Beware: Dodgy SEO – Blackhats, Penalties & Bad Rankings

Beware: Dodgy SEO – Blackhats, Penalties & Bad Rankings

Beware: Dodgy SEO – Blackhats, Penalties & Bad Rankings

Episode 008

This week we’re talking about dodgy SEO & Google penalties.

Yep, it’s not all roses in the world of SEO.

Fly too close to the sun with some of your tactics and you might find your results going backwards instead of improving, thanks to a dreaded Google penalty.

We take a look at what they are, what they target and how to avoid them.

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Local Digital 0:04
It’s time for the SEO show where a couple of nerds talk search engine optimization, so you can learn to compete in Google and grow your business online. Now, here’s your host, Michael and Arthur.

Michael 0:23
Man, I love that music. Just uplifting isn’t it Arthur

Arthur 0:27
Very, very uplifting.

Michael 0:29
You sound uplifted.

Arthur 0:30
I’m very full, actually. Too much Korean fried chicken.

Michael 0:34
Yeah, you did ear five tenders and some chips.

Arthur 0:36
No regrets.

Michael 0:37
Yeah, I did the same thing. So it was pretty good. Fired us up. It’s fueled us up to talk about dodgy SEO – blackhats penalties and bad rankings.

Arthur 0:49
One of my favorite topics blackhat SEO,

Michael 0:52
you like getting websites penalised?

Arthur 0:54
I’ve never gotten a website penalised thank you.

Michael 0:57
You know what, that’s a good thing. But it’s also a bad thing. Because my, my little point of view is that if you’re doing SEO, you need to penalize a site here and there. Because you’re sort of pushing the limits and testing things.

Arthur 1:09
Don’t let our clients hear that.

Michael 1:10
No no no no no. If you’re doing SEO, you should be doing stuff on sites that aren’t client sites. You know, just seeing what works, what doesn’t, playing around with Google?

Arthur 1:19
I must have been very fortunate. Knock on wood.

Michael 1:22
Yeah. So anyway, what are we talking about? Penalties. So what is that? I’m going to give a little intro to, you know, maybe a history of Google and a history of penalties. So we can jump into that and then talk about the types of penalties. So basically, let’s give you the lay of the land. From the late 90s. Or, you know, whenever Google came about, say, 97 or so the very early prehistoric caveman type SEOs were

Arthur 1:49
including yourself?

Michael 1:53
I was I was a teenager, young teenager, so not not me. But um, my predecessors, my elders, they were basically doing all sorts of nasty things to their websites like keyword stuffing, where they just jam keyword after keyword after keyword into a page, or they’d make text on a page, the same color as the background, so the user couldn’t see it. But search engines could see it

Arthur 2:14
very sneaky

Michael 2:15
very sneaky, or they’d spam their meta keyword tag with keywords. And back in the day, search engines used to look at that. And all this stuff worked. Because the search engines were simple, very rudimentary, back then bother around 2003. Again, I wasn’t doing SEO at this point, although I was out of school and officially an adult, but I wasn’t doing SEO. But at this time, the first major update or sort of penalisation type thing happened, which was the Google Florida update. This knocked out most of this really dodgy keyword stuffing and sort of very old school SEO stuff out of practice. But SEO still was pretty much the Wild West for many years after that, you know, people would

Arthur 2:58
What did the Florida update look at because it’s keyword stuffing as keyword stuffing, and all that kind of old school

Michael 3:03
obvious stuff like that. So got sort of brought the hammer down on that. So that it was like a warning, you know, a shot fired across the bow bow of the FBO. And in the industry that you can’t just spam and get rankings, basically. But you still got because he could go and blast out links and spin content and all that sort of stuff for many years. And it continued to work. But around 2011 that’s when things got serious. Like a very serious, very serious panda was launched in 2011. And then penguin was launched in 2012. So got even more serious.

