The 'Scam' Site That Never Launched

Dec 14th
posted in

(A case study in being PRE negatively seo'ed)

Well it has been a fun year in search. Having had various sites that I thought were quality, completely burnt by Google since they started with the Penguins and Pandas and other penalties, I thought i would try something that I KNEW Google would love….. Something dare I say would be “bulletproof.” Something I could go to bed, knowing it would be there the next day in Google’s loving arms. Something I could focus on and be proud of.

Enter www.buymycar.com, an idea I had wanted to do for some time, where people list a car and it gets sent to a network of dealers who bid on it from a secure area. A simple idea but FAR from simple to implement.

Notes I made prior to launch to please Google and to give it a fighting chance were:

  1. To have an actual service and not to be an affiliate. Google crushed my affiliate sites and we know they are not fond of them as they want to be the only affiliate I think.
  2. To make sure the content was of a high quality. I took this so seriously that we actually made a point of linking out to direct competition where it helped to do so. This was almost physically painful to do! But I thought I would start as I meant to go on. I remember paying the content guy that helps me, triple his normal fee to go above and beyond normal research for the articles in our "sell my car" and "value my car" sections.
  3. To make the site socially likeable. I wanted something that people would share and as such to sacrifice profits in the short term to get it established.
  4. To give Google the things it loves on-site. Speed testing, webmaster tools error checking (even got a little well done from Google for having no errors, bless), user testing, sitemaps for big G to find our content more easily, fast hosting, letting it have full access with analytics…
  5. TO NEVER, EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PAY FOR A LINK. Yes, I figured I would put all the investment into the site and content this time. If it went how I had hoped perhaps I could find the holy grail where site’s link to us willingly without a financial incentive! A grail I had been chasing for some years. Could people really link out without being paid? I had once heard a rumour it was possible and I wanted to investigate it……

Satisfied I had ticked all the boxes from hours of Matt Cutts video’s and Google guidelines documents, I went to work and stopped SEO on all my smaller sites that were out of favour. I was enjoying building what I had hoped would be a useful site and kicked myself for not having done so sooner. I also thanked Google mentally for being smart enough now to reward better sites.

Fast forward 4 months of testing and re testing and signing up car dealers across the country and I decided to do a cursory check to see if anyone had liked what I was building and linked to it. I put my site into ahrefs.com and to my surprise, 13,208 sites had!! What was also nice was that all of them had used the anchor text “Buy My Car Scam” and had been so kind as to give me worldwide exposure on .ru, .br and .fr sites in blog comments amongst others.

In seriousness, this was absolutely devastating to see.

A worried competitor had obviously decided I was a threat and to nip my site in the bud with Google and attack it before it had even fully started. The live launch date was scheduled for January 7th, 2013! I was aware of negative SEO from other sites I had lost but not in advance of actually having any traffic or rankings. Now I was faced with death by Google rankings to look forward to before it had any rankings, add to that my site being cited as a scam across the Internet before it launched!

My options were immediately as follows:

  1. Go back and nuke the likely candidates in Google who had sabotaged me. Not really an option as I think it is the lowest of the low.
  2. Start trying to contact 13,000+ link owners to ask for the links to be removed. When I am heavily invested in this project anyway and have a deadline to reach, this was not an option. Also, Xrummer, Scrapebox or other automated tools could send another 13,000 just as easily in hours for me to deal with.
  3. Disavow links with Google. To download all the links, disavow them all and hope that Google would show me mercy in the few months Matt Cutts said it takes to get to them all removed.
  4. Give up the project. Radical as this may sound, it did go through my mind as organic traffic was a big part of my business plan. Thankfully I was talked out of it and it would be "letting them win."

I opted for number 3, the disavow method but wondered what would happen if I kept being sent 10’s of thousands more links and how a new site can actually have any protection from this? To set back a site months in its early stages is devastating to a new on-line business. To be in a climate where it is done prior to launch is ridiculous.

Had I fired back at future competitors as many suggested I did, there would be a knock on effect that makes me wonder if in the months to come, everyone will be doing it to each other as routine. Having been in SEO for years I always knew it was possible to sabotage sites but never thought it would become so common and before they even ranked!


Robert Prime is a self employed web developer based in East Sussex, England. You can follow him on Twitter at @RobertPrime.

Published: December 14, 2012

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Comments

December 17, 2012 - 12:33pm

Hi Robert,
Sorry to hear this and with all the hard work you must have been gutted. I had a look at your back links using Ahrefs and they really tried to do a number on you. I would be fuming for sure and maybe 301 the entire site to the most likely suspect.

December 17, 2012 - 1:06pm

Thanks Phase10. Thousands of people are being negatively seo'ed now with far better sites than mine listed above. I was just lucky enough to get my site published with the story. I had 4 sites before this killed off but they were established and i had done well with them beforehand so wrote them off.

