linkbuilding is outside SEO and is penalizable?
Anything that is considered artificial by Google will likely be discarded, some things are more visible than others, it doesn’t mean that all you see is working as you expect.
11. Why the spam websites (onpage/offpage) are positioned in top?
I think this has been answered in question 9.
12. Google wants to use in the future an algorithm based just by user experience (bounce rate, social media, google plus) instead of an algorithm based to links/anchors?
Google wants to move and has been moving away from anything that is easy to manipulate. So it’s likely that Google will also be moving away from giving so much weight to links in the future. It doesn’t mean that they will be discarded, they will just gradually lose weight as Google finds a mix of better and more reliable signals.
13. At this moment, if I buy 4000 links and point them to any site of my competitors, I BET that it will be banned by Google and removed from serps. How can we protect in this case? How does Google make the difference between paid links (bought by me to manipulate my rankings) and links made by others to influence serps and hurt my rankings? I am in this situation, and Google doesn’t seems to make the difference… Lots of links to a site, with the same anchor, in a short period of time? Google choses to ban it, case solved.
Usually sites are not banned from Google because of links. Each case is a case and all depends on the intent of the webmaster, SEO or site owner. At the moment I know the webspam team makes a really good effort in trying to differentiate manipulation from sabotage. Often the best defence is to make a spam report yourself — even if links are pointing to you — and be as exhaustive as possible in the details.
14. If we have an exact name domain, the links which are coming with domainname anchor, are interpreted as SEO spam?
No, but again it depends on the intentions of the webmaster as explained above. Signals are never seen with a black or white approach, even the algorithmic signals. Intention is always taken in consideration.
15. How much does an exact match domain name count for SEO?
An exact-match domain name can still have a considerable weight in raking, nevertheless we have noticed Google giving less and less weight to exact-match domains. And as we mentioned above it probably will tend to lose weight over time as Google moves away from easily manipulative techniques.
16. Why the results from Google Instant are different from the results from advanced search if we use the same attributes (browser, language, ip, location)?
I’m afraid without an example we can’t reproduce this, but if you are experiencing different results probably Google is getting some kind of personalized or social signals when you use instant search. Most likely it all has to do with browser settings.
17. Why the results from Google Instant Search are different if you use different versions of the same browser?
Again see answer above, most likely different browsers have different user data that Google can use for personalization.
18. Google session cookies – is there a public decode algorithm?
We never needed or tried to decode session cookies, so I guess we are not the best people to answer that :)
19. How to proceed If we buy links? We must alternate the paid links with the natural links?
If you bought any links with the intention to manipulate ranking, we recommend you move away from them either by discarding those links completely or by replacing them with natural links as soon as possible.
20. The contextual backlinks (blog posts) are more important than from web directory links?
The value of a link tends to be proportional to how easy it is to get. Following this premise we would say that contextual links are often more important than directory links.