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I've got a long history here, stretching all the way back to 2007. At that time 80% of my traffic was organic, and most importantly, was spread equally between MSN, Yahoo, Google, AOL, etc.

I paid for ad's through HotScripts, and this was a solid source of leads. This mixture, along with a fast, secure, easy to use site and great word of mouth lead to an annual growth rate of around 30%, ending up in 2011 with a monthly income of just over $5000. Not bad for what started out as a side-project. I took none of this for granted, and worked by butt off every day.

It's key to note from 2007 to 2011 a great consolidation was taking place, with Google eating, for me at least, 90% of all search traffic.

Then the spammers hit. My site was targeted with millions of low quality links, which lead to a Google penalty in 2012. I lost 90% of my traffic and along with it, 90% of my revenue.

4 years on and I've never actually recovered from my penalty, with traffic being manually limited to under 30 clicks on any particular day.

I've done my best to advertise, with Google capturing the lions share. Unfortunately I too have very little luck with this channel, with only 1 $4 conversion after hundreds spent.

The real kicker here, and my reason for posting, is the difference between what was my organic traffic then, and my ad traffic now, is nowhere near the same in terms of quality and obviously, conversions.

I guess my point is the current situation, basically 2 companies controlling so much traffic, seems, well, bad for small business in this country. I value what they bring to the table and fully understand why they're so popular. But is things keep on this way where does that lead the guys like me? Is this just the way it has to be? Is the dream of the open Internet already dead?

The spammy links thing fascinates me. I don't know much about search algos or SEO but on our small, industrial business site we couldn't understand why, after many hours and thousands of dollars spent on the procedures that Google recommends, our organic ranking in SERPs for a very niche product (of which we are one of only three providers in our region) was appalling - often page three.

It wasn't till we realised we had 10,000+ spammy links pointed at our site that we wondered whether we had been the victim of some malicious attack. We couldn't recover the penalty to the site no matter how hard we worked and have had to rebuild at a new domain as a result.

For small businesses like us, is it really possible for a competitor to just destroy our online credibility like that or am I just paranoid?

I second the other commenter's opinion on disavow-ing links. It did have a positive impact on one of my online properties.

Reference: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2648487?hl=en

If one would be a target of automated spammy link attack - let's say a competitor would order 100 spammy links a month for example 3 a day - how could one defend against this kind of attack? (I'm not in such situation, just speculating)

What I'm wondering is how easy it is really to get to top at some more obscure search term by just using nasty black hat tactics. I'm also wondering if this is actually the easiest way to get top of search results. If that is the case than it's really alarming IMHO.

automated disavowing, maybe? Sucks, but may be necessary.

But how could you know what links are real and what are not if not even google knows it? If you are trying to get legin backlinks at the same time then this would be almost impossible.

Nah, if there's money on the line there's a lot of reason to target you for a penalty. Scammy sites can't get attention if there's a legitimate site in the search results.

SEO is a big industry and taking down competitors is a part of being the top N results.

So how do I combat against this? We're a small, honest company providing great products and services for the companies that need them but we're getting killed online because no one can find us.

I've forked out a lot (for us) on adwords and the return has been negligible to say the least.

Does this mean that the democratizing power of the internet has been swallowed up for small, lean companies like us who cant afford a mega adwords budget?

Why is it that someone else gaming Google's algorithm becomes my problem and requires me to solve it rather than Google?

For the same reason when some fellow citizen acts against you, you may need to sue them yourself - Google provides a platform with some set of rules, but they can't proactively ensure nobody is doing something malicious to other parties (especially if the malicious act is allowed by the rules), nor they can codify and enforce "don't be an asshole" rule.

Your analogy doesn't really hold up. This isn't another person coming after you directly, it's the other person manipulating a third party to cause the third party to come after you, and the third party saying "not my problem that I'm easy to manipulate like that".

For a criminal-justice-system analogy, it's similar in concept (though not in extremity) to SWATting. And I don't think we want governments to wash their hands of that and say "not our fault our system is abusable that way, it's all on you to do something about it after the fact".

Identity theft is a perfectly reasonable analogy. If someone steals my identity and ruins my credit rating, the onus is on me to inform the credit reference agency. It'd be nice if Equifax could telepathically divine whether a credit transaction was legitimate or not, but it simply isn't possible. Google are similarly unable to distinguish between a blackhat SEO scheme and this sort of weird SEO DDoS.

>but it simply isn't possible

The credit rating agencies could establish reasonably secure channels directly to consumers (passwords would be a start, dedicated tokens would be best), and require explicit authorization through the secure channel for new lines of credit. No account system is perfect, but it'd be a hell of a lot harder to break than "prove your knowledge of full name, address, DOB, and SSN" which are shared and stored all over the place, and bound to leak.

