Messing with Google and their SERPs can land you in hot water, and Google is working their hardest to actively change the world of questionable SEO practices.
From big time businesses to bloggers trying to grow, and cast their net a little further into the Internets, no one is safe — not even Google itself. Those who feel the wrath of Google know what storms lie ahead for others who don’t heed the warning signs when headed into the stormy, grey seas of questionable SEO practices. Which is no place you would like to meet the Four Horsemen of the link apocalypse.
It’s kind of exciting to see what happens when people don’t play nice, and try to fuss, and game Google’s SERPs. It’s like watching a smooth talker trying to take on a nerd extraordinaire in the realm of tech, and fail miserably. I can almost picture Google’s team laughing hysterically — maniacally even — in one of their ridiculously awesome break rooms when they uncover an organizations evil plot. Because, the offenders will be punished, and the punishments are not pretty. Let’s look at a few below.
Riders on the Storm: Victims of Google’s Wrath
J.C. Penney got in hot water when its SEO contractors began purchasing and trading links on behalf of the retailer. When Google caught wind of this kerfuffle, they punished J.C. Penney by giving the company a severely low search ranking, burying the site like an ostrich buries their head in the sand, and keeping it out of view. Lesson: Buying links does not trick Google into thinking your content is naturally relevant, and will get you banned.
Forbes got caught selling links on their site to other websites that needed a little SEO juice boost. Google was quick to contact Forbes webmaster to resolve the issue, but not before Forbes was promptly removed from its search results. Lesson: Buying links isn’t the only way to get banned. Those caught selling link space suffer the same consequences.
Even Google isn’t immune to getting a dose of its own medicine. The team responsible for the promotion of the Google Chrome we browser violated the search engine’s own web spam terms by soliciting paid content to boost the SEO value of the product page. This part is fascinating because I’ve always imagined there being a some type of a General Store inside the Google HQ, where you could go and buy rank credits, barter services – like babysitting – with a newborn father, or let someone have your girlfriend for one night — in exchange for better SERPs ranking.
The Four Horsemen of the Link Apocalypse
You may be out there thinking you’re outsmarting Google, and they’ll never catch onto the fact that you’ve drifted off the coast, and now treading water in the shark infested areas of shady SEO tactics. If you’re doing this, then there’s four red flags that Google is always on the lookout for, that you should be aware of: excessive link acquisition, site-wide links detection, unnatural spread of link authority & unnatural anchor text distribution.
One thing about websites is that they tend to gain inbound links steadily over a long period of time. Posting high quality content, a couple times a day, over the span of a few months will gain quality traction — not an overnight link accumulating frenzy — and Google knows that. So if a site gains a big spike in new links in a short time, it will tip Google off to the fact that something unnatural is going on, and you could get investigated. If you’re worried that a new press release, product launch, or PR content till send you over — don’t worry. Those types of gains are acceptable.
If the majority of your inbound links come from headers, footers, sidebars, or blog roles – and not within text — watch out. Your link profile will look spammy and deliberately crafted. Google is fine with blogs promoting other blogs in certain ways, but if all your traffic is coming from these types of links, then they know your site is going to get busted.
Always be sure that the authority of the sites that link to you varies naturally. If Google notices that all of your links are coming from a particular PageRank range, it will look purposely constructed, and they will hunt you down. If in doubt, use one of the numerous Link Pyramid examples to see what a natural link structure looks like.
Google compares your site to what is naturally occurring on the web, and if every blog that links back to you uses the exact same anchor text, it will look like you orchestrated a mad villain plot to buy the links — and then coached everyone on what to say.
While these types of circumstances could theoretically happen at some point in the lifetime of your website — especially with the announcement of a new campaign, or company announcement — its great to be aware of these red flags so you don’t inadvertently put your site in danger of tangling with Google’s SERPs police.