Saying it like it is

A lot has been said about Google’s Penguin update over the last few weeks. We’ve been trying to avoid the vacuum chamber that has errupted.

We’ve spoken at length about web spam and this is no different. Many people are up in arms about Penguin but we think it couldn’t have come sooner. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not lacking sympathy for those who’ve had their businesses damaged by it – nor am I trying to take the high moral ground just because none of our clients were affected. I literally wish Google had brought it in sooner. Taking so long to tackle and get tough with web spam essentially allowed it to breed. It’s like getting lazy with hygiene. Sure, a couple of days won’t kill you but after a few days you’ll only be popular around the water cooler when you’re not there. That’s because body odour is much more obvious than spam. Firstly, people don’t seem to have much of an idea about what spam is. Secondly, the limits to which one was allowed to cross from White Hat safety to the dark side seemed to be more and more open to liberal personal interpretation.

I fought the law – the law won

Google Penguin Update

The simple thing is that Google have had a pretty no-nonsense guide to what is and isn’t spam, and as people started to read into that – they’ve suddenly taken a dim view of it. Not that there weren’t the warning signs – famously suspending sites like JC Penney and Forbes in 2011 and delisting up to 700k sites in the 1st quarter of 2012. Ironically, Forbes wrote about JC Penney’s suspension, who found guilty of buying links, whereas Forbes themselves were found guilty of selling them. Ironic as this Techcrunch post was made the day after Forbes’ one about JC Penney.

So who are these spammers?

Most spammers don’t know that they’re spammers – so this further puts the onus on the website owner to invest their time getting to know who is doing their SEO. Many of them are just sitting at their desk, spamming away without recognising that this is wrong. Because they’ve been told so. By someone who may or may not know themselves. Most spammer’s I’ve met don’t know – or didn’t agree – that what they do is spam. Put it this way: if your business, or a part of it, then that person is responsibly not just for maintaining it, but growing it. SEO covers more than just keywords – its about reputations, finding new markets, product development, dealing with communities, managing creative content, conversion tracking, funnel management. It’s both sales AND marketing. If you’re impressed with the sales guy – who are the other guys? What do they know? What DON’T they know? Its not worth the risk
The threat hung over people’s heads for too long to the point that it almost dissipated. People didn’t question their self certifying SEO companies and as long as everything was going well – what was the point. Companies from Asia started mass mailing and spamming people (including ourselves) – the irony of that is pretty impressive! The effects of blackhat are essentially web spam – that’s what Google call it – so whats the point of entrusting your business to someone who relies on spam themselves? Please don’t tell me its different or there’s a grey line here…

Who’s at fault?

Essentially the owner takes the bullet but that isn’t quite the stories. Many companies have already sued and put their spammy vendors out of business. Owners need to take a tougher line. Outsourcing to India for $100 a month (or paying an “Irish” or “UK” agency an extra €100 to subcontract to the same) seems a little cheap if you want to build a €50k a year sales stream (which isn’t a lot if you’re hoping to employ people on the back of it!). Free is gone. Hard work is here to stay. Just because someone says that’s the price, doesn’t mean it is. It just means that they’ve found a way to sell you something that you want to get but probably aren’t. Because it isn’t obvious.

So where to now?

Well, I’ve always said that search spam (and white-hat) is a lot about common sense. I’ve always thought that most article marketing was essentially spam. Buying links definitely is. Mechanical linking and content production most certainly is. Spinning is a combination of all of these. Basic things like keyword stuffing, hidden content, “white text” – these are so old that I shudder when people ask if “they’re ok to do.”

If you’ve been hit, read our “Guide to bad SEO” (or watch the bad SEO video). Better yet – read about building a proper digital strategy.

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