It was after reading yet another post on how to theoretically recover from a Google Penguin penalty that I finally decided to do something about responding both to this and all the other commentary on the subject. It may help to read the straw that broke the camel’s back first, or if you are familiar with the whole debate read on and the post should hopefully gel together in a readable way.
First, and with your consent, I would like to start by quoting something I think appropriate to this debate:
Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
So early in the morning.
Natural Linking – it’s nothing of the sort.
I don’t like the idea of a natural linking profile because it makes everyone compare their online marketing efforts with everyone else’s – as though that was natural and even sensible in the first place – if there’s something that keeps businesses in business it’s their value added, so why try to make yourself look the same as everyone else?
Also worth remembering is that if all things (link profiles included) are equal then everything is pretty much flat, which means that there is no-one above anyone else. Try sitting that equation within the 10 spots on the homepage of Google (or more realistically the first 3 in the organic listings to appear above the fold) on the most popular devices that are using Google search. Of course if everyone is the same Google can cherrypick who appears in the organic spots.
What’s more, I can assure you that in the Viagra niche, link profiles are going to look pretty much in-keeping with each other, but the ones at the top will be doing something spectacularly different (and likely in the darker areas of SEO).
So first off I say bollocks to the ‘natural link profile police’.
Next, as George Orwell would have said had he been working in web-marketing today:
“All websites are created equal but some are more equal than others”
Google results are still a bit of an animal farm (Boxer is the modern day SMB). The truth of the matter is that it’s always been broken. The recent Hummingbird update, which I’m calling the Wavii update, is the latest overhaul of a ranking mechanism that until recently was all about creating as many links as possible – irrespective of quality – to pop a website up on to the front page. Rogue traders (previously SEOs and now evil rank manipulators) are still popping sites onto the homepage of Google with forum spam. As I’ve already covered in the economics of spamming, and can you blame them?
Distilling the whole debate on penalty recovery strategies
When we put this post and the millions of others in the SEO sphere through the Liebig Condensor, this whole debate can be reduced to the following 3 piece of advice:
- Remove lots of links with same text anchor links on crappy platforms: Remember that it was Google that made the SEO process such that getting links on these crappy platforms put you on the first page of their search engine – it was the biggest weakness of the giant, and it went on like that for years.
- The whole follow/no-follow ying-yang thing: Again, in my considered opinion utter-rubbish, based on nothing more than working with websites that have extremes one way or the other and seeing nothing negative.
- The technical asnwer: usually this is the gel in online commentary used to provide the solution to the problem. Fancy graphs and scientific analysis based on industry metrics that are frankly guesswork. If it’s not detoxifying your links through some kind of genesis algorhythm, or a brand new evolutionary understanding of how Google ranks, it’ll be some other magic [paid] pill.
And what does all this analysis tells us?
That by far the best strategy to adopt in the case of a penalty is to mimic, manufacture, disavow or invent a link-profile that looks more natural or as natural as those other websites that are at the top of Google (more on why that’s a poor strategy later!)
I say hats off to all you experts, this is truly a great solution, and very very natural.
Let’s take a breather by way of a two open questions and some reflection
Would you, as the owner of a profitable search engine, manually review the websites that appeared in your results pages that made you lots and lots of money each day? To make sure you were getting your just dues?
What if you found there were websites appearing in the most prominent positions of the search results pages and they were getting this traffic for free? If you were able to predict (by way of their web-statistics – Google Analytics will do) just how much revenue you might gain from turning that business to a paying customer would you have an obligation to your shareholders to maximize that profit, or is it conceivable that you would just sit there and say – well done that’s a really good website, you deserve the free traffic for your efforts!
Now despite how I write, I am a family man with a Kantian flavour to my ethics, but I would struggle to just sit there and slap the webmaster on the back.
Thankfully the world largest search engine does reward good websites, so we’re all in the clear.
You just have to look at the Travel & Tourism sector where the businesses in the prize positions of organic listings feature, popups, pretty foul user interfaces and a brand experience that doesn’t seem to extend much farther than the edges of the corporate logo they use to [dis]grace their webpages.
On the quality side of the fence (with a great many others) I’ve had the good fortune of working on some truly inspirational websites that are breaking the moulds as much in their user experience, as in the focus of what they are offering – and Google “rewards” these sites with a pittance of free traffic.
So, let’s throw the whole good sites rank top, out the window shall we!
Now, back to the penalties…
Penguin & Panda (P&P) – The $$$ wars
In the past 14 years, and speaking personally it was the updates of Panda and Penguin that were the most significant. That was the moment – and many other SEOs will probably nod their head and agree – Google went after the dolla!