Arthur 3:38
That’s Yeah, that’s roughly around the same time I started doing SEO was around when penguin was released. Yeah. 2012. Yeah, I have fond fond memories.

Michael 3:47
Yeah, it was a wild time, you know, but at the agency, we worked out at the time, clients that have one minute doing okay, and then next minute penalize analyze

Arthur 3:55
It was panic stations.

Michael 3:57
And it wasn’t through anything that had been done wrong. The goalposts were just changed by Google overnight. But anyway, the point we’re making here is that Google regularly launch changes to their algorithm, or they regularly penalize websites for doing the wrong thing, to discourage certain behavior that they don’t want people doing and to encourage putting more money in Google’s back pocket, their very big back pocket that’s already filled with billions of dollars, they want more. They don’t make it, they always want more, they always want more. So that’s why penalties exist. So if you’re doing SEO, you need to be aware of this and you need to make sure that the work you’re doing is not likely to lead to you falling foul of these penalties. So, you know, we’ve been throwing around terms like Florida pennant Panda, Penguin, you know, animal names or location names. What is that stuff? Well, basically, there’s two types of penalties that Google can apply to a website. What are they

Arthur 4:55
algorithmic penalties and manual penalties.

Michael 4:58
All right, so algorithm That’s all done by Google’s algorithms. It’s all automated. It’s not got any involvement from a human looking at a website. manual is when Google’s webspam team, so they actually have teams of people. I like to imagine like rows of cubicles of all these sort of depressed people that have to look at people’s websites and figure out if they’re up to no good and then penalised.

Arthur 5:19
Yeah, I always wondered how they did that, how they operated. It’s a thankless tip offs from people as to which sites they should look at or

Michael 5:26
Yeah, they do. You can, if you’re unscrupulous, you can go and dump people into Google.

Arthur 5:31
Yeah, you don’t want to piss off the wrong people? No.

Michael 5:34
So these people, basically, they have these things, webmaster guidelines. And they, if someone Google’s taking a look at your site, they’re gonna look at these webmaster guidelines, again, look at your site, and they’re going to try and find things that you’ve been doing wrong, that they can penalize you for. So there are two types. Typically, we found, you know, with algorithmic penalties, to when you get hit by them to fix your site, you need to make changes to the site and then wait for the algorithm to update again, with manual penalties. You need to make changes to the site and then submit a reconsideration request, instead of go there on your hands and knees and beg to Google and plead Can I please get back in the search results? And often they’ll say no, and you have to do a bit more work. And you know, it can be tough to come back from

Arthur 6:17
they’re pretty rare these days, aren’t they? Yeah, no penalties.

Michael 6:20
We don’t see that

Arthur 6:21
many of them. No, we don’t see many penalties, if anybody manual penalties, penalties, sorry, would be super rare, you really have to be doing something wrong to receive a manual penalty,

Michael 6:31
because I guess penalties used to be, you know, Google would bring the hammer down in a blaze of publicity, and that would get all sorts of coverage and stuff. Whereas now what they do is update their algorithm a lot throughout the year. And they don’t really let you know what’s going on. So they’re sort of trying to keep people in this state of confusion. Whereas in the past, they used to say, Alright, we’ve launched Panda and panda looks at on site stuff. Alright, we’ve launched Penguin, penguin looks at backlinks. So you sort of used to know what you needed to fix. So I guess they’ve just changed their approach a bit.

Arthur 7:02
Yeah. the only the only manual manual pen, I can’t say manual, manual penalty that I can remember working on was eBay’s manual penalty with the content.

Michael 7:11

Arthur 7:11
Yeah. Back in order to talk about that for a bit. All right.

