Black Hat

Audit Your SEO Firm Before You Hire

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February 23  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

99% of the “SEO” firms out there are nothing more than petty link spammers that have no clue how to do anything of value. Sadly most of them have no clue that what they’re doing is against Google’s TOS. So many real brands hire these snake oil providers because they themselves are not on the up and up.

If your brand offers nothing worth linking(or worth socially sharing) to then please stop every marketing tactic you’re currently doing and refocus. I get a dozen emails a day from people wanting to work with us and I sadly have to turn down nearly all of them. That or they get offende when I state they’ll need a few thousand dollars a month to compete in their competitive verticals. So please stop emailing me unless you want to actually, as Wil Reynolds puts it, “real company shit”.

Sadly, I also get a large number of emails from real companies who have hired these know-nothing consultants who have done nothing but keyword stuff their pages and build god awful links. I hope to help a little by ranting like an angry old man as well as provide you with the knowledge to sniff out a snake.

Audit 1: Their Link Profile

whitehat seo services
So let’s say you’ve gone to Google and typed in “whitehat SEO services” or “SEO services” or “link building services” etc etc…you will be presented with pretty much only companies who spammed to get their and do the same to their clients. Even some of the “big name” companies showing up here are just spamming to justify their rankings. I’m not one to out a company anymore so for that reason I won’t be naming names.

So in order to audit their links it’s quite simple, just use one of the free or paid tools out there such as Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, MajesticSEO. For this example below I’ve used Open Site Explorer because you can signup with a free account and get quite a bit of data.

Just as suspected, the first result has the lamest links with all targeted anchor text. So much for Google’s updates…

link spam google seo services

Anyone who pays attention to the organic SERPs know that Penguin and Panda are a joke if you’re a spammer. You can still make tons and tons of money within a few month time period with nothing but a 2-3 page website and tons of link spam. The site in question here recently did a big blast to secure the top position for any link building service related keyword.

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 6.36.40 PM
If you see a potential SEO firm with really unnatural anchors like that stay far away because they have no idea what they’re doing. Before you start commenting in anger at me, yes I know target anchor text ranks a site and thus they have an idea of what they’re doing. You just don’t want your legit company being handled by the likes of someone from Digital Point or the Warrior Forum.


Audit 2: Their Clients

The second thing I’d recommend taking a look at is if they list any clients on their website. A lot of SEO firms do this to establish credit, so take advantage of that. I recommend taking a look at the following:

  • Their link profile, specifically anchor text levels and types of links
  • Their on-page SEO and quality of content
  • What kind of social signals
  • Check the rankings for the clients main keywords
  • Check prices…if they’re a few hundred dollars you’re just going to get spam

You will quickly see a pattern emerge and should be able to tell if the SEO company is garbage within just a few minutes. If they don’t offer any clients(as we don’t) on their website just ask. If they don’t provide any you know you can move onto the next or just give me an email.

That’s It Folks!

As you can see it doesn’t take much effort to figure things out and please do investigate before handing over the life of your brand online. I don’t care if you don’t contact us to handle your brand, but please don’t let some scumbag SEO company ruin your organic rankings.

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Negative SEO On The Rise?

March 22  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

Because of all the recent woes with links causing penalties and filter trips these days, I thought we might as well bring up a very heated topic…. Negative SEO. There are a lot of people who will strongly debate whether or not you can take down a competitor with some ill gotten links. I, for one, am a believer in the fact you can take down a competitor, although it depends on a few key factors …well, from what I’ve seen anyway. There have been very few public case studies on this topic so I sought out someone who would let me test out a few things and see if we could shed some light on the topic at hand.

If you have a very well built brand that has been around for years and it has a very diverse and natural link profile, chances are that you’ll never be taken down by links. But what about a site that’s been around for a while but doesn’t have much of a link profile? Well after reading through a lot of forum posts, talking with clients and listening into Google Webmaster Central I thought the debate must go on.

