Google’s Crossed the Line on SEO Publicity Stunts

by Jon Cooper
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Some of what you see & hear being penalized by Google is a publicity stunt.

For example, when the blog networks that got deindexed roughly a month ago, only the biggest & most well known ones took a hit. Other smaller networks that you’ve never heard of went on their merry way. I’ve even used a couple for my niche sites during the last few weeks. Of course Penguin did a way with some of them, but nonetheless, at the time those big dogs were being deindexed and as the outcries over “blog networks don’t work anymore!” were everywhere, it was just to send a message. 

But a recent publicity stunt crossed the line, big time. After iAcquire was outed for paid links, their site was deindexed by Google. Although it might be a coincidence or a bug, I see it as just another manual action that is meant to send a message and doesn’t hold any real weight outside of this occurrence.

Except it did something that was way, way worse. It penalized a site that never actually violated their webmaster guidelines. It penalized a site for the services it was performing for its clients, and if they’re going to do this to iAcquire, then they need to do it for every website that offers services that violate its guidelines.

They’d have to start deindexing black hat forums & black hat software providers. They’d have to go down the line on their own results for queries like “link building services” and “link building packages”.

And honestly, it’s a shame, because they honestly think they’ll try & manipulate us into thinking paid links have no place for the Web.

I’m not going to bash Google without giving them a solution, and it’s simple:

Make obvious paid links pass no value.

It completely solves your problem. If paid links won’t work, then we’ll stop spending our money on them. It’s that simple. You don’t have to penalize us for them, you just have to make us look like an idiot for spending our time & resources on these when we could be obtaining white hat links.

And about the obvious part – really, there are so many obvious paid links I see everyday that pass value & work that Google completely misses. From what I’ve seen, the majority of paid links have footprints and are somewhat obvious, and if there any type of paid links that are screaming at us saying they work, then it’s this kind.

The funny part is that you wouldn’t have to come up with that complex of an algorithm to find them & make sure they pass no value. Here are a few obvious signs that would root out a ton of paid links:

  • 10+ exact anchors in the sidebar
  • An edit to a post that only added a link to an existing piece of exact anchor text months after the post was first indexed
  • Exact anchors in sidebars that are completely unrelated & irrelevant
    • Set filter to do this 99.9% of the time for adult, poker, & similarly spammy links
  • 3+ links to the same website in the same post (and if they’re the only links, then it’s even more obvious)

Those are just off the top of my head. There are flaws in a couple of them, but I bet if you spent a few hours working out the kinks, you could figure it out down to the last details.

So in conclusion, Google, stop with the publicity stunts. If you want people to say paid links don’t work, then make them actually not work. Make us go through so many hoops to make them happen that it would be more worthwhile to build white hat links than to pay for these. It’s the only way you’ll be able to win.

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This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 119 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Ryan says:

    Well said John,

    Huge mess, a lot of nice guys are having a horrible week…probably only gonna get worse.

  2. Al says:

    Don’t you think that Google is just getting started and that the other properties you mention will eventually be hit?

  3. “If you want people to say paid links don’t work, then make them actually not work.”

    ^^ Yep.

  4. Thomas says:

    Everyone seems to think that Google is some sort of public service because it’s core offering is “free”. Because it offers “free information”.

    It’s a public company, and no one forces you to use Google. They can do whatever they want.

  5. Jimbo says:

    Even though what they’re doing may amount to nothing more than a publicity stunt, it’s their right to do so. They can control their ecosystem however they want. They may feel that a site like iAcquire adds no value for users in their results. If a company is clearly buying links for their customers, they may see that as detrimental to their SERPs and want to cut the problem off at the head. Again, it’s their call and they have every right to do so.

    It’s naive to say “make obvious paid links pass no value” because the best paid links are far under the radar and that won’t solve any problems. In fact, it just makes it that much easier for the better link buyers. Your list of obvious signs is also naive. That’s noob shit. It’s exceptionally easy to buy links that would never be detected. That’s why they have to try to scare people. Unfortunately, that’s all they have and they end up looking like idiots in the end.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I’m going to have to disagree with your last point Jimbo. Sure, there are a lot of paid links that go completely under our radar, but I’m telling you the majority of them leave footprints in some shape or form because the fact of the matter is that a lot of SEOs are just lazy. That’s why you have black hats building hundreds & thousands links at the click of a button.

