Google Puts SEO Agencies On Notice

Iain Bartholomew

Crime

There has been much written by SEO bloggers and practitioners in the last day or so about the exposure and punishment of iAcquire for the heinous crime of acquiring links on behalf of a client in a manner that has been interpreted to be outwith Google's guidelines. By asking a blogger to add a new section to an existing blog post containing a link back to their client's site they broke no rules. The content could be seen to add value and the link was not particularly incongruous, but the proposal did not end there. "We'll compensate you" the offending section began, before detailing the incentive for the blogger to accede to their request. Even at this, the kindly blogger was willing to offer a chance for the offer to be legitimised, proposing that the post be amended to highlight to users that it was 'SPONSORED' content. No can do, came the reply; has to look natural.

You and I may not have seen this as a trigger to launch a thirty hour investigation, tracing subsidiary companies back to their parent, comparing IP addresses and preparing nifty graphics to demonstrate the relationships, but our intrepid blogger did indeed see fit to react in this way, gathering comments, reactions and data before publishing his magnum opis to a decidedly mixed reaction. Particularly egregious to many was the naming of Mike King and the insinuation that he was in any way connected with the transgressions. Mr King is a popular, well-respected figure in the SEO community thanks to his ability to innovate and his willingness to share the methods behind the success he has achieved. Others responded with a general disdain for the act of outing a fellow practitioner for a minor offence; Many, however, were supportive of the writer and pleased to see a 'big name' agency called out in this manner.

 

Punishment

Google's retribution was both swift and merciless. It is known that to have links acquired in such ways is frowned upon and that sites in receipt of such links can expect to see their value reduced to nil and potentially a supplementary penalty imposed on them for being such disobedient peons. Once they had served their penance they were permitted to descend on one knee, kiss the rim of Google's cloak and beg forgiveness from their master and overlord. Being a merciful lord Google often condescended to restore the humble transgressor to the search results pages, chastened by his experience and thankful for a second chance.

This time, however, the pattern was bucked. With gay abandon Google pulled out iAcquire's file, inked up the "BANNED" stamp, almost certainly with the expensive red ink they save for special occasions, and brought it down forcefully on the pile of papers below. Just like that, without warning, iAcquire ceased to exist. No trace of them could be found in Google's index, for any term, not even in a specific check for the site alone. Wiped from the face of the earth in a moment. Gone.

 

Message

Most people will remember completing join-the-dots puzzles as children. Point one led to point two led to point three and so on until you had a picture of a puppy, a bunny or perhaps a lovely pussycat. Google have taken that childhood exercise and deviated from the plan completely. The purchased links were pointed to a client site, from third party sites. iAcquire's role, if the allegations are true, was to act as a facilitator and intermediary, yet it is they and not the client who have been punched in the mouth by a vengeful dictator.

The message from Google to the SEO agencies is quite clear: We're Going To Get You. If Someone Tells Us What You're Doing.

Recent Google updates known as Panda and Penguin - cute and cuddly, huh. Who could hate a Penguin? - have looked to penalise first on-site and then off-site practices seen by Google as sub-ideal. This has been supplemented by targeted attacks on link networks and specific offending sites, but nothing in any of these algorithmic tweaks or manual actions has damaged providers who kept their own link profiles natural and squeaky-clean. (You might say thanks, at least in part, to reputations built on less than savoury tactics implemented on behalf of their clients. You might say; I wouldn't dare, of course.)

So what conclusions can we draw to help us with our work in the future? Three outcomes are apparent:

1. Paying for links is probably no longer a risk decision for your client alone. As a provider you need to assess your own risk in the transaction and factor that in.

2. Outing people is unpopular, but outing good guys for things they haven't personally done is just crazy.

3. The value of 'ethical' SEO is going to increase as the alternative options begin to offer less value and more risk.

 

It's an endless source of frustration to see sites with spammy link profiles outranking the projects you have invested blood, sweat and tears in. It would be great if Google could find the correct algorithmic mix to eliminate that form of SEO, but going off reservation and shooting the first rustler they see, on the basis of allegations from a single source, is only going to undermine the structured work that is being done and harm confidence.


16 people commented

  • 25
    May
    2012

    IainB (Paligap) said...

    Apologies that comments aren't quite working right. Hopefully it doesn't disrupt discussion too much.

    There is another blog with great discussion on the topic over at Point Blank SEO, here: http://pointblankseo.com/publicity-stunts

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Charlie said...

    2. Outing people is unpopular, but outing good guys for things they haven't personally done is just crazy.

    I'm assuming you're talking about Mike King here.

    Nowhere in the article that outed iAcquire did they say that Mike King himself was selling/buying links. The company he works for and represents was and is a link broker.

    The issue with Mike, is that he was acting as a paid spokesperson; being paid essentially to go around speaking and blogging and building the iAcquire brand by presenting them as a whitehat agency.

    In reality, they were founded as a blackhat link seller, and apparently continue those practices today.

