I got my a** kicked for being white hat

Originally written 6-26-08, I am just now posting this due to the fact that there's an update I'll be posting soon. Look for it coming soon, this is the longer version of the post that ended up on feedfront.

Last year I had a client who was the largest company in their space, yet they consistently ranked on the bottom of page 2 for their main HOME RUN term no matter how hard they tried. Then they brought us on board and we were able to help get them to #5 at their peak, which I was happy about but NOT thrilled, as they are the leader in their space. The company holding the #1 spot was getting the most garbage geocities-esq links and I mean to the tune of thousands. Most were not on theme and were on low value sites, it just took a quick second to look (I use to see competitors links and their pageranks) and BOOM you could see the low quality stuff.

Interestingly enough, a year later I had the opportunity to work with the company in the #1 spot (our old client's competitor) on some architecture work. We were referred into this company for a very small project, and I was curious how this company was able to rank so well over my old client with no content on their homepage, so I took a short term consulting agreement.

What I found was SAD, SAD, SAD.

A top agency was doing nothing but buying links and a TON of them. This is a highly competitive highly spammed area!

I wonder…if the client who we got to #5 at their peak came back, I KNOW exactly how to get them ranked well – buy those same / similar links as the company who has held the #1 spot for almost 2 years, but that is not what we are supposed to do right? So I won't, too much of a short term gain.

I hate that crappy feeling I get in my gut when I go very cautious on link acquisition to help ensure that our clients don't get in any trouble, yet the obvious spammer keeps buying and keeps retaining their high rankings.

I want to be as on the right side of what Matt Cutts says is right as he does here in this interview.

But it just sucks to see someone cheat and stay at #1 (now in all honesty both sites were 100% relative to the query, so their bought links doesn't hurt the user experience) for almost 2 years and to have an inside look at how they got it and maintain it. It is sheer link numbers on low quality sites, there is no linkbaiting, no widget development, no press releases, no useful tools, no firefox plugins, no coupons! Just hundreds if not thousands of bought links on very low value, low quality domains.

Looking at this insider view, many of you may wonder if my tactics would change. Well, first I know that changing my tactics to be even more aggressive on bought links would likely result in slightly higher rankings for our clients. But with that said, I make it an important part of my strategy to develop long term value for every client.

I think the short term gain is like using steroids in professional sports…you know that at any time the shoe will drop but choose to keep cheating, which is fine as long as the client knows the risks – if they do get caught. Instead of spending all my time figuring out how to get the lowest quality links for now I am going to do everything I can to build systems to better identify the highest quality links the ones that are going to take time to get. I guess it makes me sleep easier at night at #5 that will last for the long haul than the #1 that may work for 20 days, 20 months or 20 years but will eventually fail.

We don't have our highest quality linking process worked out 100% yet, but the blueprint is a beauty and I'll be sharing a part of it at SES Chicago on my presentation on advanced link building.

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Wil Reynolds
Wil Reynolds
CEO & Vice President