With Google sending out over 700,000 WMT messages in the past few months, my bet is that the majority of those were for the dreaded unnatural links message. The fact is two large groups of people are going to be on the receiving end of this “penalty”. Affiliate marketers and unsuspecting businesses buying shit SEO services. Everyone knows, whether they admit it publicly or not, that spamming links will get you to the top in no time, some just do it better than others and stay in the game longer. It’s too hard to resist making the fast cash and that’s why so many niches top 10 results flip flop (almost) more than Mitt Romney.

So are we going to see a rise in negative SEO services? Despite what’s already being tested by black hats in the background, I think we’ll see more public companies coming out of the woodwork. I’ve already started seeing posts from businesses complaining that a competitor spammed their site with links and now they’re stuck with a -50 and a message in WMT. Their bionic posters are mostly saying this is impossible and doesn’t happen, but how is Google supposed to know who did it? They’re penalizing thousands of websites already feeling the hurt after receiving their notice of unnatural links. I got a huge kick out of seeing this website pop up today and I’m highly amused and intrigued… I damn near want to try it out, even though I can just go to Fiverr and order all the spam I need.

negative seo

My hat’s off to “Damian” as he’ll most likely have a ton of newbies from Warrior Forum, Traffic Planet, Digital Point, etc. come flocking in. I know some of you might be ready to comment flame for for linking to this service but they bring up a bloody good point on their about us page:

Now, I’ve always known that you could get a site in trouble by simply pointing links at it. But Google has made this easier than ever. To top it off, they have validated what I always knew. Now a days; they send out emails notifications letting people know they have done by building ‘bad links’ and will suffer the consequences.

The catch is, there is no trial, no jury, and no one to appeal to. Just a Kafka-ish faceless corporation. If you didn’t build the bad links, good luck fixing the problem.

Can A Competitor Knock You Out?

If you’re a well established brand with a solid link profile then there’s almost zero chance you’re going to budge. I imagine you’re only going to give them a boost to their already dominating SERP positions and you’ve just wasted time and money. For a smaller business in a not so competitive niche, well then I have to say that it is more than possible to get them slapped. Again, I might provoke an onslaught of comments not in my favour, so let’s hear what you have to say below.

A lot of you SEO nerds may remember this 2007 Forbes article on negative SEO where Matt Cutts says a couple of interesting things on the subject. First he says “piling links onto a competitor’s site to reduce its search rank isn’t impossible, but it’s extremely difficult.” and then “We try to be mindful of when a technique can be abused and make our algorithm robust against it,” he says. “I won’t go out on a limb and say it’s impossible. But Google bowling is much more inviting as an idea than it is in practice.”

So that’s where I agree and say it’ll be damn near impossible to take down a “big brand”. The smaller folks out there trying to compete without cheating, well you might be out of luck in some cases. It’s so bloody hard to know if a client knowingly bought into a link scheme, or their SEO did it without them knowing or if it was really a competitor up to nefarious tactics.

Other Great Reads On The Topic

Negative SEO Case Study Time

Put up or shut up right?

I have a real good friend and Realtor based out of Whistler BC and we frequently get in heated battles over SEO and links. He was so sure that I couldn’t blow him out that he offered to let me try and bowl his site out of the SERPs and into no traffic land. His current site ranks in the top 10 for a few choice Whistler real estate keywords without much of a link profile. The website isn’t that heavily marketed and he doesn’t generate a lot of leads from the site so it seemed to be a good fit. The site currently had less than 100 links and all of them come from him getting awards, commenting on local blogs and being linked from various local resources.

I will start buying tons of targeted anchor text to 3 pages only and I’m aiming to generate about 10,000 links within a week, for 4-6 weeks non stop. I’m going to be buying xrumer blasts, scrapebox, forum spam, blog comment spam, “private” blog network links, article marketing and Wiki link spam. This should be more than enough to either rank him better or eventually get him knocked down a peg or 10.

This will be full disclosure if I can knock his site out of the SERPs, you have my word on that. If it’s possible I’ll get him to reveal his domain name and the stats from his Google WMT. I have no idea what to expect so it should be fun and interesting and quite possibly a really scary outcome. While his niche isn’t nearly as competitive as something like “car insurance”, he still makes a fine living selling some of the best ski real estate the world has to offer. So subscribe to this post and keep your eyes peeled for the update post that’ll be coming in a few weeks.

