Link Removal is Serious Business!

Well, it’s official – the Google Penguin updates are costing me money. Thanks a lot, Matt Cutts! Just kidding. It’s actually kinda funny.

Zoidberg gets angry when you don't remove your links to his site.
Zoidberg gets angry when you don't remove your links to his site.

Well, it’s official – the Google Penguin updates are costing me money. Thanks a lot, Matt Cutts! Just kidding. It’s actually kinda funny.

The Backstory: I have a few Web 2.0 properties that I don’t really care about. I never post new content on them, and I never update them. Ever. Really. I never ever even look at them. But a long time ago in a land far, far away (circa 2005), I signed up for Text-Link-Ads because I thought maybe I could make some extra money by selling links on these properties that I don’t really do much with. And wouldn’t you know – I’ve been making about $25-$50 a month for the past several years from those sites. It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, it’s nothing to brag about, but it is some extra money. I’ll take it! [BTW just to be clear, I would never ever sell links on yourseosucks.com because I actually like this site and I don’t want any ads/paidlinks on it simply because I don’t want anything screwing up this really crappy design I’ve got going here.]

Every few months, I’ll get a ‘link requested’ or ‘link cancelled’ email from TLA, and I LOL because it’s still funny to me that anyone would want to buy a link on any of my crappy sites that altogether get maybe 20 visitors each month. I shouldn’t laugh when they cancel their links, but I do because it’s funny to me that they bought them in the first place.

Most of the time when a link is cancelled, I leave it live on the site. I rarely take links down. I simply don’t care enough to actually go update those sites. So whoever bought links from me and then cancelled – you are probably still getting links on my sites for free. Not a bad deal, right? Wrong! It is a bad deal. Because now we live in the age of Penguin, and Penguin is rabid for bad links.

For the past 15 years, the SEO world has profited on the fact that Google likes links. Now it’s time to profit on the fact that Google Penguin hates bad links. It’s like everything has been reversed, or maybe it’s like everything has come full circle. I don’t know. I’m not good with analogies and metaphors. But I do know this: smart, opportunistic SEOs will use Google’s hatred of bad links to make even more money.

That’s right, folks: LINK REMOVAL IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. I predict that the next few years will be marked by a massive rise in the number of link removal services offered by independent SEMs, SEOs, and agencies alike. I don’t typically make predictions, so I’m kinda nervous about that one. But seriously, take a look at this email I got from TLA:

Link Removal Request Email from Text-Link-Ads.com
Link Removal Request Email from Text-Link-Ads.com

After the 5th day and 3rd notification we will remove your site from the marketplace!

Wow. That is serious! I’ve never received an email like that from TLA. Like I mentioned earlier, I always leave the links up – even after the person stopped paying for them. Maybe I’ve missed these email before, but I’ve don’t ever remember seeing an email from them with an ultimatum like “Take them down or else!” I feel like they are bullying me. Yeah. This is link removal bullying. Well, not really. But they’ve definitely taken a new approach to link removal requests. On the bright side, the email included a complete list of all the links I’ve never taken down. So I guess I’ll set aside some time to remove all of them. And there goes my $25-$50 per month that I was making. Thanks again, Google Penguin. Now how am I supposed to buy all those +1’s each month?!?

Now let’s get back to link removal and link removal services.

My theory: Text-Link-Ads.com didn’t change their link removal policy just because they had nothing better to do. Well, maybe this has been their policy all along, and I’ve never really noticed. Or maybe this is just the first time they’ve ever decided to enforce it. It doesn’t really matter. Regardless of the cause, this is the first time I have ever received an email about it. And this email was obviously catalyzed by the Google Penguin updates.

There are a ton of webmasters, link builders, and SEOs that are really scared of the Penguin. It is only logical that the same people who have been interested in building links are now interested in removing them. So, not only does a company like TLA have to provide  a high level of service and support in the acquisition of links – they also have to add a new level of service and support dedicated to the removal of links (when advertisers stop paying publishers for the links).

As noted earlier, when advertisers cancelled links on my sites, I just left the links up. I didn’t take them off my sites. Did that cost me money? Sure. Was I giving something away for free? Yeah. But I didn’t really care enough to spend time updating my sites every time a link was cancelled. It just wasn’t worth it to me. But now, with this new policy from TLA, I’ve got to remove links when they are cancelled…OR ELSE!

