Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

How Google Creates Black Hats

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The #1 goal for any organization is self-preservation. When people feel things are fairly just & they are just getting by they are fine with squeezing out more efficiency in what they do and figuring out ways to pay the bills. But when people feel the table is tilted at some point they stop caring and do whatever it takes.

Ex Post Facto

Some longtime AdWords advertisers have recently been punished for affiliate ads they ran 8 years ago where some of the sites they promoted at some point fell out of Google’s graces through an ad system which never allows you to delete your history & offers ex post facto regulations that turn a regular advertiser arbitrarily into a spammer.

What’s worse is that sometimes the data Google ties together creates guilt where there is nothing but innocence.

AdSense, AdSense, AdSense

In 3 weeks it will have been 3 months since Google first launched Panda. Outside of bloggers with 50,000 RSS subscribers few (if any) reports of recovery from Panda have been seen. Some of the theories floating around what caused Panda attempt to tie it to AdSense & many of Google’s AdSense case studies are now highlighting best practices to follow if you want to be just like the sites Google torched.

As if that wasn’t conflicting enough, some of the webmasters that were torched by Panda received automated messages that they were missing out on revenues by not using the maximum allotted number of ad units. After the huge fall off from Panda, Google has been pushing AdSense so hard that many webmasters have been receiving unsolicited emails from Google suggesting they sign up for AdSense.

I won’t run AdSense on our main sections of this site because it would be tacky and destroy perceived credibility (having a “submit your site to 2000 search engines for $29″ ad next to the content doesn’t inspire trust on an SEO site). I could create a content farm answers section of the site that mirrors Ask’s strategy, but with a higher level of quality. I won’t though, because it would be viewed as spam because I am me. Once again, SEOs should be held to a higher standard than search engines. ;)

That Which You Consume, Consumes You

Where this rubs wrong is not only the overt brand push, but also that some of Google’s pushes at expansion down the search funnel have looked a lot like the spam they claim to fight.

Many UK finance comparison sites were penalized for spammy link buys, and then Google somehow managed to buy BeatThatQuote without any due diligence. Others who were penalized for sketchy links (say like Overstock.com) were whacked for a couple months. BeatThatQuote was ranking again in Google in only 2 weeks ***without*** fixing any of the actual spam link buys.

TechCrunch’s April 1st article about Google Places being inadvertently classified as a content farm sounded so authentic that I saw multiple friends in-the-know pass it around as though it was true.

Bad Actors

In the Wall Street Journal there was an article about the Panda update highlighting that many small businesses were laying off their employees. The same article highlighted numerous cost extensive desperate marketing measures the firms were taking which may or may not work. Google didn’t disclose much in the article other than:

The Google spokesman says the company doesn’t disclose details about changes it makes to its algorithms because doing so “would give bad actors a way to game our systems.”

Nobody likes bad actors, but most of the webmasters that were hit were not bad actors. Rather, most of them were naive & simply followed the Google guidelines thinking that was in their best interests and perhaps would allow them to stay competitive. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Not only did the update allow some information-less pages to rank better than ever, but certain folks with 100% duplicate content screamed to the top of the search results.

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out!

If you adhere to guidelines, get beat down, are not told why, and are told that generally sites need to “improve their quality” that can be a pretty infuriating message. The presumption that your stuff isn’t good enough when 3rd grade rewrites of your content now outrank you is both smug and obnoxious. What is worse about the update though now is that many scraper websites are outranking the original content sources, so the message is that your content is plenty good enough, but it is just not good enough when it is on your site. A large portion of those scraper sites are monetized via Google AdSense & would not even exist if it were not for AdSense.

So Google whacks your site, tells you to clean up your act (& increase your operating costs while decreasing your margins), lumps you in the bad actors group, offers no information about when the pain will (or even could) end, pays someone to steal your content, then ranks that stolen copy of your content above you in the search results.

Make Your Move

If a person has the pleasure to experience the above it doesn’t take much critical thinking skills to develop a different perspective on search.

Ultimately this is going to lead to a “why not” approach to search for many folks in the search space.

  • If Google already dinged your website why wouldn’t you remove AdSense & replace it with competing ad programs? Why not test those affiliate programs you have been meaning to test? If you have to rework your content anyway, why not move past AdSense/webmaster welfare?
  • If your AdWords budget was marginally profitable & you were buying ads to compliment your organic exposure, why wouldn’t you stop buying ads with Google & test running ads on other websites? Google is fine funding an affiliate network that uses direct links, so why not use clean links on your ad buys? If you like run it through a self-hosted affiliate program so that you are just like Google.
  • If your site is already whacked why wouldn’t you buy links to help boost its ranking back?
  • If your site earns nothing from search, why wouldn’t you sell links if you have to do whatever it takes to make costs?
  • If your site gets penalized & someone copying your content & wrapping it in AdSense outranks you why wouldn’t you create new mirror sites? Why wouldn’t you create scraper websites to pollute Google with?
  • If rankings are unpredictable & one site is no longer enough, why wouldn’t you create backup sites & projects of various levels of quality & effort? At this point diversity simply serves as a needed form of insurance.
  • If while running these purely scientific experiments you accidentally run into something that works really well that shouldn’t, why not scale it to the moon?

I am not convinced that the search results are any cleaner today than they were a few months ago. However I am fairly certain things will soon head south. I am not advocating going out of your way to be extra spammy, but am just highlighting the cost-benefit analysis which is going through the heads of thousands of webmasters who Google just torched.

Google is betting that anonymous strangers will behave more kindly than Google has, but when an animal is backed into a corner it often acts in unpredictable (and even uncontrollable) ways.

The big problem for Google is this: “when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.” – John Adams

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Related posts:

  1. Google Creates Learning Site Specifically for Ad Agencies
  2. Personalization of Google Results Creates a Huge Advertising Opportunity
  3. Google Creates Work Around For Blocked Egyptian Tweeters
  4. What Creates Digital Ghettos?
  5. Panda Update (UK): Who Got Two Black Eyes From Google? [Infographic]

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