The financial industry or the government (probably at the financial industry's behest) could sign/distribute cryptographic identities along with plastic ones. Opening a new account could require a signature from a signed certificate.

Banks could send prompts to your smartphone asking you to approve/reject ACH and even credit card transactions, ala Venmo. Or you could sign them from a device you control, as with Bitcoin. (Instead, when we get cryptographic signing for payments at all, we get cards which sign all transactions presented to them by devices the consumer doesn't control, without verifying the cardholder's intent except through the merchant's terminal, whose UI could be lying. And we're still stuck with shared secrets for online payments).

A lot is possible, the financial industry has simply chosen to put consumers (and itself) through the hassle and expense of cleaning up after fraud because it's cheaper than a serious attempt at an authentication system.

Except there are a lot of people (myself included) who see the handling of "identity theft" as banks and credit agencies trying to pass the buck for their own poor approaches to security and verification.

Exactly - In my opinion there is no "identity theft". There is criminal fraud, which the banks are a victim of. However, instead of dealing with that fraud they just pass the costs on to an unrelated individual and then shrug and say "you deal with it".

Google does something much like this - but without regulation or clear appeal process.

"Swatting is the act of deceiving an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher) into sending a police and 9-1-1 response team to another person's address, based on the false reporting of a serious law enforcement emergency, such as a bomb threat, murder, hostage-taking or other alleged incident."



I strongly agree with this sentiment; the fact that "competitors" can penalize you, the back link component should be removed from the ranking algorithm all together.

Uh, maybe I'm missing something, but aren't backlinks the entire concept Google is based on?

You are the most motivated party.

I would like to see this change.

If Google's approach is encouraging or enabling fraud, I'd like to see to it they're the ones who are motivated to change their approach. Making them legally responsible for the actions of their algorithms, preferably with penalties steep enough that even they can't ignore the resulting fines, might not be a bad start.

It doesn't sound like they're encouraging it per se, and they do enable legit actors to take countermeasures. But there's no incentive for them to be proactive like you want, especially given that they are part of an effective duopoly in the space. I agree it's not a great situation, but the legal incentives you propose are basically delusional - if Google can't easily detect what spam is maliciously anti-competitive, how do you reckon a court is going to prove it thus and enforce a fine on Google for failing to do so?

Why is it that if someone steals my wallet in the street I have to describe them to the police?

Your analogy is incorrect.

If the police simply refused to respond until you'd done the full investigation yourself and handed in the proof, and then the only thing they'd do was acknowledge "yup, that guy stole your wallet, we won't assume he legitimately possesses that wallet anymore but we also won't do anything to get it back or prosecute him", then you'd have an analogy.

That's not a valid description of what Google does. The link up the thread describes what they do.

Also, have you tried reporting a minor crime in a major city recently? Me: "My (nice road racing) bike was stolen. Here's the video tape from the security camera showing the crime and the thief's face." Cops: "That's nice for you. Come back in a week and see if your bike is in our shed if you like. Cheerio".

Try finding influencers with high pagerank (page 1-2 for your business type) and paying them to review/feature your products and link to your site.

you can definitely rank as a small business as well in the organic search results, without any adwords budgets, but SEO is not as easy as it was 6-8 years ago - that´s for sure. if you are interested, i can have a look at your company´s site and provide some ideas / feedback, if you want to.

I manage SEO for a company in a very competitive and spammy SEO space (payday loans). (A good guy trying to fix the space.)

I spend an average of 10-15 hours/week disavowing bad links our competitors build. I've automated most of it now so it's going faster, but it's out of control.

It's a sad situation but I can pay $5 on Fiverr to attack you that way. Google should really handle it better.

they actually have, and have taken more steps to prevent this happening as of lately. (they also deny Negative SEO is a thing).

Their latest update of the Penguin algorithm states it is more "granular" and also stated it will really only penalize the pages that have the bad links pointing to it, rather than the whole site.

Small steps, I know but at least they are doing something it seems.

1) Update your Disavow file properly, which I am sure you've done

2) Email Google directly. It is sometimes difficult to find a way to email, but once you do they'll take care of it.

Any suggestions on where to search for such an email address?

Frankly I do not remember, but if you look into the webmaster console help section hard enough you will end up finding a place, or you can also try reporting an issue via the Maps since it is a local business. What is certain is you can contact someone there and they are usually helpful once you do.

Talk to one of their sales reps.

I dunno how much it has evolved, but Google got started by weighting search results based on how many other pages linked to that page. More links and your pages was found closer to the top of the results page.

So a easy way to game that was to set up "link farms" that pointed to each other, but not really offering anything worthwhile except a bunch of words people were likely to search for.

