Pandas, Penguins, and Popsicles

Are you still working through your newsfeed of SEO material on the 101 ways to get out of panda 4.0 written by people that have never actually practiced SEO on their own sites? Aaron and I had concluded that what was rolling through was panda before it was announced that it was panda, but I'm not going to walk here on my treadmill and knock out yet another post on the things you should be doing if you were gut punched by that negative a priori algorithm (hat tip to Terry, another fine SEObook member, for pointing out to me those public discussions that showed the philosophical evolutionary shift towards the default assumption that sites likely deserve to be punished). I'd say 90% of those posts are thinly veiled sales pitches; I should know since I sell infographics to support my nachos habit. Speaking of infographics, there's already a great one that covers recovery strategies that still work right here.

Should I write about penguin? Analysis of that beast consumed the better part of 2 year years of my waking time. Nope. Again, I think it has already been adequately covered in a previous blog post. There's nothing particularly new to report there either since the next update may be completely different, might be just another refresh that doesn't take into account those slapped in the 1.0 incarnation of the update, or may actually be the penguin everyone hopes it is, taking into account the countless hours agencies have spent disavowing links and spamming me with fake legal threads should I not remove links they themselves placed. I wouldn't hold your breathe on that last one. Outside of crowdsourcing pain for future manual penalties, I don't expect much relief on that front.

Instead, I think I'm going to talk about popsicles. That seems like the kind of tripe that a SEO blog might discuss. I bet I can make it work though. I'm a fat dude in the Phoenix area and we already had our first 100F day, so I'm thinking of frozen treats. Strap in.

Search tactics and I'd even go so far as to say even certain strategies are like popsicles. When they are brand new they are cool and refreshing, but once exposed to the public heat they fade…fast. Really fast. Like a goop of sticky mess, which users of ALN and BMR can probably tell you.

Bear with me.

If you have a tactic that works, why would you expose it to the public? Nothing good can come of that. Sure, you have a tactic that works 100% but since I'm a loyal subscriber you're willing to share it with me for $297. Seems legit. I'm not saying all services/products pitched this way are inherently ‘bad', I'm just saying you aren't going to get a magic bullet, yet alone one hand-wrapped and delivered by filling out a single wufoo form…sans report.

Would you share with a really close friend? I suppose, but even still the popsicle isn't going to last as long since it is now being consumed at an accelerated rate. There's the thought of germs, contamination, and other nasty thoughts that'd prevent me from going down that route. Cue the “Two SEOs, one popsicle” reaction videos. No. There are two ways to make the best use out of that popsicle.

  • Practionioner: eat it quietly, savor it, make it last.
  • Strategist w/ resources: figure out the recipe and mass produce it as quickly as possible, knowing that after enough public heat is on, the popsicles will start melting before they can be eaten, and no one likely that weird, warm orange sticky stuff that tastes like a glucose intolerance test.

There's another caveat to the two above scenarios. Even if you're a strategist with deep resources, unless you're willing to test on your own sites, you're just effectively selling smoke on an unproven tactic.

So there you have it, tactics are like popsicles. Disappointed? Good. I've been doing SEO since 1997, so here's a secret: try to create engaging content, supported by authoritative off-page signals. There's an ebb and flow to this of course, but it can be translated across the full black/white spectrum. Markov content in a free wordpress theme can be engaging when it is cloaked with actionable imagery, with certain % of back-buttons disabled, or when you make the advertising more compelling than the content (just ask eHow). Similarly, well-researched interactive infographics can engage the user on the other side of the spectrum…just more expensive. Comment spam and parasitic hosting on “authority” sites can tap into those authority signals on dark side, as can a thorough native campaign across a bunch of relevant sites backed by a PR campaign, TV commercials, and radio spots for the light side. Budget and objectives are the only difference.

Go enjoy a popsicle everyone. Summer is here; I expect a lot more heat from Google, so you might need one.  

Eric Schmidt Drawing.