Negative SEO Results

I’ll link you folks up here once we’re done in a couple months so stay tuned. In the mean time, feel free to express your thoughts below or let me hear about your experiences. Would you take out a competitor or 5 if you could?

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Detected Unnatural Links Notice From Google

December 28  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

No we didn’t get a notice of detected unnatural links but more and more people are these days and I expect this to ramp up a lot more in 2012. As I’ve stated many times, I’ve got my ear to the ground and a lot of the webmaster/affiliate forums are bringing up threads with this message. Google’s war on link spam is like America’s “war” on drugs – it’s a big fat fail boat year after year. The biggest hole in their algorithm is the links although they don’t need to change that aspect entirely. The anchor text abuse is rampant and that’s what needs to be curbed or turned down a notch…something we’re actually seeing in our link analysis a lot over the past 8 months.

I’m writing about it today because I saw yet another thread started in Google’s Webmaster Help Central regarding a rather larger site getting this notice. It comes in your webmaster tools area and you definitely don’t want to be seeing it. There are still a lot of people who claim that links cannot hurt your rankings, there are also a lot of people who believe in all sorts of fairy tales. Google’s guidelines on link schemes clearly state that you can be kicked in the ass (loss of rankings) if you’re heavily gaming their algo.

Image Credit:
This is what she looks like and for a lot of people I’ve spoken with, it doesn’t always follow with a decrease in rankings. I imagine your site is now under some serious watch from your big brother G so proceed with caution. From what I can tell, it takes a certain type of “link scheme” to trigger this message. The type I’m referring to is usually link exchanges as they’re really easy to spot and trigger an alert to Google. A lot of people these days are link spamming via article marketing, blog comments and forum profiles and I’ve only seen a couple cases where these links caused a problem. Those types of links are too easy to spam a competitor with, thus Google most likely won’t be causing a fuss from these links too much…I imagine they just eventually devalue them and move on.

Where I’d also be suspect is in a few other areas of your link profile. If your top anchor text are clearly gaming or a certain keyword then I’d be quite worried as a business owner. Half the time businesses hire some crack pot SEO firm and all they do is spam spam spam for certain anchor text links. A lot of companies have no idea what’s going on or if this were even a bad thing to have happen. Another area I always like to peep on is the distribution of links to pages besides the homepage. This is another area Google can easily calculate in their algorithm is something looks highly unnatural. If I were Google, I’d also take a look at the number of C classes that total the link profile, but that might just be a little too hard to determine by a machine if something’s awry.

Is Google passing value on the type of link? I’d put a lot of money on yes they are. If your link profile consists of only blog comments, how could they not determine something was going on. I’m a big fan of link diversity, but I’m also a bigger fan of creating something that encourages people to link to you…that’ll provide you with more than enough natural links.

Cases To Study

Via this Google search query:

That should give you folks a good idea of what they’ve been going after in the past year or two. Like I said above, I expect these messages to be ramped up in 2012 so make sure you’re really thinking about your current and future link marketing efforts and tactics. If you’ve seen this message and would like to tell your story, then feel free to do so in the comments below. If you’ve got this message and would like us to take a look at your website for free then get in touch via our contact form.

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Donations As A Link Building Tactic? Be Careful

May 6  |  Black Hat  |   Ryan Clark

A recent thread in GWC made me remember that donations are an often tactic used by companies with a lot of link money to burn. They’re usually pretty safe from Google’s clutches, but they’re also a huge risk. I was doing some backlink analysis for someone in a thread who had got stung with a -50 filter, and saw some not so good links. I was quite surprised to see a company of this high standards pulling this off, so I thought I’d make one public example for everyone to see. Google most definitely has taken notice to the page so it’s not really a secret, and it’s already out there in the public for anyone to see.

