Any SEO could damage your site as a spam site

Any SEO could damage your site as a spam site

Summary: A little known Google patent shows how the permalink has become a permafrost for content...

TOPICS: Google

I've always advised people not to worry about search engine optimization (SEO) with the explanation that it's the job of the search engine to optimize its performance -- not yours.

Over on SEOBook, there's a great article pointing out how Google is now measuring any attempt at raising the rank of a web page as the work of a spammer -- no matter the quality of the content -- and it will penalize the site.

Any attempt to modify the rank of a web page, after it's been ranked, could spell disaster for the site owner.

A little known Google patent called Ranking Documents details what Google is looking at. Here is the explanation:

Google may shift the rankings of your site, in what appears to be a random manner, before Google settles on a target rank.

Let's say that you're building links to a site, and the site moves up in the rankings. You would assume that the link building has had a positive effect...

Google then toys with you for a while before sending your site plummeting to the target rank. This makes it harder to determine cause and effect.


If you're a webmaster doing anything at all that might be considered an effort to improve rank, then you're a "spammer".

This is a messed up situation because even if you change what you were doing to follow the line of Google's acceptable SEO practices, it is still viewed as an attempt to modify Google's index and thus it is the work of a spammer.


The massive Panda algorithm change last year caused havoc among hundreds of thousands of web sites whose rankings changed overnight. If they did anything to try and regain their lost ranks, (and lost business) that immediately flags Google as the work of spammers!

This explains why the scrapers of legitimate sites rank higher than the original because they haven't tried to change their initial rank.

If you try to improve the quality of your site, that can work against you. For example, HubPages tried to restore its original rankings in the wake of Panda by improving the quality of the content by deleting pages, and by trying to improve grammar and even spelling. Nothing worked until it republished with subdomains, thus starting with a clean sheet.

At the time, HubPages CEO Paul Edmondson told me that there seemed was a random element at work in Google's rankings so they couldn't determine which type of SEO was working. This is a direct match with the language in Google's Ranking Documents patent description:

During the transition from the old rank to the target rank, the transition rank might cause:

- a time-based delay response,

- a negative response
- a random response, and/or

- an unexpected response

Be careful if you try to improve the quality of any of your pages by adding links, adding information, or anything at all!

Once engraved into the fabric of the Internet the content must be unchanged or Google will flag you as a spammer and penalize your ranking. The permalink has become a permafrost for content.

Take a look at the full article on SEOBook: Is Search Broken? Does Google Trick SEOs With Random SERP Ranking Changes?

Also, my article from 2007: Is search broken? | ZDNet

Topic: Google

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  • SEO

    The snake oil salesmen of the new millenium.
    • Disagree

      I don't agree with SEOs being labelled "Snake Oil Salesmen". There is a huge community of great people who do SEO and will always do what's best to work with Google rather than being "Penalty Dodgers".

      A good SEO won't just "build links", they'll integrate fully with your marketing team to produce a marketing campaign that suits your internet marketing portfolio and aims for sales not rankings.
      • Really?

        Tom... i started to complain about your title.. then i thought about it...

        There are LOTS of people with NO CLUE about SEO.. they read blogs, go get links and viola client's website bleeds traffic.... so.. ANY SEO could damage a companies website..

        ok.. i'll read it that way and agree.

        check out Bill Slawski's comment below... he knows his stuff.. and this is me saying he knows his stuff so learn from him my friend...

        SEO is like handling fissionable particle material. If you aren't qualified in particle physics.. it's best not to play with electrons, protons and neutrons.. #justsayin
  • All good web pages change

    When everything is spam, nothing is spam.
    Robert Hahn
  • seo

    If you hire an expert seo then your website could not Damage. You should choose a best
    seo company
  • Misleading

    The clue is in the name "transition rank" - it's a transition, a *temporary* effect.

    If you read the patent carefully, the point is not to permanently penalise modifications to a site or its content, but to time-delay the true effect of those changes to make it harder to game the system or chase rankings.

