Google’s Need For Freshness Sours Search Results

Link velocity a clue to gaming search

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Every so often SEO professionals produce a list of what they believe to be the top factors influencing search engine rankings. The latest update to this list of proposed factors looks much like past lists, focusing on traditional factors like links, content, HTML tags, and domain registration age, and some new ones like geographical factors and personalized search history. But one term might be new to many people: link velocity.

Link velocity refers to the speed at which new links to a webpage are formed, and by this term we main gain some new and vital insight. Historically, great bursts of new links to a specific page has been considered a red flag, the quickest way to identify a spammer trying to manipulate the results by creating the appearance of user trust. This led to Google’s famous assaults on link farms and paid link directories.

But the Web has changed, become more of a live Web than a static document Web. We have the advent of social bookmarking, embedded videos, links, buttons, and badges, social networks, real-time networks like Twitter and Friendfeed. Certainly the age of a website is still an indication of success and trustworthiness, but in an environment of live, real time updating, the age of a link as well as the slowing velocity of incoming links may be indicators of stale content in a world that values freshness.

This puts Google and other search engines in a tight spot for determining the relevance of any given destination. With information suddenly so viral and speedy, bursts of links to content are key indicators of freshness and what is at the top of mind for searchers. That means the balance has changed, and we may have caught Google in an awkward stage of transition.

Obviously Google can’t go full-on real time like Twitter; search results would become a spammer’s ball. At the same time Google must reevaluate what is considered relevant. Age of content and websites are then devalued in favor of freshness, and link bursts regain value so long as link bursts appear naturally viral. But that’s a real trick, isn’t it? How does a search engine differentiate between spam bursts and natural viral bursts?

Part of that equation involves evaluating the source of the link, which means link farms and paid directories are out, and trusted sites, including and especially trusted sites with social features, are in. The other part of that appears to be where Google is currently failing. By devaluing apparently stale content and slowed link velocity, the value of fresh content and link bursts to it is artificially elevated, but Google isn’t so perfect at determining which fresh, apparently viral content is legitimate and which is full on malicious spam.

Encyclopedia Britannica’s criticism of Google for giving so much weight and relevance to Wikipedia was dismissed as the sour grapes of an old-world information source failing to keep up with the times. But I think there is a major clue: Wikipedia’s content is continually updated by its editors, giving it the appearance of constant freshness. Combined with continual linking, that gave it live Web relevance. As Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, et alia, skyrocketed in popularity, gaining links and continuous user-generated freshness, they also enjoyed sudden boosts in search engine ranking. Just as everybody was talking about and linking to Twitter, Twitter started dominating search results.

But this emphasis on freshness and link velocity has an inherent flaw, one that blackhat SEOers have been disturbingly effective at exploiting for malicious ends. Yesterday, we reported how PandaLabs had discovered a million links targeting Ford-related search queries in order to dupe searchers landing at targeted destination pages into paying to download phony security software.

These blackhatters were astonishingly successful at getting at least ten (I stopped looking after ten) full pages of search results to point to malicious web pages, despite the pages’ obvious spamminess and relative youth, despite very suspicious machine-generated URLs resolving to Polish domains, despite that all but the first result were largely irrelevant to the query (a search for Nissan motor parts brought back Nissan door part results, etc.).

They were able to do so, in part, by dropping multitudes of links into comments sections and discussion areas of current and trusted websites and forums. I think the blackhatters were so successful precisely because of Google’s current need for freshness in the age of the real time live Web.

They didn’t create link bursts from telltale link farms and paid directories, they created them, complete with buzzy anchor text, by piggybacking on Google’s inherent trust of social media. As a result, the targeted webpages take over the search results, and the average user, trusting Google more than they trust their own analysis of what should be obvious spam URLs, get directed to harmful sites.     

Google’s Need For Freshness Sours Search Results
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  • http://blog.preferredseat.com Preferred blogger

    And to find those places to post comments to they may be using Google alerts as well

  • http://www.desertarc.org AMillionBucks

    I’m guessing the next things might be the steadiness of the link growth… instead of judging bursts alone, maybe the combination of bursts and the following decay pattern will be a clue.

  • http://emoneymakingonline.com eMoneyMakingOnline

    looks innovative….but if they are looking for fresh content…what will happen to sites with timeless or immortal content ???

  • http://www.x7seo.com Eric D

    This is an excellent article with great insight into finding the balance between legit and not so legit inbound link growth. This opens up an entire new line of thought for me.

  • Joseph

    It’s a;; about “semantics” now, if you thing I am wrong keep buying links ;-)

  • http://officialsafetyandsecurity.com Official Safety and Security

    As a web site owner of safety and security products, SEO remains a huge mystery to me. I’ve tried and tried to figure it all out but just when I think I’m grasping it, it moves. I’ve found a couple of really good guys to do SEO for me and I’m pretty happy now. Thanks, Jason, for a great article.

