First came the likes of SEO Nuke, massive link building operations that worked for a while before they (and the sites that used them) were sent to oblivion by Google penalties and algorithm updates.
Then came article sites, article spinners, link wheels and networks such as MyBlogGuest. Once again those who used them benefited for a while until, once again, Google caught up with their systems and devastating consequences were felt by those who had believed them to be ‘safe’.
Customers were sold the line “Yeah, SEO Nuke was spotted because [insert reason here] but this one won’t be thanks to [insert reason here]”.
These past sites and services did have one thing in common. They looked a bit tabloidy, you kind of knew you were doing the wrong thing, it was obvious that they were designed to game the SEO system but webmasters still queued up because they ‘worked’.
Inevitably, like with the previous link building schemes, those who had rushed to use the schemes filled the forums with victim style stories about how it was all so unfair that they had lost their rankings.
The latest offerings in this long evolution of ‘I can get links for you to help you rank better if you pay me some cash’ comes from organisations like FatJoe and Gotch SEO. I call it an evolution because they have moved things up a notch or two when it comes to presentation.
Their websites are swish and modern, they use words like ‘White Label’ to suggest what they do is legitimate (or somehow related to White Hat SEO), they include industry professionals who have written for the likes of MOZ (but not about their shady link building schemes) and they set up in glitzy offices … but are they any different to the schemes that came before them? More importantly are they safe?
The short answer is no. Google is explicit that if you pay for a link on another website in order to improve your rankings that is grounds for being thrown out of their index. Both FatJoe and Gotch SEO offer to sell you links on other people’s websites as a SEO services … you are buying links
The clever bit
While SEO Nuke schemes never hid what they were about. ‘White Label’ organisations have mixed their black hat link building into a broad mix of other offerings that are completely legitimate such as creating directory listings or infographics.
It makes the less well educated customer come along and say, “Well infographics are OK, proper directory listing is OK, buying links must be OK”.
There’s also the posh office approach. SEO Nuke and many others like them always seemed to lurk somewhere in the underworld. FatJoe rents modern office space on the Park Plaza estate in Stafforshire (UK). Only a legit company would do that, right?
Well a quick internet search will show you how many sparkly names that had swanky offices no longer exist. I won’t expand on something history covers pretty well.
Let’s just be clear though. FatJoe, Gotch SEO and the many other Blogger Outreach Services like them are not doing anything illegal. There is no fundamental law being broken when parting a fool with their money. Google is a private company and if you want to hire a company that does things in your name which violate the terms of Google no one is going to prison. Its just your site is likely to go to nowhere land at some point.
As Shawna from Skip Blast puts it when writing about FatJoe “I’ve been in this game long enough to know that buying links always presents a risk, both for yourself and for clients”.
FatJoe’s website even points out (albeit in small text) that its system is safe “if used in the correct way” which allows them to pass the blame back on to you when it all goes tits up. I’ve lost count of the number of link schemes I’ve heard called ‘safe’ until they weren’t anymore.
I’m not picking on FatJoe in particular by the way. There are many Blogger Outreach Services around doing the same thing. They are just an excellent example for a case study and in the spotlight because they are advertising heavily at the moment.
Hiding in plain sight
If you look at both FatJoe and Gotcha SEO you’ll see one thing in common, most of their customers don’t want to be identified. FatJoes reviews blur out many of their customer details – but not all, I’ll come to that in a moment.
Gotch SEO only mention customer names but not the websites. Why? Because it would make for a lovely list that Google could work through in order to not only penalise but also spot the wider link schemes used by Gotch SEO.
“But, but”, you say. “There are some reviews which are openly identifiable”. Too true, there will always be people who are so chuffed that they have manipulated their way up the rankings that they can’t help but tell everyone.
That’s certainly the case with Adam White who not only wrote about how he used FatJoe on his own blog but also openly named the Nick Throlson site as one that sold links through FatJoe. Careless words which may cost others dearly.
Gotch SEO imply exactly the same thing about Her Culture but I’ll come to that in a moment
The Google vanity trap
If you look at Google’s history when handling link building schemes there is often a theme. Google lets people get away with violating their terms for a while giving these platforms and their customers a false sense of security.
As time goes on they become more and more blatant and obvious which provides Google with the data it needs to identify the websites that are facilitating and using the schemes. This is exactly what happened with MyBlogGuest so when the axe came down it wasn’t just MyBlogGuest that was hit but many of the sites that had been using the service.