Michael 7:15
Well, you know what, let’s, let’s finish wrapping up on what penalties are and then let’s, let’s talk about some famous penalties, okay, from penalties I’ve worked on in the time. So anyway, we said, Yep, that ridmik, all automated. And then there’s also manual. These penalties can also be applied in different ways. So they can be applied at the keyword level. So let’s say you’re ranking really well for digital marketing agency. And then all of a sudden, your traffic drops from that keyword your rankings gone. You can be penalised for individual keyword, or the next level up from that is, you know, your whole URL or directory. So maybe, if you’re a lawyer, and one of your services is family law, and you really spam that family law page with bad SEO, then maybe you will drop for that as an example. Then the next level up from that is the sub domain level. So sub domain is just you know,, anything on that sub domain is going to get penalize. The next level up from that is your entire domain getting penalized. So any page on your website would lose traffic in this case. And finally, the real nasty one safe for the most egregious offenses pretty much is being totally DNA indexed from Google. So basically, penalties can hit you at any one of these, or you know, even multiple combinations of them. So let’s talk famous penalties. payment from the FDA. Well, they’re probably not that famous. Which one you want to start with?

Arthur 8:43
Well, you’ve already mentioned eBay. Yep. So let’s talk about that.

Michael 8:48
Yeah. All right. Well, give us a recap. That was a wild time back 2014 2014 2015.

Arthur 8:53
So it was a manual penalty. And they had it was basically around the content on the site. They had a lot of duplicate pages, whenever someone would add or create a category. I think the way that the site was set up would create different category pages. So basically, they set up such such pages search pages. That’s right. Yeah. So there’ll be dozens, if not hundreds of different search pages, all basically targeting the same keywords. So one day, yeah, Google got pinged. A lot of these pages got D indexed. And then it was up to us to kind of go figure out which pages were the ones that were worth keeping, and then setting up redirects, writing content for them. It was a huge, huge job, but that kind of rolled out over almost a year if not longer.

Michael 9:37
Yep. So in this case, let’s give an example I guess like if you are selling we’ve got some we’ve got some disinfectant wipes on the table here. They would have a search result for 10 pack of disinfectant wipes 2012 920 bag and

Arthur 9:53
I’m saying similar scented, yeah,

Michael 9:55
yeah, or similar

Arthur 9:56
results. A good example would be clothing. It was a lot of clothing, like sighs a dress size 10 dress, different variations of different colors? Yep, just 1000s upon 1000s of pages.

Michael 10:08
Yeah. And all of those pages would rank in Google, if people typed in the search term, that eBay page would rank and get traffic. And it was awesome for them for a time. Yep. Until Google very heavy down. And then so basically, at the agency we worked at at the time, eBay were a client. And we have the SEO team had to sit there and manually categorize pages of like ones that should stay ones that should go. And it was a laborious oh my god painful process. But this is a sort of, this is what happens when you get panel over that that like, you know, these tactics that work, you can benefit from them. But if you go too far, it’s a lot of work effort and expense to clean it all up. So that was one of the more well known, I guess, on site penalties. Another example, JC Penney, way back in the day, this is so old. Now, this is back like 2011, like, pretty much in the early days of may doing SEO, but they were basically in volved. In links games, where they were doing dodgy link building, as around the time that Google Penguin came out, picked up that JC Penney were doing this stuff, because what Google does is they like these big, famous brands getting hit because it drives publicity coverage, puts the fear of God or the fear of Google into a big brand like that

Arthur 11:21
can get penalize what chance do you have as well?

Michael 11:24
Yeah, exactly. So in this case, JC Penney, were doing dodgy link building stuff. And they got blasted out of the search results and then had to beg and plead their way back in

Arthur 11:31
what sort of dodgy link building? Were

Michael 11:33
they doing? link schemes? I think, where they basically, were getting all unrelated websites, many that just had links only, they’re linking back to the JC Penney site, right. Okay. Then the links just had like an anchor text and like Target exact match anchor text him. So pure spam, which he used to be out to get away with until penguin came along. Anyway, like, there’s been numerous big, sort of famous penalisation like this. But maybe it’s worth looking at what these penalties actually look at, because we’ve just touched on one of the things there but well, actually two other things, but there are quite a few sort of main there are a few main areas that these penalties we’ll look at. Links, like with most things in SEO links are the biggest part. It’s very easy to get yourself penalised by doing dodgy link building.

