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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 121 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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69 Comments
  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:

    Jon,

    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.

  16. Mark says:

    A very interesting debate. Some good points by Jimbo and Kane Jamison. Firstly, I have to agree with the fact that Google can pretty much do what they want with their own search results. They draw their own line, and they can decide to move it if they want – it’s up to the users to decide whether they accept where Google have drawn the line. As an SEO, I am uncomfortable with them flexing their muscles in a way that is potentially destructive to the businesses that get hit – maybe jobs could be lost because of this.

    Furthermore, if deindexing iAcquire is a publicity stunt designed to send a message to the whole SEO industry, I expect that it’s probably been extremely effective. We’re all talking about it. And you can’t argue with the notion that Google may see iAcquire as being detrimental to search results if they have been ‘outed’ for actively building paid links. Google are the regulator in this industry, and this latest move – although justifiable in many ways – is ruthless.

    However, that’s not to say that iAcquire haven’t been seriously unlucky. They are certainly not alone in building links this way- in fact, I’d wager that the vast majority of the SEO industry are engaging in some kind of activity that Google would consider to be against their rules, which is why it really gets on my tits when these whiter than white hats write blogs trying to convince us all that they’re not doing anything slightly questionable. iAcquire have taken a hit for the rest of the industry, and for this reason I agree with Jon that they’ll have to continue deindexing a hell of a lot of other sites if they’re going to be consistent. [Shudder]

    My new company haven’t been doing SEO very long at all, so I can safely say we’ve never done anything dodgy – not because I wouldn’t have, but because I haven’t had chance yet. That’s being totally honest – and this will certainly put me off going for a few ‘grey’ quick wins to impress my new boss. [Pats Matt Cutts on the back... but a little harder and for a little longer than he might be comfortable with]

    Finally, I completely agree with LikeButta. The guy who did this to iAcquire is a little weasel who has taken a brown one on a famous company in order to get his own link bait. I think we can call this “White Hat Negative SEO”. Within the rules, but doesn’t make you any less of a weasel.

    The leading bloggers in the SEO industry, like Jon and Mike King, have a duty (not personally but as a collective) to represent the industry and educate people about how to do SEO “the right way”. Destroying a company’s reputation for the sake of link bait and a pat on the back from Matt Cutts on Twitter is not ethical by my standards. Obviously this guy thinks differently, and the crap is really going to stand out on his shiny white hat when other people inevitably start throwing it in his direction.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Mark, I appreciate your comment. Lots of great points, and I agree with just about everything said. One thing though in the first paragraph about people might be losing their jobs over this; I can say that people have lost their jobs over this, and that’s why issues like these need to be looked at more carefully.

    • iain says:

      I agree with much of what Mark says up until the last two paragraphs. It’s not like the guy set out to damage iAcquire, they brought it on themselves with their actions. If you’re going to go around doing that sort of thing you need to be careful who you’re doing it with and who you’re doing it to.

      The fact is, iAcquire have exposed their own client by not being sufficiently careful and that has led to each of them being penalised, to my understanding. I don’t really have too much sympathy.

      • Mark says:

        Fair points Iain, I think the industry is polarised in opinion about this one. From my perspective, I think iAcquire have been extremely unlucky and seem to me to have been made scapegoats for a more widespread issue. As I said in my post above, I’d be surprised if most SEO agencies aren’t engaging in similar tactics. That’s not to say it’s right and that it doesn’t need to change. One good thing to potentially come out of this is that SEOs working in the greyer areas will be forced to clean up their act or, as Jon points out, they risk being quite literally out of the job. To that end, maybe this is a good thing for the industry as a whole, if not iAcquire.

        My feeling remains that the guy who wrote this exposé did so in a selfish way to promote his own blog. The crime was not so heinous that iAcquire should be singled out. Whether it was intended to be malicious or not, the end result is that some respected people are having their names dragged through the mud. I don’t think I could press “post” with a clear conscience knowing that I’m going to cost a company their reputation and individuals their jobs. There is a better way to do things than this.

        • Iain says:

          I can understand that perspective. If we take him at face value, however, it does seem that he made iAcquire aware of what he was writing in advance and gave them a chance to comment, which they chose not to take, presumably either doubting his ability to generate interest, or not believing it would be a big issue.

          Where I do have sympathy, though, is in the nature of the transgression. It seems so close to being a genuine white-hat link building outreach and only their stipulations on how the piece was to be presented crossed the line. It is harsh, but I think it’s clear what message Google are sending.

