It's going to be great for those of us building out quality sites though!
1. Buy a ton of domains
2. Put up picture-based landing pages on those domains. The user only really sees pictures.
3. Put up or spin content with relevant keywords, put it underneath the images. Google only sees a couple pictures (it doesn't know what they are) and a bunch of really relevant content.
4. Build a shiz-ton of links. This is where black hatters really make their money. I usually build about 125,000 links/day from completely legit sites, and to Google it pretty much looks like it's going viral. If you know where to get the links, know how to generate the content, and can make them seem human, Google has a really hard time finding you.
5. Link the landing pages to your money site using affiliate links.
6. Wait until your site gets manually reviewed and pulled down.
So any somewhat decent black-hatter will have hundreds of sites in the works at any given time. The worry of taking a site down isn't a big one, even though if you take down one site a black-hatter's traffic could drop 3,000 visits/day. The sites I work on usually remain up for an average of 6 months at a time, and the only way for them to be caught is a manual review. Some only stay up for a couple weeks, but some stay up for years. There have been times when landing pages are getting a couple thousand visits a day but I haven't had time to go back through and redirect the traffic to the money site or update them from the generic landing page.
Since all of the actions taken mimic closely enough what humans would do, it's really difficult to be caught by webspam teams.
In my mind it's really difficult to differentiate between what most people call "white-hat" SEO and what I used to do ("black-hat"). White hat SEO (which is basically posting links in forums, blog comments, etc.) is trying to manipulate Google's search engine manually, black-hat is automating it and doing it at scale.
White hat is about earning links. A arms length third party has to give you a link for it to count.
That means it has a lot more to do with Public Relations than Page Rank.
If you drop a link yourself in a forum or blog comment, that's fundamentally NOT white hat. That's just non-automated black hat. That's also been below Google's radar.
This is the fundamental problem with SEO... People like you and me who are arguably 'experts' disagree about these definitions.
Ignorant clients hear "forums links are white hat" and reasonably extrapolate that "automated forum links are just scalable white hat SEO." And then they get into trouble.
I've seen it happen at some very well-funded startups. The marketing team looks like geniuses... for a while. Until they get nailed, then they claim they were tricked by a black hat SEO firm.
A websticker program, for instance, that is marketed via actual direct contact with potentially valuable partners, can provide high-quality in-bound links that are voluntary and durable. True, this works better in B2B than B2C. For B2C, an affiliate or discount program can do similar things. These can be supported by advertising as well.
These sorts of programs take a commitment, though. You're not going to make a quick big splash this way. But they do work over time, particularly since Google values age in both domains and inbound links.
That's what the best ones like CitationLabs and Eric Ward do.
A really good SEO can produce 100-150 truly earned links a month. But that would cost you $15k/mo and most clients aren't willing to make that kind of long term investment.
Why won't they invest is a question for another thread, but I suspect blackhats have created a "market for lemons."
I would have though this is a no brainer for Google to catch these days. I though text under pictures would be like white text on white and would set off immediate alarm bells.
Is that not because Google has successfully eliminated the long term viability of the tactics? Sitting on the sideline (sort of) it looks to be easier and easier to get rankings the "right" way and harder and harder to get them the "wrong" way.
Google has never been good at handling short term black hat spam (buy viagra is the colloquial example always). They are good at filtering sites out after they've been ranked for a while though.
But when these blackhatters are making tens of thousands of dollars a day with their short term rankings, it's hard to convince them that they need to be focusing on the long term rankings avenue...
What some bloggers are now doing is buying links to destroy competition. They don't even need to "order" black hat. They just go to fivver and order some of "panda optimized" gigs for $5 (these gigs just hurt - they dont help). And whola.... competition is toasted...
I hope this is going to be fixed somehow.
EDIT: Also is this is just an "urban legend" or real problem?
This has killed rankings for a few sites that I've worked with. It is really easy to get thousands of spam/porn sites to link to a competitor with exact match anchor text for whatever keyword you want. And it's basically impossible to figure out which competitor is doing it to you.
Google used to just 'devalue' all crap links pointing to a site. A link could never hurt you. Now that links can hurt your site, it's totally wide open for this type of thing to happen.
Here's a good case study/experiment done on negative SEO if anybody is interested in further reading: http://trafficplanet.com/topic/2372-successful-negative-seo-...
I remember a comment by Eric Schmidt that the best way to combat spam was through "brands". While brands are a component of good search results, I can't think of a more misguided philosophy. If the only advice Google has about where to buy something is to buy from "Amazon" then Google has lost its utility in revenue generating searches. I think the best way to combat SEO spam is through engineering and hard work. Giving all the power to established brands is a shortcut that will ultimately undermine Google's core value to its users.
Anyway, here's what someone should do:
Buy a bunch of spam links on fivver for keyword "matt cutts" and point it to his domain www.mattcutts.com. (He's one of the few people on Earth with plausible deniability regarding Google manipulation.)
