link schemes

Google Adds To Their Link Schemes Page

2 Comments
October 9  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

I recently noticed that Google has added some more rules to their Link Schemes page, so I thought I’d alert others and break down what I see that’s new. While I’m happy to see some more clarity in what not to do link building-wise, there are still a lot of unclear tactics left off the menu.

I can tell you from experience that not a whole lot of people have read this page, and as someone who does inbound marketing, you should. Google’s updates this year have thrown a lot of people for a loop, especially when it comes to building/attracting/buying/stealing links to your website. While I think a lot of it still has to do with anchor text ratios and not so much link types (yet), why bother building junk when you can attract gold?

Ok, So What’s New?

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link

I may be wrong on this one, but there seems to be some new words added to this paragraph this time around, mainly the part about sending someone a “free” product in exchange for a link. Sending a product to the biggest bloggers in your vertical so they can give an honest review is a great way to get feedback on your goods. While you may get a link in your review, you should certainly be getting social media signals, pictures and hopefully video content from the reviewer. Google shouldn’t have any say in this form of marketing as it’s completely natural to me. I’d just make sure you don’t have the reviewer give you any special anchor text other than “view website/site/brand name” etc.

Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

This was a much-needed addition, as there are SO many people using automated scripts and tools to mass create links. You know the usual suspects like Xrumer, SENuke and Scrapebox. 99% of the “SEO Services” you find on webmaster forums are usually done with some sort of software and it’s ALWAYS spam. Even SENuke.com may need to change some of the copy on their website after seeing this one.


Questionable, to say the least…

Links that are inserted into articles with little coherence, for example: most people sleep at night. you can buy cheap blankets at shops. a blanket keeps you warm at night. you can also buy a wholesale heater. It produces more warmth and you can just turn it off in summer when you are going on france vacation.

This is fairly obvious and I imagine their AI can detect this kind of stuff by now… Well, at least in a timely manner. I wish I could properly do a study to see how many “robot made” articles have been published on open article sites and web 2.0 properties. If you run a forum or UGC-based site, you more than likely deal with this crap on a daily basis. For those still utilizing something like this in their strategy, it’s going to be a wild ride if your income relies on this method. While it may boost your rankings for a while, I’d certainly not want tens of thousands of “un-cleanable” links out in the wild.

Low-quality directory or bookmark site links

This is a another obvious hit on the list, although notice the choice word of “low-quality”; this still leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I know a lot of folks don’t like the idea of Google determining what is not of the utmost quality, but it’s their search engine so some sort of line has to be drawn.

We on occasion will recommend some directories for clients, it all just depends on the situation. There are a lot of city/location-based directories that are useful for the traffic, never mind the link. Let’s say, for example, that I’m a local car dealership – there are going to be options for links that are vertical-specific, and which also provide more value than just a link. A perfect example being Dealerrater.com, which provides real user reviews for each specific dealer.

As for social bookmarking, just stick to the most active sites by creating worthy content. There are tons and tons of bookmark sites made with Plugg or Scuttle, and that’s what you have to steer clear of. What’s the point of trying to keep thousands of ultra low quality pages indexed for a lousy link? Putting your time and effort into, say, good content and Reddit, would pay off to a much greater degree.

Redbull is a corporation that does a bang up job creating content, and they have a hot link on Reddit daily, most often multiple times! The end goal is to draw more “fans” into their brand and this is when you start experiencing the life beyond Google’s organic search traffic.

Links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites, for example:
Visitors to this page: 1,472
car insurance

I like to usually follow three rules when someone wants to utilize widgets as part of their link strategy. The first being that you should create something unique and useful, and not another loan calculator or phony badge. Second, you should most likely slap a nofollow tag on that link. Lastly, do not use a “money anchor text” for your link, just stick to a site/brand name link.

Widely distributed links in the footers of various sites

I’ve heard a lot of people come into trouble with themes for the likes of WordPress and Joomla. The problem here being a money anchor text as the link in the footer, and this is a clear manipulation of Google’s algorithm. If you’re a theme developer then I don’t see any problems coming from a tactic like this, just stick to nofollow and the site/brand link again. There’s nothing wrong with providing something awesome for free and getting something in return. If you’re not a web designer, I’d steer clear of developing a theme just for the footer links… There are better things you can do with your time and money.

Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature, for example:
Thanks, that’s great info!
– Paul
paul’s pizza san diego pizza best pizza san diego

The easiest targets out there are forums and blogs, because the platforms are almost all the same, and they’re easily exploited via AI. Forums are great for marketing, but the last thing to worry about is a link! There are better ways of getting legit forum ROI by being a part of the community openly. Any large forums in your niche also have advertising options, so don’t waste your time trying to blast links on forums. This makes your business look bad, and it creates a giant mess you’ll eventually have to clean up… Assuming Google does come out with that link ignore feature.

Creating Amazing Content is Truly Worth It in the Long Run

I’m perhaps sounding like a Google fan boy right now, but if you want to play ball and get that free traffic, you might as well play by most of the rules.

The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community.

It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links.

It all comes down to you wanting to continue that traffic flow, which hopefully is converting into sales. I think the worst part is that if you do get to the top 10 by spamming, you’ll have 9 other people analyzing your links and looking for a reason to report you. So, continue focusing on doing the things that make you stand out from all the rest; this is where you’ll find success in the long run.

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10 Big Brands That Google Has Penalized For Paid Links

13 Comments
August 25  |  Paid Links  |   Ryan Clark

Over the years, Google has applied some high profile penalties and they’ve always been a fun read. I thought I’d round-up all the big ones I could find and present them for your amusement (and education). All the companies in this post had been caught with their hands in the paid links cookie jar. Whether they were selling or buying, Google came down hard on them for a bit but, as you can see, they’re all back and doing fine now. I won’t name names, but one of these ten below is still blatantly selling links on their high profile site.

In my younger days, I woke up one morning to find my biggest money making affiliate site with a big fat -50 slap in the face. I was doing everything from buying links, to heavily targeting certain anchor text. At the time I didn’t care, knew the risks and the money I was making was down right ridiculous. I moved onto the next domain and was eventually back making my monies. The ability to shrug it off is lost on a big brand. Everything they do in marketing has to be for the long term and getting slapped by a Google penalty can be a major problem for just about the whole operation. The penalties put on one of the companies below cost them just over $4 million in losses… ouch!

While tons of websites are quietly put in the penalty box for paid links, link schemes and other shenanigans, the big boys are the most interesting. This should also be a lesson to those up and coming, take over the world companies that might be considering partaking in link schemes. It’s a mess to clean up and it can take many months to recover from, if you ever do recover…

If you’re still wanting to buy links, and by all means buy away, learn how to do it properly for Pete’s sake! The reality is, big brands are still buying although they are getting sneakier and sneakier. Mark my words, almost every competitive SERPs top 10 results are going to have a lot of paid links. What I’m seeing lately is just the right balance of paid links, careful anchor text use and a good mix of where those links are pointing. It can be done, but let’s see what impact Google has had in the past.

*I imagine most of you remember the paid links war drum started banging hard around 2006-2007 *

Before we get into the main bulk of the content I’d like to mention that I want comments on the big brands I did miss out on. If you want to see the everyday website getting stung on a weekly basis, come join me on Google’s Webmaster Help. Since Panda started rolling out it seems that paid links are causing webmasters a lot of problems.

1) Google.co.jp


Yes, you are reading that right and this is not a typo! Apparently Google Japan didn’t get the memo on buying links; Either that or they forgot to send it in Japanese. Matt Cutts publicly stated via Twitter that the PageRank drop for their .co.jp search homepage was in fact because of some naughty link buying. They were getting reviews for a widget by paying bloggers and using a pay per post service. To me, this would be a prime link bait tactic for Google to use, except for the fact that they have no real need to be doing that in the first place.

I don’t have a problem with bloggers in a niche reviewing a product or service, whether or not it was paid for; That is just good marketing in my books. If you are really paranoid, ask for a nofollow link. It’s not much different that submitting a press release about a new product launch. Keep in mind, though, that the reason I would do this is not for the link, that’s just the icing on the cake.

