Forbes Caught Selling Links & Google’s ManBearPig of 2011

Now it seems that Google’s scare tactics have targeted paid link publishers. These are the people who are selling the paid links that companies like JCPenney were buying. Today, there’s a great post about Google punishing Forbes for selling links. Yeah, *that* Forbes! You know Forbes.com, right? They are a fairly popular website. Their Alexa rank is 502. Even though it’s Alexa, 502 is not too shabby. So hopefully you’ve heard of them. But why are they important in the JCPenney link saga? I’m glad I asked.

"Paid links are the ManBearPig of 2011." - Al Gore
"Paid links are the ManBearPig of 2011." - Al Gore

First, rewind to this past Saturday when that New York Times article came out. The NYTimes ratted out JCPenney to Google for buying links. Yep. It was a massive news story involving black hattery and Google. It went viral in the digital marketing world. Everyone has read it or at least heard about it by now. And it really made JCPenney look like the bad guy. And their SEO agency, Searchdex, got as much negative PR as I’ve ever seen an SEO agency get. They were fired immediately by JCP. Sucks for them. While JCPenney will bounce back after the Google penalty is lifted, I’m thinking SearchDex might be better off if they changed their name and rebranded completely.

Basically, with that NYTimes article, Google equated paid links to ManBearPig and scared the hell out of a lot of paid link buyers and would-be paid link buyers. I’m sure that most companies called their search agencies to ask about the article, and I’m sure that most search agencies were not looking forward to those calls. That article made us all look like we are evil blackhats, especially if we buy paid links. Regardless, I’m certain that a lot of link campaigns were ended this week. It’s just a theory. I don’t actually know. But I’ve heard of the bell curve. And I know that most people tend to have a kneejerk reaction about pretty much anything that scares them. To that end, Google scared a lot of people into discontinuing their link campaigns and/or not starting new ones. Again, I can’t prove that. But whatever. It makes sense to me.

Google really needs to affect both sides of the link-buying equation. Now that the people buying the links are scared, the next step is to go after the websites that are selling the links. But what does Google do if a site is selling links? In the past, we would notice the PageRank of the publisher site drop from a PR5 to a PR4 or something like that. In some cases, I saw PR4 sites drop down to PR1. That was pretty harsh. But a lot of websites that were selling links didn’t have the first clue about PageRank. They were just mommy blogs, news sites and magazine-style blogs. But that was like 3 years ago. Today, it’s different ballgame.

Nowadays – well, really in the past few months – I have caught a couple of news stories about Google contacting websites suspected of selling links. In one case, the site owner flat out denied ever selling links. I’m not sure what ever happened with that one. But in today’s Forbes case, the site owner was none other than Denis Pinsky, the Digital Marketing Manager at Forbes.com. He was asking about which links were paid, as if he couldn’t find them. Maybe this guy really didn’t know. He seemed concerned enough to post about it in a public setting. What kind of SEO would do that?! Maybe that’s his alibi! Sheesh. I just wish someone would admit it already. As Barry Schwartz pointed out in his post on serountable.com (with pictures to prove it), it’s easy to see where Forbes wis selling paid links.

In both cases I linked to, the site owners received this message in the Google Webmaster Central Account:

Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.forbes.com/,

We’ve detected that some or all of your pages are using techniques that are outside our quality guidelines, which are available here: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769&hl=en.

Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links on your site pointing to other sites that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. For more information about our linking guidelines, visit

http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66356&hl=en.

We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/reconsideration?hl=en to submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Webmasters?hl=en.

Sincerely,
Google Search Quality Team
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

The lesson here: you should be checking your Webmaster Central accounts every day. If you see that message, you probably need to take down the links you are selling. Well, I can’t say that. What if you are selling links to…oh I dunno, a top insurance agency, a massive computer manufacturer, and a major fashion brand for thousands of dollars per month? Would it be worth it to have your PageRank dropped and/or lose some of your rankings if you kept the link and made thousands of dollars per month? That’s your call. Do the math. Ask an economist. I think it’s something like “the marginal benefit must outweigh the marginal cost.” I was never good with graphs about guns and butter. But for most cases, if you get that message from Google, you should probably remove the paid links from your website and submit a reinclusion request.

