Google – The Stupidity of Even Thinking Of Backlink Penalties…

… for links that are so called “dodgy” or from “bad neighbourhoods.”

I have seen so many web masters now worrying about their backlink profile, and for good reason. Google has not been very clear about how a bunch of backlinks that they don’t trust, could affect your own site’s search engine rankings. In the past, Google has indicated that backlinks would not hurt you. The belief was that Google would simply discount links its bots would find while indexing the internet, that their algorithms placed little or no value on.

I think Google and its web spam team are a bit messed up if they think that they can penalize websites that have dodgy links linking back to it, as if the website owner or someone they may have hired, are the ones responsible. Let me explain why:

Years ago, I was pretty anal about going through my website statistics. It wasn’t just the top referrers I was interested in, but it often amused me to check out the large numbers of referrers I’d get that would only refer perhaps one visitor in the entire month. My curiosity was due to the fact I was always interested in any new links my site might have received. It was kind of neat, to me, to see that some site in my niche, with a Russian domain extension, and that had content similar to my niche, had discovered my site and thought it worthwhile to link to.

However, I also discovered that there were some pretty bizarre websites linking to me that had at least one click through to my site as well. At first, I could not understand why a website located in an Asian country that seemed to be all about popular Asian singers, would be linking to my fly fishing site.

There were also times when I would go to a web page that had supposedly referred some visitor to mine with a link, and there was no link there at all, although there would be links to dozens of other sites. Odd that a website would place a link to my page, someone clicked it, and then the link is removed.

But this does not always happen where the link is removed. So what could be the point of this? Most of these sites that seemed totally irrelevant to mine also appeared pretty junky with low or zero PageRank, while my site had a PR of 2 or 3 at the time (4 today).

Well, it struck me one day while I was doing a search for something, and Google returned some site’s Awstats in their results: Perhaps there are some website owners or some so called SEO people who set up systems to create links from their sites to better quality sites, then automate clicks on the links, thus generating a referral in the other sites’ statistical and website analytical packages. Knowing that many websites have their website statistics packages configured so that Google can easily discover and index them, this could provide hundreds and thousands of backlinks to their site from higher quality sites.

That was the only reason I could think of; otherwise what was the point of some ugly website about the hottest Indian Singer, or some corny adult porn site doing with a page of links that included one to a fly fishing site? I would see sometimes hundreds of these types of referrers in my analytics programs (back then, I was using a website analytics package called “http-analyze,” developed by the German company, I don’t think they continue to do any development on website statistics), however, there are many many websites configured with Awstats and similar packages that are not password protected and that Google has indexed.

I have never hired outside SEO help for that website, so I absolutely know without any doubt, that any link to that site was not anything I did or ever asked for, from these “bad neighbourhood” or irrelevant websites.

And now I’m supposed to worry or be concerned about this? I’m supposed to be concerned that some other website has linked to me, clicked on the link, with possibly the sole purpose of Google indexing my Awstats installation, and finding a link back to their website? And hundreds of them doing this to my site?

That’s insane. I was speaking with a website owner of a very high quality site, aimed at a very professional niche, who advised me that they had recently received a “Unnatural Link Warning” letter in their Google Webmaster Tools. They said, “Ian, I did some checking and found a bunch of really gross pornsites linking to us, and I have no idea why. Even the pages that they have the links don’t make sense.”

This particular website that they own has a PR of 5. Is it possible, that a network of low quality adult sites, could be creating the links themselves to this site and other sites, just for the purposes of getting a link back to theirs from any analytics packages that Google might be able to crawl? It very well could be the case. And if Google is seeing this, and somehow it’s causing a flag, then Google really needs to rethink their whole idea of penalties for websites.

I have a concern that Matt Cutts and the Google Web Spam Team have got such a hardened attitude toward what they call “Web Spam,” that they have gone way overboard, in their attempts to solve what they see as a problem, hoping to give themselves a pat on the back, but in the end, there is that old George Doubleya Bush attitude of brushing off collateral damage they have caused.

