By the numbers: The black and white of Google’s Penguin

By the numbers: The black and white of Google’s Penguin

Summary: SEO experts often overemphasise the importance of incoming links to your website, particularly since Google introduced Penguin earlier this year. Telstra provides an interesting case in point.

TOPICS: Google, Telstra

Every SEO specialist will tell you that the number of people linking into your website will influence how well you perform in search engine rankings. To an extent, they are right, although many are probably overstating the case and oversimplifying the concept.

It's the quality of the link that counts. That means, coming from a frequented site, with links that people actually click on and that those people go on to consume the content that they have arrived at.

That's why you should ignore SEO companies that offer to get you linked on hundreds (or thousands) of sites, often using link trading — you link to someone's site, they'll link to yours. As if search engine algorithms wouldn't spot such a thing and consider it a phoney way to raise your profile.

Yet, many big companies follow a similar approach. Let's take Telstra as an example. A Google search for "link:" shows that there were 1,140 links created over the last month — dwarfing the link profile of most other major Australian companies. Looking down the list of sites that link-on, and you'll soon see how a rolling program of sponsorships and events have helped, particularly in relation to sport.

Sadly for Telstra, though, sticking their logo on lots of other sites isn't helping their organic search ranking. Even though they dominate the telecommunications sector and have one of the most linked-into websites in Australia, type "mobile phone plans" into Google, and you'll see that they come in fifth in the search results (on various computers available to ZDNet, the result fluctuated between third and fifth) . On Bing, they come in 17th place, relegated to the second page for most people; even Crazy Johns ranks higher.

Search results for "mobile phone plans."

This clearly shows what little impact lots of unused inbound links have in the secret herbs and spices that determine your Google ranking.

Google calls ways that cheat the system "link schemes". Some techniques, such as link exchanging, do not work, are a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines, and will negatively impact your ranking. Google Penguin was an algorithm released earlier this year to stamp out such behaviour — the third iteration was released earlier this month. All the more reason to ignore the SEO company that is promising to build oodles of links for you.

It would be a bit extreme to consider a linkable Telstra logo on a myriad of sponsored websites as a violation of Google's guidelines (and a victim of Penguin), but it is a wasted opportunity. Imagine the impact if Telstra pointed readers to a blog, with an entry related to the page they clicked on, or at least on a topical subject pertaining to that audience.

In a nutshell, links work, but only if they offer an interesting destination that lives up to its promise. All thanks to Penguin, a clever bird — with beautiful plumage.

Topics: Google, Telstra


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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  • Incorrect

    Great attempt to cover off recent Google algorithm updates- though with all due respect, sadly demonstrates lack of understanding of these concepts on your part Mr. Dobbie.

    Quoting the webmaster blog (that you've proudly quoted on several occasions but missed some imp. points): "The link: command will list a SAMPLE of web pages that have links pointing to the Google home page". Please note that what you see is just a minor SAMPLE of the TOTAL links pointing to the site. This DOES NOT show links added over time (e.g. over the the last month, as you've stated).

    Moreover, I did a quick check to discover that Telstra does not have reciprocal links to most of these 'sponsor' listings, which dismisses your 'link exchange' theory!

    Overall, I agree to your high level agenda that spamming for back-links will get you nowhere but the theory you've used to demonstrate that is simply incorrect. Is Telstra (or for that matter any major organization) abusing Google's best practices? - I don't know. But what I do know is that any major brand would be continually engaged in activities like sponsorship and thus would have an obvious link (via logo/anchor text) to their website and Google is smart enough to recognize that as genuine.

    A useful read for anyone who'd like to have a better understanding of how this works:

    *I'd like to clear out that I am an independent Internet Marketer and in no way affiliated to Telstra or any other Telcos
  • What's Incorrect?

    Nowhere did I say Telstra was engaged in any link exchange program. Or that their sponsorship was intended to drive links. I simply said they could make more of their sponsorship to link to relevant content. The point of showing Telstra links was to highlight how they have lots, but their search results aren't great.
    I think you've been imagining I said something that I didn't.