Spam spam spam!
I was going to say something about Interflora but It’s pretty much been said by virtually the whole SEO world now so I won’t but I will talk about various issues arising as there’s always value in pulling that apart.
In terms of penalties, of the 10′s of 1000′s of brands one or two brands getting dinged every 8 months or so is hardly earth shattering (unless you’re the brand of course) but imagine if Google dinged a brand every week or other week?
Today, the scale of Google being spammed across most verticals by brands of all descriptions is HUGE.
Few brands ranking in Google today for 100′s or 1000′s of keywords have a totally clean profile, in fact it’s fair to say that most will be more than a little grubby, especially if they’ve used companies in the past who advocated any of the tactics that Google has since frowned upon.
Few will hold their hands up and most will vehemently protest at how their tactics are Google compliant and blah blah blah… What else can they realistically say?
Just go and look at who’s ranking in your favourite vertical and answer with hand on heart that company X hasn’t used a tactic that under a microscope isn’t just slightly questionable. It’s all in the interpretation and of course, who’s doing the interpreting.
Who created this link monster?
Maybe we can actually blame Google for creating this mess…
It was they after all who back in the day bragged about how cool their algo was using Page Rank and anchor text to divine the importance of a web page. Prior to this, people just wrapped links in URLs or sarcastic words of praise or used ‘here’ or ‘this’ or ‘that’ to point to stuff that they thought was worthy of a mention.
Post Page Rank and Google and the whole marketing world said to itself “Oooh” so if we do a lot of that anchor text stuff we’ll all get a ranking boost in this Google thing and make more sales etc.
So of course, lots of folks in the online marketing world started writing advice to their clients around encouraging people to talk about them with their keywords and the rest as they say is…
Short history, Google introduces nofollow and slaps websites for blatant manipulation of link profiles, offering reinclusion routes for those prepared to fess up and clean up.
So, what sensible brand after this latest flexing of brawn would knowingly engage in tactics likely to get them slapped? Knowingly, probably none – and herein begins the problem.
If links still power the web (they do) then whoever can sell an idea that delivers lots of citations in a safe way, will win lots of interest from clients. SEO’s by their nature will look to see what ranks a page and will seek to replicate/do more of it. It’s a base definition for sure, and the whitest of white hatters will breath in sharply and protest but…meh, whatever.
Press releases, advertorials, guest blogging, hosted content etc have all be vaunted as safe tactics at some point or other because they were seen to have relatively high bars to access and were sold as being totally Google compliant which along with a sensible link text approach could add value and would deliver second order benefits to their web presence.
Let’s have a look at a couple of these:
Press releases – Once upon a time these were a standard means of announcing something cool. They cost money to access and had strict rules that said things like, no anchor text, few links, quality editorial pieces etc etc. Over time, they all turned to SEO shit of course. Companies that provided the services got greedy and said themselves “hey we can make money here and help folks spam the Google” So they did, and they added various SEO options and set various tiers and turned it in to little more than a Google manipulation service.
Advertorials/Hosted Content - The name’s a bollocks but hey, it’s with us now so lets look at what it is. A paid editorial piece. Nothing wrong with those either, we live in a commercial world and for years journalists have been talking about people for a buck. We see them every week in the Sunday supplements, those travel pieces sponsored by big travel brand. Then along comes the world of Google and folks get all smart and realise that they can be a little cute and creative and inject a few links here and there to their various products. Newspapers desperate for every income stream they can muster start selling these as products and advertisers are more than keen to line up for these citations from such lofty publications. Net impact, yet another Google spamming tool.
Actually, I’m going to stop there as you know exactly where it’s going with guest blogging too. Yep, if used aggressively yet another tool to spam the Goog. Sold as a great way to engage readership, stimulate content but ultimately another notion that’s mainly fucked over by lazy bastards looking for a cheap link to their content of dubious value.
Shoot the Gamekeeper?
To be fair to those comfortable folks at Google, they’ve at least set out the rules to try and protect their cash machine and said, if you are going to get people to link to you and want us to rank you fairly, then we need you to let us know that where money has influenced such decisions, you need to wrap them up with a link condom.
It stands to reason that they don’t want folks being able to say that money corrupts their index as to do so is a very slippery slope. Can you imagine if everyone just bought links left right and center? Word might get out that through doing so, you can get lots of free traffic and spend a whole lot less on Adwords. Yep, Google would implode…
But hey, I’ve probably said this before as have a ton of other folks working in this space called the web.
Post Flower Slap
So where next though? What will the agencies and brands around the world be talking about on Monday?
How many will be getting down and dirty and unpicking their spam profiles? Moreover, need they even bother!?
Let’s face it, Google has a habit of smacking a brand periodically, sending shock waves throughout as folks gasp and OH EM GEE, yet the reality is that for most, it either continues as usual or the historical status quo remains!
I won’t single out verticals as we can all but go and look at anyone we so choose and see the most blatant spamming of the Goog by most of those occupying page one, if not today, then at least in the months or recent years previous as those actions of the past help them stay where they are today.
Guidelines shift and what is ok today, isn’t necessarily ok tomorrow as Google determines the line and any tactic that threatens THEIR line is probably at risk, especially if it’s discussed within circles of potential embarrassment.
You might think that on the back of these that everyone who’s doing this will stop it and fall in to line, yet previous high profile dings like this clearly haven’t halted the onslaught, it still goes on and companies will still get aggressive, especially if they’re brazen (or stupid/clever) enough. A view might be that it’s worth taking the chance that among the 1000′s of brands across the web, that it won’t be them who gets singled out for a banning.
You’ve only got to go take a look at CPC’s in the flower vertical to realise very quickly that the organic rewards for a position 1 or 2 across the flower vertical is just massive and the more cynical among you might go as far to venture that ultimately it was more than worth the risk and that the ROI on’spam tactic’ investment was simply stellar.
Little but not often
Google really doesn’t do this kind of high profile thing too often as to do so might put them under the spotlight and attract a potential negative PR whirl spin not to mention alienating its user base who expect to see these brands in the SERPs for their queries.
Could we say that businesses are potentially being a little lazy in their link acquisition efforts choosing to use agencies who either have little creative talent or are just stuck in some old school ’rinse and repeat’ mentality that achieves little?
Is there any credence to the notion that Google really doesn’t want folks to merrily use SEO folks anymore at all? Is it simply that SEO goes against almost everything their business model thrives on? Do things like this simply reinforce this notion, or is Google simply policing its index and it’s more a case of SEO’s making a big deal out of something that would otherwise be a private affair between Gamekeeper and Poacher?
The biggest takeaway is as it ever was is that if you do anything at scale and it isn’t tied to cool or funky or hip and it hasn’t generated the various other expected signals then potentially, your’e exposing your website to scrutiny and a possible whacking. That I think, is the real message that Google wants to send, fear encourages compliance and adds that little extra weight to the notion that SEO isn’t too safe a vehicle for marketing budget. Some will listen and some won’t.
Until the next one I guess…