I know, right…that’s a pretty bold title for a blog post!
But hear me out. I promise it’ll be worth it.
A couple of weeks ago now, I was running some standard daily ranking checks on some the niches I follow – one of which is going to be the focus of today’s post.
One of the SERPs I like to keep an eye on the results set for “SEO”. After all, if you want to see what ranking strategies are working right now, what better way than to see what other SEO agencies are doing to their own sites, right?
When I saw that Creare were ranking #3, I was intrigued enough to have a little dig and see what they were up to.
What I uncovered was yet another implementation of the 301 redirect strategy that’s absolutely killing it in the SERPs right now. The technique is so easy and simple to do, yet it’s somehow repeatedly slipping through Google’s net, and has been for some time.
OK, let’s get down to it. That’s what you’re all here for after all.
First off, here’s the screenshot I took of the rankings when I first noticed this around 2 weeks ago:
So at this point, Creare were ranking as the 3rd organic result for the most coveted search term in the SEO industry. SEO agencies fight hard over this set of search results, and understandably so. What better endorsement of your agency than practicing what you preach? If you want potential clients to sit up and listen and believe that you know what you’re doing, showing them something like this is at the very least going to let you get your foot in the door.
Not to mention the lead gen opportunities that come with rankings like that. Let’s face it, if I were a client and wanted to come up higher on Google but didn’t know how to make that happen, I’d most likely just solicit the help of those who are already doing it. Wouldn’t you?
And with search volumes as juicey as these, you can bet they’ll be getting enough leads to keep Matt Cutts in a job for the foreseeable future:
Notice as well, that although they’re ranking #3, they are actually the first SEO agency there. Wikipedia obviously get first dips on the top spot, that’s just standard practice these days. But being the number 1 agency on Google for such a headline term like this…that’s pretty impressive.
Keep in mind, this post was written 2 weeks ago now. I originally held off publishing this post, as I wanted to wait it out and see how long these rankings could be sustained. But it’s now been 2 weeks and they don’t show any signs of slipping.
First things first, let’s chuck the site into ahrefs and see what kind of link profile we’re dealing with.
7 referring domains? Something’s clearly not right here.
What makes it even more suspect is that the spread of anchor texts being used actually doesn’t look that bad:
Looks fairly natural to me!
Plenty of variation in the anchors, lots of nice long and general phrases being used.
Certainly nothing that’s going to give them beast rankings like we’re seeing right now anyway.
Until you dig a little deeper that is.
Let’s take a look at the domains that are linking to them. Maybe all 7 of them are powerhouse domains and that’s what’s helping them rank so nicely…
Well that rules that theory out.
Let’s Go Deeper
The eagle eyed among you will have already noticed the 536 inbound links coming from seo-creare.co.uk. I don’t know about you, but I reckon that deserves a closer look.
A sitewide 301 redirect!
Sweet. Now we’re onto something.
So what do we know about 301 redirects?
Or to put it more accurately, what do we think we know about 301 redirects?
Well we know that a 301 redirect is basically akin to moving all of the links from one URL to another. The vast majority (not all) of the link juice is passed through the 301 redirect, and in effect, you’re merging the 2 pages into one – or at least, you are from an SEO perspective.
But here’s the thing…
If the links are essentially being passed on to the new URL through the 301 redirect, then surely the anchor text – along with any associated penalties or negative effects – would flow through too?
That’s why most SEO’s I know are always reluctant to recommend a 301 to bypass penalties. In theory it’s kind of pointless because it’s simply going to flow through to the new URL.
Here’s the anchor text distribution for the backlink profile of seo-creare.co.uk as at the time of writing this post:
Don’t worry, you’re not seeing things. And yes, that really is happening.
That’s an extraordinary amount of links with the anchor of “SEO” – which is coincidentally (or rather, not so coincidentally) the phrase that the new site is ranking so highly for.
So it seems that Matt Cutts confirmation 4years ago that anchor text does indeed pass through a 301 redirect is still valid:
What he failed to mention in that video though, is that the normal penalty and over optimisation of anchor text rules, don’t seem to follow suit.
If you had that kind of link profile going directly into your money site, you could probably expect a couple of day of good rankings at best before the site went bye byes.
But by pushing the links through this 301 redirect, Creare have managed to sustain their page 1 rankings for at least the last 2 weeks.
Even now – 2 weeks after I first noticed this – they are still the top SEO agency on page 1 for the term “SEO”.
So where are all these links coming from?
I’m so glad you asked!
I dug into the backlink profile and very quickly found out what was going on. Nearly all of the links with the “SEO” anchor were coming from footer links in websites who were clearly clients of Creare.
Check out these examples:
And another one…
Did you spot it?
The cheeky little optimised anchor in the footer?
And it’s not just one or 2 sites either. There’s an absolute shit ton of links being generated like this.
I could go on and on listing examples. Or you could just go over to ahrefs and check it out for yourself.
Lessons To Take Away
I’ve been seeing and hearing about this technique working really well for quite a while now.
It’s about as black hat as it comes, and it’s certainly not something I would use for any of my sites. Not the ones I care about anyway. And I certainly wouldn’t want it anywhere near my clients sites.
Ultimately, anything like this is only ever going to be a short term tactic. Sooner or later that penalty is going to catch up with you (if the manual review doesn’t get to you first) and you’re going to come unstuck.
And you can’t build a business around something so unstable and unpredictable.
But with that being said, it’s certainly interesting to see this type of thing working so well right now.
I have reached out to Creare and asked them to comment. I’ll post their response here if and when I receive one, so make sure you stay tuned for that!