In March of this year, Google issued a significant penalty on a large guest blog network, known as MyBlogGuest.com, confirmed by the owner, Ann Smarty. As a result, many publishers associated with the blogging network were wondering if they would be penalized as well. Cutts responded on Twitter stating that it would be very likely: “when we take action on a spammy link network, it can include blogs hosting guest posts, sites benefiting from links, etc.”
However, that wasn’t so clear in the initial penalty notification that Smarty had received:
“Google has detected a pattern of artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. These may be the result of buying links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.”
Quite vague, isn’t it? The penalty notification didn’t clearly state whether it was the result of having unnatural links to the domain, or if it was the cause of the unnatural links, yet the entire guest blog network itself was penalized. To many, it seems as if the network was hit by a manual action for links, instead of being penalized for being part of a link building scheme, even though the network has always been against paying for links.
In the end, while Google didn’t issue a warning to MyBlogGuest for being the source of the penalty, it may have warned the network itself that it was linking back to itself, thus resulting in the unnatural links pointing to the site.
Nevertheless, many will agree that these types of Google notifications becoming more confusing, when they should really be getting much easier to understand.
Another recent example of Google’s lack of guidance is Portent, an experienced SEO company, who received a penalty notification regarding their unnatural links. The notification was very similar to that of Smarty’s, and while Google Webmaster Notifications told us that it would start to include example URLs of these unnatural links, this could not be said about Portent’s experience. Not only that, but Portent’s manual action was able to be reversed fairly quickly, further implying that Google’s updates should be updated to be clearer.
Can a Single Link Condemn an Entire Site?
If anything is clear about Google, it’s that they are fighting very hard to win the war on link building strategies, and it appears that they’re winning (for the most part). But how far is too far? Condemning an entire site because of one link? That might do it.
Just recently, an entire site was put into the Google penalty box, involving DocSheldon.com. Run by Doc Sheldon, the site was issued a penalty after receiving an extremely vague notification as a result of an unnatural-looking link in a single guest post. And because Google wasn’t able to provide a specific example, Sheldon took it upon himself to write an open letter, to which he then tweeted at Matt Cutts, inquiring about those specifics.
According to Cutts, the “manual webspam notice was on point”, as the link within the post was not relevant to the site at all. While this may be true to some degree, this doesn’t change the fact that the guest post went live nine months before Google decided that guest posts for SEO purposes were against their guidelines. Tsk, tsk, Google.
But it gets worse. Following Sheldon’s open letter, Cutts took a closer look at the site, claiming that a link to Hispanic social networking wasn’t relevant at all to his blog about copywriting, which Sheldon’s site claims to be. However, Sheldon’s site covers much more than SEO copywriting. In fact, “content strategy” is right there in the tagline as well, which one would think would be perfectly acceptable for content relating to Hispanic social networking. So, does this mean Google gets to decide whether or not a site is off-topic or not? Have they really gone that far to narrow down exactly what a site has to be and what kind of content is shared?
Google: A Love/Hate Relationship
No one factor ensures a top search engine ranking, which is precisely why Google uses so many factors when determining whether a site should be ranking well or not. While their constant changes may be more than slightly frustrating, these rules are also put into place to prevent someone else from sabotaging a site as well.
The moral of the story is to understand that the day of OBVIOUS link building are obvious, where you use “money” anchors to link to ecommerce pages. With Google’s heavy-handed approach to link building, using natural link building footprints and monitoring your link profile carefully is now of fundamental importance.
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