About the author: Joe Sinkwitz is the Chief Revenue Officer at CopyPress. He {Tweets / posts / comments / shares his thoughts} on navigating the evolving SEO landscape on Twitter here.

Please Remove My Link. Or Else.

Getting links removed is a tedious business.

It’s just as tedious for the site owner who must remove the links. Google’s annoying practice of "suggesting" webmasters jump through hoops in order to physically remove links that the webmaster suspects are bad, rather than Google simply ignoring the links that they’ve internally flagged, is causing frustration.

Is it a punitive punishment? If so, it’s doing nothing to endear Google to webmasters. Is it a smokescreen? i.e. they don't know which links are bad, but by having webmasters declare them, this helps Google build up a more comprehensive database? Bit of both? It might also be adding costs to SEO in order to put SEO out of reach of small companies. Perhaps it’s a red herring to make people think links are more important than they actually are.

Hard to be sure.

Collateral Damage

SEOs are accustomed to search engines being coy, punitive and oblique. SEOs accept it as part of the game. However, it becomes rather interesting when webmasters who are not connected to SEO get caught up in the collateral damage:

I received an interesting email the other day from a company we linked to from one of our websites. In short, the email was a request to remove links from our site to their site. We linked to this company on our own accord, with no prior solicitation, because we felt it would be useful to our site visitors, which is generally why people link to things on the Internet.

And check out the subsequent discussion on Hacker News. Matt Cutts first post is somewhat disingenuous:

Situation #1 is by far the most common. If a site gets dinged for linkspam and works to clean up their links, a lot of them send out a bunch of link removal requests on their own prerogative

Webmasters who receive the notification are encouraged by Google to clean up their backlinks, because if they don’t, then their rankings suffer.

But, essentially from our point of view when it comes to unnatural links to your website we want to see that you’ve taken significant steps to actually remove it from the web but if there are some links that you can’t remove yourself or there are some that require payment to be removed then having those in the disavow file is fine as well.

(Emphasis mine)

So, of course webmasters who have received a notification from Google are going to contact websites to get links removed. Google have stated they want to see that the webmaster has gone to considerable effort to remove them, rather than simply use the disavow tool.

The inevitable result is that a webmaster who links to anyone who has received a bad links notification may receive the latest form of email spam known as the “please remove my link” email. For some webmasters, this email has become more common that the “someone has left you millions in a Nigerian bank account” gambit, and is just as persistent and annoying.

From The Webmasters Perspective

Webmasters could justifiably add the phrase “please remove my link” and the word "disavow" to their spam filters.

Let’s assume this webmaster isn’t a bad neighbourhood and is simply caught in the cross-fire. The SEO assumes, perhaps incorrectly, the link is bad and requests a take-down. From the webmasters perspective, they incur a time cost dealing with the link removal requests. A lone request might take a few minutes to physically remove - but hang on a minute - how does the webmaster know this request is coming from the site owner and not from some dishonest competitor? Ownership takes time to verify. And why would the webmaster want to take down this link, anyway? Presumably, they put it up because they deemed it useful to their audience. Or, perhaps some bot put the link there - perhaps as a forum or blog comment link - against the webmasters wishes - and now, to add insult to injury, the SEO wants the webmaster to spend his time taking it down!

Even so, this might be okay if it’s only one link. It doesn't take long to remove. But, for webmasters who own large sites, it quickly becomes a chore. For large sites with thousands of outbound links built up over years, removal requests can pile up. That’s when the spam filter kicks in.

Then come the veiled threats. “Thanks for linking to us. This is no reflection on you, but if you don’t remove my link I’ll be forced to disavow you and your site will look bad in Google. I don’t want to do this, but I may have to.”

What a guy.

How does the webmaster know the SEO won’t do that anyway? Isn’t that exactly what some SEO conference speakers have been telling other SEOs to do regardless of whether the webmaster takes the link down or not?

