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Recently over in the Warrior Forum there was a thread started that questioned if guest posting could cause Google to penalize a site and trigger the oh-so-popular-now “we found unnatural links” message from Google. The thread caught my attention because I was very curious as to how legitimate guest posting could cause an unnatural back links warning.
I mean, c’mon – We can’t do real, legitimate, editorial-based guest posts anymore….WTH? Seems all that’s left is hoping against hope that folks Google +1 you to death, right?
Anyway – here’s the story –
Many times with these types of forum threads, the original poster claims they did nothing wrong – then, a few minutes of digging in and one can see a very different story. Now, this doesn’t ALWAYS happen, but it’s really, really common.
In complete honesty, I expected the forum thread I am referring to in this post to turn out that way. Someone would complain that Google beat them up and all they were doing was genuine guest posts, I’d dig in, see a whole different story…and I’d go on my merry way without saying a word.
What I actually found out though, is something that really surprised me – and yes, it annoyed me too.
This is a bit of a long story – my apologies. However, I happen to think it’s all very interesting.
Here is a screen shot of the original post that started this thread in Warrior Forum:
In short – His site went from 1k visitors a day down to 200. Site owner thought there was an issue so sent in a reconsideration request to Google.
Google responded by saying: “We’ve reviewed your site and we still see links to your site that violate our quality guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site…”
The site owner claimed he never paid for a single back link and only did guest posts on high-quality blogs in his market (somewhere around 50 of these guest posts or so).
I thought this was all pretty strange, and, like I mentioned earlier, I thought I was going to uncover a different story that what the original poster stated.
Turns out he was telling the truth.
What I Found
While the original poster didn’t name or link to his site that was having issues at first, it didn’t take me long use my detective skills and figure out which site he was talking about.
What I found kinda freaked me out.
I found the various guest blog posts he had done over the years (the site with issues is a couple years old). Not tons of them… about 50 or so like he said.
I also found that he had some 2.0 sites linking to him (they were all fine) and some Ezine Articles (good articles).
All normal stuff you do when you’re trying to play by the rules and get yourself found online, right?
I got to poking around some more and found his articles from one time-period all had the EXACT same bio box and the EXACT same anchor text.
That made me say, “Hmmmm”
So, I popped a long string of text (including the anchor text phrase) into Google with quotes around it and wow at what I found:
Those are all web pages that are IN Google’s index that have an exact copy of his Ezine Articles on them. Each copy on the other sites all have the exact same bio box and the exact same anchor text. There were many more than this when I first checked (at least some of them are naturally falling out of Google).
For a site that has a very weak back link profile, it appears as if this was a big problem – and something that can be done TO a web site.
This did not make me happy.
We’re told to put articles on sites like Ezine Articles in HOPE that other site owners pick them up and put them on THEIR site. Hey, even if the scraper sites put it on their site with our links included, that shouldn’t be a bad thing, right? If anything, the low-quality sites won’t hurt our rankings… or will they?
So, say that this site owner has a weak back link profile…. some guest posts, a couple Ezine Articles, a few web 2.0 pages, and a few social signals. Then, over time, his Ezine Articles with the exact same bio box/anchor text are blasted all over the web – think that could hurt a site? Think that could trigger the ‘love note’ about his unnatural links from Google?
I do. And the more I looked through his stuff, the more annoyed I became.
I replied in the Warrior thread and then off I went to Twitter:
Yep, perhaps that was a little impulsive of me…and yep, probably coulda been a bit nicer about it….but – that’s how it came out.
Things like that upset me mainly because I *know* how hard it is to get all this going. I *know* how hard it is get found online to even begin to have a chance to start the whole “just write compelling stuff and the links fly in” process.
I will never forget what it’s like to be new or what it’s like to learn by screwing up. I am the Poster Child for turning failures into lessons learned the hard way, an expert at breaking things in hope of figuring them out, the Queen of Perpetual Dumb Stuff ,and Princess of Pathetic Attempts.
So there I am, looking at this situation and see a kid (not a KID, but younger than me) that is trying to do things the right way, not trying to take short-cuts, and writing what he feels offers value to his readers.
So yes, when it comes to speaking out for the ‘under-dog’, I jumped impulsively.