    The issue with Mike is that he was (apparently) knowingly misrepresenting the company he works for by promoting them as already being the company that they're (apparently) trying to become, while attempting to hide the fact that they still buy and sell links.

    No one cared about iAcquire before Mike King - because before Mike, iAcquire wasn't out at conferences trying to pretend like they're a whitehat/inbound agency.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    IainB (Paligap) said...

    I think the fact he was named at all in the article was unreasonable.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Iain said...

    I should expand on that - I think it is unfair to name any individual. Particularly someone who's an employee and not a decision maker.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Charlie said...

    Why is it ridiculous?

    From Mike King's interview at State of Search...
    "However in actuality my role at iAcquire is Marketing Director for our brand"

    He is the marketing director for the iAcquire brand.

    The post was talking about iAcquire.

    Why would they *not* mention the guy in charge of promoting that brand/business in a post about that business?

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Iain said...

    Just my opinion, but I'd say the reason not to name them is because it takes the complaint beyond one about the actions of the business and starts to imply responsibility on the part of the individual.

    I, personally, find that unfair.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Kerri Janell said...

    Hi lain. I like your writing, but couldn't disagree with you more. If Mike King is as white hat as he says he is, why would he work for a black hat company actively doing black hat work? Maybe they wanted to go white hat like Conductor, fine, but they didnt'. By taking the job there, and probably getting offered the chance to keep blogging and speaking and being an seo celebrity or whatever, he basically says, "I can deal with it." And that's what he's being called out for, because that is hypocritcal. He's not dumb, he's just playing the game.

    He's not an exceptional SEO. He's not known for bringing amazing new thought leadership. He's a personality from SEOmoz. This defense is all so silly, for someone who isn't even on that level and says some silly things.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Iain said...

    Kerri - thanks for commenting, I appreciate it.

    I think any criticism of Mike is a separate matter from Google's de-indexing of iAcquire and I suspect I may have erred in trying to cover too many things in one blog. I just don't think it's fair to say, in effect 'These guys are bad guys, and here's their public face who claims to be a good guy...draw your own conclusions'.

    If people want to challenge Mike's white-hat thought-leader persona as false, that's their prerogative. Of course, adopting personas is one of his strategies, so maybe the public face is just another one? Logically it makes sense that it might be.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    I keep seeing the "by taking the job there" comment being brought up. By that logic, would you not take on a client who had been previously stuffing keywords or doing something shady? By taking a job with that client, you must be saying that you are cool with those techniques.

    Sometimes, you look forward to fixing a client's site, or helping your new company that has been doing things wrong.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Iain said...

    Anthony - I think that's a very fair point.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Charlie said...

    That is a fair point Anthony.

    However, I think the answer is simple...

    Shut up and do the work to fix the issues *before* you go speaking/blogging/tweeting all over the place, pretending your company is something it isn't.

    The main issue here is the hypocritical approach. iAcquire has been a link seller for years. No one cared until they started having Mike pretend like this wasn't the case.

    Fix the problems first, then promote the new service.

    Not the other way around.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Iain said...

    Charlie - do you think that could be part of the motivation for the 'outing' blog then?

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Charlie said...

    Absolutely.

    If iAcquire just kept quietly selling links like they have been for years, this would have never happened.

    Instead, they made a play to break into the whitehat SEO space and get their name out there by hiring Mike King and making him their brand rep.

    That part worked perfectly. People know Mike - and then they all knew iAcquire.

    Main problem here is that iAcquire wasn't anywhere near being ready for the increased attention the new branding initiative brought on them. They also didn't have the service totally built yet, from the looks of it, and still provide what most would consider blackhat SEO while promoting themselves as being the opposite.

  • 25
    May
    2012

    Iain said...

    That's a very interesting theory. Thanks.

  • 26
    May
    2012

    Matthew Egan said...

    Buying links is not illegal BUT it *IS* illegal per FTC Guidelines to publish an advertisement and not label it as such. That is age old FTC standards and what iAqcuire has been doing up until now is not only against Google's terms of service, but also against Federal Law.

    Every other format must clearly label an advertisement as such, and blogs are rarely policed but the law is still the same.

    And Astor Mike King, he knew exactly what he was doing when he took on the role of "Director of Inbound Marketing", as an EMPLOYEE, a Director level employee at that, and he needed the money so he took the job.

    The "White Hat Mike King" he shares with the world is just another one of his personas and a lot of you have been falling for it for months.

    The truth was bad for iAcquires business, so they brought in Mike King for credibility, but they banked on that fact a little too much.

    Zero Sympathy.

  • 27
    May
    2012

    Iain said...

    Matthew, thanks for your comment. I certainly would find it hard to argue against the suggestion that a guy who talks about the use of personas the way Mike does might well be using one when he addresses the SEOmoz crowd and related events. Nor would I necessarily say there's anything wrong with that if he were.

    It's an interesting offshoot from the original issue as well. Thanks.

Post a comment


Go back