  • http://blog.hichamaged.net/ Hicham

    Very interesting indeed. I’ve two wonders in addition to what is mentioned in the article;

    1. shall we see a change in the ‘nofollow’ issue within the social media?
    2. On the other hand, what about the normal ‘static’ web sites?

    Put those wonders in adddition to what’s mentioned in the article and I think we going to see new era in the near future!

  • http://dishinstall.synthasite.com Free DishInstall

    Google is caught in an awkward position. I’ve noticed a lot of position changing in my niche as of late. This explains some of it. I’ve noticed some cookie cutter sites getting top position when they really shouldn’t! I wonder what’s next for the big G??

  • http://www.vipdistinct.com Lifestyle Management

    The silence from big G makes me wonder what is next to come… :)

  • http://www.amandassilverboutique.com Silver jewellery

    It’s hard to keep up with all the changes. Thanks for the tip, time to look more towards facebook.

  • http://www.allancarterphotography.com Wedding photographer in Hampshire

    Its a mystery to most of us I think. After months of linkbuilding my site reached page 1 for my keywords. After the last PR update I seemed to have PR2 on my homepage. “Great” I thought, now I can relax a bit and not blow it by doing excessive linkbuilding. Two weeks later I am down on page 5. I cannot continually add fresh content without messing up my keywords, so it looks like its a case of more linking.
    I wish I understood more about Google but I don’t. Its thanks to these articles that I can at least get an insight and try to keep up.

  • http://www.storbyferieguiden.dk/Partnere/FDM-Travel.aspx FDM Travel

    I guess the steadiness of link growth is already a factor…

  • http://dancemusictshirts.spreadshirt.net Dance Music T-shirts

    Thanks for this article Jason. Just getting into building links to my site from social media like twitter etc. this has give me a lot to think about!

  • Joseph

    All I have to say is:

    Focus on LSI people, It really is here ;-)

  • http://www.gocompareremovals.co.uk/ Removal Companies

    Interesting article, although obviously frustrating that – as of yet – we have no answer!

  • http://www.arwentaylor.com Arwen Taylor

    Even though Google is the dominant search engine I would say focus less on receiving traffic from them and go to where your users are. Focus on getting word of mouth referrals which is what the social networks represent.

    • Guest

      Yeah right the how will yo make money then? Social traffic is a waste of time.

  • http://www.latterkursus.dk Ejvind

    So once again we see that google in their eagerness to favor the strong are helping “the enemy” I know that this is not what google are trying to do, but I can’t help to think there must be a better way. Does anyone out there have a means to stop spammers, so we could have reliable results from searches and visits to webpage?
    If this way exists, then let’s promote it and implement it as soon as possible – it would help all – except the spammers of course.

  • http://www.deepspacedesign.co.uk uk web designer

    Its a constant meey-go-round trying to keep up with Googles algorithym. If bursts of links are now valued, then again it opens the doors to spammers.. whether it be spamming social bookmark sites or “viral” spamming (if there is such a thing). All i know is you can drive yourself crazy trying to follow the trends dictated by Google. I say concentrate your efforts on pleasing the visitors to youyr website rather than pleasing Google.

    Nice post btw

  • http://dmsoft-wy.com Guest

    Google? Huh?

    Google is an overgrown big brother who has grown way too big for it’s britches. Google changes the rules faster than most of us change socks and underwear. They are on the fast track to making themselves irrelevant as new search engines begin to take shape and pick up the customers Google gives up through dissatisfaction and disgust.

    I am for accurate SEO, Google if allowed to set the infrastructure and standards will be changing daily as someone at Google gets a bone to change something. I don’t mind having standards and guidelines to go by, but these nearly daily changes and almost all by Google is not helping the searches at all. When I search on Google, nearly all of the top 100 are irrelevant to what I was searching for. Most of the time I bypass the first 100 pages Google presents and find what I want past that point.

    One definite example, try to search for clip art you can download. Nearly all that you will get are “link farms”, websites with yet more links to websites that have links that have links to where you might actually find clipart.

    Now try to find online game arcades….you will find some game arcades, but then you are also going to find it polluted with link farms.

    These are supposed to hurt us in SEO??? By having a lot of links on our pages?

    • http://www.melbourneonline.com.au/Search-Engine-Optimisation.asp Mark – Melbourne Search Engine Optimisation

      Google is the clear market leader, hovering around 80% market share. Next in line is Yahoo hovering around 10%.

      Show me the new upcomers who are about to topple the giant, because the statistics certainly aren’t supporting your theory of departing customers.