Also, I have to mention, I really, really hate getting involved in public threads like these. It annoys me when I feel someone is genuinely reaching out for help and others just pop in, leave some “you should know better” comments and cast judgement (or give insight) without even LOOKING, or heck, without even reading the opening post and things revealed as the thread moves along.
But that’s a rant for another day 🙂
So, I Tweeted that to Matt Cutts…I didn’t get a response for some time (it was a weekend), but the response I got surprised me a little.
No, it surprised me a LOT.
It was 4 tweets to me in a row:
(note: you’ll need to read the bottom to top to get the actual sequence they were sent to me)
Hmmm…. so the topics of ALL his sites are the issue?
What do any of his other sites have to do with his back link profile issues on ONE site due to heavy syndication of Ezine Articles?
However, the way I approached Matt Cutts with this situation might have warranted the way he responded to me. So I decided to try again (this time in a nicer way).
I asked (again, read it bottom to top):
But, I didn’t get a response.
Fair enough….he doesn’t owe me a response. It is what it is.
But then the NEXT day, I see that the site owner (James) has told Matt Cutts which site of his was being referred to…..and Matt sent this Tweet to James:
Granted, I didn’t get my question answered so all I can do is speculate and make educated guesses about the Ezine Articles and ‘love note’ from Google issue….
The question *I* had was ignored…..but James is told that “Panda is going to be the bigger issue to tackle“?
So Panda is the bigger issue? Or is it the diversion from the real issue?
Something to ponder, but regardless, I decided to look at things from the Panda perspective.
What Would Panda Do?
So off I go and try really hard to look at James’ site as if I am Panda.
That’s not easy, by the way. We think there are obvious things, but then when we check the SERPs we see competing pages that ARE ranking well and they seem to have to SAME qualities.
In other words, it’s easy to judge one web page, but when you compare one “penalized” url to those that ARE still ranking well in that query space, well it gets a little hairy to really see what the issue is – it’s not consistent.
As I’m looking I see things that might be an algorithm signal for Panda. Things like more ad spaces that text type ratio, or the amount of content vs other stuff above the fold. I see that the site does have social accounts, but yep, the buttons are really big and “distracting”. The AdSense box in each post is awfully big in relation to the site layout. The content seems good (not a topic I’m all that interested in), but I really like the pictures he adds to his posts.
But nothing SCREAMS Panda to me. I’ve seen worse…and plenty of “worse” is still ranking really well.
Then, as I’m sitting there staring at the pages on his site, something hit me.
What Would *I* Do?
Such a simple question to ask myself, but it shed a lot of light on the situation.
Would I Tweet a page from this site?
Would I send a Tweet from MY Twitter account and send my followers to a page on that site?
My answer was quick and simple – No, I would not.
There are two reasons why I wouldn’t tweet a page from that site.
1. It is SO off-topic for my Twitter stream that it makes no sense for me to Tweet it (unless I am totally interested in that topic and can’t help but share).
Twitter, to me, is business social – not personal social. No one that follows me cares what I had for lunch (a ham sandwich, btw) or about the the off-topic pages I read.
However, they just might want to know what I am reading,watching, and/or posting about my online business stuff.
2. If I was active in that market and my Twitter followers were following me for info around that topic – I still don’t think I would tweet it.
This reason is hard to explain, but I’ll give it a whirl. Please keep in mind this is my opinion and the site’s topic is not something that I am “in to”.
Also, if any of this sounds harsh, I apologize.
I am just thinking out loud in hopes of a) sharing my own thoughts, and b) getting thoughts from those reading.
It’s not the AdSense ads… it’s not the opt-in box in the side bar for the free report either. It’s just something about the feel of it all.
I absolutely have Tweeted web pages that have ads and opt-ins all over them, but something about the content itself made the ads “disappear” to me.
On those pages I don’t care so much about the ads on the page, or the pop up that annoys me each time I visit a page on that site – or any of that stuff – I simply really liked the content and I was willing to put my reputation on the line to share it with my followers.
The pages on James’ site don’t make the ‘other stuff’ go away for me.
Now, I would pin his pictures on Pinterest because there are some cool pictures that, to me, are eye-catching. But would I send others there for the content? No, I’m afraid I would not.