In the end, I think this is a good move on the part of Text-Link-Ads.com. Over the years, I have enjoyed using their services. Any time I’ve needed additional support, their customer support team has been very quick to respond and very helpful. So this new addition to their service makes me happy as a publisher. Ultimately, if you’re buying links from anyone, you should be able to have the links removed whenever you want.

I have worked with enough link publishers to know that they don’t really specialize in link removal. In fact, in my experience, the removal of links is the one thing that most link publishers could care less about, especially the link publishers who specialize in building private network links in bulk. I mean, seriously: how do you expect someone to remove 100,000 links? Even if they are on private networks, it’s pretty much impossible. It’s even more impossible when the links were built in comment threads, profile pages, and articles that were built on sites not owned by the link publisher. So really, good luck with all of that. But that is exactly why I think it is a good thing that link publishers are taking the time to create processes that make link removal an easier thing to manage.

Site owners who were negatively affected by Google Penguin must come clean. Google Penguin will continue to have updates, and at some point, ALL site owners will have to come clean about their links and linkbuilding history. How many of the bad links do you need to remove? Well, according to this post and this thread, the answer is 85% of the inorganic links need to be removed before you submit a reinclusion request. I’m not sure if that’s a solid number or if it will work for any situation. At any rate, Google wants to see you at least trying. In fact, at SMX Seattle last week, Matt Cutts said that he’s actually had webmasters sending in screenshots of their please-take-down-my-links emails to link publishers. Matt’s point: he wants to see some effort.

So good luck and Godspeed with your link building…err…removing!

 

Matt Cutts: Google Using DMOZ Info to Create ‘Better’ Title Tags in SERPs

Wow. Around 2:14 of this video, Matt Cutts says Google “can sometimes use the Open Directory Project snippets” when populating snippets for URLs displayed in the SERPs. He then goes on to talk about how Google can also use that information to create a “better” title for URLs in the SERPs:

…Webmasters are probably not as used to the idea that we’re willing to find a better title as well. So if you have a bad title or a title that we don’t think helps users as much, we can try to find a better title – and one that we think will be an informative result, so that users will know whether that’s a good result for them to click on.

So I just wanted to give people a heads-up about that because they’re used to the things below the title changing, but they’re maybe not as used to the idea that the title itself can change in our search results as well.

Thanks for this video, Matt. The last part is fascinating. We saw that Bing was doing something like this back in early June.

One question: Is Google going to do my title tag SEO for me now? That would sure save me some time. 😉 I’m sure if I was Boser or Graywolf, I would have a big problem with this. I kinda do, but I’m too busy to write much more. I guess I’d really care if a page with no title tag could outrank my page after Google created a “better” title tag for that page. That would be upsetting. But I am confident in my SEO abilities. Now where was I?

BTW, Yahoo is doing the same thing.

5 Common SEO Questions Answered by Google’s Matt Cutts

In my experience as an SEO, there are several questions that pop up quite often. Matt Cutts has answered these questions, so I thought I would post his answers on this awesome SEO blog of mine.

  1. Should I use pipes or dashes in my title tags?
    “I think they’re both viewed as separators, so I think either one should be fine. Dashes are a lot more common…We definitely handle dashes well. I would expect that we handle pipes well as well.” – Matt Cutts
  2. Should I use underscores or hyphens in URLs?
    “It does make a difference. I would go with dashes or hyphens if you can. If you have underscores and things are working fine for you, I wouldn’t worry about changing your architecture.” – Matt Cutts
  3. Can the geographic location of a web server affect SEO?
    “Yes it does because we look at the IP address of your web server. So if your web server is based in Germany, we’re more likely to think that it’s useful for German users…We also look at TLD…If you want to experiment, you can certainly try switching the geographic location of your web server [in Google Webmaster Central], which is essentially changing your IP address…” – Matt Cutts
  4. Is excessive whitespace in the HTML source bad?
    “Um. We really don’t care that much…Any time we see white space, we’ll separate stuff. And we can ignore white space, so it doesn’t really cause us a lot of harm either way…As long as you’re doing normal, reasonable stuff, I wouldn’t worry about it that much.” – Matt Cutts
  5. Does the position of keywords in the URL affect ranking?
    “It does help a little bit to have keywords in the URL. It doesn’t help so much that you should go stuffing a ton of keywords into your URL.” – Matt Cutts

There. I hope you enjoyed that. Thanks to Matt Cutts for answering these questions for us all. I’m just going to send any and all clients to this blog post from now on.

