Google is playing games with you – AGAIN.

by rishil on February 22, 2013

UPDATE: The reason for the current UK notices and Interflora’s rankings have been discovered. More information Here:

I am somewhat a tin foil conspiracy theorist when it comes to google. And often my theories do prove to be right, and most times I am not far from the mark. This week, two seemingly unrelated events have triggered one of those theories.

By now, the UK SEO community would be aware that google has penalised a fairly large brand. I call this EVENT 1.

In addition, I have spoken to a fair number (10+) UK SEOs that have had this gem in their inbox:

Unnatural inbound links

We’ve detected that some of the links pointing to your site are using techniques outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

We don’t want to put any trust in links that are unnatural or artificial, and we recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links may be outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action to reduce trust in the unnatural links. If you are able to remove any of the links, you can submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took.

If you have any questions, please visit our Webmaster Help Forum.

Got feedback? Leave it here. Be sure to include this message ID: [WMT-92459]
Google Inc. 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View, CA 94043 | Unsubscribe.

This is Event 2.

Notice the wording (emphasis mine):

We don’t want to put any trust in links that are unnatural or artificial, and we recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links may be outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action to reduce trust in the unnatural links.

If you are able to remove any of the links, you can submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took.

So how are these two events tied together?

By now, if you work in SEO, you should be aware that google cannot catch all the spam that goes on, algorithmically anyway. They are getting better at it, as Panda and Penguin clearly indicate, but its not perfect yet. Add to that the “new” public belief that you can hurt a site by Negative SEO (a whole bunch of us old timers have insisted that this has ALWAYS been possible, but it’s a bit easier now).

SO what is googles best defence?

An Offence…

One of the serious problems in planning the fight against American doctrine, is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine…- From a Soviet Junior Lt’s Notebook

“The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.” – from a post-war debriefing of a German General

And this is true of google’s latest strategy. Scare SEOs and webmasters to the point that they don’t know what can and cannot hurt them. Get them to clean up search results FOR google. And this latest bout of warnings, IMHO is exactly that.

  1. Penalise a LARGE UK brand  – send fear of god into SEOs. Check.
  2. Send a bunch of vague link notices in GWMT to the general population. Check.
  3. Sit back and profit.

My advice

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Create a list of all your shitty links (you should be doing this anyway!)
  3. Wait to see if there are any drops.
  4. If there are, you should be able to isolate where the drops are and for what terms. Start clean up.
  5. If there are drops and you cant isolate the drops, then reach out and contact via resubmission, with specific question about the links.
  6. If there are no drops, build newer, better quality links .
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Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

{ 1 trackback }

Slapped with a bouquet of barbed links
February 23, 2013 at 8:43 pm

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Charalambous February 22, 2013 at 9:59 am

You know what… I agree with you. I wouldn’t put it past a company like Google’s who constantly contradict themselves and what appeared to once be a good company; now utlises every means to profit.

I like to believe there will be somewhat of a backlach one day, when it’s pushed “too far”. Either way I like your advice, sit back, not to worry too much. The unfortunate thing is I did that beforehand, in April, and for a while it worked… but then we begubn to see severe drops in multiple places.

I think what many don’t realise is it’s simply not possible for some businesses to just wait, I’m fortunate in that i can… but essentially, my business, my employees, salary and living arrangements rely on the money that comes from some of those rankings – many people won’t survive the wait!


Andrew Seymour February 22, 2013 at 10:13 am

The thing about all this is that they were sending out free products for reviews with links, which is very explicitly stated as forbidden in Google’s guidelines. Therefore, I think that Google were actually quite clear about the whole thing.


Michael Curtis February 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I’ll just leave this here and pass no further comment.

Specifically 00:29


charliesaidthat February 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm

There is a difference between sending products out, and sending products out REQUESTING a link back, surely?

Also the writing was on the wall when Google Chrome got penalised: in a way it’s surprising it took this long for big brands to get penalised, non?


Michael Curtis February 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm

It’s not really ‘big brands’ that have been penalised, more ‘big brand’. Whether this was an algorithmic penalty or whether it was a stunt to give brand managers the willies over SEO – again – I guess is something we’ll never know.

Chrome, it should be noted, wasn’t penalised until the spam got noticed. They magically penalised themselves just as the story started to spread – That one had a PR managers fingerprints all over it.

And do we really know if sending products out for review was the reason for Interflora? Dave Naylors blog makes a really good argument for that, but Interflora also have a huge volume of junky, spun content aimed at targeting local searches, as well as a backlink profile full of the sort of links you can get cheap on Fiverr. There’s plenty of other reasons they could of been hit.


Ingo Bousa February 22, 2013 at 10:34 am

Yes. It’s called ’shock and awe’. And it’s called ‘confuse and irritate’. It’s also called ‘divide and conquer’. Since a while now some rankings go up and down like you are on a roller-coaster for no particular reason, so you actually don’t really know any more if a rise or drop was down to a special link building effort. Other rankings stay solid although they should change. And now with this new act of warfare Google makes sure that it will be really hard to exactly nail down why a big brand has been penalised. They picked just the right brand, with a back link profile that is very diverse as it contains every possible legal and illegal form of link. There will be a lot of speculating and analysis but in the end all there will be clear is that scaled ‘engineered’ do-follow link building is a very dangerous thing to do in 2013. I just heard through the grapevine that there is a major uproar in certain areas of the on-line newspaper industry right now. Is blogger product testing still safe? Is guest posting still safe? Well.. if it includes do-follow links, we don’t really know. Or do we? Interesting times for ‘link building’.


Liam @ Zaddle February 22, 2013 at 11:08 am

Great post Rishil and some great advice.

At the moment it feels like every SEO should have the “Keep Calm & Don’t Panic” poster stuck to their wall.

What disappoints me most about where Google seem to be heading over the last couple of years is they have gone from a “people champion” to “profit over everything else”.

Yes they don’t “owe” anything to anyone – but once you become the dominant player (particularly in the UK) then they essentially dictate whatever they want to every web owner in the UK (and throughout (most) of the (western) world). The only real alternative would be for people “en masse” to change across to another search engine but that a) is very unlikely to happen and b) there is no guarantee we wouldn’t see the same problems happening on those platforms.

The enhanced changes to their PPC model will make them more money – as the ones (PPC Managers or switched on clients) who knew mobile had less competition and often had a much better ROI now see this territory bundled in with every Google AdWords campaign around the world. How many people who don’t want to target mobile will even know how to go in and bid -100% on mobile? (How many will even realise it has changed!) – there are some genuinely great things with enhanced campaigns that ARE very useful – but on the whole it will see the coffers at Google bulging as we now have less control.

Could Google make more money? Absolutely they could just start charging £5 per month to use Google Analytics! (Let’s hope that isn’t their 2014 plan!)


Keef February 22, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Ummmm Liam, they charge $150k for Google Analytics premium.

Its already started….


Steve Masters February 22, 2013 at 11:45 pm

On the face of it, the action against Interflora by killing page rank for Johnson Press sites seems unfair, but it is in line with Google’s own guidelines.

Google’s interest is in serving pages into results that people will appreciate when they click on them. Advertorial content on its own is fine, if it adds value. Distributing press releases which get picked up and published by lots of sites is fine and legitimate. But, paying a multitude of sites to guarantee your content gets published in what is clearly an attempt to boost page rank artificially, that’s just against Google’s rules.

Google should punish that type of activity because if it doesn’t, a mass of other media buyers will decide it’s a great strategy and before you know it, Google results will be full of rubbish again.


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