      Even if they only took out the obvious ones, it would speak greater volumes to “paid links don’t work” more so than just another publicity stunt; remember, we only know what we know, so if we’re not seeing any signs of paid links, no matter if they’re there or not disguised as natural, then we’re going to be less likely to think that they work.

  6. ketan raval says:

    :) its going to be more and more strict on everything around links.. I think at the end social sharing will become more and more accountable and links will loose value..

  7. Kane Jamison says:

    I’m not commenting on the rest of the articles, but to respond to your point at the end: Nobody worth their salt that is still buying links is doing any sort of sidebars, footers, or sitewides. If they’re smart, they’re not doing exact anchors unless they match the page title/URL well. If they’re really savvy and ahead of the curve, they’re doing mostly paid branding links.

    And none of those are obvious. None of those are trackable between a discrete webmaster and a discrete link buyer. Still risky, but not obvious to outside parties.

    So I think it’s a bit of a fallacy to say that discrediting the easily-spotted paid links will do anything other than push more spammers into the crappy guest blogging business, since they’ll be forced out of the sidebars and footers and have to move into the body content.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      In an ideal world, yes, everyone doing paid links is smart about it, but that’s just not our reality. Go to any highly competitive niche and try & tell me that you can’t find any paid links.

      And again; they don’t have to & can never completely do away with paid links, they can only make them appear to be not working/nonexistant, and to do that, they need to start devaluing the obvious ones that do have footprints that do in fact exist.

      • Jordyn says:

        I can personally attest to this. I do link building for a highly competitive niche (there are tons of us and we all sell the exact same product) and if you go through any of our competitors’ backlink profiles the vast majority of their links are clearly paid and super sketchy. I usually can’t find a single legitimate link out of tens of thousands when I go through their profiles, and, although they were hit by penguin, they still make it to page 1 of the SERPs.

  8. James Welch says:

    I have to admit John that this is a very strange step by Google. Just ‘uncomfortable’ that they are being too sensitive by doing this.

  9. Skeptical Possum says:

    “Make obvious paid links pass no value.”

    I don’t see how this could work out. Is a guest posting a paid (in form of content) link? If you cannot pay for links anymore, and links from community content (all blog comments, links from large forums) are nofollow you’d just have to revert back to forum spam to get do-follow links or buy likes/followers, g+ clicks to manipulate serps in your favor – and that’s what seo is (mostly) about.
    There is a certain budget for SEO on the internet, and just because google eliminates the paid links quota of this budget only means that this budget is spent elsewhere on seo instead.

    Google would just have to make adwords much cheaper than paid links to get rid of this problem all together :)

    • Jon Cooper says:

      First of all I’m not talking about guest blogging here, that wasn’t the type of link I was targeting here (and I never will; guest blogging is a legitimate strategy), but I think it’s a stretch to say after that, there are no other obtainable links. If you can’t find any way to build links outside of forums after that, then you don’t deserve to rank (I’ve got a list of 200ish that even helps outline them).

  10. I think Google is going for a bit of overkill with this one, sure taking down some really spamy blog networks is one thing but taking down a whole company site is another.

    I think this is just another instance where online marketers need to focus on driving traffic from other social networks and Bing.

  11. Jason Nelson says:

    I really don’t care for how polarizing this topic has become. But I’d like to think Google detected something real funky going on to take this action.

    • AmyB says:

      Jason you bet. If iAcquire were not a linking company as they now claim why did they buy the condcutor link network. iAcquire were doing what many small Mom and Pops were doing buying blog blinks but they were doing it for fortune 500 clients and pricing accordingly. Their average cost for a blog text link is $1200 per year. When you left them they pulled the links down. Go figure the same link BMR were charging $2.50 one time fee for. They had a captive audience with deep pockets and they took advanatge. The game is up and my guess is they made a lot of money along the way. I used to work for a company that got a proposal from them and we simply laughed at their pricing.