Matt Cutts Debuts Shaved Head at SES San Jose 2009

Shaved Head Duo: Greg Boser & Matt Cutts look tough for the Live Site Clinic session at SES San Jose 2009
Shaved Head Duo: Greg Boser & Matt Cutts look tough for the Live Site Clinic session at SES San Jose 2009

Well, here we are. It’s Thursday, August 13, 2009. SES San Jose 2009 is coming to an end. What did I think of the conference? Actually, it was fairly quiet. I wasn’t able to catch many sessions, but the sessions I was able to attend were relatively mild. It was kinda quiet, and the Expo Hall was not very crowded. In year’s past, SES San Jose has been a place where breaking news from search engines creates a buzz or some other stuff has got the SEM world in a tizzy. Sure, Google Webmaster Blog announced the Caffeine update on Monday, but that did not seem to really have an impact on the SES crowd. I surfed around sandbox for a while, noticing some changes in the top results. However, it was kind of boring after a while. I even found this cool tool that allows you to see side-by-side results from the sandbox and the current Google. But it, too, was nothing to write home about.

Furthermore, I did not hear anyone talking about the recent Bing/Yahoo merger deal and how it might affect SEO. I heard nothing about the recent Facebook acquisition of FriendFeed. The site clinic with Matt Cutts was very funny, and I’m not used to that. I mean, Matt’s a great guy and his banter with seasoned SEO’s is always hilarious. But in the end, those sessions with Matt Cutts typically devolve into in-your-face questions about nofollow tags and disclosing links (thanks to Michael Gray, who is also awesome btw).

Danny Sullivan wasn’t there, and I didn’t see Rand Fishkin or Dave Naylor there. Could it be that allegiances have been sworn and sides have been picked? (Stay tuned for UFC 103: SES vs. SMX! ) I had a few drinks with Greg Boser and Todd Friesen, and Todd Malicoat’s charity party was awesome. But overall, the conference was nothing to write home about. For me, it was really a great chance to enjoy the weather in California. My love affair with this State continues…

Anyways, there were still a few highlights.

  • Social is killing SEO
    This is such bullshit. Stupid claims and rumors driven to gain readers or followers – that’s all this really is. If you consider that SEO is an entire industry based on driving free traffic to a website, then there is nothing to fear from social media and social search. It is not replacement for SEO. It’s a supplement and a complement to SEO. In fact, whenever ‘social’ comes up in sessions, it is usually followed by a conversation of how to optimize it (ie. SEO). Social and SEO are all part of the same game. Can’t we all just get along? [Note: Personally, I believe claims like this are happening because people are bored. We’re in the middle of an industry news lull. I think big things are on the horizon, but I’m sick of hearing about social media.
  • Matt Cutts shaved his head
    From Blogoscoped.com: Matt says “I bet my team that they couldn’t meet a certain turnaround speed for an entire quarter. They were able to maintain that turnaround time for the whole quarter, so they got to do whatever they wanted to my hair. :)” I asked Matt about his hair before the live site clinic session, and he was all smiles about it. Matt’s a good sport. During the session, he talked addressed a sex toys website. His back-and-forth with Greg Boser was great for the rest of the session. I’m glad that guy from MyPleasure was there. It made the session hilarious.
  • Matt Cutts says not to use nofollow attributes on internal links
    Matt said this during the live site clinic session. Okay. Uh…should we follow this advice (no pun intended)? This news was big at SMX Seattle back in June. I feel like the dust is still clearing. I might wait a little bit longer before I follow Matt on this one.
  • Tim Ash handed out cash in his session on landing page optimization
    Tim Ash wrote the book on Landing Page Optimization. Literally. He has a book called Landing Page Optimization. I had a chance to meet him. Super nice guy. During his session, he asked questions, and he was handing out $10 and $20 bills to people just for attempting to answer the questions. I have never seen anything like that before. But his session was awesome. It’s really the next big frontier for SEM. From my experience, conversion optimization and landing page optimization is falling under the SEO umbrella, but it really deserves its own category. He said for every $80 spent on driving visits to websites via PPC, only $1 was being spent on landing page optimization. This is tragic. After spending years optimizing our PPC and SEO campaigns, it’s definitely time to focus on what our visitors see when they get to our site. It’s the natural, organic next step (no pun intended).
  • Clay Shirky’s Keynote: Here Comes Everybody
    Clay Shirky is a great speaker. If you’re even remotely interested in human behavior and interaction with technology, I definitely recommend checking out his book (Here Comes Everybody), and I certainly recommend catching one of his sessions.