      Google are constantly improving their algorithm to give the most relevant results to searchers. If those improvements hurt your SEO then maybe you need to rethink your strategy.

      • Guest

        I agree. Google is the big boy on the block. Like all businesses– the faster they change the game, the faster the players need to adapt. Only the strong will survive, and there is no way around the big players in the game.



  • http://www.thebangkokshoppingguide.com Tango7

    After 8 months of building a site with solid and fresh content and getting links from reliable sites, I still find that poorly constructed sites, with very little content still rank much higher.
    Sites with images that don’t load or have a paragraph of text come up as page 1 whereas mine which has comprehensive information etc ranks much lower.
    Google, in my opinion, is becoming very poor at providing really decent websites and so many results are just sponsored link sites or pages with liitle information and they rank highly due to blackhat methods or due to the domain’s age.
    Google needs to look at what the site is doing rather than rely on spiders to guage freshness.

    • http://www.TheInternetGlassesCompany.co.uk AccuraX

      The internet is in a major state of transition right now… just hang in there and things will settle down again.

  • http://stores.ebay.com/tonyas-dynamic-designs?refid=store http://www.TonyasDynamicDesigns.com

    Thank you so much Jason for keeping us informed
    and up-to-date about the latest trends when it comes
    to Google’s Search Engine Optimization Strategies.
    I agree with you totally!

    Google needs to crack down on these fake websites!
    People who are new to the web can easily get dooped
    by them. That is why I sell on eBay because at least
    with the “eBay Branding” that my site has and with my
    eBay Feedback–my site can be deemed more credible
    and trustworthy than let’s say a website that is not
    affiliated with a well known brand such as eBay.

    I highly recommend that everyone give eBay a try if
    they have not already because in this day and age,
    building one’s credibility on the web is CRUCIAL to
    one’s overall success!

    I am an eBay Powerseller and specialize in
    Search Engine Optimization Strategies and have been
    offering my Marketing Services on eBay since 2006.
    I also custom design websites and eBay Stores!

    If anyone needs Custom Website Designs or
    Internet Marketing, please come and see me! =)

    Tonya’s Dynamic Designs
    *Follow me on Twitter at: http://www.Twitter.com/eBayHomeBizHelp

  • http://www.arpey.co.uk uk ecommerce web design

    Great article ..this is clearly a double edged sword for Google – by allowing rankings where there is fast & explosive link growth, they let in the spammers. By disallowing it, they prevent their index being ultra fresh with the latest “buzz”.

    Getting the right balance is going to be crucial as either extreme will destroy Google’s credibility in the long term. But I guess they have enough cash to throw at the problem!

  • http://the-system.org The System

    The results that google shows are simply a reflection of the SEM effort of the successfully ranking sites. One mans spam is another mans meat!
    those polish spammers won’t last long because they are not what they say they are and the effectiveness of link bursts is just that – a burst that lasts a few days or weeks if you are lucky. however check a terkm like car insurance and you will find large players gaming google on a massive scale and they get away with it!

    google is there to be gamed – nothing more! It has alsways been the way and continues to be so even more if you know web 2.0.

    Marketers set the rules and Google responds!

    • http://www.crinkenose.com Hudson Atwell

      wow. this is completly different from the original understands we were all moving in 5 months ago.

      Then it was Google set the standards and marketers adapted.

      obviously a dynamic hybrid.

      Social 2.0 is changing things in real time.

      • http://www.theinternetglassescompany.co.uk designer glasses

        Do not coin the phrase “social 2.0″ … people will start using it… then we’ll ahve the whole “web 2.0″ rubbish over again ….. the ammount of time i spent explaining to clients that “web 2.0″ isnt actually an upgrade to the internet…. and no… you cant download it !! …. so stop it now !! ;o)

  • http://www.ampli.com mrmupton

    Welcome to the Free Market Economy where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Google is just prone to furthering this truth in their algorithm precisely because of the catch 22 this article mentions. You have to stop spam, but you want to appropriate worth where it is due. Small business like ours are left washing back in forth in the Google sea with constant reminders from SEO’s to just keep hammering away at Content and relevant links. This makes me question the future of SEO since optimizing will become a one time lets get the basics straight event because further optimization just means good grapes today, but bad grapes tomorrow.

  • txacman

    This is what scares me. I am currently building links at a fairly high rate. But at the same time building quality ones. I do not want to get dinged for building too many links to fast. http://www.txacspecialist.com

  • http://www.movie666.com/ Deke Thornton

    google should really focus on relevance and quality over newness and freshness. newer is not always better, but our culture (I’m referring to American culture) has an inexhaustible appetite for “the new” which google seems obsessed with as well. the results is millions of low quality websites, articles, and postings. there is something to be said for timely, relevant information, but google with its desire for newness (and the wikipedia versus britannica example is an interesting one) threatens to reward the new over the vetted and well-researched.