        • iain says:

          I put my thoughts in a blog, in case anyone cares what I think. :D http://www.paligap.com/2012/5/25/google-puts-seo-agencies-on-notice

  17. Bert says:

    Just like the politicians, the punisch people who take advantage of certain privileges that are in fact not very social, but these people just take advantage of opportunities that are allowed by politicians.

  18. jimmyn says:

    You can’t compare Google to TV ads. TV advertising has it’s own set of rules which has to be followed before the advert can be put on TV.

    In the same way, Google has it’s own set of rules regarding the websites contained in it’s search engine, but you can’t control the sites in a search engine the same way you can control the adverts you put out on TV!

    Google is the only one who can really say what type of linking/advertising is allowed (white hat) or not allowed (black hat).

    • iPushRank & Other Things says:

      Hey Jimmy,

      I guess you read too much into what I said. I am not making any direct comparison between TV ads and links. What I am trying to highlight is that every single TV ad is created to manipulate people’s buying decisions, likewise every SEO activity is undertaken to manipulate search results. If you are not doing anything illegal then it is fair play.

      If you do anything illegal i.e. inurl:.com/app/etc/local.xml and exploit magento for links then that is blackhat.

      • jimmyn says:

        It’s up to Google to decide what is fair play on their search engine though.

        Whether people like it or not, a paid link scheme can be seen as against Google’s rules and they can turf you out of their search engine if they feel you don’t comply with their guidelines.

        The terms “black hat” and “white hat” are stupid anyway, but it doesn’t have to be illegal to be so called “Black Hat”, it just has to be against their guidelines.

        • Iain says:

          Given Google’s monopoly of the search industry, I’d be surprised if the European Union would agree that “it’s up to Google to decide what is fair play”.

    • I agree here, search engine marketing is not advertising, that’s the whole point.

      If you pay for a spot, it’s a contract, you need to get what was promised to you (30 days on the highway billboard, etc.) or else you have grounds to sue.

      Ranking for anything is not a contract and it is NOT a guarantee.

  19. Very interesting debate…
    I agree with most of your points Jon, except about this being necessarily a bad link :
    “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”

    Think about it : how many times do we look for forgotten credits on the web ? “Hey you did a cool post last month about X but you didn’t give credit for the original source of information/image/etc. ! Not cool ! please put a link or at least a mention ?”
    In this case it’s not a paid link. Tough to see the difference here…

    Anyway, always a pleasure to read you !
    Cheers

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I wish that were the case, but if it’s to an external website’s homepage, like almost all of them are, then 99/100 they’re paid.

  20. Zarko says:

    Hey Jon,

    Although I’m really sorry for the guys at iAcquire and hate what Google did, calling them out saying that they were wrongly punished because they only did what the clients wanted them to do is a technicality and you know that. When client comes up and says I want to buy links do I have to offer that service?

    Again, don’t get me wrong, I have the same attitude as Mark, it’s a very thin line Google is walking on right now, but having their website breaking Google’s guidelines or activly working on several other websites in breaking Google’s guidelines is the same thing to me, and obviously to them as they do make their own rules, that’s just how it is… I just hope that you are right on the publicity stunt part and that this was a one shot fiasko and not something that will turn into a standard practice for Google… but if they just ruined a company for nothing than this is total bullshit and they should just keep smashing all of us that do buy links… where will that lead is something else…

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Zarko,

      1st of all, not trying to defend iAcquire here, just wanted to get that straight.

      I would agree with your point, but all I’m saying is that if you’re going to do it to iAcquire, then do it to others doing the exact same thing (that’s where I got into black hat software providers etc.).

      But thanks for the comment Zarko, glad you stopped by!

  21. Nick says:

    “Make obvious paid links pass no value.”

    If this was possible, Google would do it :S

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I think it is possible, but there’s just not enough effort put in by them to make it happen IMO.

      Goes back to what a lot of people are saying – there’s no guarentee with organic search results, and it’s really completely up to them who ranks, and in the end, there’s no direct profit from it, so there’s less time & resources put into it as lets say the paid search team.

      But I do think it’s possible to root out a good number of the blatant ones.

  22. Nice read. It follows what I’ve been pushing for awhile. Google needs to fix the algorithm to ignore unwanted signals, not punish them. The end result would be very similar in terms of search quality.

    • Mark says:

      Fair point Dan and I agree with you for the most part. However, allow me to play devil’s advocate. Google are sending a message to the algorithm chasers, even those operating within the lighter side of the grey area – don’t try and manipulate Google, the only way to rank safely is to produce good content and promote it properly. By ignoring unwanted signals, they eliminate an existing problem. However, SEOs will continue to find new ways to disguise “unnatural” links.