First up, let’s talk a little about why this is used as a link building strategy for a lot of big players. There are a lot of donations opportunities out there and usually they’re on very authoritative sites. Their donation pages are also not far off from the homepage, thus you’ll see a lot of companies going after these links. Sometimes it only takes a few hundred dollars to get a link from a really big foundation, open source project or a charity. For the most part, you’ll often see people drop well over $10,000 for a really link from a popular resource like this. Now that’s a scary link budget to compete with!

I can say openly that we’ve employed the tactic, but we did a few things different. For one, there was in no way any specific anchor text used. Secondly, the donations were made because they were open source software that the company relied on heavily to do their business. Lastly, the company only donated to three open source projects and that was the end of that….oh and I believe we sent the staff beer and pizza one day but we didn’t net any links for that!

Ok so what’s a really bad example of donation giving for inks? Sadly it comes from my favorite flavor of Unix, NetBSD. These folks most likely allow certain anchor text variations mainly because they need the money to go on, and they have one hell of an authoritative website. This means a lot of people will pay big bucks for a “proper link”, and that is most likely too much money to turn down. Times are tough, I understand! I doubt NetBSD would ever get penalized either, more so just have their donation pages devalued a lot. This still works out for them as they’d get the donations and the buyers would never know if those links were duds.

Naughty Naughty!

So most of you would cringe when you saw this, and just imagine what a Google web spam engineer would do? It really surprises me that some of these large companies let their link builders get up to this! Either that or they’re not in the know of what’s bad or good, and they’re just throwing heaps of money at a SEO firm. You’ll most likely see a ton of results, but one day you could have the carpet pulled out from beneath you. No on wants to wake up one day with their rankings gone, so be very careful in what you do.

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Panda Update Is Working For Us Against

April 20  |  Black Hat  |   Ryan Clark has been scraping not only our blog content, but Vertical Measures blog as well. I’ve asked many times through many streams and nothing was done about it, well, not until Panda anywho. We’ve implemented Google’s original source meta tags, blocked the scrapers via .htaccess but that didn’t stop them there. They take our content fully, rip out the links and the images which is really down right rude.  Since Panda is supposed to throw down thin, duplicate and weak content, I was glad to see it working so well for us.

Well I had to write about it since we weren’t getting anywhere trying to stop them from scraping. I even offered to let them take an excerpt but at least provide a link back to our original work. I filed a DMCA request with Google months ago and that did absolutely nothing, so it’s nice to see the Panda update doing its job. I know a lot of people think it’s done nothing but screw things up even worse, but here’s a real world example.

The original source implementation seemed to be doing an ok job, but not great. For the longest time we’d still see the scraped posts ranking within the top 10 search results. While it wasn’t hurting our rankings or image at all, it is just frustrating to see someone stealing your written words, and the links within them. I’d also hate to think a potential client would think it was their work, and end up wasting their time getting links that are most likely a waste of their money. With that in mind, just taking a look at the links they’ve built, you can see quickly this is not a consultant you want to deal with.

Post Panda Results?


I am pleased to see that the blog results are now what they should be, something I’ve demonstrated in the picture below. This is exactly what Panda was intending to do, so we’re all pleased that something has worked in our favor. I know not everyone is pleased, and I’m very aware that a lot of scraper sites are still outranking original content producers out there. That has been very evident if you look at all the inquiries in Google Webmaster Central.

So there’s a bit of hope for our team and hopefully folks out there dealing with scraper sites. If you’re seeing the opposite still with your content, pipe up here in the comments and let’s get a discussion going. We’re always more than happy to offer our advice and hopefully that leads to some answers for your problems.

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Link Building Freelancer Threatens A Client!

March 22  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

I was doing my morning help over at Google’s Webmaster Central and came across this somewhat scary post. I imagine many of you have hired a freelancer from one of “those” sites in the past, and I imagine most of you learned an important lesson. Those freelancers are mainly building junk/spam links, and it shouldn’t surprise you. While I imagine this happens more often that I’d like to know, there was some great info by a Google employee on the topic of spam links. To cap the post up for you first, this is what the site owner had to say;

I hired a freelancer to build links for my site, all white hat and above board.  However when I came to check the links they were not very good quality and half of them were missing.  After a dispute via Freelancer I agreed to pay half and he accepted that.  Over the next couple of days he has sent me many emails saying that he would remove the links I paid for if I did not pay the rest of the cash for this month.  I said that was not fair as I have paid for the links he has built. Now he has come back saying if I do not pay he will send 2000+ bad links to my site and wipe it from the search engines… I didn’t know what to do so I just paid him.

