Do Top Students Get to Pray in Google Church?

We've heard many times that Google treats the division between PPC and organic listings like the separation of church and state. But it seems some of Google's bigger spenders have been getting away with actions that earn lesser sites a spot in Google purgatory.

Link buying is a major no-no at Google, just ask Matt Cutts and his spam team. But recently it seems like big spenders in AdWords are getting away with this, almost like the spend acts as a paid inclusion and the violations aren't being enforced as heavily.

"If a webmaster chooses to buy or sell links for the purpose of manipulating search engine rankings, we reserve the right to protect the quality of our index. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank violates our webmaster guidelines. Such links can hurt relevance," Cutts has written.

So I guess they're reserving their right to allow them as well, in some cases.

StubHub is a good example of a big PPC spender also having great organic listings from what appears to be paid links. A simple search of their backlinks show obvious paid links and some not so obvious links – like ones at ESPN, which has an affiliate program that gets added in on-click so the link juice can be passed.

Granted, the related sports sites and paid links from relevant sites haven't been attacked as heavily as links bought from wherever just for the juice. StubHub has a talented team of SEO people. Their listing in the New York Post sports section is a work of genius. It looks like an ad and is more than likely paid for as an ad insertion, but the code is pure genius.

The bottom link is separated out as a sponsor, so Google can notch that one but leave the deeper links above in the table, or even let it stay as it is: as an image tag – buy with anchor text, including online tickets!

Now E-Trade has another method that seems to teeter on the fence of Google's guidelines. The bulk of their links come from themselves.

What?

The Web site has its main domain, but it ranks mostly for its subdomain – us.etrade.com – which has 500,000 inbound links of their own, but just over 20,000 come from sites not associated with the domain at all, according to Yahoo Site Explorer. By this stage, such a huge exchange of links from the main domain to a subdomain should be downplayed, but the ranking suggests they get benefits.

During my research, I came across a new one to me: the use of different "www" beginnings. In the competitive space of cell phones, Let's Talk ranks well and has piles of links from their own site, but these links are seen as different because they use www7 and www2, etc., for their blogs. One would think this would be quickly found, but they're another large PPC advertiser.

Competitive spaces require creative methods for getting well ranked. Does being a big spender in Google give you an advantage? Yes it does.

I've seen it first hand while I ran a $1-million-plus-a-month Google spend. They didn't give me the algorithm, but suggested things to look at. One time when we fell out of the results because of a canonical issue, we were back in within three hours once it was brought to their attention. Having that relationship comes from being a good client and having someone to pass along things quicker than the usual e-mail process small sites have to struggle with.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies New York from March 22-26, 2010. Approximately 5,000 marketers and search engine optimization professionals attend SES New York each year to network and learn about topics such as PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization, usability and more. SES New York will be packed with 70+ sessions, multiple keynotes, 100+ exhibitors, networking events and parties. Your customers, colleagues and competition will be in attendance – will you?

About the author

Frank Watson has been involved with the Web since it started. For the past five years, he headed SEM for FXCM -- at one time one of the top 25 spenders with AdWords. He has worked with most of the major analytics companies and pioneered the ability to tie online marketing with offline conversion.

He has now started his own marketing agency, Kangamurra Media. This new venture will keep him busy when he is not editing the Search Engine Watch forums, blogging at a number of authoritative sites, and developing some interesting online community sites.

He was one of the first 100 AdWords Professionals, a Yahoo and Overture Ambassador, and a member or mod of many of the industry forums. He is also on the Click Quality Council and has worked hard to diminish click fraud.