I Got Spanked by Google

Part of the Kenno's Blog series.
By Ken Brown
Editor, You Can Learn Series
Updated:
November 2, 2007

Well, I had a week's worth of warning before it happened. I started out reading in seomoz that changes were happening in the most recent Google Page Rank indicator update. They talked about a list of top web directory sites that were getting spanked by Google. Then Michael Martinez of SEO Theory made a brief mention of it occurring. The next thing I know I am getting my newsletter from Jill Whalen of High Rankings Advisor. She mentions incorrectly that the bottom of the home page on Search Engine Guide looks like it should be smacked down. She actually used a word I don't want to use here, because it is the incorrect usage of the words and she later apologized to Jennifer Laycock and the rest of the High Ranking Advisor subscribers.

Google Was Penalizing Web Masters

What was all the fuss about? Google apparently was penalizing web masters for accepting money for outbound links and not using the words, rel=nofollow. Google had been warning webmasters for a few months through their internet mouthpiece, Matt Cutts.

I knew it was coming. I had been hearing rumors and rumblings for a month. I had hoped it wouldn't happen to me and my site. In fact, I have an article on my site that was written by Jill Whalen, titled, Buying Text Link Ads. She warns against the behavior, but she also say's,

There's nothing wrong with purchasing an ad on a website that links back to your website. Advertising your site is good. Advertising it on popular sites where your target market hangs out is even better. After all, the name of the game is to bring in targeted traffic. Your advertisements on other people's sites are none of the search engines' business and will not get your site banned or penalized. They will not hurt your site in any way. How you market your site is completely up to you, and you don't need to worry about the search engines if you decide to purchase text link ads.

...It's not a matter of *if* this will happen with paid text link ads, but *when*. It could be next week, next month, or next year. Regardless of when the engines decide to lower the boom, you can bet we're going to hear a lot of crying in the forums about it! For now, if you're buying text link ads, or have been thinking about it, I wouldn't really worry about it. Just make a mental note to yourself that whatever boost to your rankings they may provide now could vanish at any time.

I Encouraged Advertising on My Site

I made no changes to my website and to my text linking practices. I continued to encourage advertising on my site and actually began to promote my web directory. I charge for all members of my web directory, so in effect I am accepting money for links or paid links. On Thursday of last week, I thought I was going to duck the bullet. But, Friday, I finally got hit. Google updated the server with my new page rank and the home page had dropped from PR4 to PR3.

I was definitely bummed out, but let's think about it. I went from a PR4 to a PR3. That is nothing compared to the sites that went from PR7 to a PR3. I actually got off pretty easy. They did hit my web directory pretty hard though. The web directory home page was not affected at all. But, all the internal pages of the web directory were stripped of their page rank.

Well, Google spanked me good. I am concerned about the web directory. Did they quit passing page rank because it is a web directory? Is it because I am linking to bad neighborhoods? Is it because I accept money for the links in the web directory? Is it because when I started it, I was using it as a reciprocal link device and I probably wasn't as diligent as I should have been in policing the reciprocal link sites? Will my PR go up once I add the rel=nofollow tag to my pages?

Lot's of Speculation, but Where are the Rules?

I think that is what bothers me most about this process. Everything I have been reading over the last 7 days, is still just speculation. Everyone thinks they know what has happened, but the truth is they don't. They are only guessing. Now as experts in the SEO field and more importantly as some of the people who have been complaining to Matt Cutts and Google about this problem, these experts are probably right.

What should I do? Complain? Should I be compliant and follow big brother and don't cause waves? Should I continue to build my web pages just like always and not even worry about Google? Do I need Google and the traffic they bring? I was reading an article on Search Engine Guide today about their choice. They were just as pissed as I was about the action by Google. It appears that Robert Clough has decided to acquiesce and do what Google has requested. But, Robert and Jennifer Laycock did not go down easy.

Why Shouldn't the Web Site Allow Paid Links?

