The love triangle
Private site networks often have deserved bad name in SEO, not because private networks are bad but in the way they have been poorly executed by SEOs for clients. Usually as a result of SEO carelessness (taking shortcuts) or greed by the client steering the SEO to make economic choices that result in corners being cut.
We must remember that the relationship between the search engines and the publishers or webmasters is at a very basic level about making content available in exchange for traffic. this is why Google get’s to index and categorise the worlds information without paying for it, and in return the best sites will be rewarded with no direct costs. However in this love triangle between the users, search engines and webmasters, one must remember:
Just as search engines have a right to assess websites for deciding on:
- inclusion in the index
- passing value to other sites via links
Publishers also have the right to have a collection of sites in order to:
- Diversify downtime risk
- Create bespoke experiences for different topics which inevitably satisfy different audience needs
- Create sites for purposes that cannot be fulfilled by the main corporate site
Of course the relationship is slightly complicated as no money changes hands between the two parties, therefore there is third person in the relationship. The third person being the user.
Despite the lack of clear guidance by the search engines on how to acquire links, the message from Matt Cutts is clear:
“Think about what your audiences want and build a site for them.” said in his closing comments at SMX West
The good of the child comes first
In Matrimonial Law under the jurisdiction of England and Wales, the courts will often rule in favour of decisions that are for the good of the child. So if the father does not have money to contribute to the living expenses to the mother for raising the child. The courts will not punish the father by depriving the father access to the child – a child needs their father.
In a similar sense, what is good for the users is good for both the search engines and the publishers, hence put the user first and it is highly unlikely the search engines will directly punish the publisher for having a network of sites.
It’s about behaviour
Often the ethics of having a network of sites comes under debate especially in agency land. Is the activity of building sites for the purpose of SEO unethical? The answer? it depends:
If the sites purely exist for link building and nothing else then yes it is unethical. After all these sites have no clear investment put into the content (i.e. lacking substance), no effort placed into the web design, these sites do nothing but link, link, link.
However, if there is value to the user that comes across this content – regardless of author identity disclosure or not – then obviously the user experience has been prioritised above manipulative linking. If these sites are created to welcome traffic and build relationships with users – that’s obviously a good thing. This may be reinforced by the publishers or site builders at al times upholding the Webmaster Guidelines at al times.
The behaviour of the former is quite obvious the way the sites are constructed for SEO manipulation. There are many link building companies that boast great throughput but couldn’t give too hoots about the science and art of information retrieval. All they care about is about maximising revenue per link by using the latest rhetoric as the latest trick to sel to media agencies.
Unfortunately due to the poor historical record of the SEO industry which has resulted in clients having a highly negative impression of private networks. Partly the buyers of SEO’s are the architect of their own perception as many have probably been burnt before due to unrealistic budgets and listening to the tosh that written about SEO by so called experts on a daily basis – who do no testing and just inaccurately regurgitate someone elses ideas.
However, as providers of SEO one must take it upon ourselves to educate the client and make them aware of how things must be done right. The resources required, the design input and the risks to be managed by prioritising user experience.
However, the behaviour in the real world by some enterprises shows perfectly legitimate examples for having a network of sites:
- Film studios and their domains to represent the movies they release
- Oil companies and their different regions, product groups and sub brands
- Food and Drink groups wishing to have websites representing different advertising and PR campaigns
Some advertising agencies do it well, and some not so well. Regardless, it’s the user experience that matters most. But do you think companies like Shell feel the need to fabricate the WHOIS etc? Will it stop Shell from succeeding in their Offsite SEO campaigns not ont he basis of same WHOIS.
Link building precedes Google and Bing. The search engines know this. People have a right to anonymity and they have a right to have a collection of sites. Just as Search Engines have the right to select who they send traffic to and who to trust as sources of information. however as long as people uphold the Webmaster guidelines then there is nothing to fear. The uses will dictate whom is good not the publishers and not the search engines.
So let’s put this nonsense about private networks to bed for once and for all.