    It's not intended to prevent people from ever changing or updating their pages. If it's a legitimate change that improves quality and user experience, then once the transition period is up, then the site will regain its normal algorithmic position.

    In short, be prepared for a temporary rankings hit if you update your pages. Update your pages if it improves your pages for users, not to chase rankings.

    Good modern SEO is targeted at benefiting the people who search, rather than the search engines directly. What search engines want is quality, relevant content, so the best SEO is to give it to them.
    Caleb Orantec
  • so, what? do nothing and get offline?

    "Be careful if you try to improve the quality of any of your pages by adding links, adding information, or anything at all!" ???
    That implies, once the page is cached by google, the webmaster is not supposed to modify it?
    Haha.. thats not gonna work!
  • Kidding, right?

    You are kidding right?

    By your statements you've made, you've just classified every blog, every news website and basically any website that's ever have a redevelopment as spam. If that's the case then this is easily the dumbest post I've ever wasted my time on.

    I'll agree with Caleb Orantec, most of this is misleading based on on what I can only assume is total ignorance of proper SEO (which Google actually promotes - you did know that right?).
  • out of context

    Tom, I'm afraid you've taken Aaron's article completely out of context.
  • Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

    It's pretty clear that you didn't read the patent in question.

    It's likely that Google has been doing a similar type analysis since at least 2003, when Google filed a patent about Information Retrieval based on Historic Analysis that has a similar passage about limiting increases in rankings to pages purposefully to monitor for web spam like activity in response to that limitation.

    When I wrote a post about this patent, which the SEOBook article references, I suspected that there would be articles like yours which might confuse and misinform people. I'd definitely recommend that you read through that patent carefully if you have a chance. Google isn't saying that all SEOs are spammers, or that all changes to websites are going to be construed as attempts to spam the search engines.

    Rather, it lays out a framework to investigate and monitor spam attempts based upon an automated response to changes to pages (whether on page or link-based). If during a transition rank period, someone makes reasonable and legitimate changes to a page that don't fall into the areas Google highlights in its webmaster guidelines as potential problem areas, then there really shouldn't be anything for any webmaster to worry about.

    • Thanks Bill

      Bill, another h/t.

      "SEO is an acronym for "search engine optimization" or "search engine optimizer." Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time...

      - Google Webmaster Tools Help
    • Aww c'mon fellas...

      Good for a laugh no? I mean really.

      When I first came across this post my shock was soon overcome by hours of great laughs. And to be honest, it's not confined to this single post, this is just the best of the best. Negative SEO? Can't fix Panda? Can't do anything? I love it. I think EVERYONE should stop doing SEO right now (except for my clients of course).

      Bill and I have already had the joy of this latest entry making the rounds (anyone remember the reasonable surfer madness?) and discussing it on twitter, facebook and elsewhere. Some classic chicken little moments abound throughout the SEO industry.

      My own sense of it, in addition to what Bill has eluded to, is that an instance where a website has already been flagged in some way (by another of the myriad of web spam / boosting detection methods) that indeed something like this approach might be used to gain further evidence towards a manual or algorithmic dampening. It doesn't seem that using this stringently across the entire index would make a lot of sense. In short, we'd see a LOT more flux that we currently do.

      The other fun bits, as Bill also mentioned, is how this is somehow 'new'. Another assertion that belies the ignorance of those pontificating about it.

      Anyway, the hyperbole in this particular offering has been well dealt with already here in the comments. I just wanted to drop in real quick and leave a bit of support for my geeky brethren. It's obviously a slow news week industry wide.

      Pro Tip for Tom; SEO Book often takes the more aggresive stance as is their way. We (industry types) know this, and often respect it. Someone has to have our back right? But, one should approach 'the Book' at times with that understanding.

      Pro Tip #2; get a greater context when considering 1 of the hundreds of Google patents awarded each year. Cherry picking usually won't teach you a whole lot.


