Google Buys BeatThatQuote, a UK Comparison Site Violating Google's Guidelines

Mar 7th

It looks like Money.co.uk was right on the money:

BeatThatQuote.com today was sold to Google for GBP37.7 million. We think this deal is a tremendous opportunity for our company to develop new and innovative options for personal finance in the UK. Our team is excited about becoming a part of Google. We look forward to working with their engineers to create new tools making it easier for consumers to choose the right financial products. We think

What is screwed up about this is that Google is engaging in *major* channel conflict. Not only is there some gray area background stuff:

BeatThatQuote.com's ad prompted 101 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, with 65 objecting that the commercial "trivialised, condoned or encouraged bullying in the workplace".

But now they have to consider SEO as well. I highlighted how it was a bit unjust when Google arbitrarily chose to whack one site while letting another get away with worse just because the founder was good at public relations, but how can Google police Google's guidelines when Google is the one breaking them?

Doorway Pages / Gateway Sites

Remember how Overstock.com was recently penalized for offering discounts in exchange for links? BeatThatQuote partnered with Oxfam to create CompareForGood.com. The homepage consists of a bunch of links into BeatThatQuote.com. If you look at those links using our server header checker you will see some 301 redirects. Of course doorway pages are considered spam & we know that Google has torched some other affiliate programs for using 301 redirects.

Such links are doing 301 redirects

Sure that is fairly vanilla...a bit gray area. Certainly not straight up black hat.

....unlike...

Buying Links That Pass PageRank

Raise your hand if you have read a post by Matt Cutts on the dangers of buying links that flow PageRank?

Ok. Now keep your hand up if you have read a dozen of them.

Remember how Matt Cutts stated that some bloggers got torched for selling a single link? Remember the long NYT article about how Google is cracking down on link buying & they penalized JC Penny for it?

With that in mind, can anyone explain why Google's newest purchase buying links like

Not so much a categorized listing with an editorial review...just a paid link for the sake of buying links to flow PageRank.

That one is only totally flagrant.

A bit off color. Like comment spamming.

Sorta like the link exchanges in German.

But some are even more outrageous. Consider that BeatThatQuote is buying links from pages with ad sections like

Paid Blog Reviews

Remember those "evil" paid reviews Matt Cutts wrote of? Plenty of those to go around ;)

In fact, some of the paid blog links were in place so long that BeatThatQuote got thank you's for advertising for over a year straight.

I don't have a decade of spam fighting experience like Google does. But is it too much to suggest that before Google buys *any* website they should do a basic compliance audit to verify that the site is operating within Google's TOS. I am an independent SEO and it took me all of 2 minutes to find numerous FLAGRANT violations.

What sort of message does Google send the market with the above behavior?

How Can Google Police Anyone?

Google has on multiple occasions penalized other UK based finance sites for SEO issues & link buying. But now that Google owns one of the horses in the race, and that horse has been found to be using anabolic steroids, can they legitimately penalize any of their new competitors?

If I had a UK finance site I would go on a link buying binge right now. Google can't penalize you for it because they are doing the same damn thing. And if they do penalize it for DOING THE EXACT SAME THING GOOGLE IS DOING then you know you have a legitimate gripe for the media, and I have no doubt Microsoft would be willing to help pick up the legal tab.

Google Eats Microsoft's Lunch Again!

Ultimately this is a body blow to Microsoft. Microsoft started to gain momentum in search through verticalization, but has since backed off. Meanwhile Google took Microsoft's ball and ran it in for a touchdown (acquiring MetaWebs, trying to buy ITA Software, and buying BeatThatQuote). And now one of MSN's portal ad partners is owned by Google:

Head of partnerships at MSN, Phil Coxon said, “At Microsoft Advertising, we’re passionate about collaborating with brands to create compelling advertising campaigns. By providing new and exclusive content that appeals to consumers, this partnership both enhances the overall MSN user experience as well as providing a great platform for BeatThatQuote to engage with their target audience on a meaningful level. This deal builds on our previous partnership with BeatThatQuote, which led to a 400% increase in revenue generated from insurance products. We’re delighted to continue to build on this relationship with this new campaign.”

Oooops.

Update

After a Googler read this blog post, it appears that Beat That Quote has been penalized.

Published: March 7, 2011

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Comments

March 7, 2011 - 7:34pm

That was a fun smackdown post to read. I personally enjoy when you call out sites like this. I guess it is ok now that Google owns it to tear it apart.

Google should not be buying these types of sites, they should be working in the algo instead.

March 7, 2011 - 7:46pm

Not all 301 redirects are bad. The ones you're talking about are between domains, and bad for SEO.
These ones however, are in fact GOOD for SEO, they are turning an underscored version of a link into a dashed version. (take a closer look: credit_cards to credit-cards, inside the same domain)
They only mean that the site's url structure has changed over time, and they don't want to serve 404 pages for the old urls, or lose SEO ranking, for that matter.
People try to learn SEO from these blog entries guys. Pay attention please.
Ps. you posted your IP as well... :)

March 7, 2011 - 7:55pm

Hey Aaron, I think it is mildly interesting this stuff was going on at BeatThatQuote.com but it would have been far more newsworthy had this been happening while Google owned it, instead of before they bought it.

You say "If I had a UK finance site I would go on a link buying binge right now. Google can't penalize you for it because they are doing the same damn thing. And if they do penalize it for DOING THE EXACT SAME THING GOOGLE IS DOING then you know you have a legitimate gripe for the media,..." but Google is not doing it... a recent acquisition has been doing it and I would expect such marketing tactics to stop soon after Google's purchase - if they don't THAT is newsworthy.

What I do find of some interest is the point that you missed... Google is rewarding BeatThatQuote's link buying and shifty behavior by giving one BIG FAT check! Now that is hypocritical.

Anyway, that is my two bits.

March 7, 2011 - 8:09pm

Google was *indeed* endorsing the strategy by purchasing the business. Google could have asked them to first clean up their act, then made the purchase. But by not having that piece of due diligence (or by doing it and hoping nobody would notice the sketchy background) Google is indeed directly responsible for the site continuing to rank for using tactics that they claim to torch folks for doing.

And, of course, now that Google got this brand millions of Dollars worth of press links they could disengage the spam and it would still rank. Even still, the people who bought those links & violated Google's guidelines got a huge windfall directly from Google. :D

March 7, 2011 - 8:46pm

Aaron, of course you're dead on - again. Unfortunately, at this stage, all you can do is point it out.
I hardly see anyone mentioning the fact that blogger and youtube were 2 of the biggest winners in the panda farmer update. Google does what it wants and nothing is going to change, because 99% of the people out there just don't care because they don't see it affecting them. yet.

March 8, 2011 - 4:06am

I initially thought it wasn't too big of a deal since it wasn't actually Google involved in the shenanigans, but after some thought the message is loud and clear: do what you have to, by hook or by crook, to build a prominent site and the money will follow. Google itself might even buy it!

The ends justify the means.

March 11, 2011 - 1:04am

Just have a look at Compare The Market's link profile if you want to see some really obvious link buying.

Google can't stop it, so they just allow it. Simples.

March 11, 2011 - 1:23am

...then the guidelines should be changed to adhere to current market conditions. I don't mind if a lot of people are fudging and working in the gray area, but if Google isn't following Google's own guidelines then it goes from cheesing/fudging to flat out bogus. Which is why I called them out on this. I never would have highlighted BeatThatQuote unless it was Google owned & operated.

March 22, 2011 - 11:55am

They were only penalized for 2 weeks!

Yet it looks like JC Penny remains penalized.

Home cooking tastes good! ;)

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