Big SEO names get hit by Google so who can you trust?

by Tim Hill (aka Doodled)

April 3rd 2014
Who to trust when even the 'experts' get hit by Google?
Who to trust when even the 'experts' get hit by Google?

March 2014 was a seismic month with at least two well known names in the world of search engine optimisation being hit by Google penalties. So who can you trust to do your SEO?

The whirlwind really began when rumour started to speculate that Ann Smarty's MyBlogGuest website had been removed from Google's index. In reality it had just been ranked to lower in the search results but that's academic really. It was out. For my opinion on why see the post Why Google banned MyBlogGuest.

Hot on it's heals Google penalized Doc Sheldon's blog, another well known figure in the world of SEO. Paranoia and fear seemed to spread like wild fire.

If Google had lived in a big mansion on the edge of town it would quickly have been surrounded by a mob of angry webmasters waving pitchforks and ready to torch “the evil one”.

But let's take a closer look at these hits. Did Google have it right?

The MyBlogGuest hit

MyBlogGuest was a service designed to marry blogger with guest blogger but as I've written previously it became over run with spammers creating blogs that were filled up with pointless articles of little value to people. It provided a place for low down SEO companies to place semi-worthless links for their clients.

"... they all deserved their penalties. Without fail they were writing or accepting babbling guest posts ..."

Arguable this was a bit of a publicity stunt by Google – first to hit the service and then to start hitting users of the service. Perhaps unfairly Google chose to make an example of MBG.

Forums and blog comments screamed the injustice of it all. In the next 7 days I received over 50 requests from website owners who had been hit by penalties asking me to check if there was an injustice.

So far they all deserved their penalties. Without fail they were writing or accepting babbling guest posts with one word or phrase placed as a link or hiring “SEO” companies to do the same. 500 words rambling about beds, once or twice the word 'beds' was a link and it lead to a page about 'beds'. This was the general pattern.

Really, really obvious unnatural link building, outbound and inbound, at its peak. Whether it was them doing it directly or shady SEO companies they had hired makes little difference.

The Doc Sheldon hit

Doc Sheldon has a blog that claims to be about SEO Copywriting among other things. His website was hit as well but being near the top of the SEO food chain he asked Matt Cutts of Google, “Why me?” Matt gave an example of a page on his site that was stuffed with unnatural outbound links.

That was it! The shouting started on forums and in blog comments. How could Google penalise a whole site just because of one blog post?

What made things worse was that the blog post in question happened to be a guest blog. This, in the wake of the MyBlogGuest penalty sent Google's critics into overdrive.

Only a few thought to actually look at the Doc Sheldon website where it was clear that he had been manufacturing unnatural outbound links on a large scale. Here are just a few examples from the internet archives:

Note how the links were almost always keyword specific? Not how real bloggers link. Not even vaguely how real bloggers link but how people trying to get another page or website to rank for targeted keywords create links. Unnaturally.

Big SEO names and big SEO penalties

The cry from some quarters is that Google has gone too far. If it is penalizing search engine optimization experts surely it has got something wrong.

But in reality both Ann Smarty and Doc Sheldon should have known better even if it is in very different ways.

For Ann (MyBlogGuest) it was a lack of policing issue. Leaving her MBG community to get on and do what it wanted to do opened the gates to abusers and they came rushing in by the boatload. Content farm creators and spammy content writing link builders thrived even if that was never the intention of the service.

I can't really find an excuse for Doc Sheldon. He claimed to be a SEO copywriter but it was obvious his outbound links were unnatural. Google doesn't hide this point and publishes the details of how this ban works for all to see.

To be fair Doc Sheldon could not find an excuse either. He now admits, “the more I look at that guest post I approved, the more I wish I could slap myself upside the head … I've never said a penalty was undeserved”.

Since then Google has turned full circle on that and proclaimed such link building is now unnatural

I'll accept that a few years back it was actually Google advice to make links keyword rich. If you linked to a page about beds, try and use the word beds as or in the link was what Google recommended.

Since then Google has turned full circle on that and proclaimed such link building is now unnatural. If they'd given it much thought in the first place they would have realised it was unnatural from day one so a black mark to the strategists at Google on that one.

But that is the world of SEO. Things change and SEO specialists have to change with it, even when that change means slamming into reverse gear.

As an example my team recently cleaned up the blog of Bedlinen Direct changing 80 posts to get rid of links that were too keyword natural (i.e. unnatural) and replace them with links of how real bloggers write, and how the owner of the blog would have linked had he not been led astray by another SEO company. (Here's a sample post).

But if a small company like mine has been cleaning up blogs for over a year you would have thought Doc Sheldon would have cleaned up his own blog way back when.

The genuine victims of trust

Doubtlessly many had joined MyBlogGuest because of Ann Smarty's reputation, found spamming going on and thought “Well if Ann is allowing this it can't be as bad as people make out”.