    • http://www.norcalcars.com NorCal Cars

      The Internets main advantage is newness. There is a growing trend away from newspapers because by the time it comes out its old news. People expect current information to be instantly available.

      For this to work Google has to catch these information trends. The trick seems to be knowing what is a hot new news trend that needs to be escalated and what would better be addressed by older, more reputable sites.

  • http://www.enjoyonline.co.uk Enjoy Online

    The things that have always helped Google are its simplicity and clutter-free appearance coupled with its search relevance. If Google doesn’t improve its relevance it could actually harm the level of intake of new Internet users who won’t be able to find useful content.

    For most everyday people who have bought a computer, Google is “The Internet” or at least “The” Internet guide – they don’t know the separation and most wouldn’t know where to go for a better alternative. People use the word Google as a verb: rather than saying they’ll look up something, they’ll Google-it.

    Without relevance, experienced users may look at other search engines but new users will simply walk away.

  • http://www.gospelmusiconline.co.uk Guest

    I’ve almost given up trying to second guess googles algorithm, so I have now focused on my niche and ensure that at least my company name/ brand gets top listing. Google obviously wants us all to pay and use adwords so its almost futile to try and go for the high volume keywords. Stick the your niche and use lots of links to your site on your homepage as well as links from other sites!

  • http://www.recruit121.com/ SAP Jobs SAP

    does google use any other methods of getting rid of spam? like manually checking its search results? i know this seems like a tall order but there must be otherways rather than just changing one algorithm?

  • http://www.greenlaneseo.com/blog Philadelphia SEO Guy

    Link bursts on sites that are fresh (updated often on a “live” domain) should count more than link bursts to a new site. But it’s not an old-school Google philosophy here. For a new site, the value of the backlinks should come into question through the scope of a different criteria because the trust just isn’t there. True, this brand new site could be the best answer to a query even if it doesn’t have the trust yet. I totally get the upside of the live web. I agree these should have a chance to compete, but it’s ok with me that they’re delayed as long as that trust is easy to earn if they’re noble and morale. I don’t mind a screening process for future best “live web” results.
    Somehow the algos need to figure this out fast.

  • http://www.seorankings.com SEO Rankings

    Yeah, I think inbound links have far too much weight in Google’s algorithm….and finally everyone has figured it out! This day was sure to come.

  • http://www.googlingsocial.com Chris Lang

    Could Google be looking at link bursts also as a way of interpreting social bookmarking whitehat internal links as positive indicators?

    Most sites like Digg have changed their link structure so there is no more argument on whether or not Google finds links there of value, especially after the spammers got hold of them.

    But could Google be also finding relevance in social bookmarks, when the voting is so great that it cannot be the result of manipulation? Like the Digg front page?

    This would allow Google to find good fresh content, depending on the number of votes a parent blog got and Google can determine the voting on these social sites because each vote creates an outgoing link from each profile to the internal story, so it is followable.

    Also think Twitter, you can’t send garbage and have it go viral, to get retweeted you have to have something to offer. Forget nofollow, it does not matter, just think if Google used social voting as a link burst indicator….

    Just my two cents and a question for you more skilled SEO guys.

  • http://www.tpdesigns.net Bay Area Web Design

    Thanks for the info. You can certainly drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what to do in response to Google’s latest algorithm change. One thing’s for sure though. PageRank set Google apart from the crowd and they aren’t going to drop it. Their job now is to sort out the good links from the bad links. When you are link building, you know what is a good link and what is a bad link. Get good, useful incoming links, but more than that, don’t screw up your pages chasing the algorithm so much that they don’t convert.

  • http://lancepat.wordpress.com Lance’s Blog

    This is interesting, cause I had always been taught that building links TOO fast would result in your site getting ranked lower. Guess times have changed. It will be interesting to see how Google responds.

  • http://thehamptons.com Lizi Obolensky

    We will be adding News for fresh daily content but it’s too bad that archival content such as museum quality art is getting battered by daily social bleeps & “for the moment” information. We’ve just kept adding since 1995 instead of changing so if you want to see a “web site museum” take a look at TheHamptons.com – it’s become “a monument” of original design and original content with new content layered on top. Back in the day, the concept was about layers of information. We’re moving towards redesign but for now it’s kind of cool that we might be able to grab the award for the oldest site design on the web ; ) We were #1 till 3 weeks ago for search term “the hamptons” and just dropped to below Google’s own ads for local business links as a result of the latest algorithm tweak. HOWEVER the archival & fresh mix WAS working for 14 years. Seems to me like google is reaping the rewards from everyone else’s content and not giving back much for it. just my take…

  • http://www.tmdesigner.it tmdesigner

    very usefull information.. great

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