I do care if my websites have links that are linking out to dodgey websites. It does come up at times; I might have written an article, referring to something on another site and linking to it, but over time, that domain has since changed hands and now is nothing like what it was when I first wrote the article. I have to keep my eye on that kind of thing. But does Google now expect me to also keep an eye on who is linking to me??

That is just insane. Just as the idea of a “disavow link” button in GWMT’s is insane – I don’t have time for that, do you? Who has time to go and look at every link, and manually “disavow” it? That’s just ridiculous, and many website owners are not even savvy enough to know what they might or should do.

What do you think?

It’s A Penguin – Google’s Latest Update

Are “Panda” updates over this latest one Google has released being named “Penguin?” I mean, the next update, will it be a Panda 2.9, or a Penguin 1.1? A penguin it might be, and sometimes penguins can be cute, but they are slow, clumsy, and they can’t fly. Penguins can swim, but the Google Penguin update has sunk a lot of people and websites.

If it weren’t for that, and the fact that this is not 1998, and it’s not Altavista we’re using in 1998, some of the search engine results are kind of “cute” but clumsy in a Penguin sort of way. In that regard, it’s an appropriate name.

Websites that have zero content ranking #1 for some search queries. Websites that have absolutely zero relevance ranking for some search queries. It’s cute.. and clumsy. And it sure doesn’t fly with a lot of webmasters out there. I’ve even read reports along the lines of, “I abandoned a website two years ago after not ranking it after some effort, it looks terrible, and now suddenly it’s on the first page of Google.”

It makes you wonder if the engineers at Google do any indepth studies themselves after such an update; why are they not seeing what others are seeing and can obviously see that there is a problem here?  But, Google has offered an olive branch – two of them in fact. The first one is to let them know if you were hit by this update in a negative way that you should not have been. The other thing you can also do is snitch on someone that Google didn’t apparently catch.

Obviously Google staff know that this algo update might not have really done it’s job in a graceful and completely meaningful way. But give them credit: for the first time ever, they have provided a form where you can let them know if you’ve been unfairly victimized by The Penguin.

And if you’re in a snitching mood, you can snitch to the Penguin here.

The majority of our web properties and our clients’ sites have sailed through this fine. There has been some slight movement – in some cases a couple of spots upward, in others a couple of spots downward (more due to Google giving more credit in their alogrithm to other sites than anything else, most likely), but one site in particular which I’ve discussed before just makes no sense at all. There are only two things I can think of, and if either of them are what has affected the site to this degree, something is definitely wrong and absolutely Negative SEO is now possible if Google does not fix it.

1. Two and half years ago, about 40 articles were submitted to EzineArticles. Those articles contained links to different pages as well as the front page of the site.  Shortly after, Google came out with an update that devalued Article Directories – and the site did drop a couple of spots at that time.

2. About six weeks ago, somehow Google discovered the server name and the IP address of the server the site resides on. It is shared hosting, and I have no clue how Google ever started to index and end up with a copy of my site – and then do the same with the server name – thereby not only triplicating content, but also showing in my GWMT account, an exponential increase in backlinks to the site in one week. But this confuses me as this site (and one of our properties did) did not receive any “unnatural back link building detection” messages.

The result? For a major search term for which the site used to rank on Page 1, about #7 on Google.COM and on Page 2 of Google.CA, you now have to go all the way to Page 55 (that’s Page – not the 55th result) of the Google SERP’s. That’s insane. This is a website that has existed for over 10 years, has always done well, has tons of great quality content, and I receive daily emails from visitors congratulating me on the quality of the website.

It has lots of links from other fly fishing, fishing, outdoor related, etc. types of websites that were put there by other webmasters who found the site and liked it, and linked to it.

For searches on individual fly patterns, that I published long before other people ever did, the site ranks nowhere. It makes no sense to me. And I’ll tell you what – this site is not well monetized, it’s not something I make a ton of cash off of, (yes, there is an E-bay store, yes, there are some other Amazon affiliate links to products, where appropriate, and yes, there is some Adsense but it’s certainly not a “money” site for me – none of these things are “in your face”).