With more than 32,000 Google+ followers under her belt that's not a bad assumption to make – especially if SEO isn't your field but you're just trying a few DIY improvements.

Doc Sheldon had clocked up over 4,000 Google+ followers and as he claimed to know about SEO copywriting it would again be fair to assume that it was safe to create a blog in the way that he had.

What recent events have shown is that even the most reputable names in Search Engine Optimisation don't seem to fully understand how to rank or they have yesteryear methodology or they have simply been caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Is there a need for hysteria?

The outcry from many internet communities about MyBlogGuest and Doc Sheldon is a loud one. An anti-Google one. A “The big G cannot be allowed to continue as police, judge and jury” of what users can or cannot find.

But when you dig a little deeper you find those who are shouting loudest tend to be some of the larger spammers. Perhaps they are really lamenting that with the clamp down on spammy guest blogging comes to an end one of the last ways to game yourself to the top of the search results.

But when you dig a little deeper you find those who are shouting loudest tend to be some of the larger spammers.

bloketoys.co.uk (an adult shop as you might guess) was a good example of this and appeared on several blog comments hammering Google for having penalised links from sites with “genuine quality content” just because it was using MyBlogGuest.

The rankings of their website had collapsed in the wake of the MBG penalty and they blamed Google for penalizing them just for being members of the service.

A poke around showed bloketoys.co.uk had 67,000 links coming from 118 domains on 80 IP addresses. Not natural. 43% of the links to their website contained the words “adult *** toys”. Very, very not natural.

I registered websites on MyBlogGuest in my search for guest bloggers. None of them have been hit. Being a member of the service may have put many spammers within Google's radar but I've yet to see an innocent victim.

Conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories

Ranking a website without spamming and scamming has always been hard work. Now that the easy routes are being closed off one by one it has left those who don't fancy the long slog offering conspiracy theories instead – some of which they may even pedal to their customers as rankings drop away.

The “Google is trying to make everyone use Adwords” is everywhere but holds very little water. If the top 10 organic results on Google were duff and only the adverts contained what users were looking for they would soon be voting with their feet.

I already have for “How” and “Why” type queries because I've found the results of Yahoo and Bing much better since Google started rolling out Hummingbird last year.

But generally speaking I expect Google's dominance in search to continue.

Then there are those that feel MyBlogGuest was getting too big and had become a threat to Google although how an article swapping site could challenge a search service no one has made quite clear. Some say it's just that Matt Cutts didn't want someone like Ann Smarty becoming a bigger figure in SEO that he is. Whatever gets you through the day!

Where to now for SEO advice?

One of the largest issues that this latest round of penalties throws up is “who should the everyday website owner trust when it comes to SEO?” If the big names can't do SEO properly and end up getting themselves and their clients into hot water then who should you be listening to?

Of course I would say me but how can you trust that what I write and recommend has any merit if someone with thousands of Google+ followers doesn't seem to know what they are doing?

The truth is that whatever you hear when it comes to SEO you have to check it, double check it and then check it again

The truth is that whatever you hear when it comes to SEO you have to check it, double check it and then check it again. Forums like SEOChat are a useful place for this. If you ask a question and the members argue with each other whatever you have been told is not quite as black and white as it appears.

And SEO specialists will argue because we are dealing with optimizing websites for an algorithm that only the search engines know – not to mention that there is more way than one to approach any challenge.

If you are employing a SEO company get your head around what they are doing and question it.

I used to say the best way to choose a SEO company was simply to see what they were ranking for and if those keywords or phrases were searched regularly (via Google's keyword planner or Google Trends). But I still believe there are short term ways to scam yourself to the top for short periods before being banned and if they show you one of these examples you may be unquestionably sucked in.

As a website owner you have two choices that I can see.

Firstly, get your own head around SEO so you are clear what moves will get you penalties and bans just so you make sure you, or your SEO company aren't doing them. This is a constantly changing playing field so you're going to need to dedicate time every month to swat up on what's new and what has become black hat.

Secondly and alternatively, stop relying on Google. There are so many other ways to bring traffic to your site that staking all your visitor numbers on a search service which is constantly shifting the goal posts is not exactly a good idea.

As a short example Nike, with over 16 million Facebook fans, has a social media channel where it can reach out to, and generate, vast numbers of visitors without ever needing to touch Google. Have a look at some other alternatives to SEO and Google in the main guide.

Should I “nofollow” all the links in my blog posts?

No, you don't need to do this. I know it's part of the panic that has surrounded events in recent weeks but as I've said before I haven't found a genuine blog, even one excepting guest bloggers, who has been affected in the slightest.

Many have in fact seen ranking improvements as the crude that was spamming its way above them has been removed.

What you should do is make sure your links are natural … and I'll be writing a separate blog about that shortly.