This one hurt more as i had not even finished it but rather than a sob story (which it is not) i want Google to do something to stop it.

I think with Google the way it is now, this will spread like a virus even more than it has already. The disavow tool taking months is a token gesture that doesn't near cover things. It costs next to nothing to send people 10,000 bad links and to keep doing so is as easy as 5 minutes work for the type of person that would want to do that.

As for 301'ing the site to the likely culprit. The key word is "likely." I am 95% sure who it was but that is not enough when we know the damage that can be done.

December 18, 2012 - 12:04pm

Taking the high road and not blasting revenge links at your competitors. Especially because I really understand how tempting it must be.

I really feel for you and I hope like hell that Google pull their finger out and start putting some effective protections in place to prevent this sort of thing.

Of course, looking at it cynically, they have no incentive to do so, since they want to push you into using PPC advertising as an alternative source of traffic.

December 18, 2012 - 4:50pm

This kind of stuff has been a problem most of 2012, despite early reports that it was difficult and cost prohibitive. It was never either. I have seen hundreds of thusands of dollars in damages - lost websites on otherwise solid domains, and I haven't seen much of anything compared to what is happening every day now. It was, and remains pretty dismal.
The answer to me, is simple - G needs to nullify the effect, rather than allow it to have a negative accumulation. It's like allowing thin sites to earn, then blaming the webmasters for putting out thin sites to earn. Simply make it stop being possible - and it ends.
Sorry you had/have to deal with this Robert, but thanks for sharing it. Hope it clears in some way for you soon.

December 18, 2012 - 5:41pm

Thanks Marty and Karen

Yes i agree it has been possible for a long time but it never really happened to my sites until this year. Now every webmaster will know people it has happened to and it is as easy as $5 to do it. I think Google needs to adopt some form of social conscience and rather than effectively saying our rules or not at all, it could work a bit more with SEO's and site builders.

I suppose the disavow tool is a start but for the 10's of thousands of sites using it there are very few real recovery stories.

December 19, 2012 - 2:21am

Great article on a bad subject. Sorry it happened to you but unfortunately you are just one amongst thousands!

I feel I have to have a rant about Matt Cutts now! (Skip to next comment if you don't want to hear ranting)

How out of Touch is Matt? In his latest video he says "if you are a mom and pop type site or business you don't have to worry about negative SEO" I am paraphrasing a bit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWJUU-g5U_I. The guy really must have lost the plot.

It is precisely Mom and Pop/ small business type sites that "DO" have to worry about negative SEO. Big established sites, have enough authority and usually have enough link history to overcome some idiot spamming them with 20000 spammy links.

I think he is blinkered to the darker side of the human nature. You don't even have to be generally a bad person to want to engage in such activities. You may be a dad or mom who just wants to ensure that their kids get fed this week. So your site generates $4k a month it would be hard to resist buying $100 worth of fiverr gigs and firing a few hundred thousand links at a competitors site, to ensure your kids keep getting fed. (last time I did a count $100 got you a few hundred thousand links, it could be more now)

this is precisely why there should be no negative value given to any link. and quite frankly why it should not be necessary to have a disavow tool.

December 19, 2012 - 10:53am

SEOenquirer, couldn't agree more.

December 19, 2012 - 8:34am

I read this earlier today and I recalled a radiolab episode that examined the prisoners dilemma. At the 40minute mark they examine cooperation vs retaliation. These are explored through a computer program that pits these two against each other. It is a bit geeky, but like most things geeky it is interesting. http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/

-Evan

December 19, 2012 - 2:46pm

...it is one of the few podcasts I am regularly subscribed to :D

December 21, 2012 - 2:40am

I've seen this much more recently and wonder why Google doesn't adopt a neutral or ignored link policy for anything inbound that's considered non related or hostile or negative. I don't think it's as hard as Google says it would be to fix this problem, they certainly have no problem dinging a site for using a link farm to get positive inbound links, so why shouldn't it be the same on the flip side?

December 22, 2012 - 3:25am

How did they find out about your site...was it already getting some rankings?

December 22, 2012 - 5:37am

... I think that they had a literal URL made it something that someone else already in their industry probably looked to register, saw what was already there, didn't like it & whacked it.

December 22, 2012 - 5:36pm

I had to send out a lot of mailshots etc to sign up dealers for the service. This would have got on their radar i assume.

December 22, 2012 - 1:55pm

Google could certainly ignore or downgrade "bad" links but the whole process of demonizing everyone/everything that poses a threat to clicks on their ad layer must be leveraged to its fullest extent. If you can "punish" you can certainly ignore.

December 22, 2012 - 5:38pm

i can see the issue for them a little, if they ignore then people could send millions of links knowing that ones that hit and work are a bonus, ones that don't are not an issue.