2) Forbes.com

Perhaps one of the most well known publications in the world, Forbes Magazine was caught not once, but twice for selling links in a multitude of areas online. By the looks of it, they were making a pretty penny doing it and despite being a very large company, Google still dropped the ban hammer on their website. You can see the original Google Webmaster Help thread which even had Matt Cutts himself provide the best answer. That’s the kind of attention big brands get. I’ve rarely ever seen him pipe in on any other topic in that forum.

Now I wonder how much of a clue Forbes had in the first place. It was online marketing firm Conductor Inc who was the link broker for them and many other large sites that may have been penalized. They were at the very least selling links to other big brands that were closely related in business. A really rather smart idea. If you are going to buy links, then they were doing it the best possible way but it obviously didn’t pan out as they had initially anticipated. Still, there are ways of buying links that Google will NEVER catch on to, so remember that you have to be sneaky if you’re going to risk it all.

3) 1-800-Flowers

1800Flowers.com is perhaps the best known flower chain in North America. Heck, I’ve even used them a handful of times. I did, however, forget to give them paid link advice. They entered a very competitive market both online and off and to boost their rankings they dabbled in the dark side. Needless to say, it eventually caught up to them. The penalties were a major sting to their sales for a little while before Google let them back into the game – something that’s typical after the storm calms down and the penalized site starts playing by the rules.

What kind of links caused it? Well, they denied it but they had links on sites that were quite obviously selling paid links and they were targeting “Mother’s Day Flowers” keywords galore. Like I mentioned above, if you search for Mother’s Day Flowers now you’ll find them at the number one spot and if you check that page’s links, you’ll see how they are still ranking. Regardless of linking methods, that’s a company I’d expect to see in the top 3 spots. The NY Times called them out on it and made it a big story, but at least they got some really juicy links out of it.

So, the lesson learned? Getting caught is a great way to drive links to your site!

4) Newsday.com

Well, we’re not really all that surprised to see yet another publication getting “slapped in da face” for selling links. I understand, times are tough for print media publications and trying to make a buck or two on paid links can bring in some serious dough. This website is for the Long Island area of New York, and is owned by the Tribune group. Newsday.com was the only website in their portfolio that got a slap, so it makes me wonder how many websites they own got away with it.

If you take a look at some of their articles, you might notice some links that may be considered “paid” but in the end, who knows. The links are always related to the post’s topic so it could be just good linking. I know online newspapers have a big network of sites and interlinking them for legitimate purposes is something that is going to happen. You can read the original Google Groups posting here about it and see how it was all handled. Make not of the fact that it took a few months to get their PageRank back to normal levels.

5) GoCompare Insurance

GoCompare is a car insurance quote company and if you know anything about competitive markets, you’ll know that anything insurance is tough as nails. Go look at the top 10 ranking sites for the term car insurance and you’ll find paid links in at least 80% of the sites ranking there. The sad truth is, those big terms are all completely dominated by paid links. The difference? Most of them have a really good link profile in addition to the paid links. You’ll find diverse backlink profiles usually make it so that people get away with paid links for longer, if not forever.

GoCompare was buying a lot of links on a lot of crappy sites, which is still evident in their link profile to this day. I imagine those links are now just devalued and not doing much for their rankings. They’re not in the top 20 search results for the ‘car insurance’ keyword anymore so perhaps they got stuck in a link building rut since. If you folks are reading this, give us a shout because I have some great ideas for link bait in your niche!

6) Beat That Quote

This is the site that Google bought in March of 2011 and was quick to penalize for buying links. I’ll throw out the link bait card again because the site didn’t do too well for a lot of terms and this is a great way to get links if you’re Google. Looking at their Alexa ranking, it didn’t do them a whole lot of good in the long run. To me, this is the type of site that should have been hit by Panda pretty hard but I imagine they somehow made it past the filter.

