Spam, ban, thank you Ma'am

by Tim Hill (aka Doodled)

March 10th 2014
Google penalties for guest blogging?
Could spammy backlinks pay off?

Most of the time I talk about how to do SEO and avoid being penalized by Google but today I'm going to show you three cases where spamming and getting banned really benefited the websites involved.

JC Penny, InterFlora and Rap Genius are big brand names that were hit by Google for violating its terms of use. It didn't take them long to make amends and the result for all three was a much improved backlink profile.

It's possible that InterFlora learnt from JC Penny and Rap Genius learnt from InterFlora how the use of Black Hat SEO to really pay off. In other words we may not have heard the last of well known names going for spam, getting a ban and saying “Thank You Ma'am”

J.C. Penney

J.C. Penney, a major US retailer, were caught in early 2011 when the New York Times investigated how they were managing to rank so well across such a broad range of keywords.

As Vanessa Fox of Search Engine Land put it, “[they were] perplexed by how well jcpenney.com did in unpaid (organic) search results for practically everything the retailer sold”.

J.C Penney had hired an SEO firm by the name of SearchDex who they claimed, without their knowledge, had gone on a massive spammy link building frenzy.

There were literally thousands of links on link farms and content farms but even when they appeared elsewhere the links always contained suspiciously accurate and descriptive anchor text.

J.C. Penney held their hands up, claimed they new nothing about it, and fired SearchDex while Matt Cutts of Google confirmed the search giant had applied a manual ban on jcpenny.com.

Tears for J.C. Penney? Not really. There spamming activities may have got them a ban but the whole incident was widely covered netting them a basket of much better back links from The New York Times, ABC News and hundreds upon hundreds of SEO bloggers.

90 days after the Google ban was applied, it was lifted and J.C. Penney went on to rank well in the search results, this time with a back link profile that would have cost it a fortune had it needed to build it manually.

InterFlora

Almost two years to the day after J.C. Penney was caught InterFlora, a leading flower delivery firm in the UK, got it's own manual ban.

Now things start to get curious. According to Martin MacDonald of Webmarketing School who reported on the story as it unfolded, “Interestingly, their SEO team/agency appears to have been fully prepared for such an eventuality, and appear to be out in force to remove any paid links they have acquired.”

Yes, in many ways it was almost a plan being put into action with spammy links being removed from around the web faster than you could blink. They then followed this up with a simple disavow of all links their website had gained in the 12 months before the ban and a reconsideration request to Google.

11 days after being banned they were back in the search results. Not bad when most websites that are banned won't even have their reconsideration request looked at within four weeks.

It all looked strangely like a perfectly executed set up of events.

Again, like J.C. Penny, InterFlora walked away with a wealth of high quality links from national newspapers to well known SEO bloggers. Links that would have been extremely difficult to obtain otherwise.

Rap Genius

Rap Genius is one of those song lyrics websites where you can also comment on what you think various lyrics actually mean. It's a highly competitive niche.

Now I can't help feeling that at this point someone up at Rap Genius was beginning to see a pattern: Spam like mad, get caught (as publicly as you can), flaff for a bit, submit a reconsideration request and all goes back to normal except you gain a ton of great links in the process.

I'm not saying they did, I'm just saying it's possible.

The 11 days that InterFlora's ban lasted for was so short this would have been temptation too good to resist.

And so Rap Genius went to town on a spamming escapade just before Christmas Eve in 2013. They offered anyone (via a post on their facebook page) who had a blog that they would tweet out something of their choice if that blogger put a bunch of links on their own blog.

The links were obvious spam with exact anchor text. Chris Crum of WebProNews covers the whole story in detail but it is best summed up by Aaran Wall of SEO Book when he said the Rap Genius scheme “was basically so spammy that most spammers won’t even attempt it”.

In other words it was almost as if the spamming had been made so big and so obvious that it would have been impossible not to get caught.

But just ten days after being banned – and those ten days included Christmas and New Year – Rap Genius were back in Google's index and just like J.C. Penney and InterFlora all the noise and publicity about their spam and their ban had worked a charm in building up a great portfolio of back links.

According to Aaran Wall Rap Genius gained links from over 1,000 genuine domains.

Caught between a rock and a hard place

Go to any number of forums where a webmaster is bemoaning their Google ban and it's easy to see that it normally takes weeks, sometimes months, for them to have their reconsideration request read by Google, let alone approved.

In fact it is more the norm for the first reconsideration request to be refused. In other words really inflict some pain on the website involved for a considerable time period.

Ah but didn't J.C. Penney take months to recover? Yes but it is quite possible that Google learnt this was a mistake on their part.

You see the average internet user doesn't know about spam and bans, they know the internet is a useful place to find what they are looking for.

So if you were thinking, “I need flowers delivered and there is a company that does it which is called inter … inter … oh, what is their name .. I know I'll look it up on Google.”

“Nothing there, that's odd, I'll try Bing … ah there it is, InterFlora.”

But then you start thinking, “Wierd, Google doesn't have InterFlora. What kind of search engine is that? Perhaps not as good as I thought. I'll use Bing more often.”

That's bad news for Google.

In short, Google can't afford not to have big brand names in their index so they actually need to work hard to get their own bans removed as soon as they can.

As long as the brand name in question shows some remorse and does “something” that has to be enough and the brand has to be back in Google's index asap.

Big brands benefit from Google but Google needs big brands and hence the double standards it applies. It helps well known names recover fast while moving everyday websites to the bottom of the reconsideration queue.

Who's next?

Unfortunately Google has set dangerous precedents. Spamming and getting banned really pays off and the more outrageous the spamming, the more publicity (and therefore genuine high quality backlinks) they get.

The bans only last a matter of days because of Google's weakness so there is no major loss to business.

It would seem to work so well that Aaron Wall of SEOBook actually asked “Does Matt Cutts endorse link spam?” in his post about Rap Genius.

The question now is simply which well known brand name will game this new system next?

But remember, this is only for the big boys. For most normal website owners the advice is, “Don't try this at home.”