Pre P&P 90% of those companies doing business online were actually paying specialized agencies and those agencies were – for the most part – button pushing links and yielding results for their clients. Everyone was happy. Google was happy to because an industry thrived because agencies could get sites ranked (and these agencies were great and in Google’s Red Hand Gang) and because there was a proper cause and effect with these strategies, they told their clients it was the search engine to be a part of.
That means that 90% of those companies that were online got hit with some kind of penalty after P&P. I have no massive data pool of proof, save for business that came to me on their knees, and having colleagues in the SEO industry since day zilch reporting the same findings, but this is pretty much what happened to a lot of them. As a result of this lots of sites, that before had no traffic or optimization (because they weren’t actually doing SEO), suddenly appeared on the first page.
Meanwhile a large slice of those companies hit with a penalty went to Adwords (or died before they could even create an account). For those that survived the penalty their comfort came in the form of abysmal CPC with even worse conversions and an ongoing limp along in an economy that was, and still is, not based on a market rate. In fact survey some of the most competitive niches in Adwords and the only ones that can absorb this cost are the mega-brands, and the occasional random advertiser that is leveraging a free coupon to put themselves on the front page….and they soon disappear to tell their friends how crap their experience was.
The bad choice and the good choice to recovering from whatever penalty Google puts on a website now or at any time in the future.
The bad choice: Start using Adwords now and you’ll never have to worry about another penalty in your life (just as an aside – you should substitute the word “penalty” when used in a Google context with “we want you to now pay for the traffic you historically got from us for free). By using Adwords you’ll also be ahead of your competitors by nature of learning by trial and error, what works and what doesn’t. But be warned, over time you will be squeezed to bid on ever broader phrases because having an account with 1000 campaigns on very low traffic keywords – but that you know will convert – is simply not the way to run a campaign Google style.
And when you do get into a position of campaign ROI via Adwords, good old Quality Score can rear its ugly head to ensure that there just enough of an ‘unknown’ in the Adwords algorhythm to allow Adwords to pretty much set your CPC at whatever it wants. It’s worth noting that at the moment it’s pretty easy to get a Quality Score of ten, but once the market fills up properly (read: organic traffic gets killed off completely) that’s what you should expect. It’ll be just like the P&P all over again with an Adwords flavour.
The good choice: Use the “you’ve got ban” period as a time to look at your own website and properly analyse visitor behaviour so that whatever the traffic source is, you can be sure that the visitor is getting to love their visit. If you received organic traffic once upon and time, and now no longer, work on delivering really targeted visitors to your website (even if it is in some paid form) and improve your on-site experience.
Unplug from the Google universe – seriously get out of Google Analytics – the sheer amount of eye candy bloat inside GA is enough to fluff out your mattress for the rest of your life. There are other tracking solutions without all that bloat. Unplug also from Google webmaster tools (when you are watching your traffic instead of having your ego-greased by a colored graph in GA, you will notice a big drop in traffic, and you can always add your site again and then send a reconsideration request if you think ‘you’ve got ban’).
Focus on sales channel diversification – Consider this, I can get CPC at 8 cents a click with better targeting than Adwords while my competitors are knocking out £1.25 to pay people to hit their back button or enjoy a 0,6% conversion rate and where 2 clicks has just killed their profit margin. And I am not going to tell you how I do it, or sell the formula, would you? Stop looking for free traffic, the cost of CPC has created lots of really groundbreaking ways to deliver visitors to your website that build brand not respond to the ephemeral Adwords searcher, that only cares about price – is your business just another Costco?
Based on the above, I’m hugely optimistic about the future and if you decide to follow the path in this way, I promise you will be too!
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A footnote for our heavenly father:
For those webmasters that get hit with a penalty it would be nice if your team could find a way to actually report the URL of the site causing the problem because in that way legal actions can be brought against those parties that, for example scrape the hell out of Google results and then drop-in a massive Adsense units at the top of the page in a way to bake together some Adsense revenues (which by the way is paid for by those businesses trying to sell something rather than provide Ads which people click on as a way to leave the crap site Google search just served!) – I still don’t get why your team can’t remove these sites, but is so good at removing an actual business trying to make it online. This step might have the added benefit of turning WMT into something that business owners could actually use beyond just sharing their data with the Google beast. But I and others won’t hold our breathe on that one.
Glyn S. H. has been online marketing since 1999 and has developed campaigns for leading luxury brands that have included Nestlè and Interflora . He works primarily in for the Travel and Tourism sector, helping hotels beat-down OTA paychecks. He has a web-marketing company, a Masters in Professional Communication, speaks fluent Italian, and is married with two kids. He also has a good sense of humour – essential for survival in web-marketing. He is not employed by Google. To contact via email: glyn@ (this domain).