Serendipity SEO

This is the story about the owner of a web design company and their attempts to get some rankings on the first page of Google a few years ago,  and just last month, and how it has all changed….

Then

Mr Jones, the owner of ABC Web design approached the office of Google with a great deal of hope, he had done his homework, bought all the right software and followed all the ‘rules’ (and used a few, let us say, shady tricks that were known to work too) when building his website and the links to it. He was happy and extremely confident, the sun was shining, just what could go wrong?

The Interview

Mr Jones was ushered into the Google offices, they were nice and tidy, with pictures of that ‘nice Mr Google’ on all the walls, his smiling face beaming from the images on all who passed. The queue was not that big and he did not have to wait long. Best of all the mood in the room was good, everyone waiting for their appointments looking comfortable.

Soon his time came and Mr Jones dutifully followed the directions to Mr Google’s offices. In those days he did the interviews personally, after all there were not that many, and he loved to see all the applicants and discuss with them how he decided who to include and what the rules were.

Mr Jones handed over his application and Mr Google inspected it with great interest. Opening the first page, all about the way the website was built, his smiled broadened still further. “You have really helped us here” he declared, “You have used the phrase ‘web site design’, let me see, seven times on the home page alone, AND placed in the H1 headers 3 times”. Looking further down the page, he sees that all the images are tagged using the words ‘web design by ABC Web Design’, “My word”, he said “You certainly can’t miss what you do, it is plastered everywhere. You know, people like you make our job (of picking the best sites) so much easier, Thank you so very much.”

Moving onto the section about links to the ABC site, Mr Google’s smile increased so much, you wondered if his face was about to split into two. “Gosh, just look at this lot, there’s literally thousands of links here, and from so many places too”. “LOOK, there’s one from a fish farm in Florida, and another from a Yak canning factory in Mongolia, my you sure get around don’t you.”

Looking further down in the list he notices that every site that ABC had ever built had a link back to the designers’ site, each one saying ‘web design’ or ‘web designers’. “ I see you have helped us again here too, EVERY page you have ever built links back to you, it sure does help us work out what you do and how many times you have done it, thanks again.”

Finally, he turned to pages about ‘chatter’, looking for times that ABC design had been mentioned. This sort of thing was limited then, just the forums and Bulletin Boards, mostly inhabited by techies being available for people to place their thoughts on. “Well he declared, I can see you are mentioned here and there, we don’t expect much from this sort of area, so it will do”.

The meeting ended with that nice Mr Google shaking Mr Jones hand and declaring that he expected his application “would be successful”,  saying this with a smile and a friendly glint in his eyes.

Mr Jones went back to his offices a happy man, and sure enough, he did get first page rankings for a whole host of words, but best of all he was number Uno for the term ‘web designers’….

Now

Mr Jones opened the letter from Google with much trepidation, he heard that lots of businesses, had ‘had the call’ about having to attend a meeting about their rankings and was distinctly worried. He had heard on the grapevine that things were changing, but just how much, and what would it all mean?

The Interview

When Mr Jones got to Google’s offices he was astonished, they had altered so much, gone was the homely set of buliding, now they were huge, gleaming white in the sunshine, it was all quite dazzling. Massive signs declared the company motto ‘Do No Evil’  (although he did notice that someone, in very small writing had added the words ‘and make a lot of money in the process’  at the bottom).

Inside he noticed that the pictures of that nice Mr Google had gone, instead images depicting all the products (and there were many) that Google had developed, and the companies they had acquired adorned the walls.

The queue for the interviews was a lot different as well, it was huge, the waiting room being packed. But most of all he noticed the change of mood in the room. The happy joking faces had been replaced by worried ones, many of them despondently staring at their shoes. Every now and then someone was led away for their interview, their body language resembling someone being taken to the executioners block. It was not a happy place. Mr Jones gripped his application book (that was not a lot different to the first one) and prayed to all the Gods he had ever heard of.

