The Shutdown Might Impact Your Rankings

Well, the US government could not come to an agreement about the budget. The shutdown really isn’t impacting “regular” people, just those employed by and receiving benefits from the government. Oh, and people going to parks.  That being said, the shutdown is about to impact a BUNCH of website owners.  Here’s why…

Since the shutdown puts non-essential government employees back on their couches, that means all the server and network admins have FLOODED Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.  While those guys are out fighting zombies, pwning n00bs, and leveling up, their servers and networks are unattended and shut down.  What’s that got to do with SEOs?  If your site gets a boost in ranking from .gov links (if you have them, it does) some of those sites are now returning 404s in the absence of the nerds who care for them.

nasa.gov along with many other government sites currently 404s!

nasa.gov along with many other government sites currently 404s!

I thought maybe it wouldn’t impact sites because Google would “fudge” the numbers for a while until the .gov sites came back.  Nope.  During our competitive reviews we check the number of .gov links point to competitors.  About a week ago one of the sites we reviewed had 1,460 links from .gov websites.  Today they have 87.  Eighty Seven.  Did it hurt their ranking?  Well, in the words of Phil Robertson, “He gone.”

1,460 .gov links before the shutdown.  87 after.  Ouch.

1,460 .gov links before the shutdown. 87 after. Ouch.

Brace yourselves… if your site depends on .gov links, you could drop like a rock.  It could take a long time to recover your ranking once the .gov sites come back. It could trip a filter for over-acquisition of links in a short period of time.  I assume Google would “fix” that because that would be a monumental FAIL if not.

New Google Webmaster Tools Feature: Manual Actions

Today Google announced a new feature in Webmaster Tools that reports if you have a manual action against your site. I’m a bit surprised by this because it should already be abundantly clear to webmasters if they have a manual action against their site or not.  Google has said time and again that if there’s a [recent] manual action against a site that they will notify the webmaster via email and display a message in Google Webmaster Tools.  I guess people just aren’t paying attention.  I think this tool was really released to help stem the tide of reconsideration requests that are coming from people who are confused of the difference between algorithmic and manual penalties.  The last couple of years have seen broad algorithmic penalization of websites from Panda and Penguin.  It’s been the biggest shakeup in many years.  All these actions against websites have probably generated millions and millions of unnecessary reconsideration requests. Google says this report is an effort to be more transparent, but I believe they only created this “feature” to help their Webspam team which must be inundated with reconsideration requests from people who don’t understand how to tell if their site has a manual penalty.  There’s no reason for them to be any more transparent than sending an email and issuing a notice in webmaster tools, unless to benefit themselves.  Whatever the real reason, the “feature” is there and you can check your own GWMT account now to see, without a shadow of a doubt, if you have a manual action or not.

Google's new report on webmaster tools shows if you have a manual penalty or not - if you weren't already paying attention to their other notifications.

Google’s new report on webmaster tools shows if you have a manual penalty or not – if you weren’t already paying attention to their other notifications.

Another Client Victimized By Unethical Link Building

In past posts I’ve discussed how damaging it can be to engage the services of an unethical SEO who engages in link spamming activities.  My old posts are titled “You Too Can Rank In India” and “Amazingly Awful Link Building.” I’m sure you’re familiar with all the goings-on at Google about links lately.  If not, I’ll sum up: Google hates unnatural links and will penalize sites that have them, they provide a disavow tool for people to use to beg for forgiveness from said penalty but before you use that tool they want you to go through a link removal process with the sites where you got the unnatural links.  That’s created a bit of a problem for some webmasters because some of the sites where they got “free” links are now wanting money to remove the links.  Someone recently posted on WebmasterWorld about how they can’t afford to go through the process of removing bad links.  The poster says the sites that have the bad links are directory websites, presumably spam directory sites.  These spam directory sites charge anywhere from $20 – $500 to remove each link.  The poster totaled up all the fees to an astonishing $12,210.00!!

I’m not mad at the spam directories.  I’m mad at the people who claimed to be SEOs and got him into this mess.  The spam directories have to employ someone to go through their directory to handle each removal request.  They can’t do that for free.  It’s a little predatory and quite un-cool, but that’s for discussion elsewhere.

It’s another reminder of how easily people who claim to be SEOs can get you in a world of trouble. If you employ an SEO to deal with your website you MUST know how they develop links for you and you MUST understand what that means!  I have a new client who employed a firm to promote their site (I won’t even call them an SEO firm because they are so bad).  The company sent the client regular reports about what they were doing to “promote” the client’s site.  Had the client known anything about what they were seeing they would have been furious.  Here’s why…

This company my client contracted was creating spam links and it looks like they were outsourcing to an Indian company and never supervising the process at all.  Either that, or they’re just plain dumb.  They were submitting [presumably] automated listings to tons of free directory sites.  Free directory sites that are complete and utter spam.  In fact, it’s so bad I’ve placed a screenshot of one month’s submissions below.  Note that this is ONLY one month and total submissions equals 1,255 directory listings.  This client is likely in for a surprise at the next penguin update.  It’s terrible timing because they are a brand new client for us and we might have two more months (at most) of decent rankings before they get nuked because of the links from these spam directories.   If I’m honest, I’m surprised they’ve gotten away with it for this long.

Lifetime submissions - 1,255! AHHH!!   Click the image to see the full list of spam.

Lifetime submissions – 1,255! AHHH!!
Click the thumbnail image to see the full list of spam directories.

A big clue about how terrible these links are is the text I found on one of the websites when I went to check it out.  There was no doubt in my mind that it was a spam directory because it’s named “seoconfused.”  However, I think even a novice could read their footer statement and know that something fishy was going on.  Check out the statement:

Spam Directory's Footer Statement.

Spam Directory’s Footer Statement

I decided to check a couple more directory sites to see if the previous company had any plausible deniability about their link building efforts.  They don’t.  A 30 second audit would have revealed the level of spam being perpetrated.  In fact, some of the directory sites show the malware warning in Chrome when trying to visit them, and many of the pages just plain old 404.

Malware warning I get when I try to visit a spam link directory.

Malware warning I get when I try to visit a spam link directory.

The worst part, this is only about 10% of the spam directory links that the company got for them.  This doesn’t include the horribly terrible junk bookmarks and other spam links that are contained in the report.  I’ve lost a client in the past because their rankings continued to drop due to the previous company’s crappy link building.  I hope I don’t lose these guys because of the last company’s sins.

I said it before and I’ll say it again.  It’s YOUR responsibility as a site owner, or outsourcer, to 100% understand what is happening with your site.  Take 10, 15, or 20 minutes to really understand what’s going on.  Make whoever is working for you explain what is happening.  In the end, it’s your company, your website, your reputation – no matter what third-party company ruins it.

Google Tests Results Without Instant Preview

Today I noticed that Google is testing some results in my browser.  Two main things I noticed is that there is a little drop down available on all results with some more options.  The options are “cached”, “similar”, and “share.”  I don’t see “similar” on all results, just on a few first place rankings.

More importantly, I noticed that in this test the instant preview option is not available for organic results, only for PPC results.  I’m sure Google likes the idea because instant previews cover up right-side PPC ads.  I don’t like that the option is still available to PPC advertisers.  It’s just one more thing to make the free organic listings less impactful.

The small drop down next to the URL offers some options, but more importantly the instant preview option is gone.

The Instant Preview option remains for PPC advertisers.