Of Spam and Sandboxes

About a month ago I had the privilege of giving a demo of the next version of Sonic Page Blaster to the attendees at Yanik Silver's "Underground Online Marketing Seminar". I fielded a couple questions afterwards that bear a better treatment than I could manage on the spur of the moment and in less than 60 seconds.

Q: If we create "feeder" sites that point to our main sales page or "money site", won't they be adversely affected by Google's sandbox?

A: Let's first define what we mean by the "Google sandbox". Over the last seven months or so it has become apparent that new web sites do not tend to show as high a page rank as older established sites. The reason for this is not a raw prejudice against new sites. According to my sources, it is instead an attempt by the search engine giant to discount the effect of reciprocal linking, especially paid linking. If links cost you money and they have no immediate effect, chances are most people will abandon the practice.

And that's exactly what Google is hoping for. Frankly, I understand and support this move. The reason is that Google's motives and mine coincide. Google is trying to make sure they return the most relevant and highest quality results available for a given search term. If I have the most relevant and authoritative web site for a given subject that encompasses those same search terms, I want Google to return my results at the top of the heap. I don't want spammy link farms to change this.

The key is quality. Really, over time, the best search engine marketing strategy is to create a killer web site. Wouldn't it be nice if all the energy we direct towards search engine optimization could instead be focused on the quality of our web site? Google feels the same way, believe me, and the refinements they make to their alogorithms are designed to move in that direction. For that reason alone, the quality and focus of your web site is your best long-term SEO play.

Q. Could automatically generated web pages be penalized as "spam" by search engine spiders?

A. I call Sonic Page Blaster "SPB" a lot, and I definitely don't think of the "S" as standing for "spam". On the contrary, Sonic Page Blaster simply saves you time in creating search engine-friendly web pages that contain really good articles that pertain exactly to the content of your web site. No "automatic" content system can find the content that best fits your niche. You need to either write or find the articles that will help your web site visitors or subscribers the most. I know that a few of the seminar attendees I talked to had spam-filled stars in their eyes when they saw SPB churn out a bunch of pages at the push of a button.

Trust me, you don't want to go there. Google will eventually punish you in a big way.

Here are some rules that I believe will not only help your search rankings, but also drive the right kind of traffic to your primary web site (at the seminar Jeff Johnson called these "money pages").

1. Do not post duplicate content at multiple web sites, especially if you own them all, if they are on the same server, and if they link to each other. SPB makes it so easy to generate article mini-sites, why would you want to duplicate content, anyway? With SPB you have a huge advantage over those who have to manually create web pages. Use your advantage. Create many web sites that focus on narrow subject matters, each having their own set of articles.

Worried about duplicate content and potential search engine punishment? Good. You should be. Don't do it.

Ah, but what about duplicate content on other people's web sites? If they don't link to you, you don't have anything to worry about. I'll save a further explanation about that for later, but I don't believe it makes sense for Google to punish you for something that is not giving you any advantage. Besides, they understand content syndication. Google's developers and designers are anything but stupid.

2. Your money site does not necessarily need to be extremely narrowly focused on a few key words, but your feeder sites should be. For example, I will soon be starting a web site for those folks trying to develop an online business in their spare time. That is, they hold down a regular job and do this stuff at night. The site is called MidnightMarketer.com and it is not live yet (but the sign-up page works). Anyway, that will be one of my "money sites". It will cover a plethora of topics related to internet marketing, time management, technology, and even health.

In order to "feed" it potential customers, I am also developing "feeder" sites that will focus on each of those more focused topics. The feeder sites will contain as many highly focused articles on their subject matter as I can find. My goal is that the search engines will (rightly) see them as quite valuable and relevant results for some important search terms. Then visitors will see the links and ads for MidnightMarketer and head on over. I can even make a little money off those that don't click through to MidnightMarketer.com, thanks to Adsense ads mixed into each page by Sonic Page Blaster.

3. Don't use reciprocal links, especially between your feeder sites and your money page. Yes, I know that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But try to understand Google's motivations--that is the key to predicting what they will eventually do. They understand that one-way links are usually more meaningful than reciprocal links, which are often just trades between webmasters. A one-way link usually points to something useful.

OK, I'll back off on this just a little: When you can, get one-way links. When there is no other choice, reciprocate. And yes, you can be sure Google keeps track of all links into and out of a web site.

4. Do use a blog, hopefully even more than one. Blogs don't have to be on your server(s), they're not owned by you, and it is going to drive Google's software gurus nuts trying to sort the wheat from the chaff in the blogging world. Even though I support Google in most things, it is kinda fun to do something that makes them a little crazy. [I mean that in a good way, Sergei.]

== Rossaroni, no baloney ==

The MidnightMarketer

Copyright 2005 Ross Lambert

Ross Lambert is a senior software engineer for a fast-growing telecommunications firm in Kirkland, WA. He is also the founder of MidnightMarketer.com and TheVentureForge.com.

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