      What Google have done very successfully is scare the scheiße out of any SEO thinking of chasing the algorithm. My tactic going forward is very simple – a) get valid links, including no-follow links in the right locations, with varied anchor text; b) create great content and make use of the social media marketer that sits behind me.

  23. Dee SEO Guy says:

    Isn’t Google the same company that said they would never sell ads?

    How’s that Adwords thingy working out for them?

    They’re no more ethical than you’re average black-hatter when it comes to making money.

    If Google is as smart as people claim they are, they would have developed algorithm that’s not 99% link dependent. Instead, they are using the same algo from 10 years ago with slightly better filters.

  24. Dee SEO Guy says:

    I would have more respect for Google if they actually penalized iAcquire BEFORE they gout outed. Would be good to see them be proactive instead of reactive for a change.

    • IrishWonder says:

      I wouldn’t count on that – Google’s algo has been powered by outing and spam reports in too many cases

  25. Dan says:

    Good read Jon, I totally agree on the whole iAcquire thing – really uncalled for on Google’s part . It’s funny because as soon as I read that news I thought the same thing, did their site actually go against Google’s webmaster guidelines? Then your post came up and summed up how I felt about the situation.

    On the whole solution though, I hope that Google has already thought of that too. I think from an outside perspective, what seems simple to us may not be simple for them for reasons we don’t know. It just makes me think about when I receive SEO recommendations for a site from someone who hasn’t worked on it and doesn’t understand the technical issues that might complicate implementing certain things.

    I would think deindexing sites would be a last resort for Google as they want to provide accurate search results for any search query (or say they want to). It might just be that they haven’t figured out an alternative solution yet, but we just don’t really know since they aren’t very open about it.

    With that said, I still believe deindexing sites is not supplementary solution for the issue and deindexing sites that follow their guidelines is just plain wrong.

    Also I have to say that anyone that thinks that Google can do whatever they want, should think about the market share that Google holds for search engines. Considering that a search engine is basically a gateway to all other sites for the majority, this is increasingly posing a problem as they have almost (if not already) monopolized this market. Unfortunately for monopolies, they can’t do whatever they want. It’s just a matter of time before the FTC gets their shit together and figures out how to properly run an antitrust case against Google.

  26. Zarko says:

    Yeah, I forgot to add, the same thing happened to http://virante.com they are completelly deindexed, not that the guys gave any announcements that I know of stating why that happened, but these are two large companies that were brought down in a short time. The difference being iAquire called out first before Google got them… anyway, it doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident…

  27. I tried to refrain from commenting, but I broke down. As for any one who doesn’t like my opinion, it is that, my opinion. Not asking you to agree with it.

    Before I go into it, this is a good post by Jon. It is HIS rant and he has the right to do so. So this isn’t directed towards his point-of-view by any means.

    As of now, after reading all the “drama” that has unfolded with this entire situation, I have started to have some severely strong mixed feelings on all sides.

    Why you might ask?

    1) The original “outing” post. No, I do NOT, let me say that again, I do NOT condone publicly outing an SEO’s tactics. It is like being in grade school and being the little tattle-tale in class who tells the teacher everything someone does that they don’t think is right. There is no value in this. If you really feel that there is justification to report spam (not just because you are getting your arse handed to you in the SERP’s by a good SEO), here’s the link: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport

    2) On the other end, Google IS the authority over their domain, much as a police department is authority over a township. You may not agree with what they do, but they they MUST police and respond to “tips” when they present merit. Google has their own guidelines and if they are “tipped” off they can investigate and penalize what they see fit. They aren’t the authority of “how we should do SEO” entirely, but they are the authority of how we SEO for their search engine. Don’t like it? Go put all your money into Bing traffic and let me know how that works out.

    3) What really bugs me are those jumping on Mike King for the “supposed” actions of iAquire. I do not know this guy personally or communicate with him, love to read his stuff though, but from what I understand the guy hasn’t worked there very long. Guilty by association? I think so. Is it justifiable or logical to blame him? Heck no. It is absolutely out of line and utterly preposterous.

    4) This is all starting to become a “crying game” from our community. I’m actually getting a bit annoyed with all of it. People get speeding tickets for speeding then complain about it. YOU BROKE THE LAW. Accept the punishment and “take it like a man.” Obviously, the first thing people do when accused of something is deny, deny, deny… How many scandals have there been uncovered over the years where someone actually admits to doing someone “wrong” when they are called on it? This situation is no different. I’m pretty sure that Google has the data to analyze the situation. If they are wrong, iAquire can address the situation and submit their request for re-inclusion and sort out the details themselves. To me, no matter how wrong or right, it is their problem now. Keep going about our business and if you are walking on thin ice, better hope it doesn’t break.