So here we have a sticky situation. Luckily for him, freelance link builders are cheap and he was able to bite the bullet. So I could stop there and we could all contemplate the thought of this happening to our business. First of all, don’t hire a freelancer from “one of those sites”, and stick with well known companies in the industry (cough cough). This is your business we’re talking about here, and no one should be held hostage for links!

So on to the next point of topic in this discussion. A lot of the people said don’t worry about it, those spam links can’t hurt you. This had me a little flabbergasted to say the least! Clearly, some of these consultants have never had a client with an anchor text filter penalty. I’ve heard this time and time again, that spam links cannot hurt you at all so don’t worry about it. I have never shared this thought, and we’ve dealt with so many inquiries from people with those exact penalties. Needless to say, I was pleased when a Google employee piped in on the conversation;

Google doesn’t penalize a site for having spammy links to the site unless we can tell that this was part of a link scheme.

thejack (Google Employee)

So there you have it, a real world example of the dark side of marketing. This should also clear up any questions you had about getting hit by bad links. While it might be frustrating to see a competitor over take you in the short run, a quality marketing plan will prevail in the end.

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Google Owned Outranked By Content Scrapers Post Panda

March 18  |  Ecommerce SEO  |   Ryan Clark

We’re currently in the middle of submitting a clients feed to a few product comparison search engines, and I stumbled onto something slightly amusing., which was acquired by Google, has a bunch of (really lousy) content basically to just internally link their key product pages. While I know this has been in place long before the big G got in there, so it’s more of just an amusing blog post to peek at. By the recent Panda update, the content on the site would be defined as a content farm, and I kind of think got hit by the update. As it stands, most of that content has been scraped and is currently outranked but low quality article sites and blogs.

The site has been slowly going down hill anyhow, and the only point in time it saw any real action is when Google announced the purchase. I’m surprise this hasn’t been cleaned up yet, but I imagine they just used the technology elsewhere. That domain has some serious potential though, so feel free to let me at it Google if you don’t have the time(tee hee). I checked around 10 “articles” that are up on the site and ended up with the same result as you can see in this next image below. Sometimes, I didn’t even get back as a result in the top 30 listings, something I found a little strange.

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JCPenny Caught With Paid Links?

February 12  |  Black Hat  |   Ryan Clark

I just enjoyed reading the long and well done report by the NT Times on the black hat hi-jinx JCPenny has been tangled up in. I don’t need to chat much about it as they went 5 pages deep into uncovering what was going on. JCPenny, by the looks of their Alexa, did quite well this last holiday season!

This is a good warning to all big brands not to game their links and stay away from any anchor text filters…something JCPenny is still stuck in by the looks of it. While it was reported they got slapped up into the 70’s, I’m now seeing them back in the 30’s, but there’s no traffic to be found there. JCPenny could have also been setup in this situation. Of all the huge brands we’ve worked with, they’d never have to resort to tactics like this to get those kind of results. While it’s not easy, these companies most definitely have the budget to do it right.

Just 7 percent of’s traffic comes from clicks on organic search results, she wrote. A far bigger source of profits this holiday season, she stated, came from partnerships with companies like Yahoo and Time Warner, from new mobile applications and from in-store kiosks.

This is also great for them, any this should be similar for any large company. We always tell our clients to NOT have all their eggs in one basket, especially in case something bad happens. If you’re still relying 100% on search, it’s time to start looking at Facebook storefront options, a strong Twitter presence and get mobile in one way or another.

The one major thing JCPenny could improve on is of course much better product descriptions. If you were a smaller ecommerce site with a weak link profile and brand presence, then you’d be trumped. This is where having such a big company comes in really handy, but don’t feel invincible.

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