Arthur 12:24
I think that’d be one of the main ways people get penalised these days is through dodgy link building. Yeah, so using PB ends, or just linking from spammy websites in general, besides that are just not relevant to the client or the website they are linking back to using over optimized anchor text is just yeah, easy way to get penalized or at least ringing alarm bells for Google.

Michael 12:44
Yep. And if they don’t get you algorithmically, if you’re doing dodgy link betting, it’s very easy for manual review, like a human in the webspam team to see that you’ve got all these junk links

Arthur 12:54
easily. And I was kind of thinking about PB ends recently. And I noticed back in the day, a lot of PB ends were built by interlinking to one another, right? These days have gotten smarter and they don’t do that because they don’t want to leave a footprint. So finding out if a site or pbn is a lot more difficult. Just something recently, yeah.

Michael 13:14
If they run the pbn the right way and put the effort in to set it up and keep it all split out and avoid footprints.

Arthur 13:21
Yeah, because these are back in the day, Google could just have a look, find the footprint and just devalue all those sites in one hit.

Michael 13:28
So that comes back to where we spoke about before with apparently, you know, your website, if it’s really penalize can be D indexed from Google. Which means if you search for your brand, you don’t even exist in Google anymore your your ad in purgatory. Now with pbn, so when we say PB ns private blog network, these are just websites that are controlled by one entity. For the purposes of building links on to boost a website’s rankings. A lot of SEO agencies will create their own PB ns and put links to their clients on them. Because it’s cheap, fast and easy. Google can easily find PB ns, this is gamma cat and mouse they know if you want to stay away from PB ns. But when Google does find them, it will just be indexed in D indexing. So they don’t even exist in Google aimo the links that are on them have no value for the websites and links. Yeah. The other the really obvious one and link building is just super over optimized anchor text. So Google’s, you know, if you think of its algorithm, it’s a mathematical formula. It can look at websites and what the anchor text pointing back to them and get a sort of understanding of, you know, brand and and URL and exact match. And if it does that, for every website in an industry, it knows sort of what the averages and if it suddenly sees that one website just has, you know, 400% more exact match anchor text links pointing back to it means humans have been out there link building trying to trick poor little Google and get rankings, right.

Arthur 14:52
Yeah. One thing though, we did notice is that exact match obviously works, but we found a lot of websites have been done. A lot more exact match anchor text link building. I’m seeing good results. Now for now,

Michael 15:06
for now, yes, I know, this is the thing you can be when you’re looking at what other people are doing with their SEO every day, you do see patterns emerge. And we are seeing that. But this is what’s happened in the past, right? And like things work, and then it gets cracked down on and yeah, at the moment we’re seeing, even in our space, you know, agencies doing exactly hardcore. Exactly. Yeah. Anchor Text link building.

Arthur 15:29
And getting results.

Michael 15:30
Yeah, for now. For now, we’ll see. Play the long game, see how many, you know, a couple more updates, what happens? But outside of links? What else is, you know, do penalties look at? Well, I

Arthur 15:43
guess we kind of touched on already duplicate content. So with in Google, or sorry, not in Google’s in eBay’s case, it was just having too many pages with similar content, which got them penalized. Not only that, we found as well that we’ve worked with big clients that had huge sites where they were targeting different different geographic areas, using very similar content. A lot of those pages now marked as not showing in the search results in Search Console, because Google’s picked up and found that the content was too similar. So really, kind of making sure that the content you do have across the site is unique. Yep. Not not duplicated across multiple pages, and not