It’s not about the money, it’s more of a “pride” thing. But not only that, it’s pretty obvious to me that genuine, quality sites can be taken out – whether it’s a Panda or a Penguin – and sometimes it doesn’t make sense.

So what do you think? Will you be filling out either of the forms Google has provided that I linked to above?



Rank Jumpers Is Dead

Google is hitting the blog networks really hard and has their sights set on them. Today it is official that one that tried to emulate Build My Rank has now been almost decimated by the de-indexing of Google.

Rank Jumpers sent out the following to their subscribers today:

Rank Jumpers is very disheartened to say that the recent
change by Google to go after blog networks has now affected Rank Jumpers. We have had a large deindexing of blogs.
After careful consideration we have decided to cease the
blog network services by Rank Jumpers. In short we are
shutting down the blog network. Google is very aggressive
with their attempts to go after the networks and it would
be worthless to try to replace blogs etc.

Our Process:
We will offer a full credit back to any customers that purchased our services in April. We will pro-rate the credit back for customers that purchased the monthly service in March. We will also credit back any credits that have not been used!

The deindexed sites will have all posts removed as soon as
possilble. All other posts will be removed shortly after!


It’s interesting that after the fall of Build My Rank, Rank Jumpers was touted by many others including themselves as a viable alternative. Problem is, they had such a similar footprint that I predicted it would not be long before Google was able to track them down and de-index them. It wasn’t that difficult to figure out, even for me (and I’m not a Google algorithm) what sites were probably in the Rank Jumper network.

And again, of course, many website owners are lamenting the fact that there search engine rankings have dropped considerably and they are getting the dreaded “unnatural link building” warning message from Google.

If you solely relied on this type of back linking, it does mean trouble for you.

But, all these “unnatural link building” warning messages from Google certainly does increase the specter of negative seo as I wrote about the other day.

I am actually seeing this happen to one of my own sites, and it is not because of any unnatural link building that I’ve done. A couple of months ago, Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) reported about 14,000 backlinks to the site – which was pretty normal – no unnatural link building was every done to the site as that is not how I work.

A couple of weeks ago, I was shocked to see that GWT was reporting over a million backlinks! Upon further investigation, I discovered that Google had somehow found the IP address as well as the server name that the website exists on – and in doing so, had found two different “aliases” for the website that in reality, it should not have. So it is actually “seeing” this as several different sites, all with links back to the main website, and in this manner, has counted up hundreds of thousands of back links that really are not “real” backlinks at all. This is a huge problem with the Google Bot’s way of scouring the internet – and is obviously a weakness of Google.

There is a plan in place to correct this as obviously, going from 13,000 back links to over a million in a short span of a month or so would appear unnatural under most circumstances (but not all).

But subsequently, I noticed some major search terms that the site used to rank for, drop out of the sky. I have yet to see a “unnatural link building” warning, but it is puzzling to me how Google could claim they have precautions in their algorithm to ensure they are not counting the wrong thing as “unnatural link building” when it would appear that they may not.

I am fairly convinced the drop in rankings is related to the enormous number of so called “back links” (which are not really back links at all) that Google claims to have found.

And that leads me to believe that negative SEO is truly something that is going to be experimented with in a major way by those who are so unethical to do so. I’m not sure what Google is going to do about this, because it is obvious to me that in punishing some quality sites, they are promoting others that are obviously garbage – and even some that really have nothing to do with a particular search term at all.

Time to let the dust settle after these changes.

Negative SEO – Are We Almost There Yet?

For years, it has been known that an important part of external SEO is back link building. Having plenty of “quality” links back to your site(s) has counted as a “vote” of sorts as to where your site should rank in search engines and has been heavily weighted on the anchor text that is used.

Out of this, debate has raged in some corners about whether obtaining too many links could hurt a website, or whether having lots of inbound links coming in from low quality or “bad neighbourhood” sites would penalize your website in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

Up until recently, many SEO experts as well as representatives from Google have maintained that there really isn’t such a thing as a penalty for too many links. Some do believe that obtaining too many in a unnatural fashion could devalue the worth of the links as far as your search engine rankings.