      "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." - Hubert H. Humphrey
      the Gypsy
    • Google and the DOJ

      I tend to think the DOJ would love nothing better then to catch Google manually penalizing a site just to test their theory they may be trying to game their algorithm. I tend to believe this a nothing more then speculation, and not something they are actively implementing. Thoughts?
      Norm Miller
  • I'm sorry, what?

    I'm will Bill on this one. Did you even read the patent? Or read any of the supporting analysis?

    This article isn't journalism. It's not even hysteria. It's pure fiction.
  • Riddle Me This...

    If changing your website is so bad, then why did you write this article? Aren't you afraid that by doing so, the rankings for your site will plummet?

    Actually what you really ought to be worried about is that by writing this post, you will incurr the wrath of all the negative SEO's out there, who are going to send link spam to ZDNet....
    (in case you are ironically challenged, that last part was a joke).
  • Advising People

    You had me (cringing) at "I've always advised people not to worry about search engine optimization (SEO)..."

    I do respectful your difference of opinion on this Tom -- I just question how informed it is. As one who is also in a position of advising people - I find it helpful to get as much of the facts straight as I can.
  • I'm speechless...

    This is for sure the most useless piece of information I’ve read in years…

    “I've always advised people not to worry about search engine optimization (SEO) with the explanation that it's the job of the search engine to optimize its performance - not yours.”

    Translates to:

    “I've always advised business owners not to worry about marketing with the explanation that it's the job of clients to find your products - not yours.”

    Sorry if I seem rude but all the content in this article is absolute rubbish.
  • Problem with the "explanation"

    Hi Tom,

    When you have a primary resource such as a patent a click away and written by someone directly from the search engine, and a blog post about it from someone not from the search engine, relying upon the blog post itself without looking at the patent can potentially be a serious mistake. In this case it was.

    Let's take a look at the "explanation" that you've posted from the blog post. One of the sentences from it tells us:

    Google may shift the rankings of your site, in what appears to be a random manner, before Google settles on a target rank.

    Actually, Google already calculated a "target rank" under the method described in the patent, so this statement is completely wrong. The shifts in ranking are in a transition period that happens while moving from the old rank to the already calculated target rank.

    This is another one of the sentences that you've quoted on how this transition rank function patent works:

    Google then toys with you for a while before sending your site plummeting to the target rank.

    The problem is, that if you read the patent, a "target" rank is one that is an improved ranking.

    I'll repeat that.

    An improved ranking.

    You can't plummet to it. When Google sees changes on your site that would "improve" a ranking for a page of yours, the "old rank" (yes, that's a technical term in the patent) is the previous rank for the page. The "target rank" is where the page would move up to if Google didn't put the page (or site, or many sites that might be affiliated in some way) through a transition rank function period first.

    If the person responsible for the page, whether spammer, site owner, designer, developer, or SEO makes changes during the transition rank function period that Google clearly identifies as web spam (hidden or tiny text, keyword stuffing, misleading redirects, etc.), the site may never make it to the improved "target" rank.

    I'll stress this again. If you're going to write about a patent, I would highly recommend reading the patent first.

    Relying upon someone else's opinion without checking the patent can result in misleading a very large number of people.
  • Did you check with the ZDNet parent company on your stands..?

    ZDNet, as part of the CBS Interactive group is doing active SEO on their websites.
    I'm interested how the CBSi SEO team might look at this article and if they would share your perspective of not to worry about SEO.

    I'm sure this article will get a lot of SEO's jumping on it, as we tend to bite to many times if somebody is fishing. I call link bait on this one!
  • Really?

    "I've always advised people not to worry about search engine optimization (SEO) with the explanation that it's the job of the search engine to optimize its performance -- not yours."

    That's why you...
    1. are using the author tag?
    2. are using keywords in the title and URL?
    3. have your name as the alt tag for your photo?
    4. Internal link to another post using anchor text?
    5. put sharing icons on the page?

    Because the SEO took care of itself?

    It's just sad when a reputable website writes something like this but ou probably wrote this just to get responses like these anyway. Touche.