The Weekly SEO #214: 301 Redirects, The Disavow Tool, and Google’s Plagiarism Problem

Hello on a sunny Vermont day.

How’re things?

small talk small talk small talk.


Let’s kick things off with the quick hits:

Quick Hits

This week I’m covering three can’t-miss articles with what happened, what it means for SEOs and site builders, and my take on it.

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    Kicking things off with a great Ahrefs experiment.

    Is it OK to Remove 301 Redirects After a Year?

    This post by Patrick Stox seeks to test something Gary Illyes said in 2021 (which, to a 301-redirect-obsessed SEO like myself, was REALLY interesting):

    The take aways, for me at least, were big:

    1. Domains redirected for at least a year had all signals passed from the redirected domain to the… redirectee(?)
    2. Domains that have been redirected to another site for over a year had all their authority leeched away like a vampire bite right on the domain’s neck (so don’t buy any domains that have spent a few years being redirected–they are empty husks of their former SEO power).

    So Patrick set up an experiment with a few Ahrefs posts that had OTHER posts redirected to them (where an old post with a lot of links had been rewritten or optimized by a new URL etc.

    The results?

    One URL lost some traffic, one URL gained a bunch of traffic, and the rest stayed flat.

    I’m not willing to conclusively say that permanent redirects pass value even after one year, but what Gary said seems to mostly hold true.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

    My Take:

    It’s an interesting experiment, but I think a STRONGER experiment would be taking a domain that has been redirected for a long time, stand it back up with a site on it, and see how it ranks.

    This is actually something I DID earlier this year (note to self: write a blog post about this), where I acquired an EMD (exact match domain) with a killer links profile, and put a site on it + one 4,000 word AI-generated not-at-all human-edited piece of content and nothing else.

    Here are the results:

    (I couldn’t even get an eye-busting rocket ship graph because the site started ranking in the top 10 when I took over this domain and installed WP AND NOTHING ELSE). It’s been at the #2 spot for over a month now.

    It was offline for almost a year and then redirected to another site for almost two years.

    And it took like 2 days of having default WP installed for it to start ranking.

    I know this is a data point of one, but it put this comment by Gary “The Illest” Illyes in a different light, and completely redefined how I approach acquiring domains with pre-existing authority.

    ???? Ahrefs: call me, I will write about this as a guest blog post

    Disavowing the Disavow Tool: A Case Study

    This post by Glenn Gabe is so meaty you could start a Brazilian steakhouse with it.

    That also makes it a hard post to summarize and not just entirely rewrite but, *cracks knuckles* I’ma try!

    I am writing this post because I have a great case study to share. And this case follows a number of other companies I have helped that have decided to nuke their disavow files after understanding how the tool is supposed to be used. Those companies haven’t seen any negative impact from nuking their disavow files. And for the case study I’m going to share today, you’ll see how a site completely removed a large disavow file with 15K+ domains in it and actually surged back from the dead after being down based on a terrible migration.
    And I’m not saying the site surged back due to removing the disavow file. I’m simply saying the file didn’t matter at all. They surged back AFTER removing that giant disavow file filled with random, junky, spammy domains.
    • Google employees frequently say the tool is ineffective at best, is hurting websites at worst.
    • The tool itself says not to use it UNLESS YOU HAVE A MANUAL PENALTY.
    • Site in the case study had +15k on their disavow list!
    • Site in the case study surged after the April 2023 Reviews Update
    • Site in the case study is up 140% after the update with no links disavowed

    When to use the disavow file:

    If you bought some real shit links you can’t remove or nofollow (and you’ve got a manual penalty from them, probably).

    My Take:

    Well, I don’t have a ton of experience with the disavow tool because I never really quite bought into it as something one needed to do, so I don’t have any amazing insights.

    It definitely seems like it’s done more harm than good for site owners, and I won’t be surprised if the goes the way of most of Google’s products like Google Domains (too soon!) and gets killed some day.

    Google Didn’t Build an AI They Built A Plagiarism Engine

    Wow, Tom’s Hardware is stepping up to Google re: their Generative Search product.

    The article is by Tom’s Hardware editor-in-chief Avram Piltch and is an extremely critical overview of how Google’s new AI search product is killing organic results by plagiarizing, using terrible, non-authoritative sites in their answers, and pushing the first organic results way down the page.

    How far?

    1300+ pixels for a search of “best bicycle:”

    To me (an SEO and website builder that relies on organic traffic), this opposite-of-EEAT approach to sourcing info is WILD af:

    “We’re putting websites front and center in SGE, designing the experience to highlight and drive attention to content from across the web,” a Google spokesperson told me.
    By “putting websites front-and-center,” Google is referring to the block of three related-link thumbnails that sometimes (but not always) appear to the right of its SGE answer. These are a fig leaf to publishers, but they’re not always the best resources (they don’t match the top organic results) and few people are going to click them, having gotten their “answer” in the SGE text.

    google generative AI citation

    For example, when I searched for “Best CPU,” the related links were from the sites, Nanoreview and MacPaw. None of these sites is even on the first page of organic results for “Best CPU” and for good reason. They aren’t leading authorities in the field and the linked articles don’t even provide lists of the best CPUs. The MacPaw article is about how to choose the best processor for your MacBook, a topic that does not match the intent of someone searching for “best CPU,” as those folks are almost certainly looking for a desktop PC processor.

    One of the core problems here, according to the author, is that Google is going to use its search engine monopoly to push its content over everyone else’s–content it didn’t write, content it cannot verify the truth of. In this scenario every loses: site owners, searchers, and the future of an open web–but not Google. Google wins big…

    My Take:

    “Yikes on bikes,” as they say.

    It’s always felt to me like Google hated passing on valuable traffic to affiliate sites without really being able to wet their beak. Maybe they’re fighting back by making organic results irrelevant and trying to increase the number of zero-click results as much as they can, who knows?

    And before anyone accuses me of being hyperbolic and just playing on fear for clicks and shit: you’re god damned right I’m fearful of what the future of search looks like if Google rolls out this version of search that effectively kills the open web and places an all-knowing, frequently-wrong AI brain’s answer at the top of the search results as if it is generating these answers itself, in a vacuum.

    Of course there are ways one might push back, such as–as the author suggests–joining a trade association and banding together to sue Google for plagiarism.

    Of course there are things you’ll be able to do like change up your strategy from trying to rank first in Google to trying to be mentioned on as many sites as possible to get the AI to recommend your product (something I’m working on writing about and will be publishing VERY soon).

    But the game is about to change, surely you can see it coming?

    Shitpost of the Week:

    Perfect. No notes.

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      Wrapping Up

      That’s it for this edition of The Weekly SEO.

      What did you think: love it? Hate it? Indifferent?

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      I’ll see you in the ole inbox again this Thursday for an SEO deep dive with Rank Theory #30.

      Until then…