That’s it for now. Sorry it’s kind of a half-assed post today. I only had 30 minutes before I have to get on a plane. Cheers!

Matt Cutts Redirects His Blog With 302 Redirect

Whoa. I’m late to the game on this one. I just surfed over to the Matt Cutts blog. Low and behold, there is a 302 redirect from mattcutts.com to www.dullest.com. Matt posted about this change here, and it looks like he made this change on April 26. Apparently, he is changing things one at a time, so he can avoid any major catastrophes. Matt says it will be interesting to see how search engines react to this change. I’d say! His new domain has a PR NA and an Alexa rank in the 16 millions. I, too, think it will be a great experiment to see how the search engines react.

For one day, we can all pretty much gloat about our blogs having a higher Alexa Rank and PageRank than the Matt Cutts blog. 🙂 Even if it’s only for one day…

Digg Sells Text Links, Adds NoFollow

Muy interesante! As it turns out, Digg has started selling sponsored text links on its homepage. And they are not trying to hide it or anything. There’s practically a giant flashing neon sign pointing out the paid text link. Here is the current one that is live right now. It’s a link to a credit report site, and it’s highlighted in red:

Digg Sells Text Links then NoFollows them
Digg Sells Text Links then NoFollows them

The sequence of events is interesting, too, because at first the link was dofollow. Then today the link was nofollowed. How exciting. I wonder what Matt Cutts is thinking about Digg selling links. Anyways, I’m sure we’ll be hearing about this for the next few weeks. Be on the lookout for the paid link fallout. Or not. For more on Digg selling links and how it might impact the SEO world, go here and here. But also, here’s some free advice from Greg Boser‘s twitter page:

I’m curious who the genius is that told Experian buying a straight link on Digg was a good idea. Pretty f’n clueless. Just an FYI for all the new kids: If you have a national brand that ranks #2, you don’t buy links on high profile sites. Especially on high profile sites that a lot of people hate.

Nerding Out on Expired Domains, Link Equity and SEO

On Monday, Danny Sullivan published a great post on expired domains (link). More specifically, his post discusses the link equity benefits from acquiring expired domains. For example, I have a website about topic X. I noticed that another website about topic X recently went offline. It’s down. It won’t load. Oh look, the domain is available for purchase. Wow! Really? That domain has 12,000+ inbound links, and it’s a PR4. Could I purchase that domain and redirect all of its URLs to my site? Would that help boost my PR and my rankings? Or would it set off an alarm at Google? I mean, all of the sudden a domain expires, is subsequently purchased and then redirected to another domain – that’s gotta trip some sort of wire in Google’s algorithm, right?

Danny goes through several scenarios, and he even quotes Matt Cutts a few times. The article is very informative, and I’m glad he wrote it. No one has posted about this practice for a long time, so it was great to see something on the topics of expired domain acquisition and link equity. You should read the post, but the quick summary is that there are certain instances where the link credit would remain or pass to new domains. But for the most part, if you are buying expired domains and then 301 redirecting them, don’t expect any significant boost in link credit.

As I was reading this article, I could not help but remember my recent experiences and how they do not really align with some of the points in this article. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disagreeing with Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan. They are like the Moses and King David of SEO (I mean, they were there in the beginning, and they are probably the two most trusted sources in the SEO industry). I’m only saying that my observations don’t exactly line up with what they said in the post. I believe there are times when purchasing expired domains can be extremely useful, and there are times when I have noticed that link credit does pass from an expired domain. Here’s some of the strategies I have used in the (recent) past with good results:

