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Ingredient Five: Time

Like the prom-goer who has impressed his date's parents on the first meeting, you will be in great initial shape to rank high on Google if you've implemented the first four ingredients correctly. Now it's up to you to continue this good behavior. Bring her home at 4 a.m. on prom night, and you are out, buddy. Bring her home before midnight and keep exhibiting good manners in the coming weeks and months, and you're building real trust. Google is just as unforgiving as a pair of protective parents; they can handle imperfections and a few awkward missteps, but cross a line that violates their trust, and you will not be welcome inside Google's house again for a long time.

In a website's first month, it cannot rank for any competitive keyword. I've heard about websites that were just released and immediately hit the top of Google, but I've never seen one; and the times I have seen sites that claim this meteoric rise, they were ranking for wholly uncompetitive keyword phrases such as turkish cotton substitute.

Google intentionally imposes a ranking delay on new websites. This tradition originates back in the days when Google was still combating spam sites, which were threatening to take over their index. These spam sites, most of them automatically generated blogs made up of paragraphs of senseless content to fool Google into thinking they were legitimate websites, had found a way to rank on Google for hundreds of thousands of keywords. The situation had gotten so bad that it was threatening the relevance of Google's results. I remember this period well; although the search experience on Google was not awful, for most searches you typed in you had about a 10% chance of clicking a site that seemed to be written by a lunatic. The new ranking delay (which used to be more severe—preventing most sites from ranking for up to one year) stopped the spammers cold in their tracks. No longer could they throw a website up, get it to rank in a week, make a few bucks from ads or identity-theft schemes, and then disappear. Now they had to stick around and prove their worth for a while, a task very few of them seemed eager to take.

Nowadays, a website gets its first real opportunity to rank for a competitive keyword around the two-month mark—just as long as it has lots of high-TrustRank, natural-looking links. And yet Google still keeps an invisible rubber band around its waist, holding it back from reaching its full potential. A website can rank after two months but will be playing with a handicap for about four years in progressively smaller degrees. If I had to guess the amount of "holdback"—that is, inability to rank—a website suffers from its inception to its fourth birthday, the chart would look like what's shown in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1. Estimated "Holdback" Placed on Sites by Google

Month

Holdback

1

100%

2

75%

6

50%

12

25%

24

10%

36

5%

48

0%

Another way of expressing this chart is that, in month one, the TrustRank of your site's links will have no impact on its Google rankings because your site is completely held back. In month six, however, every link gets about half credit for the TrustRank it should be conferring on your website. By the 3-year mark, your links receive almost the entire value of their TrustRank, and therefore your website can rank quickly for any term for which it has enough links. That slow-release system is the reason why it is extremely advantageous to buy an old website that already ranks for some of your keywords rather than starting a brand new site. For example, if I sold fortune cookies, instead of simply registering http://www.evansfortunecookies.com, I would type fortune cookies into Google and try to find a site that ranks on the first five pages or so that the owner is willing to sell. Although it is difficult to find sellers willing to let their sites go for a reasonable price, if I were to buy an old website that already ranks for my main term, I'd be skipping the entire holdback period and saving myself a ton of time and money.

Time is not just a friend of your website; it is a friend of your website's links, as well. Confusing as it may sound, a high Google ranking is not just dependent on site age, but also on link age. That is to say, if you have a very old website, and thus experience none of the holdback period whatsoever, you still wouldn't rank high for the keywords referenced by your links if those links were only a few days or weeks old. Google likes to make sure that your links are there for the long haul, not just rented for the month to see whether they will boost your site's rankings (a common situation among buyers of commercial links).

In summary, time will be kindest to websites that have waited long enough and whose links have been there from the very start.

Congratulations on having made it through this chapter. It is, by itself, a record of everything that causes a website to rank on the first page of Google. If you feel like you understood most of the information discussed, you officially know more about Google optimization than the vast majority of Internet business owners. Now it's time to deepen that knowledge.

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