Google Puts SEO Agencies On Notice
There has been much written by SEO bloggers and practitioners in
the last day or so about the
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.
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.
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
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