July 11, 2012
Ever since Panda and Penguin (Google's major changes to how they rank websites in order to fight web spam) have hit, a lot of companies have lost a large percentage of their website visitors. Bewildered by their sudden misfortune, many of these business owners have turned to me to review their websites and their SEO practices to determine where they went wrong and what they need to do to get back into Google's good graces.
While many of them had been doing their own SEO based on what they've picked up through the years, a few have had SEO companies (and I use this term loosely) "helping" them. Sadly, what some of these companies do worked okay in a pre–Panda-Penguin world, even though it was garbage that doesn't come close to following SEO best practices. The fact that it worked is what has kept SEO web spammers in business for so long. And it's possible that to a certain extent what they're doing may still work for a short time -- at least until Google reprocesses their ranking formula. That's when the panda poop hits the fan!
If it were just a matter of the links no longer counting, it wouldn't be so bad. But these days not only does the site lose any additional Google traffic they may have gained from the bad SEO, they start receiving even less traffic than they were getting before the bad links.
Here's an example of this:
And here's another example:
You'll notice in both of these examples that the start of the major loss of Google traffic started toward the end of April, right around when the Penguin came first came to town. In the first instance, the client was (and is) very web UNsavvy. She knows very little about her own website and online marketing in general, let alone much about SEO. I'm not sure if she contacted the SEO company directly to "help" her, or if it was unsolicited. Either way, the web spammers quickly found they were dealing with their favorite type of customer -- trusting and naïve. Not to mention desperate. The website had been losing traffic and sales since the early Panda days in 2010. (Due to not much content and simply not keeping up with what other companies in the space were doing.)
Signs That Your SEO Sucks
When I reviewed the site and looked at the links pointing to it, I saw a lot of terribly written spammy blog (splog) posts having been submitted to irrelevant, crappy splog networks, article submission sites, and fake directories. They all had a few different keyword phrases that pointed back to the home page of the client's site. The dates of the posts were all from around the time that the site had its initial boost in Google traffic.
These links were obviously fake, purchased and extremely low in quality. For instance, one was in a directory on a domain that had a section pertaining to link building services as well as a splog full of wonderful articles which nobody in their right mind would be interested in reading -- ever. In fact, the client's site was linked from a number of directories that all looked the same, but were on different domain names and using a different name and background color. High class and high quality they were not! My favorites were the links right next to ones for "buying text links"! (They're a nice change from the ones next to credit card and payday loan links!)
Shoddy SEO That You Pay For
In addition to creating barely readable content and submitting it to their icky splog networks, this SEO company also wrote useless, grammatically incorrect articles and put them into a blog on the client's own site. Of course these all had anchor text pointing back to the home page. I was surprised that they didn't even go to the trouble of pointing the anchor text to the most appropriate pages within the site instead of the home page, but that may have taken some actual work to figure out where they should go! (Web spammers don't believe in actually working.)
To top it off, they even stuck a link to their own SEO site with the anchor text of "SEO" on every page of the client's site! (It wasn't clear to me whether she gave them permission to do this or not.)
When I pointed out all of the above in my SEO site audit report to the client, I told her to have the company remove all of the links and explained why they were bad. And here's where it got weird. The company emailed her back trying to convince her that they were not a spammy SEO company at all and that everything they were doing for her was on the up-and-up. When she asked them for a list of the links they had built for her, they had the gall to say that only black hat link building companies would be able to provide a list of their links. (Huh?)
Whom Do You Trust?
But the really scary part is that their answers sounded credible and believable to one who wouldn't know better. This poor client was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She had me on the one hand telling her that what this company did was likely a big reason why she was no longer making any sales, and them telling her, "But you're ranking for the keywords we chose together." (This was true to some extent because the site was still ranking for some of the non-competitive phrases that nobody searches for.) And then they tried to scare the client by telling her that if they removed the links, her rankings would plummet and she'd lose even more traffic. They also tried to weasel out by saying that perhaps her shopping cart was not working properly (which, even if true, wouldn't account for the nearly complete loss of Google traffic).
Finally, in answer to their half-truths, I told her that any reputable SEO company knows that the types of things this company does are considered to be web spam -- certainly after Google Penguin, if not before. And the very fact that they were continuing to claim that what they were doing was all well and good showed just how horrible and unethical they were. In fact, I was so enraged by this that I told her to tell them that if they didn't want to remove the spammy junk and wouldn't give her money back, I'd be happy to write about them to my 25K newsletter subscribers.
At this point I haven't heard back from her. I decided to write this article anyway (without naming names) so that others can learn from it. I hope that the more this kind of SEO gets talked about and pointed out as the web spam that it is, the more others will stop spending money to get themselves penalized by Google.
Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings and an SEO Consultant in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen
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