I personally think that links will start to carry less weight with more weight on social media and other signals. Linking as a sign of quality is flawed really but was the best that was available.

December 24, 2012 - 4:24pm

Everything Cutts floats about links, "quality", etc, is about driving revenue through the google ad layer.

December 25, 2012 - 2:24pm

You could solve this problem by adding a lot of fake testimonials on your homepage. I think this is ethical.

December 26, 2012 - 4:43am

...if your homepage has a lot of fake testimonials it does not offset either of the following:

  • your site not ranking well due to being penalized (what's on the homepage doesn't matter if nobody sees it)
  • Google auto-completing your brand related searches to include the word "scam" (and sending an impression to users BEFORE they get to your site ... some may decide to search for something else just based on that search auto-completion)
December 29, 2012 - 3:03pm

1)Disavow of the offending links was done 2 weeks ago and the file went into the disavow abyss somewhere to be used god knows how.

2) I did a pre-emptive reconsideration request which was of course "there are no manual penalties found"

3) was ranking previously 10th for "buy my car" and 3rd for "buymycar" now not in top 200 for "buy my car" and 17th for the measly "buymycar." Despite having a few good organic links. Obviously the spammy links have started to kick in.

Well Mr Cutts, you have created a monster in Google now im afraid. Your video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWJUU-g5U_I says that with the new disavow tool makes negative SEO a mere nuisance.

Yet in your previous video about the diavow tool you say it can take months for links to be disavowed as google waits to crawl them???

In the meantime, the time lag makes it a little more than a "nuisance" don't you think? Also trying to keep on top of links being disavowed as they come in the thousands is slightly more than a nuisance.

Google is broken, it is now a meta site of brands and gutter spam but the in between is dying fast.

December 29, 2012 - 7:56pm

Ranking problems might be caused by your competitor building links to its site with buymycar.com as the anchor.

December 30, 2012 - 11:37am

How do you know you have been set back by the algo ?
Aren't you just at the spot your site deserves to be right now ?
I could not find a single car in the car list ? ( if there are, there is an UI problem)

Is this website (http://buymycar2.webs.com/ ) also part of the negative SEO , or is it ment to be a quality set of backlinks ? (looks more like DC to me- and it is indexed)

December 30, 2012 - 1:37pm

so i built that link and then linked to it from my quality mass created forum profiles like on sites like this?

http://www.h-net.org/~ideas/forum/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=24641&s...

Because i really think that is a good tactic in seo? Please....... It is nothing that senuke cannot do in 10 minutes. The only links i built actively was 2 directories.

How do i know it was affected? because buymycar.com/sellmycar ranks 56th for "buy my car" and buymycar.com ranks nowhere when it was before at 11th.....

Do i think it deserves to be ranked higher.... Not necessarily before launch no but that is beside the point.

Do i think that some coward company (who i know who it is now as of yesterday with 99% certainty) should be able to sabotage it and say it is a scam when it is not actively trading... NO

Will this affect things going forward... from a Google point of view yes but overall it made me more determined to the point i got investment to do more in this space.

Will this become a bigger problem in this niche and in others..... FOR SURE.....

December 30, 2012 - 1:42pm

nikislut@gmx.com for the owner of the dodgy link i am supposed to have built as here http://buymycar2.webs.com/apps/members/ looks professional lol

December 30, 2012 - 5:07pm

Sorry to say, but the only proof is that you think your incomplete website should rank higher, because you want it to rank higher ??

What if Google just ingnored all the bad links, why should you rank better then all the others aiming at buy me car ??

December 30, 2012 - 7:23pm

Perhaps it (http://buymycar2.webs.com/ ) isn't yours, but are
www.valuemycar.org ,
www.valuemycar.com ,
vanvaluation.org ,
buyabanger.com ,
www.sellmycar.org,
www.buymycar.co.uk
also part of the Negative SEO, or are they yours ?
Not saying Google can't be judging wrong with 10.000+ bad links influencing your rankings, but your sample is not without flaws.

December 30, 2012 - 8:07pm

How would they be part of negative Seo when one site links to buymycar.com from that list in a relevant spot. I'd actually forgotten it was there but that is hardly spam. Please let me know which of those sites have anything to do with buymycar.com or this article.

This was never about moaning but more saying that google is broken when it is worthwhile building thousands of links to a relatively new site. The 2-3 links I did build are perfectly acceptable an the fact I did not link other sites I used to promote to buymycar.com shows my intent was not to go down that route.

I suppose the problem with posting publicly is that people can post anonymous comments but the sites you mention have no bearing on anything so I am confused?

December 30, 2012 - 10:23pm

When you post on a public place you know anyone can and will comment,
no problem but an opportunity to get a second opinion ...