Lastly, I want you to know how I really feel about Google and paid links:

  1. Don’t be afraid of buying links. Be cautious. Just make sure you’re not dumb about it. For more information on dumb link campaigns, read that NYTimes article again. SearchDex pretty much lays out a path to dumb that anyone can follow.
  2. In general, it’s okay to sell links on your personal site(s) because, hey, your site isn’t home to a major brand. Plus, your personal site is probably just some side income anyways, right? However, for your clients’ sites: NEVER sell links on your clients sites. No no no no never ever ever! If they are looking for additional revenue, take the selling links option off the table before the discussion ever starts. The last thing you need is to be doing a great job at SEO and then your client’s site gets hit with a penalty for selling links. If that happens, you are just spinning your wheels with any SEO you do for them.

Well, how much longer will the paid links saga drag on this week? I don’t know. But if something else happens, maybe I’ll write about it!

Happy selling….err, I mean buying! Or do I?!?! Mwuaaahahahaha!

3 thoughts on “Forbes Caught Selling Links & Google’s ManBearPig of 2011”

  1. “In general, it’s okay to sell links on your personal site(s) because, hey, your site isn’t home to a major brand. Plus, your personal site is probably just some side income anyways, right? However, for your clients’ sites: NEVER sell links on your clients sites. No no no no never ever ever! If they are looking for additional revenue, take the selling links option off the table before the discussion ever starts. ”

    I agree with you, but not totally! Dumb Google shouldn’t say anything about selling links. It seems to me they just want advertisers to save more cash for Adwords than something else.

    “Hey why would you spend $500 in backlinks on other sites? Come one, spend them on Adwords! Faster Results, Faster Traffic, no penalities, And Continuous payments to big G! We will all be happy”

    Google is getting to a stage where they want to control everything… even Cooking recipes market.. So now what? Should I buy links for my competition and make spam/linkBuy complaints to google? Hahaha Google won’t get away of this one. I’ve read tons of places that instead of BlackHatting their SEO, they are starting to Darken competitions optimization. Wonder if google will start a big internet marketing war, just because they don’t want people to spend cash in otherplaces besides Google itself.

    To me its some perfectly clear SEO Steps:
    1) Google can’t sell linkbuilding services – It would be unethical;
    2) If google can’t, google will do everything at his power to scare everyone from doing it and opening new business;
    3) Google gives penalities to Link Buyers
    4) It didn’t stop, google will start issuing penalities to Link Sellers.
    5) People can’t buy links, so spend money in some way to get top positions
    6) Wait… who is #1 at sponsored results again? oh.. adwords.

    Google hypocrysis.

    Thank you for this blog, i’ll surely bookmark it!

  2. @SEObb I agree with you 100% about your statement on doing black hat SEO/ buying links to your competitors and then reporting them. Now all you have to do is just take aim at your competition and get them knocked off the search results. This is going to happen. I recall Google’s guide lines stating something about off site links to your site and that they are out of your control and they won’t penalize you for that just devalue the links? is that right? How can you control what if some bad website links to yours? you can’t. Google needs to just find sites that sell links and devalue those links. Although I don’t know how they would do that? There are thousands of new bloggers selling links everyday. They may just have to get rid of the pagerank part of the algorithm altogether and rely on something else, say facebook likes from personal facebook accounts. Wait, if that happens I would gladly get paid to post someone’s site on my facebook account. Google should just accept the fact that a company buying links is usually a good company with a good product. How else could they afford to buy links if they where not making a profit?

  3. Not sure I quite get the reference to the ManBearPig but anyway! I think Google is trying to ensure that people don’t game their system for providing search results. If you’re legitimately advertising your site I really don’t see why that should be an issue when buying links. I imagine the guys that are spending thousands simply to improve their ranking is what Google is gunning down.

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