Goodhart's law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."


Supposedly Google now doesn't count these as negatives, they just disregard them. Specifically because of this vulnerability.

I wonder why google doesn't count spammy links as zero rather than negative.

"I guess my point is the current situation, basically 2 companies controlling so much traffic, seems, well, bad for small business in this country"

Why "in this country"? Isn't it a problem for the entrepreneurs in the rest of the world too?

More importantly, which country?

Fake indignation devalues legitimate indignation, you know which country.


Chinese businesses don't care, Russian businesses don't care, etc.

Says who?

Nobody in China uses Google other than English speakers. Google is notoriously bad at breaking Chinese characters up into words.

Few people in Russia use Google for Russian language searches, this is because Google is not as good at declining Russian nouns and conjugating Russian verbs. Yandex gives more results of a higher quality for certain searches.

>Nobody in China uses Google other than English speakers. Google is notoriously bad at breaking Chinese characters up into words.

That has no bearing on whether Chinese businesses care. Obviously there are tons of Chinese businesses that sell outside China, including retail businesses, and their customers DO use Google.

Same for the Russian case.

That's bulshit, Google auditory is bigger even in Russia, not saying about other russian speaking countries. prof: https://www.searchengines.ru/google_oboshel.html

Your article says that Google has overtaken Yandex in terms of the total usage for the traditional and mobile version of the Google website and its mobile apps (emphasis mine).

So a reasonable explanation is that Russians are increasingly using Google's apps: gmail, google calendar, the google now launcher; which probably has something to do with the fact that these apps come preinstalled on their phones. Not necessarily that they prefer Google for searching for Russian-language websites.

>> Few people in Russia use Google for Russian language searches

This is not true, Google has >20% share in Russia iirc

I didn't say nobody, I said few. 1/5 is not that many compared to the usage in English-speaking countries.

Yes, and I should have said as much.

It never occurred to me that back links from other websites would hurt ranking, I thought it's OK as long as a website don't point to other spamming sites... So this is really scary, it means that other people can attach your ranking...

Hence the disvow link button

>My site was targeted with millions of low quality links

Are you saying competitors maliciously sabotaged your ranking? Or that you bought SEO services from an unscrupulous company?

Does Google actually punish sites for buying spam SEO, or is this speculation without evidence? They don't publish page rank scores anymore, so how can one know? How does one determine their site is "punished"?

I have seen the consequences of paying for SEO. They spam your site URL on random web forums. If you pay for SEO, you are very likely paying people to use bots and sweatshops to spam your site url via low quality garbage links dumped on Twitter, on web site hosts, in comment sections and forums. A lot of this traffic originates from criminal botnets. Seriously, don't do it.

As an example I just pulled out of our filter, here's what you're really paying for when you pay for SEO: https://twitter.com/karenhall191

Unfortunately, as a web hosting provider (neocities.org), I have to deal with some of the fallout from this. Google's business model creates this problem, but they provide little support and few tools to help us deal with it (reporting API please?), and we're largely forced to go it alone.

>Does Google actually punish sites for buying spam SEO, or is this speculation without evidence? They don't publish page rank scores anymore, so how can one know?

Because they tell us:


>How does one determine their site is "punished"?

Because it suddenly falls behind in results?

That is not a measurable process. A site could fall behind for any number of reasons, including bugs in their algorithms. I'm never going to say to myself "welp, our pagerank went down, time to use Google's weird tool to clean up the negative SEO attack again."

Without a real way to understand what's actually going on, you're just shooting at the darkness. It feels more like worshiping a cargo cult than doing something actually productive.

>Without a real way to understand what's actually going on, you're just shooting at the darkness.

That's no more a reason to doubt spam links' effect than to doubt any other suspected metric, as all as "shooting in the darkness".

What are you gonna do, lie down and have the site end up as low as it can get? Sometimes you do need to fight in the dark, and gauge any changes you make from the reaction you get.

"I'm never going to say to myself "welp, our pagerank went down, time to use Google's weird tool to clean up the negative SEO attack again."" -- is not really an option.

I have seen people promote several unrelated sites on the same spam network, and watched them rise and fall in lockstep.

I do know a company in India which does this site linking in forums, comment sections etc for their own product. They have large number of guys working on just linking. And does have good revenue as well.


What does that have to do with anything?

A valid question.

So I've never done any "SEO" work on the site outside of Google's own recommendations with regard to site content, ease of use, etc.

In other words no link building, keyword stuffed pages, etc.

I'm still in the dark all these years later, but my best guess is:

a. I had a blog and forum that, like most of that time (2012's), has occasional spam posts.

b. Those posts would often, but not always, be referenced by the spam links pointing to my site.

c. I had very high rank in Google for several years leading up to the penalty.