Michael 16:21
thin and not thin. Yeah, when we say then, like in the eBay example, these pages literally were, you know, an h1 tag, a heading tag with whatever the key word was the search time. So 120 pack of wipes, just products, and then products. That was it. So these pages barely looked any different to Google. So yeah, duplicate content, in content, they sort of go together. Another thing that they can look at algorithmically, if, if your website is hacked or compromised, seen a lot of this stuff in our time, where websites get Viagra hacks, Viagra hack, Nike actually seems to be popular fireless, like just different sort of spam? Yeah. So their website, you know, let’s say you start to build on WordPress, if you don’t keep your website updated, then hackers or dodgy types can find exploits over time, because, you know, the website just sort of falls behind in terms of its its, its technical, what am I trying to say here is its settings. So you know,

Arthur 17:22
yes, they find vulnerabilities and can find a way into the site.

Michael 17:25
Correct. So vulnerabilities get popularity over time, if you’re not applying those patches, you’re back in the dark ages, and your website will end up getting hacked. And we’ve seen it many, many times, many times on some extremely big, you know, massive business website. So what happens when it gets hacked, basically, dodgy people that are trying to make money through affiliate marketing or all sorts of different ways, Bitcoin, you know, like crypto, that sort of stuff, they will inject 1000s of pages into people’s websites that redirected the visitors through to Viagra slots, or they can like inject links into other people’s websites that point back to their site to boost the SEO of their own site. And if Google picks this up, it’s going to devalue that site, it’ll even show a warning in the search results, you know that this site has been hacked or compromised. So this means you need to keep your website updated, keep your plugins updated, your themes updated. If you’re using WordPress, make regular backups of your site so that if this does happen, you can easily restore it. If you’re not doing that, like driving without a seatbelt on,

Arthur 18:31
basically. And it’s alarming how many clients that we work with had added their websites and they don’t even realize.

Michael 18:39
So very important to keep it all up to date, we very common that we find business owners don’t even know about updating plugins or WordPress themes.

Arthur 18:50
And that’s I guess, fair enough. They’re not experts. But that’s where we kind of hop in and help them out.

Michael 18:55
Sure. So outside, as you know, a lot of this stuff we’ve discovered there can be looked at algorithmically or manually. But coming to manual penalisation. Because this is a it’s not an algorithm that’s trying to look at things on a, you know, a mathematical formula level, it’s actually a human looking at it. Really, they can look for any obvious signs of manipulation. And that means you got to be a lot more careful, right? Like, if if they’re looking at competitive and seeing what they’re up to, and then they have a look at your site and they can see that your backlink profile just looks dodgy. They can penalize you, if they see that you are building all of these really thin gateway pages, you know, like, let’s say a page for every suburb in Sydney to try and rank for it. And that the algorithmic penalties haven’t picked that up, but they see it as a human, they can penalize you. So it’s a lot. You know, once a webspam get their their sights set on your site. It can be a lot tougher to come back from anything you want to add to that.

Arthur 20:00
I’m just trying to think of an example, outside of eBay, I can’t think of anyone

Michael 20:04
that I’ve Well, I’ll give you an example. Okay, one of your, one of my sites, I ran a an affiliate website. So when I say affiliate, it means you, you have a website. And if you send traffic to a product or service, and that traffic ends up buying it, you get a commission or a percentage of that sale. So it can be a really good way of making money online, particularly if you know, SEO and can get traffic to sites. So in the past, I had an affiliate website in a certain space, it was promoting a certain service. And when a really big player in that space came into the market, my website was blasted out of Google. So I got a cease and desist letter from the big player in the space and you can’t run this site anymore. And at the exact same time, I got a manual penalty from Google’s webspam team, taking my website out of the search results. Wow. And that was done by humans. It wasn’t done algorithmically. And I feel it was done because this big player in the space spec to Google and made it happen.

Arthur 21:01
Definitely. I mean, coincidence.