    5) Comments like “Google has monopolized the market” are so completely ridiculous it isn’t funny. There is plenty of competition. Problem is, Google has done better than the rest over the years and the majority of internet users use Google’s search engine to “surf” the web. Right now, there are issues with some SERP’s. I agree, it sucks, but THEY AREN’T PERFECT. No one is perfect. No search engine is perfect. No machine is perfect. There are flaws. It happens. Get over it. NO ONE IS BOUND TO GOOGLE AS A SEARCH ENGINE. We as SEO’s target it because it has a large audience… As said above, there are plenty of other choices. Some of which, I am using more often.

    In a way, I’m sure this was Google making a statement (agree with Jon on that very much so). A very BIG statement in fact. Have they crossed the line? I don’t know. Like I said, mixed feelings on this and I am on the fence without really trying to take a side because I feel there is a lot of hypocrisy here. Pots calling the kettle’s black and vice versa. With the agency being banned, that just shows that Google was looking to start at the top of the pyramid rather than work their way down.

    Who knows, they may have some domains which are connected to iAquire that may follow if they can prove it or feel it is warranted. Do I agree with that? Only if it truly is warranted and justifiable. Although then, as Jon hints, they better start figuring out how to be more consistent with this type of punishment.

    /endrant

  28. Bill Sebald says:

    Google does already turn off the link value of links they know to be paid, without notice.

    Not sure this is a publicity stunt. Maybe iacquire was using the link schemes they sell on themselves, and pushed Google enough with the post. It’s not like they weren’t already on Google’s radar.

    It’s pretty clear the pushes this year are in response to their inability to get an algorithm to do the job well enough to stop webspam and artificial link buidling, so this is just another drastic step. I’m not surprised by anything when it comes to how they’ll achieve their goal of cleaning their index.

  29. Nick Eubanks says:

    Gonna have to completely agree with Michael on pretty much everything he stated above.

    My biggest gripe with the whole situation is the backlash and misinformation around the SEO community regarding both Mike AND iAcquire. The truth of the matter is that no data or facts have been released and EVERYTHING is simply hearsay and/or propaganda, based on – you guessed it, hearsay and propaganda.

    I think this is a well-timed post (not surprising Jon :)) and it raises a lot of good questions and hopefully forces some insight and reflection from the SEO community in general, but more so than anything else things are changing, fast, and we as industry practitioners need to keep up or step out of the way.

  30. Hannah Hill says:

    Actually, iAcquire *was* caught violating the Google terms – their subsidiary was soliciting unattributed paid links (http://llsocial.com/2012/05/search-secrets-prominent-seo-company-covertly-purchasing-backlinks-for-fortune-1000/). Their getting busted recently may well account for why Google took action. I agree there should be more consistency, but they *did* deserve it.

    As for the white hat/black hat argument, the integrity of the system is based on organic links. It all goes back to valuable content that gets shared and linked to. That’s the whole basis of the Google system. They started counting the number of links because links are an indication of how much someone values that particular piece of content, so a link for a link’s sake throws the whole thing off-kilter.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Hannah,

      1st of all, linked to that post already in one of the first few paragraphs. Second, I never said they weren’t buying links for their competitors; my issue is that if they’re going to penalize sites for the actions of their services, and not their actual sites, than either do it for everyone or don’t do it all.

      And great points on the whole hats part. Glad you could stop by :D

  31. Jeff says:

    Hey Jon-

    This post kind of got me wondering about paid links and how you mentioned “people who are smart about it.” It seems to me that Google may actually be making a large mistake by doing what they are doing. For instance, there are those of us that realize many paid links still work, and with the growth of semantic search Google is asking us to manipulate anchor text to be unique each time. Well Google, that sounds okay to me, I have no problem using your updates to create the perfect link profile and start using creative ways to work around your ‘publicity’ related attempts to stop spam.

    To me, it has become incredibly obvious what kind of link profile needs to be created, and I can use semantic targeted anchor text to make a final push on any page of any site that fits the right criteria.

    Seems to me they just want the paid links to get more sophisticated and harder to find…

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Agreed Jeff; what they’re doing (or at least should be doing) is trying to make them so sophisticated that it’s more difficult to do them than to do it the way they want things to be done, because honestly, there will always be manipulation in SEO for as long as it’s around.

  32. Bob Jones says:

    I think it’s weird, I mean if this is a manual penalty, why are super obvious sites such as text-link-ads.com still indexed?

  33. Dee SEO Guy says:

    A lot of people say that social signals will continue to become a bigger factor in the ranking algorithm. HELLO, how hard do you think it is to manipulate Facebook Likes and Tweets!