So now who is confused ?
http://who.is/whois/buymycar.co.uk
http://who.is/whois/buymycar.com
http://who.is/whois/buyabanger.com
http://who.is/whois/www.valuemycar.org
http://who.is/whois/vanvaluation.org

December 30, 2012 - 11:21pm

I bought all the sites from someone in one deal when entering the niche. Only one of the sites you posted the Whois of links to buymycar.com so why would they have anything to do with the thread? Or any negative Seo? That was why I was and am confused..... I didn't say I didn't own them or I could have hidden Te Whois if I was worried? Not hard to do

December 31, 2012 - 12:31am

Just as Google, i am trying to see the whole picture, and you are obscuring it...
Your point is valid, your story smells.
Just my opinion. and I wanted to make that clear.

There is no proof what so ever that you are being punished for bad links from a competitor , you wanted to score with to many sites on the same phrase.
You can't blaim me for that. (nor Google)

December 31, 2012 - 1:06am

Thanks for your opinion.....

December 31, 2012 - 1:10am

Just get your act together

December 31, 2012 - 10:31am

A person owning a number of domain names doesn't indicate anything about the quality of any particular site. If we were to play that "whole picture" game then Google would be permanently banned if held to their own guidelines (based on link buying, buying sites that were link buying, cloaking, some more link buying, cloaking again, some link selling, misrepresenting a partnership with Mokality, linking to certain partners based on the exchange of cash, scraping 3rd party content & in some cases dropping attribution to source, buying a site with more copyright violations on it than any other site on the web in YouTube, partnering with / funding the worst content farms, repeated privacy issues with the FTC, having an ad category for 'get rich quick' schemes in AdSense, selling ads pushing illegal steroids from a person posing as a Mexican druglord, etc etc etc).

We don't use the "whole picture" game with Google itself though do we? Above were a series of 'isolated incidents' by contractors or don't represent current company practices.

The general issue with the above post was not that x or y ranks worse than desired, but rather that the rankings fell sharply after the spike in links. And that now the webmaster is expected to proactively eat the expense of monitoring the links. A person can spend $5 or $10 a week on Fivver (with gift cards, paid for with cash, tied to an anonymous email & through a proxy if need be) and cause 5 or 10 hours of work to need to be done per week. Or they can do $20 daily & you have time for nothing other than link clean up. That's a pretty stupid (or evil?) incentive structure by Google.

The bigger issue is that in any competitive market just by virtue of existing there is going to be some crappy stuff as part of the mix. Years ago I had a page filtered out of the search results because a bunch (hundreds) of SERP scraper sites linked to the page in a short span. That meant that the page wasn't able to rank again until the page title was changed.

We know such things from experience & testing & so on. But most small businesses probably don't proactively look at their backlinks to police competitive sabotage efforts.

In many cases such sabotage efforts are primarily happening in rather competitive markets, but over time as Google dials up on fearmongering they will indeed spread it to many other markets.

February 28, 2013 - 12:06am

My site 222.justgoodcars.com a long standing well known site in the industry was wiped off the face of the internet, It was a million £ a year business, it was a famous attack and well documented. It hit us so suddenly that we did not know how to react.

Google and their forums did not help in any way, it took months to get questions answered until we saw threads all over the interenet about it. By this time we could no longer justify keeping all our staff, so we started to lay off the sales staff, accounts, marketing. Lots of people lost their jobs.

I worked for 8 years on the project and it was a real one of a kind. There is still nothing like it online and was a real game changer for the industry. We had stands at the motorshow infront of Autotrader and many others and got huge praise from the public.

I have learnt now that you can damage anyones business with just a few £££'s and there is no protection because google has no staff you can talk to and the forum people just seem to be kids and rude people with no interest in helping.

There were so many incredible scams happening to us. There were accounts on forums created in our company name, giving fake repsonses to conversations, it was just out of control.

We never recovered at all and went from 50k uniques visitors a day to nothing but junk traffic.

We actually looked at the backlinks and reverse traced the purchasers and found some very interesting info, the problem was when we went to lawyers thaye said it is not against the law for people to link to us even our competition so we had no chance of winning a case.

We were one of the leading car valuation companies in the country and now we are not even in the top 1000 results.

F*&k you Google, you allowed this to happen by having a terrible support system and huge holes in your algo that you will not admit too.

February 28, 2013 - 10:00am

As someone who has had some experience doing SEO in the car industry in Australia, I can confidently tell you that the industry stinks. I refuse these days to deal with any car yards or anything else to do with the car industry.

I know there are bad people every where but "bad" people seem to be over represented in the car industry. The things that these guys would ask me to do was just.... well I am embarrassed to even thinking about it. I guess there is a reason that car salesman here in Australia have been polled being some of the least trusted professions 10 years in a row.

As my comments above have stated I feel for your predicament but I can't help feeling if you applied the same energy and smarts in a less malicious niche you would fair a lot better.

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