But the problem with this is that it could make negative SEO a profitable venture. What is negative SEO? It’s a theoretical (at this point) case where you want to drop a competitor(s) site in the rankings, which would benefit your site’s search engine rankings, and to do this, you use all kinds of automation to build thousands of links from low quality websites pointing at your competitors.

Today, many are worried that with some recent Google algorithms, negative SEO is now a possibility. Last month, the mighty search engine was able to discover the footprint of a popular blog network and deindex the entire network from its search databases. Many webmasters would pay Build My Rank (BMR) a monthly fee in order to submit articles with built in links pointing back to their own websites, and thereby increase the number of backlinks from websites that had a PR of at least 2 and up to 6.

At the same time, many webmasters that participated in this scheme are also reporting they received the dreaded Google Webmasters’ message informing them of the discovery of “unnatural link building” to their websites. A good number of those involved in various forums that discuss such matters also report that their own search engine rankings dramatically dropped, or their sites were de-indexed all together.

Google’s Matt Cutts has also recently come out and said that there are new algorithms to detect “over SEO optimization” of websites and to take that into account when ranking sites in searches.

These of course leads to all the speculation that negative SEO is about to become a reality. How can Google know who built a bunch of back links to a website? The website owner or a competitor, or perhaps they are even legitimate back links due to a sudden interest in some new topic, subject or product.

I do not believe that this type of SEO is in any way shape or form, ethical. To try to negative SEO your competitors is a very poor and unethical way to get better search engine rankings for your own site. Having said that, I do like information and there is a case study going on with a participant at the website. Now, I don’t know that this person’s results will prove anything one way or the other, but the results will be interesting to see if they are ever posted. I’ll be following the thread and you can too – this link will take you to page 7 of the forum discussion.

Personally, I hope we’re not in the age of negative SEO – but it’s difficult to know what Google has in mind when they talk about looking for signals that indicate “over optimization” and are at the same time, apparently sending out quite a number of “unnatural link detection” messages.

Building A Site Around Youtube Videos?

Recently, I came across a product for sale with some interesting sales copy, promising all sorts of benefits to someone who wanted to create a website and monetize it.  Part of the “feature” of this product was the ability to use keywords, and populate a website with lists of Youtube videos including the descriptions that were provided by the Youtube video uploader.

While there is nothing wrong with embedding a youtube video in a blog post or website article, you most definitely could get into some bad books with Google if you have a big part of your website that simply “scrapes” or “harvests” Youtube videos. The particular product sales copy that I saw referred to it as “harvesting.”

It’s unfortunate that so many people get taken advantage of with such products, especially when they are marketed in such a way as to make the reader believe that creating a website with lots of good content that will get picked up by the search engines, and then rank highly. It is simply not true. Life – and search engines – don’t work that way.  And Google especially does not like you “scraping” content from other places, and using that as a big part of your site. It’s not original, it adds no new value, and you simply will not maintain any great search engine rankings with this kind of endeavor.

Indeed, it is quite possible that Google and other search engines will de-list you from their index if you engage in such a thing.  I’d highly recommend that if you’ve bought a product that teaches you to build a website in this manner, that you request a refund asap.

Be careful what you buy. Be careful about believing hyped up sales copy letters (or hyped up sales videos) that seem to promise you the moon with the click of a button. You are absolutely not going to get high rankings from google with a few clicks of a website creation product or software. It just does not happen that way.

Hopefully, if you’ve hired an SEO firm, this is not something they’ve recommended that you do for your on-site search engine optimization!

There is so much confusion and utter nonsense out in the SEO world about video and how it will help your website’s search engine rankings – most of the information is completely and utterly false. Don’t get me wrong; video can be helpful in driving traffic to your website – but sticking up a few videos on Youtube probably won’t have much effect on your website’s search engine rankings, if that is all you are doing.

And definitely, there is no “one click” solution that will suddenly see you ranking on Page 1 – especially not any “solution” where the major component is scraping or harvesting content from other sites. That will just see you waste time and money.