This is the third time in about as many months that either myself or my clients got hit with the dreaded “Unnatural Links Penalty“. Before I go on about the penalty and my steps to resolve it, I will give you a brief history of my SEO tactics.
For the last 4 years my SEO tactics have been very straight forward… build something useful and they (the links) shall come. Now I understand that my strategy may be unrealistic for some industries, however for the ones I specialize in, mostly non-profits, it works well… or at least used to work well. I always steered my clients towards making sure their on page SEO was was top notch and spend their time and budgets focused on creating well researched and intriguing material that other sites would want to link to.
I always explained that while creating a 300 word article and point 100′s of spammy links to it may get a bit of pull at first, those results will never hold in the long run. Don’t create content for a search engine, create it for your users and they will reward you with those links we all want. And hey, it always worked like a charm.
Actually, it worked too well. Well written and well researched material pulled lots of high quality links from news publishers and those links pushed results to the top of search. Most people would think that’s a great thing, but these days those top spots just seem to paint a nice red target right across your header.
In many ways Penguin gave competitors and spammers way too much control over OUR search results and the ability to begin knocking sites off their high Google perches with some samurai precision. For more about my frustration with that you can see my last rant about the effects of negative SEO.
Last week a client whose site I managed got the dreadful “Unnatural Links Penalty“. In the last few weeks his Google rankings have gone into the land of “no eyeball shall ever see this“… Google’s search results page 7 and below. Organic search and more specifically, Google organic search had always been the bulk of the sites targeted traffic.
The site contains huge archives of historical industry information as well as lots of educational material.
At this point, I’m sure its an easy guess as to what went wrong in this post Penguin playing field. The quick answer is scrappers. While scrappers have always been an issue in the past, it was always difficult combating them. You take one down and they just copy it to another domain the following day. We knew they were an issue, but we never realized how big of an issue… until now.
At the root of the problem there were a handful of sites that raised the red flags. A few yahoo answer clones that for whatever reason were linking to his site with specific anchors that they used thousands of times, over and over and over again. The site doing this had nothing to do with my clients site or subject matter, but for whatever reason they linked to his pages below the content they scraped elsewhere. The other 2 sites sending 1000′s of keyword specific inbound links where scrappers that in fact did scrape his site.
One of the sites just went up a month back (or at least their whois info said so) but they copied his entire archive going back 5 years. Normally, that wouldn’t be a huge issue except that these guys may have been new to the entire scrapping thing and along with the content also copied the sites navigation and link structure onto every single page. So while on our site the navigation was normal and internal, copied to another domain, every single page had keyword links pointing back to our site.
I looked at the sites closely and am convinced it wasn’t done by a competitor, just some amateur spammers. Either way, Google came back and penalized our site and they did it heavy handily. The site no longer appears in search for it’s industry, cause or topics. Actually the only way to find it is to Google the domain name or site name, other than that, you aint finding it, but what you do find is those scrappers.
Recovering from the “Unnatural Links Penalty” – Gonna be a long road
The scrappers are actually easy to deal with. Luckily they were hosted in the US and a DMCA was possible. The DMCA’s went out and a few days later the sites went down. Sure they will now pop-up on another domain name but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
The Yahoo answers clones… not that easy. For one, they did not scrape anything, just inserted 1000′s of links for whatever reason. Maybe they needed some off-site links to stay within ‘what looks natural’ and we were the lucky recipients of said links. Whatever the case was, getting them removed is proving to be a pain. The contact info in the whois is fake as are the names I would imagine. The host is offshore and couldn’t care less and the registrar says its not their problem and after all, there is no copyright infringement. Any site can link to any other site as many times as they wish.
I get all that, we should be able to link to whatever we want and the internet was built on that however taking severe penalties because someone else decided to do so is just so damn frustrating!
But I don’t want to join the Army! What, you don’t care..
I understand Google is waging a war on web spam but too many of us are getting caught in the cross fire.
It’s a sad state when companies who have always concentrated on creating great content, now have to change gears, screw the content and concentrate of tracking down and fighting spammers that they have absolutely nothing to do with. Since this happened 100% of the man power has gone into this spam fight and I guess myself and others involved in this project just feel like unwilling recruits in the Google spam army, armed with DMCA’s, spreadsheets of links, and emails overly filled with the words “please, pretty please and the occasional, I’ll be your best friend if..”.
I suppose this is the wave of the future, but from this side that future looks a bit bleak, not to mention labor intensive.