Every time Google changes or updates their algorithm, the same thing always happens. Forums and blog comments get flooded with people who shout that "the sky is falling" for tried and true search engine optimization techniques.
This has never been more true than with Google's latest Panda update. The cries from the sky-is-falling crowd have been louder than I've ever heard them before.
But how much, really, has changed? Are the basic SEO tactics (quality content plus lots of links) still working?
Let me recount the story of one website of mine, and you can decide for yourself.
First of all, let me say that this website was simply a test of my 3WayLinks.net link network. I wanted to see how well 3WL could rank the websites in the network. That means that the quality of the site isn't all that great, and the content, while unique, is nothing that's going to win a Pulitzer. To put it simply: I would never create a serious site that mirrors this test case site.
I created the site back in August of 2007. It took 5 hours total. I put the site in the 3WayLinks network and sat back to see what would happen. (If you're interested in all of the details, I chronicled the whole thing in a series of blog posts back when I created the site.)
It was only a couple of months before the site was in the top 5 results of Google for its keywords, pulling in thousands of visitors and hundreds of dollars a month in AdSense revenue.
But that was back in 2007. Google has made many changes to their algorithm since then. Meanwhile, I haven't changed this cheesy little site at all. How has it fared in all that time?
Well, for the first three and a half years the site varied in position from number three to number seven on page one of Google, happily earning me on average around $175 a month in AdSense revenue. In the last six months, though, competition in the niche has heated up, and other sites have started doing some pretty serious link building, so my site (which I've not touched at all) now ranges from number nine to number eleven.
Let me emphasize again: this is not a high quality site. I added ten pages of content related to the keywords I wanted to rank, dropped the site in the 3WayLinks network, and sat back to watch what would happen.
Four years later, the site is still ranking well and earning me money every month. In fact, over the last four years this site has earned me $7,501.89 in AdSense revenue. From five hours of work, that means it's earned me about $1,500 an hour! Not bad.
This might seem counter-intuitive. I mean, hasn't everyone been preaching that Google has updated its algorithm to lessen the value of links and to make site and content quality more important? Yeah, that's what I keep hearing, and yet my cheesy little site still ranks well. And this site is not alone, not by far.
I'm aware of one site that blatantly advertises itself as a link selling site, whose quality is very mid-1990s (e.g. ugly) that has sat at the number one position for its highly valuable keywords for almost seven years! Now, if you believed everything you read on the forums and in blog comments, there's no way sites like this will remain ranked because 'Google knows all and sees all and their algorithms prevent those kinds of things.' Um, no, no and no.
Through all of the updates, the May Days, the Farmers, the Pandas and on and on, many of the sites I have built -- and other sites that I monitor -- continue to rank well for their keywords.
That's because, despite everything you may have heard, and everything Google would like you to think, ranking in Google is still all about the links.
I've always said, and continue to say, that ranking in Google is a simple two step formula:
Quality Content + Lots of Links = Good Rankings
And it's not that the quality of the content is really so important (as my cheesy little test site proves), but that quality content invites more links, and those links are what ultimately get you ranked.
Please post your thoughts and questions in a comment below.