We’re in that phase now with these latest ‘White Label’ offerings. People are beginning to shout, “Look at me, I used this and it worked” … and they don’t seem to be penalised for doing so. It makes others with a sense of vanity want to do the same. It means Google’s crop will soon be ready to harvest.
It’s not unique to the online world. There were a truck load of looters during the London riots who were so pleased with what they had stolen that, once they thought they had got away with it, couldn’t help but post their achievements on social media. Much to their surprise they ended up in court shortly afterwards.
This is the unfortunate problem for the likes of FatJoe and Gotch SEO – they can try and tell their customers to keep quiet but some just won’t.
In FatJoe’s case they appear to be becoming over confident themselves, boasting of their growth and advertising heavily.
Are FatJoe type schemes really as bad as SEO Nuke
No, not by a long way. SEO Nuke type schemes were automated systems that filled the internet with useless information. FatJoe type schemes are manual systems that fill the internet with low value information.
SEO Nuke worked for a while before its clients were sent to oblivion, MyBlogGues worked for a while before its clients received a similar treatment. The likes of FatJoe and Gotcha SEO work but for now. But how long will it be before I’m talking about them in the past tense as well while I discuss the next ‘safe link building scheme’ that has stepped up – next month, next year?
The get a link in some waffle approach
The FatJoe type scheme hopes to remain under Google’s radar by creating content that is human written rather than the article spinning software approach that search engines could spot – if it was made by a machine it can be identified by a machine.
The cost of a really good quality article can run into the thousands so our ‘White Label’ organisations are trying to run a middle line. Human written articles posted on other people’s websites with a link to yours for around the $100 mark.
That doesn’t mean the articles have any more value to society than the ones a machine spits out, their just more difficult for search engines to spot. More difficult but not impossible.
Here’s one that Gotcha SEO implies is their work and posted on the website Her Culture.
In 547 words it points out that you can get injured in car accidents and you can avoid that sort of thing if you stay alert, buy a better car and don’t drink or do drugs. The padding is blatant – “Drinking while driving is a criminal offence, so you can serve prison time for it”. Yep, if you commit a criminal offence you can go to jail, who knew that?
And here’s one from FatJoe. How to use IT in your business is a vague 505 words including the innovative idea that anti-virus software is a good idea.
These articles might give you a link but they are hardly going to earn any themselves so they have a very static value that won’t grow over time.
Is Google sharpening its axe?
You bet! Every search engine needs to keep their quality high and sites that are manipulating their way up the rankings undermine that. They have absolutely no choice if they want to maintain or grow their market share of search.
For the engineers at Google their challenge is how to spot these schemes that violate their terms on a global scale and penalise the right people with the minimum collateral damage.
There’s plenty of fodder to go on. These waffle blog posts are always around the 500 word mark. Over time they don’t accrue any links of their own from trusted sites. There are a growing number of people boasting where they purchased their links from and which bloggers took part which all helps in establishing the patterns needed to take action en masse.
When Google acts it likes to hang heads on spikes as a warning to others. FatJoe with their blatant and high profile marketing would be an ideal contender for a prime position spike. Some of their larger customers would also need to be sacrificed to ensure the point gets driven home – you also suffer when you violate Google’s terms, don’t blame FatJoe and cry ignorance.
But everybody else …
Yes, Yes. Lots of other people use them and they do improve your rankings. FatJoe claim they are used by over 1,000 SEO agencies and that wouldn’t surprise me at all. It doesn’t mean they are good SEO agencies does it?
It is exactly the same song as SEO Nuke – there was a great deal of “But they use them and they are outranking me” when it had its hay day followed by “Phew, glad I didn’t” when those competitors were thrown out of the search results.
So what should you do?
There are no short cuts to long term SEO success. If you are going for links you need to create content that attracts links and attracts them over the long term.That content doesn’t happen for $100.
I’ve covered writing bad content and thinking it will help your SEO before so I won’t repeat that.
Let’s go back to Adam White who FatJoe claims endorse their service. On Adam’s blog post. He says he started by “Guest blogging on bigger business blogs” but they only take quality content. Yes, he still had to create quality content – there was no shortcut.
FatJoe was to provide a filler to his strategy and it may yet be a filler he regrets.
This is what often has me scratching my head. For the price of 40 links from waffly blogs you could create and market one piece of really good content, achieve natural links that build over the long term and never have to worry about the Google axe. So why do people choose the risky path when there is no price benefit?
Answers on a postcard.