Keep in mind my earlier mention about the insurance SERPs being some of the toughest out there. I’d put money on the fact that the majority of companies are still buying links to this day. When competition is that rough and tough, the paid links usually play a large part of the overall rankings.

7) GoHealthInsurance.com

Here we go again. Those insurance companies sure do love their paid links! I’ll continue to stick by my quotes on the insurance game being completely dominated by paid links and other naughty link schemes. There are few companies in this arena doing things legitimately and ranking hard for it. A newcomer into this industry better have some incredibly smart marketers working for them if they’re going to even stand a chance for a top 20 spot. Not only that, you’re going to be under heavy watch due to the competitive nature of those SERPs.

I found the Google Webmaster Help thread directly from the company trying to figure out what was going on with their rankings in Google. GoHealthInsurance.com had a 3rd party company buy links as part of their SEO strategy until Google took notice. They had the company email and remove all those links but were finding that the rankings weren’t coming back. Well no duh! You’re going to need some good quality link loving to get back up for those keywords. Keep in mind that it can also take a few months to come back after you’ve been filtered for a certain keyword or removed entirely.

8) GourmetGiftBaskets.com

From my affiliate marketing days I’m quite aware that the gift basket niche is a big one and a tough one to crack at that! While they have an amazing exact match domain as well as beer baskets, I have no idea why the paid links were necessary! How are beer baskets not link bait alone? (mmmmm beer) Back in 2008, right before the holidays, it was reported that GourmetGiftBaskets.com was dropped from the Google index. This is a nightmare of the worst kind for any company and the fact that it was right before the holidays is a killer. How killer? They reported a $4 million dollar loss in sales.

Eventually, things got back to normal, however, if anyone from the company is reading this, your partners page and articles section is something I’d be worried about Panda going after. By the looks of it, they may have already. Other than that, I still see a lot of sketchy links in their profile. Overall, their strategy has been focused on getting national news coverage. They also have tons of links from the biggest sites on the web and with an EMD like that you’re in for a win!

9) JC Penny

The JC Penny debacle was perhaps the most talked about penalty of the year. They hired a 3rd party company, which is okay, don’t get me wrong, but I would have thought they had a good in-house team. Like a lot of 3rd party low life SEO companies, they’ll buy links to quickly inflate the rankings for their client. The worst part? They won’t even tell them they’re doing it. We’ve even had to clean messes like this up for companies before. I have no idea if they knew or not, but they had no reason to buy such terrible links on unrelated blogs. Their budget could have paid for the best link bait, the best reviews and if they wanted to go for paid links, they could have been sneaky as a fox.

JC Penny does have one thing going for them – they’re one of the biggest retailers in the world. They were able to clear up their issues quite quickly and were back to ranking in no time, even for the gamed keywords. In addition, when you spend that much on Adwords, you must have some serious clout within the Google hive! Either way, it works as great link bait and JC Penny got all the links they’d need from the biggest sites in the world. Bravo folks!

10) Overstock.com

Overstock was the other contender for biggest brand banned in 2011 and it’s an interesting case to me. I’ve got links for clients on .edu’s offering discounts, but there was one difference in our tactic. We didn’t game anchor text and just got a natural site/brand name link and as a result, never felt any sort of a penalty. We didn’t expect to rank to all high heavens either, it was just another part of the link profile to add some diversity. To this day, those clients have not felt any ill effects from those links. BRB while I go knock on some wood!

The whole issue got blown out by the WSJ Online edition and thanks to them, Overstock got a truckload of awesome links for it. Their company has some of the best in-house SEO’s in the world, so they’re still going strong. However, a lot of the keywords they were targeting in that campaign still elude them to this day. Regardless, they’re still doing great in the SERPs and traffic looks to be rising up this year for them and they’ll no doubt continue to see that rise.

So, if you’ve learned anything from the big guys going down in Google’s books, it is “play by the rules”. If you haven’t been, ask for help and work to fix the problem. If you do need to buy links, and it will always be a part of a diverse link portfolio, do it very sneakily and make sure that you’re not gaming the SERPs. With any sort of luck, you’ll be back ranking for your old keywords in no time. That is, if you have enough clout.

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