    It’s just as easy as creating link spam…. and even harder for Google to judge if it’s natural or not. What’s next, the Google Puma update? The one that penalizes content for being too popular? LOL

  34. AJ Kohn says:

    I probably won’t win many friends with my opinion but here’s how I see it.

    The Contract Killer
    The grizzled cop finally breaks the husband in interrogation, getting him to confess that, while he had an alibi for the time of the murder, he’d actually hired someone to kill his cheating wife. A commercial break later the cops find out that this contract killer has been quite busy, with a pile of bodies attributed to his work.

    No, I’m not equating buying links to murder. But the idea that you’d simply go after the clients and not the vendor doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    The Speeding Ticket
    You’re pulled over on the side of the road watching the cop slowly walk up to your car. You were speeding and now you’re getting a ticket. As you’re waiting there for what seems like eons for him to write the ticket you notice someone doing well over 90mph whiz past you. Why does he get away with it while you don’t?

    Lots of people speed but the reality is that not everyone gets caught. That’s just the way it is. You often increase your chances of getting caught if you’re in a red car or a fancy sports car. Is that fair? Not really. But the bigger and flashier you are, the easier you are to spot and catch.

    Oh, and just because you think that the speed limit on this road isn’t right or that there should be NO speed limit, it should be like the autobahn and you’ve got a list of reasons why it would be better … it’s still the posted speed limit.

    Now, should Google work harder at identifying paid links? Yes. Do I like some of these suggestions as ways to identify them? Sure do, particularly the second one. But that’s probably tough even for someone with the computing power of Google. And I’m sure that, if implemented, a number of good links would be hit too and the industry would be irate.

  35. Isaac says:

    Yeah Google is really starting to push the boundaries and allot of people don’t like it.

    100% agree on the paid link solution. Some days I think Google is super smart got it all figured out, then some days I think the opposite, they really don’t think about some stuff enough.

    Thanks for the post.

  36. Donna Duncan says:

    If Google wants to master its domain, then like a parent, it needs to be clear about the rules and consistent in their application. Instead, in my opinion, it’s acting like big government and going after Martha Stewart to make a statement.

    Thanks Jon, for a thought provoking and stimulating discussion.

  37. I am not sure whats going on. I see every update by Google every now and then in last 60 days. Really, doing seo has become quite hard for me.

  38. BrewSEO says:

    RE:… “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:

    Google already does this. Editing an article after it’s been idle for a long time, doesn’t usually pass a lot of link juice. When Google re-crawls the page, it looks at what % of the text is new, if 99% of the page is the same, then the link doesn’t pass very much (I think exactly how much link juice depends on the authority of the site) link juice.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      You’re correct, but they’re still passing enough juice that people are still paying for them. I’ve been asked 3-4 times now in the past month on a couple of my sites for a link to be exactly that, and seeing that as I’m getting more requests, it must be working for them.

  39. philip says:

    “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”

    would be a hard one as there are all sorts of reasons for pages to get updated. Just take for example… the testimonials page… there are probaly trillions more…

  40. Jake says:

    Competition is needed. But it should be healthy. Cheap publicity stunts should be avoided at any cost.
    Whatever be the news, I am still a big fan of GOOGLE

  41. David Crader says:

    Paid links are also against FTC guidelines if not enclosed that they are paid. Though, the FTC isn’t specific about where your enclosed statement needs to be (hidden in privacy policy should be ok). So, this isn’t just Google’s rule – it’s the governments to a certain extent.

    IMO – iAquire deserved to be punished. They bought links which clearly violates Google’s guidelines. If a lawyer represents you in court after you tell them you committed the crime in private – they go to jail. The lawyer is supposed to know the law – that’s why you go to them. iAquire is supposed to know Google’s policies – that’s why customers go to them (not entirely, but you get the point).

    Interesting point on de-indexing sites like BlackHatWorld.com for providing link manipulation services. Honestly, Google should. It’s their engine. Rather than get pissed go buy their stock. That’s what I did…. and got my AdWords certification lol. It’s nearly impossible to provide whitehat link building services to clients nowadays.

    I’m guessing this post was a result of our e-mail exchange yesterday. Glad you commented on it. I went through a ‘denial’ phase of whitehat link building being over too… It will pass.

  42. Colin says:

    It can be kind of a headf#@k being more or less a newb, and seeing evidence that these kinds of links hold value, but then hearing over and over again that google will be/is penalizing for them…so this was an great read
    Either way I think anyone who could have pages of content like THIS relevant to their niche would be in a pretty damn good spot. Tons of great insight here as always thanks Jon and everybody else!

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