  12. Dan Tabaran says:

    The signs you’ve shown usually match the problem , but not always. But I think that soon with all these updates Google will become worse, because they are filtering good content, and this is only the beginning.

  13. LikeButta says:

    It’s a crybaby move for sure. But is t only has impact if everyone talks about it and spreads the word for them. IMO, take it as a cost of doing “business” with Google and move along. Kinda like working with a schizophrenic partner. If anyone should be given shit it’s the asshat that thought the outing would be good linkbait. He was right, good for him… really shitty for iAcquire. It’s a dog eat dog world though. Gotta roll with the punches.

  14. iPushRank & Other Things says:


    I agree with the majority of what you have stated in this post. One thing that really gets on my nerves is this “white hat” and “black hat” stuff.

    A paid link or a link scheme should be not classified as “black hat”. I agree they are used to manipulate search engines but all the majority of ads on TV are there to manipulate people’s mindset to ultimately change their buying decisions, should we call these “black hat” ads?

    With that said, black hat links do exist but they are links that are acquired in the following ways (just to name a few):

    1. Exploiting web servers to inject hidden links
    2. Link schemes based on backdoors/shells
    3. Links acquired through Cross Site Scripting

    These sort of links are truly “black hat” because they are acquired through illegal means. Anything that is acquired through lawful means is “white hat”, be it paid links or link schemes because it is iacquired through a lawful transaction and it doesn’t kill dolphins.

    Another thing, I have a lot of respect for the innovative folks who rock SEO conferences, share their experience with the community and so on but what I dislike is the fact that they pontificate about “black hat this and black hat that” but we all know the open secrets of the industry so why underestimate people’s intelligence by making it look like they don’t do what everyone else does?

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I totally agree, the whole hat naming is complete crap, but for the sake of time & understanding, it’s an easy way to explain things. Again, I feel you on this; might be worth a post in the future.

    • Tom says:

      Thank you iPushRank, “black hat” should be reserved for illegal link building. Period.

      Even the so-called “white hat” techniques that Google promotes as within their guidelines are all about rank manipulation. Why else would you do them if not to achieve a higher rank?

      Sure a lot of what is kosher in G-land is helpful, i.e. infographics, guest blog posting et al and there is no doubt this type of content is good to see on the Internet, but for a small business owner with limited funds to amass the amount of backlinks required to “manipulate” his rankings via these “white hat” means – it is never going to happen.

      Google knows this – that is why they have Adwords.

      I really don’t know how anyone doing and selling total Google “white hat” either:

      1. Makes any money – (unless they are Searchengineland or SEOMoz)
      2. Gain any significant rankings for their clients without charging them a small fortune to create the total volume of the so-called white hat links that would make a difference
      3. How they think that what they do is not “rank manipulation” which Google appears to oppose

    • IrishWonder says:

      Blackhat!=illegal, the ways you listed are clearly illegal in most jurisdictions but most blackhats frown upon such things. To equal Blackhat to hacking and doing other illegal stuff means to fail to understand the nature of Blackhat. Whitehats follow Google’s TOS, blackhats don’t – that’s all there is to it. But Google’s TOS is not a state law that can be enforced by any kind of authority, it’s just operational rules of another commercial entity. Google would like you to think of blackhats as criminals (don’t they try to apply the same to all SEOs at times?) but this is very far from reality and all the moral talk and attempts to criminalise blackhats is just an exercise at distorting the reality. Talking of Google’s TOS, if we go by it then every SEO doing anything besides adding content (and even that depends) to their site already violates the TOS, as clearly you are trying to improve a site’s ranking=manipulating Google.

  15. Joe says:

    I personally don’t see much of a problem with a lot of exact anchors, even an abundance of them as long as the content keeps me reading and is informative.

    It’s a shame paid links still seem to be working. A lot of good quality content is produced without even a look in from Google and I hope this changes soon.

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