Because of this I don't think it was a necessarily a competitor, but rather spammers trying to leech off of that high ranking.

Either could be just as true, and you can't always tell which SEO company will be unscrupulous. They are masters of the spin, after all. I have resolved to never use the services of an SEO company. Having both been burnt and worked in the industry itself, I would rather not work on a project that relies on "SEO" for important revenue at all. As noted above, it is a fickle and ultimately brittle way to prop a business up.

Or your competitors bought SEO from an unscrupulous company ... ?

> Is the dream of the open Internet already dead?

At most, the dream of ad-funded websites might be dead. (I wish!)

This dream created a lot of value by providing free services to Web users. But it also created a lot of harm by enticing those users into closed gardens full of surveillance, which service providers created to gather data to drive ad revenue. I think on net the harm is much greater; we'd have a much more open Internet today if people had gotten used to paying a few dollars a year for ad-free webmail, IM, social networking, search engine access, etc.

> At most, the dream of ad-funded websites might be dead. (I wish!)

What you are wishing for is a world in which access to things like Google Search which we take utterly for granted now are forced to become paid services. What are the implications of that, particularly for the world's poorest?

> a world in which access to things like Google Search which we take utterly for granted now are forced to become paid services. What are the implications of that, particularly for the world's poorest?

hmmm so Google will stop being a de facto monopoly while ad networks crumble? Maybe free and/or open search will start flourishing again because finally there is incentive to write readable HTML for all crawlers instead of only returning scannable results when they detect the (highly peculiar) GoogleBot.

Maybe we'll get search engines again that do proper ranking (I hear actual pagerank was not a bad idea), or ones that do a proper AND-search of your keywords instead of trying second-guess you. Maybe they'll even return more than the top 1000 results. Search engines aren't that hard if you don't try to be as big as Google immediately and they just try to be good at that things they're good for.

Walled silos of user-supplied data will fall apart because it's no longer a viable strategy to special-case GoogleBot access to get your locked data appear in the results any way.

Google can no longer afford to arbitrarily overlook tactics which are against their TOS, as long as the player is big enough.

All the while, small business can still advertise if they want, easily enough by making a deal with other businesses (perhaps through a middle-man) and self-hosting the banner, click-through link to the other. Maybe some self-hosted analytics. And because in this hypothetical dream-world the craziness of these huge 3rd party ad-networks is gone, this will actually work, it'll pay, people will click.

Ads will therefore become much less shady as they are currently perceived (like, merely deceitful, not as a proper possible danger to your computer, your data and identity). Hopefully this will change the public idea of what ads can and should be in such a way that these ridiculous 3rd party ad networks with their "accidental" malicious code and ubiquitous tracking will never get a foothold again.

There might also be some downsides, though.

How much does it cost Google Search to support an extra user on the margin? I don't really know, but I'd wager much less than $1/year - because it's very implausible that the extra ad revenue it gets today from an extra user is more than that.

(The world's poorest people are a really bad target audience for ads - they have very little discretionary income!)

Meanwhile, the cost of Internet access for the poorest people is at least an order of magnitude bigger, maybe two orders of magnitude (since the cost to Google probably is much less than $1). Also, poor people's main or only Internet access is often via smartphones, and mobile data costs much more per GB than landline ISPs.

On the margin, some people who can afford Internet access today would not be able to also afford (as many) paid services. I'm willing to pay this price, in exchange for everyone who could afford access and services (including most of the poor people who can do so now) getting much better and more varied service and much less surveillance. Also, a paid model would enable people who publish blogs and other sites, and various services.

Finally, if you treat Internet or Web access and services as very important and maybe a human right, then governments should provide it or subsidize access or regulate prices. Absent that, for-profit corporations paid by users would be much better than the same corporations paid by advertisers.

I'm surprised to not see more discussion of things like ZeroNet in these types of threads. I see the next generation of sites being on a platform like that, where everyone consuming content is also helping to carry the distribution load.

Google at least has the organic option.

"If your content is fresh and linked to from reputable sites, we'll promote you in the search results... for free."

Facebook is purely pay-for-play. Paying for boosted posts is the only way to cut through the noise (unless your content goes organically viral, which only has a 24 hr shelf life).

If you have watched the SERPS (search engine results pages) over the years you have seen that a number 1 organic ranking has gone from # 1 to something like #20 after all of the ads and what not that are shown above the first organic rank these days.

Some evolution images and stories: http://searchengineland.com/evolution-google-serps-three-key...

It is still "free" but takes a lot of work to get there, and it is worth less than it used to be. Lots of SEO's have gone the way of paid.

Pardon my ignorance but why do generally spammers hit a website?

If it makes you feel any better, I've been blocking ads the whole time.

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