Michael 21:02
Yeah, it’s not a coincidence. So the thing with manual, then they’re not common, as we say, like, you know, in the past, they were more common, we would see it happen a lot more, but they don’t seem to happen as much these days, or maybe our clients are just escaping the the attention of the webspam team, but we’re not seeing it so much. But when it does happen, it just means that they can look at your site a lot closer, and it can be tougher to come back from because it’s a human looking at it. And you’ve got to be, I guess begging and planning and making them okay with what you’ve done, basically.

Arthur 21:35
Did you try to fix your site? Or did you kind of just let it go,

Michael 21:37
gone? Gone gave up, I created a new one in a similar sort of space and moved on. Right? Like that’s the thing with affiliate sites, if it’s just something you run on the side, you can do that. As a business owner. You can’t just write off your website that you’ve had for 20 years now. So you want to avoid penalties is the general gist of this conversation? Right? Yeah. But what if you’ve been keeping your nose clean? You’ve been avoiding penalties. You’ve been doing all the right things. You’ve been keeping Google very happy. But someone, someone comes along? And does negative SEO, negative SEO

Arthur 22:13
negative. So what is negative Seo? Basically, negative SEO is when someone will go out of their way to deliberately try to harm your website and get a devalued or D index from Google. So that could be I guess, the main way they try to do it is through link building. So what they’ll do is they’ll find really, really dodgy sites and link back to your website using either irrelevant anchor text or extremely optimized anchor text. And that will basically it’s a red flag to Google. And I guess the aim of that is to get you d indexed, or at least have your pages devalued.

Michael 22:50
Yeah. And the general thinking is that SEO works to improve the site. But if you do it to a website the wrong way it can hurt a site because Google have these penalties. Yeah, that’s right. So

Local Digital 23:01

Michael 23:02
at it, it is it is a problem. And it’s very, very common. It can work if done aggressively, so often like to like what they might do. If you want to rank for a no, learn to fly, Sydney. Someone wants to do negative SEO on you, they would build 1000s of links to your domain, let’s say learn to fly Sydney. Yeah. And then Google will say, hey, they’re trying to rank for learn to fly Sydney, this is obvious, we’re going to penalize them. But it wasn’t the website that did that. It was some some dodgy pilot out there. That’s angry and doesn’t Yeah,

Arthur 23:32
and it happens when if there’s someone that’s been ranking first for a particular keyword, and then they see someone just swoop in and outrank them, they’ll start looking as to who it was, and try to get you devalued, basically,

Michael 23:44
yeah, potentially, like not in every industry. But we do see it a bit. Yeah. So to get around this, you just need to be proactively monitoring your website. And then cleaning things up. Why relevant. So if you’re on top of your site, if you if you’re loving, lovingly looking in your h refs reports every night and just seeing what your backlinks look like, you will pick up on this stuff.

Arthur 24:07
Yeah, it’s pretty easy to see it. I mean, yeah, if you go to h refs, and you put your domain and you’ll see a big uplift in referring domains. If someone has done that, you’re pretty, pretty certain that they’re trying to do negative SEO.

Michael 24:19
Yep. And the good news is Google, have a tool called the disavow file, where you can basically just list all the domains that you don’t want to have any impact on your site. So if you’re keeping on top of this, you can just keep that updated and it won’t have the desired effect. Like the person is just wasting their time. That’s during the negative data yet you can pay us to keep on top of it. Well, yeah, that’s true. Well, not even us. It could be any any SEO agency, ethical, good agency, go for it. But um, you know, as a business owner, do you want to be lovingly looking at backlinks all day, every day and updating a disavow file? Probably not. That’s why a few agencies exist, basically.

Arthur 24:57
Cool. Well, that was basically all that we have for today. Today, I hope you enjoyed the episode about blackhat SEO and penalties. We’ll be here next week to talk about more things SEO. And don’t forget to like and subscribe. Don’t forget to like and subscribe, like

Michael 25:11
smash that like button, hit that subscribe button. Anyway, we’ll see you next time. See ya.

Meet your hosts:

Arthur Fabik


Michael Costin


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