I don't blame them. In a perfect world, it shouldn't matter to a search engine whether a website receives paid links or not. Why shouldn't the web site allow paid links and allow pass through of page rank from those links? That is really a Google problem and not the problem of the publisher. The publisher is just trying to make money. Google introduced the little green candy bar, page rank, to identify the publisher's importance in Google's ranking system. Unfortunately, that page rank tool bar actually helped the publisher charge more for their services and made it a more attractive advertising medium. As an advertiser you are saying, "I am going to receive more traffic from advertising on your site and you are going to send me some link juice, too." Pretty sweet combination I think.

But, now, Google is smacking those sites down. Google is spanking those bad boys and girls for daring to break the poorly published, strictly word of mouth rules. Website owners like me are left wondering what Google rule has been broken and how can we get back into the good graces of the mighty Google Search Engine?

Go on a Google AdSense Strike

What if we don't surrender? What if we decide to fight back? I just read today that Google is considered one of the top 5 richest companies in the world or something like that. Their stock is trading at over $700. (At least it was yesterday. The Dow had a pretty bad drop today. I don't know how that affected Google.) So, how could we hurt Google? Remove all your Adsense ads from your website. If all the companies that were touched negatively by Google were to drop their Google ads from their websites, then that might get Google's attention. Imagine if Google were to lose 5% of their revenue on a single day. Or what if it really was 10% to 30%? Wow. That would make a statement.

I make some money from Google, but I make 3 times more money from my small group of 20 or so advertisers on this website. I really don't want to lose a quarter of my revenue. But, when workers go on extended strikes they end up losing more money than the gains they would have made without going on strike. Maybe we should take the hit, too. I have removed my Google ads, but really it is more because I am rethinking all my advertising on my site and wanted to see an improvement in the speed of the site.

Google Seemed to Pick and Choose the Web Sites to Spank

I am surprised at some of the websites that weren't affected. For example, USAToday. They have a link to their Marketplace that continues to pass page rank. You might say, but Ken, it is a blank PR. Yes, but click on any one of the advertising PAID LINKS pages and you will see a huge page rank score, PR7 in some cases. In my humble opinion they should also be dropped a point or two, including the home page. How is their link different than mine? Is Google favoring newspapers over my small website?

How about seomoz.org? They claim on one of their pages to have paid the Open Directory Project bribes to get them to "hurry the process along." Wouldn't that be considered a paid link? Shouldn't they be smacked around a little? How is the little guy who really isn't making any money supposed to compete with an SEM / SEO firm with multiple employees? They are being paid thousands of dollars each month to do SEO for businesses. They have multiple people blogging for them. They have friends they can call to put in a good word for them in their next blog and campaign. The little website is probably just doing their website part time. They are trying to earn a little money on the side and just don't have the energy, time or resources to compete with someone doing this full time. And the one way they have of making money gets smacked down by Google. Ouch.

How about Yahoo? At one point I paid them over $300 to place my links with them. I see they have a page rank of 9! So, again. I ask. What am I really being spanked about? You know as a child when I was punished, I always knew why. And I always knew if I got punished my brothers who were right there with me doing wrong were going to get punished. But, this seems like it is a little more selective by Google. It's their search engine they can do what they want. And the "dogs will bark, but the caravan moves on." But, I would like to see a little more even treatment by them.

Blogs Allow People to Rant and Rave

You know I don't make a lot of money with my website. The last three years I haven't even broken even. I just want to make enough to pay for my website hosting. I use it as an opportunity to write about things that interest me and because I enjoy it. To me it is a great hobby. I would like to make a lot of money, but I haven't found the proper formula of products and services.

Thank you for letting me rant and rave about this issue. I am glad I wasn't the only one. It's nice to know other respected leaders in the industry have had to bend over on this issue, too. I wish Robert and Jennifer the best of luck surviving this speed bump in the road. I think they are very capable and might even come out a stronger company.

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