So, for a webmaster caught in the cross-fire, there’s not much incentive to remove links, especially if s/he's read Matt's suggestion:

higherpurpose, nowhere in the original article did it say that Google said the link was bad. This was a request from a random site (we don't know which one, since the post dropped that detail), and the op can certainly ignore the link removal request.

In some cases Google does specify links:

We’ve reviewed the links to your site and we still believe that some of them are outside our quality guidelines.

Sample URLs:
ask.metafilter.com/194610/get-me-and-my-stuff-from-point-a-to-point-b-possibly-via-point-c

Please correct or remove all inorganic links, not limited to the samples provided above. This may involve contacting webmasters of the sites with the inorganic links on them.

And they make errors when they specify those links. They've flagged DMOZ & other similar links: "Every time I investigate these “unnatural link” claims, I find a comment by a longtime member of MetaFilter in good standing trying to help someone out, usually trying to identify something on Ask MetaFilter."

Changing Behaviour

Then the webmaster starts thinking.

"Hmmm...maybe linking out will hurt me! Google might penalize me or, even worse, I’ll get flooded with more and more “please remove my link” spam in future."

So what happens?

The webmaster becomes very wary about linking out. David Naylor mentioned an increasing number of sites adopting a "no linking" policy. Perhaps the webmaster no-follows everything as a precaution. Far from being the life-giving veins of the web, links are seen as potentially malignant. If all outbound links are made no-follow, perhaps the chance of being banned and flooded with “please remove my link”spam is reduced. Then again, even nofollowed links are getting removal requests.

As more webmasters start to see links as problematic, fewer legitimate sites receive links. Meanwhile, the blackhat, who sees their sites occasionally getting burned as a cost of doing business, will likely see their site rise as they’ll be the sites getting all the links, served up from their curated link networks.

A commenter notes:

The Google webspam team seems to prefer psychology over technology to solve the problem, especially recently. Nearly everything that's come out of Matt Cutt's mouth in the last 18 months or so has been a scare tactic.
IMO all this does is further encourage the development of "churn and burn" websites from blackhats who have being penalized in their business plan. So why should I risk all the time and effort it takes to generate quality web content when it could all come crashing down because an imperfect and overzealous algorithm thinks it's spam? Or worse, some intern or non-google employee doing a manual review wrongly decides the site violates webmaster guidelines?

And what’s the point of providing great content when some competitor can just take you out with a dedicated negative SEO campaign, or if Google hits you with a false positive? If most of your traffic comes from Google, then the risk of the web publishing model increases.

Like MetaFilter:

Is Google broken? Or is your site broken? That’s the question any webmaster asks when she sees her Google click-throughs drop dramatically. It’s a question that Matt Haughey, founder of legendary Internet forum MetaFilter, has been asking himself for the last year and a half, as declining ad revenues have forced the long-running site to lay off several of its staff.

Then again, Google may just not want what MetaFilter has to offer anymore.

(In)Unintended Consequences

Could this be uncompetitive practice from Google? Are the sites getting hit with penalties predominantly commercial sites? It would be interesting to see how many of them are non-commercial. If so, is it a way to encourage commercial sites to use Adwords as it becomes harder and harder to get a link by organic means? If all it did was raise the cost of doing SEO, it would still be doing its job.

I have no idea, but you could see why people might ask that question.

Let’s say it’s benevolent and Google is simply working towards better results. The unintended consequence is that webmasters will think twice about linking out. And if that happens, then their linking behaviour will start to become more exclusive. When links become harder to get and become more problematic, then PPC and social-media is going to look that much more attractive.

Google Helpouts Twitter Spam (Beta)

Google is desperate to promote Helpouts. I first realized this when I saw the following spam message in my email inbox.

Shortly after a friend sent me a screenshot of a onebox promoting Helpouts in the SERPs.

That's Google monopoly and those are Google's services. It is not like they are:

  • being anti-competitive
  • paying others to spam other websites

Let's slow down though. Maybe I am getting ahead of myself:

Google has its own remote technology support service similar to Mr. Gupta's called Google Helpouts. Mr. Gupta's complaint alleges Google may have been blocking his advertisements so Google Helpouts could get more customers.