There’s too much other stuff going on that makes me feel that those that follow me would not feel good to be there.
The value of the content does not out-weigh the ‘self-serving’ stuff, perhaps?
The images that you first see when an internal page on that site loads are nice, but the social share buttons are big and it your face…the social account buttons are big and in your face, the opt in box is big and in your face…and the AdSense block is big and in your face.
On the internal pages, the only thing NOT in your face when the page loads is the content itself.
The pages feel like more of an interruption than that of quality info.
Now, how one turns a feeling into an algorithm, I have no clue. That’s Google’s job – I just fuss about it 😉
But we DO know that feeling we get when we see it, don’t we?
So, What To DO About It?
If James’ site was MY site, I think this is the route I would take.
1. Own It
I see a Google plus account, but I do not see the Google plus account profile picture coming up in the SERPs – ie, the rel=author/rel=”me” thingy like I have set for this site. Looks like this in the SERPs:
Hey, if you really believe in your content – OWN it. Put your face on it. Stand by your results in Google, right?
I would totally do that.
2. A make-over
Anything that is not totally for the USER would be either removed, or pushed way down so it is not the first thing seen when a page loads.
If you really want the social buttons ‘right there’ for readers to have access to at any time – use the little floating doo-dad like I have on this page (it’s the GetSocial plug in).
Make those other icons that lead to the various social accounts smaller. Yes, it’s great for your site readers to easily find you on various social platforms, but it doesn’t have to be in their face.
I’d also remove all AdSense at this point. As I said, the rankings are down, and so is traffic, so it can’t really hurt anything to remove those ads now. If traffic comes back, slowly add much less obtrusive ads and see how it goes.
3. Timely Content
Each day or so, check Google News for things that are going on in that market and blog about it. No need to be spammy or “keywordy”, just talk about it and link to the source. No need to sell anything either.
In just a matter of seconds I was able to find this that could very well be an interesting prospect for doing this:
That could work well for good info for the site and with a good picture of the young lady talked about, could make good “pin it” material too.
(note: I did not click thru and read that article – just providing it as an example)
When you’re truly invested in a specific market, you keep up with the current events and news IN that market – people will follow you and share your stuff when you put your own unique spin on it and add to the conversation about that news instead of just repeating the news. Make sense?
That’s the three things *I* would TO that site if I owned it.
As for the “unnatural links” and Ezine Articles thing – well, I guess no one will ever know for sure what’s going on there, but in time, many, many of those links will go away on their own as more and more sites like those are getting de-indexed.
I’m just really glad to see that true guest posting was not the apparent issue.
As for a future reconsideration request –
I wouldn’t do it NOW. There’s very little that can be done about all those links from the ‘syndicated’ articles. And, as I said, they are slowly falling out of Google’s index anyway. In time, that part of the problem should correct itself.
I would make those changes above to the site and try really hard to make all my future content reader-focused and timely.
I would do all that and wait a few weeks to see how things go on their own. If rankings and traffic come back, you’ll know you fixed what ailed you – if they don’t and a large majority of those article links have gone away or been diluted, then I’d think about filing a reconsideration request.
Again, all just *my* opinion. I’d love to hear other thoughts on this as well.
More Info On This Story
Here is the thread in Warrior Forum that started all this. There’s some good info shared in that thread. Also, Dan Thies answers if a Google “love note” always means a penalty to your site here in that thread.
Here is a good discussion about this site and the “bigger issue” of Panda in Google groups.
James DID give me permission to tell the name of his site, but I’m still not going to open him up like that. I will invite him to this post tho and if he’d like to link to his site here in the comments, he is most welcome to.
I also want to say this – James was NOT spamming his back links.
He was not using any of the blog networks that are getting de-indexed or anything of that nature.
That is the main reason this whole situation upset me – James WASN’T doing anything wrong.
All those back links from his articles all over the web do not appear to have been done maliciously with the purpose to harm James’ site – it just happened.
Kind of like a Perfect Storm of Non-Malicious Negative SEO. These other sites just scraped his articles for content and, oddly, the majority of them were “good” scrapers and left his bio box and links in tact (yeah, I know – SHOCKER!).
Ok, comments are open…. let’s hear what you have to say.