  • Launching a new website? Wanna get indexed quickly? I wanted to get one of my websites indexed quickly. I found one expired domain with a DMOZ entry, and I found another expired domain with a Yahoo Directory entry. These domains were related to the topic of my new domain. I redirected them at the same time. Whether or not DMOZ or the Yahoo Directory are important or relevant any longer, my new site was indexed within a few days.  Simple and sweet. I can’t argue with science.
  • Building PR and Link Equity for New/Existing Sites. There I was. I had that site for a while, and I wasn’t really paying attention to it. I decided to see if I could increase its traffic and PR from redirecting a few more expired domains. I found a page on the web that had a list of links to sites that were relevant to my site. Wouldn’t you know it? Some of those links were to domains that had expired. After a little bit of research into those dead links and some speedy domain purchases, I had 15 domains at my disposal. I redirected them over time, not all at once. After a couple of PR updates in 2008, I noticed that my site had increased its PR. And believe me, it wasn’t because a ton of other people had linked to my site. The only thing that changed was the fact that I had redirected 15 domains. I saw an increase in traffic from referring domains because the domains that I purchased had links all over the place. And I noticed an upswing in search engine rankings, which lead to increased traffic from organic search.
  • Driving More Traffic from other Google TLDs. Guess what? I bought an expired .es domain and redirected it to a .com site hosted in the USA. I really just wanted the link juice, but I got something more than that: top rankings on Google.es for some important keywords. I guess it makes sense. Have you ever noticed that some of Google’s European properties give you more search options? For example, on google.es you will definitely notice that under the search bar there are options to search the web, search only pages in spanish, or search only pages in Spain. Crazy, huh? I have worked on a few European-based sites, so I have seen these before. I just never thought about them in the context of redirecting expired domains. I guess we learn something every day.
  • Driving More Traffic from Local Search. One of the domains I redirected was the expired domain of a company based in a certain city in America (yeah, I have to be ambiguous about that one 🙂 ). A couple weeks after I redirected the domain, I noticed that I was ranking for long-tail search terms that contained the city where that company was located. It turns out that the company had several listings in local search databases, online phonebooks and directories, etc… If you want exposure in new cities or if you just want more exposure in the city that you’re in, check into an expired domain for a local company that no longer exists. The economy sucks right now. Lots of people are going out of business. Contact some companies and see if you can buy their domain. Don’t be stupid about it. Don’t redirect a bunch of domains all at once. Just try one and see what happens. Maybe it will work for you like it did for me. Then again, maybe it won’t.
  • Don’t Alter the Whois Data! Domain Privacy? Shah, right. Google is a domain registrar and an accreditted member of ICANN (proof). You think your domains are private because you paid some extra money for domain privacy. Well guess what. Google knows it’s you! Don’t pretend that you are getting away with anything here. If at all possible, purchase domains through Escrow and leave the Whois data unaltered. Updating the Whois data is a dead give-away that the domain changed hands. When domains change hands, you can count on the existing link juice to be crushed. Mostly. As Danny points out, Google admits to having systems that do stuff. I assume these systems must do stuff like keep track of businesses acquiring other businesses, businesses merging, and any other instance where a domain might change hands. Hell, Google probably has systems monitoring other Google systems. They’ve thought of everything, haven’t they? If not, people like Dave Naylor, Jeremy Shoemaker and Greg Boser are forcing them to.
  • Servers, DNS, IPs, Oh My. You know how you just bought 50 domains because of this post? Well, before you point them all to the same server, using the same DNS numbers, you need to think about something else: how odd will it look to Google if you buy 50 domains and then point them all to the same server and then have them all redirect to the same site? It’s a dead giveaway. Some registrars are offering a 301 redirect from the registrar, so it’s not as easy to catch the fact that one person just bought and redirected 50 domains to their own site. Or you may look into virtual IPs, so that not all of your domains are sitting on the same IP address. Or you may try to grab a few hosting accounts from various hosts and split up your domains. This makes it seem like there is a true game of cat-and-mouse going on, but there really isn’t. No matter what, Google will catch you. It’s only a matter of time. Just be smart about it. Or at least as smart as possible.
  • Just Buy an Existing Website. Is there a website for sale in your vertical? Why not just buy it and add links to the site (where appropriate)? I mean, buying domains and purchasing links will cost as much money in the long run. Why not buy a website that is already trusted by the search engines and actually getting traffic from organic search? Maybe you could optimize it and add some links. Maybe both of your sites will rank high. And then you’ll have 2 sites in the SERPs. It’s not a bad approach to take, and it’s certainly more white hat than redirecting expired domains.
  • You must remember: The key is to do your research on old domains. Make sure they weren’t up to no good. Make sure they were not blacklisted. Make sure they’ve got a healthy number of inbound links. Only redirect domains that previously contained content related to your site. Also, even though everyone says that toolbar PR is outdated and not important, look for domains that have a PR of 1 or higher. It can’t hurt to have a PR (no matter how worthless/overrated/outdated many SEOs will tell you PR is these days).

There. I hope that helps you in your gray hat endeavours. Now, go forth and prosper. I mean, uh, go forth and find expired domains and then redirect them. Jeez. SEOs are nerdy.