Oh, and that first message looked like it could have been an affiliate link. Was it?

Hmm

Let me see

What do we have here?

Google Helpouts connects you to a variety of experts--from doctors, parenting experts, tutors, personal trainers, and more--over live video call. The Google Helpouts Ambassador Program is a unique opportunity to spread the word about Helpouts, earn money, and influence a new Google product--all on your own schedule.

As an Ambassador, you will:

  • Earn extra income–receive $25 for each friend you refer who takes their first paid Helpout, up to $1,000 per month for the first 4 months.
  • Give direct feedback and help shape a new Google product
  • Join a community of innovative Ambassadors around the country
  • Receive a Helpouts gift and the chance to win prizes

We all know HELPFUL hotel affiliate websites are spam, but maybe Google HELPouts affiliate marketing isn't spam.

After all, Google did promise to teach people how to do their affiliate marketing professionally: "We will provide you with an Ambassador Toolkit with tips and suggestions on creative ways you can spread the word. You are encouraged to get creative, be innovative, and utilize different networks (i.e. social media, word of mouth, groups & associations, blogs, etc.) to help you."

Of course the best way to lead is by example.

And lead they do.

They are highly inclusive in their approach.

Check out this awesome Twitter usage

They've more Tweets in the last few months than I've made in 7 years. There are 1,440 minutes in a day, so it is quite an achievement to make over 800 Tweets in a day.

You and many many many many thousands of others, Emma.

Some minutes they are making 2 or 3 Tweets.

And with that sort of engagement & the Google brand name, surely they have built a strong following.

Uh, nope.

They are following over 500 people and have about 4,000 followers. And the 4,000 number is generous, as some of them are people who sell on that platform or are affiliates pushing it.

Let's take a look at the zero moment of truth:

Thanks for your unsolicited commercial message, but I am not interested.

You're confusing me. Some context would help.

No email support, but support "sessions"? What is this?

Oh, I get it now. Is this a spam bot promoting phone sex?

Ah, so it isn't phone sex, but you can help with iPhones. Um, did we forget that whole Steve Jobs thermonuclear war bit? And why is Google offering support for Apple products when Larry Page stated the whole idea of customer support was ridiculous?

OK, so maybe this is more of the same.

Cynical, aren't we?

And cheap?

Really cheap. :(

And angry?

And testy?

And rude?

And curt?

Didn't you already say that???

Didn't you already say that???

It seems we are having issues communicating here.

I'm not sure it is fair to call it spying a half day late.

Better late than never.

Even if automated.

Good catch Megar, as Google has a creepy patent on automating social spam.

Who are your real Google+ friends? Have they all got the bends? Is Google really sinking this low?

Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Humorous or sad...depending on your view.

There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's.

Google has THOUSANDS of opportunities available for you to learn how to spam Twitter.

As @Helpouts repeatedly Tweets: "Use the code IFOUNDHELP for $20 off" :D

++++++++

All the above Tweets were from the last few days.

The same sort of anti-social agro spamming campaign has been going on far longer.

When Twitter users said "no thank you"...

...Google quickly responded like a Marmaris rug salesman

Google has a magic chemistry for being able to...

...help with slow computers.

We need to fight spam messages (with MOAR spam messages).

In a recent Youtube video Matt Cutts said: "We got less spam and so it looks like people don't like the new algorithms as much." Based on that, perhaps we can presume Helpouts is engaging in a guerrilla marketing campaign to improve user satisfaction with the algorithms.

Or maybe Google is spamming Twitter so they can justify banning Twitter.

Or maybe this is Google's example of how we should market websites which don't have the luxury of hard-coding at the top of the search results.

Or maybe Google wasn't responsible for any of this & once again it was "a contractor."

Update: After they stopped spamming, Google Helpouts never took off and is shutting down in April of 2015.


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