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Jared Hamilton
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Google reasonable sufer patentThis past week there was a buzz about a patent that was awarded to Google that is being referred to as the Reasonable Surfer Patent. The specifics of the patent reveal that it was filed 6 years ago and awarded in May 2010.

The first thing I questioned was the relevance of the patent since so much has changed in the past 6 years in search. The patent data include this text:

  • Ranking documents based on user behavior and/or feature data
  • Invented by Jeffrey A. Dean, Corin Anderson and Alexis Battle
  • Assigned to Google Inc.
  • United States Patent 7,716,225
  • Granted May 11, 2010
  • Filed: June 17, 2004

SEO pundits have differing opinions on the specific value of this patent but to save you the internal banter, I will try to distill what I think is most important. This patent is focused on how Google will “weight” links on a web page.

The weighting may include predicting what a consumer would most likely click on a web page. So a text link in the first paragraph of a blog article, with interesting anchor text, could have more “weight” than a link in the bottom page footer.

Links are critical in the overall visibility of any website and this patent is part of that discussion. The discussion that has surfaced pertains to where is the best place for links on a page and how do different types of links “rate” with Google.

For example, a link from the home page of Automotive News to any dealer’s website is a great link to have since that site is a recognized authority in the automotive industry. This link would have more “weight” than a link from a brand new microsite or a friends landscaping website.

Building Inbound Links

Car dealers who have launched effective off-site SEO campaigns that produce high quality inbound links from well ranked websites normally have an edge over their competition with all other things considered equal. However, it is difficult for dealers to independently create hundreds or thousands of high quality links to their websites.

Dealers can obtain high quality links from press releases, social communities, car forums, article syndication, document publishing portals and business directories. Increasing links is like an annuity of good will and create a digital marketing foundation.

If you have been considering increasing the links to your website, you should understand some of the basics of link building. Some of the questions you may have are:

  • How many links do I have directed to my website?
  • What is a good link?
  • Where can I find places to create links back to my site?
  • Where should that link be located?
  • Are image links better than text links?

To find the number of inbound links pointing to your website, and to make it easy for anyone to get a correct count, I recommend that you go to www.websitegrader.com . Type in your domain name and then click on the “Generate Report” button.

Website Grader

The free report and analysis includes the number of “inbound links”. While you have the report, take a look at the data and one thing to spot is when your domain is going to expire. If it's less than two years, renew it today. Also, if your score is under 70/100, it would be a good time to give an SEO advisor a call.

Dealers who want to be competitive in online search should seek to have a diverse set of high quality sites linking to their website. I bring this up because often I see hundreds of links coming from only one website and so the number of links masks the problem of low diversity.

The total recommended links will vary but I would like to see over 1,000 links to the dealer’s home page and hundreds of links to key inside web pages like service, parts, and used cars. A good link is one that comes from a reputable website that has real content, real visitor activity and relevance to your business. The site can also be unrelated to your business but one that has a high Google PageRank. There are many link building scams on the market, so be careful that you don’t waste your money.

The Reasonable Surfer Patent emphasizes what I have been recommending for years. Content based SEO strategies that include blogs, press releases, article publishing, posting articles on technical forums and social communities can deliver high quality links. The key is to place that link in such a way that enhances the page and that links to the right page on your dealer website.

An example would be posting an article, outside of your website, about the different types of Nissan extended warranty plans available to a consumer. In the article you would place links to the extended warranty page on your dealer website or even Nissan brochures on your website. Car dealers who have been blogging for years or participating in automotive forums already know this.

How Many Links Do You Have?

Do you know how many links are pointing to your website? How about your competitor’s website? You can see inbound links on any website by going to Yahoo and typing in your competitor’s domain name or your domain name with the “link” parameter.

Yahoo Inbound Links

For example, if you wanted to see where ABC Ford (www.abcford.com) was building links from you would go to Yahoo and type in the search box:

link:www.abcford.com

No spaces. This will bring up the Yahoo Site Explorer and it will show you the first 1,000 inbound links to any website. There is a debate whether a text link will not be as strong as an image that is linked because a “surfer” may be more likely to click on a photo or banner that is above the fold.

There is no uniform agreement on this matter. Should you bold the text anchor? Should you use larger fonts for the anchor text? That is where the art of link building and testing comes into play. What is most uniformly agreed is that a list of links in a sidebar or footer will not be as strong as links inside an article.

Of course I am talking about a well written article with links on anchor text that point to relevant pages on a dealer’s website.

If you want to target high value keywords that you want your website to appear on Google Page One, then a combination of good on-site content and a few hundred links from external sites may be just what you need. The strategy for off-site links will be to use the keyword in content and hyperlink that keyword to an appropriate page on your website. It’s a two part strategy that must be in place to win.

If your keyword goal is very competitive you will most likely need thousands of links. The point is that over time, you can compete and win against your local competitors if you have a strong content writing and off-site link building strategy..

Jared Hamilton
Dealers need MULTIPLE web properties each with different URLs and different content strategies. This is a must for agressive marketers going forward. Having multiple properties will do two main things: 1. Cast a wider net to rank for more keywords, picking up longtail traffic funneling customers back to the store. 2. Allow dealers to maintain constant linking into their sites where link juice is needed. THis wont replace the need to drop content elsewhere, but this should be part of every dealers thought process today. The problem will become who will manage these sites, the linking and create the content. Dealers have trouble keeping multiple sites up to date, an agressive marketing strategy going forward will really strain a dealerships current structure. The old model of dealership structure is being recreated in progressive stores...
Joe High
Brian and Jared, This is a great post and interesting feedback. I love what Google is shooting for here. This will give the companies that are actually trying to provide a solution to the consumer the upper hand. The companies that stuff everything at the bottom of the page or hide content behind a click should suffer. Google is working to provide the consumer with the most relevant information based on their search. Dealers need to work with a provider that has the same approach. To many website providers in our industry spend all of their time chasing Google. If everyone started chasing the consumer instead you would actually be aligned with Google instead of chasing them. To our competitors out there, please keep building microsite after microsite. Link it back to the dealers main website, bury your content behind hidden windows. I am sure that is what the consumer really wants to see (or not see). Jared, I respectfully disagree with your response (especially since it is your blog. Based on my rant above about my competitors, I am not sure that I see why more websites are better for the consumer. Sure, in some cases microsites, additional sites, etc... are working for dealers, but that is changing. For what its worth, I think it is changing because it doesn't make sense to have all of your content spread out across multiple URLs. I am sure someone will argue that if you have more specific content that as a % of the total content matches the search better that you would have better results with Google. That might be the case today but in my opinion that is a reflection of poor site design on the main site. Long story short. Dealers need to use a website provider that is capable of displaying all of the content the consumer needs in one place in a way that it can be consumed easily. That method is easier for the consumer to digest rather than jumping from site to site to find what you want. And easier for the consumer means that all of that money Google spends on R&D will be to find out how to make the website that cares about consumers, the website at the top of their results. Thanks for putting up with my mumblings. Joe High GM: XIGroup and recently named GM: Dealerskins

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