Last night I found out about SportsMemorabilia.com and it’s nearly $20M business. Mike Berkens pointed out the Inc article and, like every other E-preneur, my eyes glazed, daydreaming about my web properties and wondering if they will ever gross 1M in their lifetime (probably), let alone 20M in a year.
In the Inc article, Mr. Stein instructed his team to pursue an aggressive SEO strategy in order to outrank his competitors. Since I’m an SEO geek (aka Consultant–yes, that’s a shameless plug), I always try and reverse engineer what other successful websites have done in order to learn lessons for my own sites.
And what did I learn? Well, for one, Bill Simmons greatly contributed to SportsMemorabilia’s amazing rankings. For another, SportsMemorabilia.com has some savvy people working their marketing. They offer discounts to University Alumni. This has landed them many very solid, EDU backlinks. They also have a fairly extensive network of websites, interlinking amongst each other in… well, let’s not get into that
For the most part, great marketing strategy.
But what else did I learn? Google Panda is awful at what it does.
Google Panda vs SportsMemorabilia.com
According to Amit Singhal, Google Panda is designed with this in mind: “Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content”
OK. Fair enough. And truthfully, I think it has worked, more or less. Yes, many high(ish) quality sites got hit, but the overall level of junk in the top 10 of the SERPs has significantly diminished.
How is it that Google Panda analyzes a site? Well, again, in Google’s words:
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
Fair enough. Let’s logically break this down. We’ll start at the bottom. Clearly, anyone would feel comfortable giving their credit card to SportsMemorabilia.com. It is a category killing domain name, well designed, good User Experience etc.
But when you dig deeper, you’ll clearly see that every other element of SportsMemorabilia fails the Panda snuff test.
In the Inc article, Mr. Tesoriero, the CEO, states “We started the company by creating content that was meant for actual human consumption–not just stuff that was meant for Google.”
Perfect. That’s what we all strive to do as SEOs, content marketers etc. And for them to be thinking about this in 2006, before the days of Panda and fluff content… Wow. They were wayyy ahead of the curve. Being a huge sports fan (and Nuggets fan), I naturally wanted to devour their content that was meant for actual human consumption. I was ravenous for it.
And here’s what it says:
Paragraph 1, first sentence: Based in Denver, Colorado, the Denver Nuggets are professional basketball team that is playing in the National Basketball Association
OK. Not exactly PEN/ESPN Literary award writing caliber, but it’s an intro sentence.
Paragraph 2, first two sentences: Denver Nuggets is a professional basketball team having office at Denver, Colorado. This team is playing in Northwest Division of Western Conference.
OK. WTF. First, isn’t that exactly what the first sentence says, more or less? And secondly, how is that anything other than search engine written garbage?
Here’s another gem from that paragraph: Owner of Denver Nuggets is E. Stanley Kroenke and head coach is George Karl. Nuggets team is also known as the successful team for winning more league matches. This is the team won conference titles for 1 time and division titles for 10 times.
Paragraph 3, first few sentences: There are many big players came from this team and Carmelo Anthony is one of them. those who are fan of Carmelo Anthony can visit online store to buy products signed by him. If you are in the list of fans and looking to enhance your collection then you can buy Carmelo Anthony autographed basketball.
GIVE ME A BREAK. What is this? You are peddling trash. Content meant for (dumb) search engine algorithms. Not humans. Not only is it written for search engines, but it was probably outsourced to the Phillipines for $5 per 1,000 words and meant to fill up your website.
And wanna know what else? It’s not meant for human eyes. It’s at the bottom of the page. In 11px font.
You wanna see SEO content made for humans? Not search engines? Check out Zappos. That’s how it’s done.
Why am I Doing This?
Well, for one, Google Panda clearly got it wrong. Sports Memorabilia writes $5/1,000 word content. It was written for algorithms, not humans.
But can you blame them? The fact is, most of the content was probably written in pre-Panda days. Days when you COULD’ve and SHOULD’ve written content for search engines. It was easy to game the system. Handsomely profitable. And somehow, most likely because of an epic backlink profile that was brilliantly constructed, Google Panda missed them.
And the site is still well designed. Has a good user experience. I’d buy a signed jersey from them, if I was in the market.
Listen, you can dig up plenty of dirt on me and my sites. Hell, even my Glacier site has content that is poorly written (It had WAYYY more poorly written/SEO content but I’ve since rewritten the vast majority of it).
All SEOs have skeletons in their closet. I visibly display some of mine in my traffic reports. In the past, I’ve peddled the same garbage on EDU lead generation websites. And it worked. And made me a nice chunk of change.
But don’t go touting yourselves as all high and mighty and having the foresight to develop excellent content for humans when you followed the same path as every other company out there. Yes, you smartly acquired a category killing domain name for 12.5k back in 2006. That domain is probably worth mid 6 to 7 figures now.
And you built a great business on top of it.
But, SportsMemorabilia.com, somehow Panda missed you. And sooner or later, a new sports memorabilia business will rise up on the Internet and write real content meant for sports enthusiasts. And they will get links from Universities. And market excellent content to Bill Simmons. And he will link to them. And, if they begin by buying a domain name for 12.5k, they too will get links from DNJournal and a few other domainer websites. And they will squash you.
(But I won’t be that person…
Oh, and congrats on such tremendous growth. It’s still an awesome success story).
Update and Disclosure: Jon Haver over at AuthorityWebsiteIncome.com posted a follow-up to this story and included an image of SportsMemorabilia.com’s traffic levels with a note of where Panda occurred. The image, which is below, clearly shows that SportsMemorabilia did suffer from Panda. And for some reason they still have not cleaned up their garbage content or made any real attempt at recovering from Panda.
PS. Interesting to see such a massive spike in traffic in January 2010. Not in the mood to dig into this any further, but I bet someone out there can get to the bottom of it…