As great as Google is at giving searchers the best possible results for the keywords they enter, it’s filled with gaping flaws too. Yes, Google is far from perfect.
Case in point: A Moz blog post by the head of another digital marketing agency discusses a startling scenario. Their client, a fairly large company that makes a number of spelling and grammar check tools that integrate with e-mail and other applications, got a notice that Google was penalizing them for “unnatural links.”
They lost 94% of their search traffic immediately (yikes!).
The digital marketing agency was caught totally off guard because they had not been acquiring any bad links. In fact, since they serve primarily large brands, they’re extremely cautious in following SEO best practices.
So What Happened?
After a painful phone call with the client notifying them of the situation, the agency began to dig into the client’s link profile. It was easy to spot the problem. A massive number of spammy links had been acquired.
Someone had used a program that writes articles, changes the order of the words, and automatically posts the articles and a link on pornographic, pharmaceutical, gambling, and other low-quality websites Google does not like. They repeatedly used the same keywords for the link’s anchor text.
Google explicitly states not to do this when building links. Clearly, someone who wanted to destroy this company’s search traffic decided to attack the company with negative SEO.
Yes, this does happen sometimes.
Even More Shocking: Google’s Response
So the director of the agency was at a conference and asked John Mueller, an employee at Google, why his client should get penalized for someone else building bad links to their site. He also pointed out that it makes more sense to simply not allow certain links to count, rather than penalizing websites for having bad links.
John’s response went something like this: “Yeah, it’s happened before. Sometimes we (Google) can tell it’s a negative SEO campaign, but other times it’s harder. However, if you get a manual penalty from us, you’ll be aware of the situation so you can simply disavow the links.”
Wow! So basically, Google is aware that this happens, but really isn’t doing anything to stop dishonest individuals and companies from doing it?
What You Can Do
Unfortunately, there’s not a heck of a lot businesses can do, except work with a SEO company who monitors for negative SEO attacks like these. The links are obvious and easy to spot, and it’s not too difficult (although it is time consuming) to use Google’s disavow tool and remove them. But, it’s important to catch them prior to receiving a penalty because you don’t want to lose your rankings and all the business they bring.
And the digital marketing company’s client? They’re still technically being penalized! The agency was able to get 82% of their pre-penalty traffic back. That’s good, but still not fair to the company who had done nothing wrong in the first place.