Eventually his turn came. As he walked to the interview room he thought of the rumours he’d heard about the people that were carrying them out, some had said they acted like ‘animals’ but he was not sure what they meant…

Inside the room, his worst fears were realised, sitting at the vast resplendent desk sat the biggest Panda and Penguin that he had ever seen. He took his seat and waited, wordlessly passing his application book across the pages, under it seemed to him a compulsion that he could not control.

Mr Panda went first (it seemed to be the way to address him, although Mr Jones was unsure), saying that Mr Google no longer carried out these interviews, there being far too many now, and besides, they now needed to be run by people with ‘specialist knowledge’. The last words were said in a way that created tingles all along the back and neck of Mr Jones.

The Panda then opened the section about the way the pages had been built. Immediately his face creased with concern, then indignation. “What do you take us for” he boomed, “We are not idiots, we don’t need you to use the phrase ‘web designers’ 7 times on the front page”,” and we certainly don’t want you to put more than 1 in H1 tag”. He leaned across the desk at this point saying in menacing tones “It’s like you are trying to manipulate our decisions, like we are a bit stupid or something “ all the while sounding like an American gangster “Mr Google don’t like that sort of thing anymore you know.”

He pushed the book to the Penguin, who leafed to the pages about links. His face too creased up, the creases becoming so deep, it quickly resembled one of those relief maps you see of a mountain range, complete with deep valleys and staggering peaks.

“I see you have thousands of links to your site”, “I expect that you think it will impress us?” Mr Jones began to stammer a reply based on the idea ‘that it used too’, but was quickly waved to silence. “I see you have a link from a Florida fish farm here, did you do some work for them, or are you interested in farming fish?”  the latter said with a sort of snarl. Going on he the spotted the Mongolian Yak link. “Do you design web sites for companies in Mongolia?” Mr Jones shook his head.  “So what is this link doing here then?” Mr Jones hoped it was a rhetorical question, it was.

Not waiting for a reply, he moved on to the links from the all the pages on all the sites, that ABC web design had built. “I see that you have built lots of sites over the years, I expect you are very proud of them all”, “But” going on “Is that a good reason to link to your site from every page?”

“It’s like my associate Mr Panda says, it’s like you are trying to influence us or something…”

The Panda grunted, it began more and more to look like one of those police interviews, you know the ones with the good cop and the bad cop, the only difference being that this time, there were just two ‘bad cops’.

Finally, Mr Penguin moved onto the section about ‘chatter’. This was an area that had changed quite a bit, there being entries for Google +,Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. “I can see you have been reasonably busy in this area”, “We like that don’t we Mr Panda” he said. The Panda nodded and even smiled briefly.

The Penguin mentioned the positive comments on some Facebook posts, these being about  the designs ABC had been responsible for.  Speaking to the Panda, “You know Mr P, we could use positive and negative comments to rate pages too if we wanted”. “What a good idea” the Panda said, “I’ll add it to the list. Let me see that makes about 200 more things we will be checking for soon, Wonderful”. High Fives of flipper and paw were exchanged before the Penguin turned his attention to Mr Jones once more.

The Penguin went on to say, in a warning tone, that Mr Jones should be aware that they will be looking ever more closely into the area of Social Media and that he should not to abuse it, but at the moment, at least they were really just looking for mentions of the brand or domain name and that here at least he had done the right thing.

The latter comment caused a pit to form in Mr Jones’s stomach (about a mile deep it seemed).

The meeting concluded with a shake of hands / paws and flippers, but every time, Mr Jones felt that it was his neck , not his hand that was really being shaken…

Epilogue

In the end, it was not all bad news. Taking the advice he had heard, he quickly went to work removing the multiple use of  key terms like ‘web design’ on all his pages and also removed lots of links from all the sites that he had built, leaving just one or two on each. This he thought was bound to impress both Mr Panda and Mr Penguin. He even thought of using that new ‘disavow tool’ to get rid of the links from the Florida fish farm and that dammed Yak factory.

Time, and the changes yet to come will write the fate of Mr Jones and  the ABC Web Design company. It will all in the end depend on how well they listen to the Grapevine and learn to dance to whatever particular tune Google and its animal friends are playing at that time..

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