If you successfully remove his domain from spot one on Google, this is potentially a real problem.
Comparing a "big" site like that to a small business who might have $10-20 spent against them to negative SEO doesn't really compare.
It's like comparing McDonalds to a local burger joint.
Almost certain that there is. After a certain internal Google score (?) it appears like no update will penalize you with things like 70% traffic drop out of the blue. Big brands are largely not effected by Google's many updates and even when they buy links etc they are forgiven very fast. Regular sites on the other hand are told generic nonsense as they lose visitors update after update.
"And we actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side."
So there is something that is specifically recorded for well-known sites that likely prevents them from receiving the same treatment as other, smaller sites. And anyone who works in SEO can tell you that not since Vince has it been just about links.
Brands escape major updates, something we saw especially after Panda. As soon as some major sites were hit, they changed the algorithm. Google does not algorithmically punish certain sites for link buying and other shenanigans. I suspect that after a site reaches a certain level of score (not calling it PR) it's golden. So buying 123456789 comment spam links for "Matt Cutts" on fiver will not do much, but 500 links to mymomscookies.tld will cause them to go to page 10, or dead in the water.
Google doesn't seem to care because small sites don't give them pr problems (Audi and Macys would) and small sites will be forced to advertise, if they want any traffic. Notice the perverse inventive? Cut the free traffic and increase adwords' business.
Yeah, lots of things. Things I mentioned in the comment.
You're on hn every time there's a Google story talking about how they're killing smaller sites, acting monopolistic, violating anti-trust regulations or whatever, what is your motivation?
T-R-U-T-H is a great motivator.
As long as there is a financial incentive to ranking well in google and that the mechanism to rank better is to get links, people with money will buy links in the same way they buy influence in the media, politics, etc.
They treat public links as a voting mechanism. Unfortunately, in the era of social networking, and maybe outside of their own Google+ network, they probably don't even see the majority of high quality links based on honest personal recommendations any more.
Ultimately, I think this is going to be a good thing. Relying on a single, unaccountable source for most of your traffic was always a risky prospect for a small business, however good your products/services might be. I'm much happier with the situation we're seeing now, where search traffic represents maybe 30-40% of our total visits over a month, social networks are collectively a larger part, and there's also a substantial minority of direct traffic that presumably came from off-line word of mouth referrals and/or more traditional marketing channels where we use them.
I've been wondering whether something like this might explain how one of my sites, which has about two incoming public links in the entire universe and probably a page rank of 0 but seems to attract a decent level of FB/Twitter interest, hits the first SERP at least once for numerous queries in its niche.
But Google's algorithm by now is certainly more complex than "giving each link a vote". A lot of SEO is on-page SEO, too, so it doesn't depend all on links.
It also seems they will be focusing more on "author rank", which means posts written by "popular" authors (whatever that means in Google's algorithm) will more easily rank in Google than those written by less "popular" authors.
Now the function of a link has changed entirely. Many of them don't even exist to be clicked, and many of those that do are either advertising or the functional equivalent.
There are a few places where a link really is still an endorsement: for example if I put together a hacker news comment that links a blog post I think is informative. Or a (genuine) blogger that writes about a topic.
However, anytime there's a useful signal to be found in something like that the SEO jerks come and flood it. That's why we've got comment spam, we have reddit sock-puppets, we've got blogvertisments and so on.
And the so-called white hat SEOs aren't much better in this regard. They are pushing their clients to go write mediocre "content" that is largely duplicative of what's already out there. People should only be writing content if they have something -- preferably interesting and/or informative -- to say, not because it means more people will visit their brochureware site, and certainly not as a means of getting (tricking?) people to click on no-value-add affiliate links or AdSense ads. That's putting the cart before the horse.
By this do you mean popular people will rank more easily like they do now? How is popularity determined? By links?
re: How do you solve it?
You don't. At least, not how Google does it. Google is trying to act like the government of the internet and tries to manipulate behavior into things that align with Google's goals - primarily making money via AdWords. To achieve this goal, they try to discredit competing advertising paid link systems because they break Google's system. It's akin to twitter making it all but impossible to have a successful twitter client.
At some point, there is too much money in the current system to render what Google's webspam team does as much more than an elaborate game of whack-a-mole. They hit spam, more spam pops up elsewhere.
The only way for Google to make their algorithm better is to take out or dial back the "buyable" elements - the social ones like links, tweets, facebook fans, etc. They did this pretty effectively with AdWords over the years. It's harder with organic results, but not impossible. Arguably, for many people you could put 10 reasonable, relevant, non-spam results on the front page of a given search term and it would be "good enough" for many people. Something akin to DuckDuckGo.
Since this is a non-trivial problem what Google is doing is basically better than anyone else so far, and there is a lot of value in the social signals if only because it makes people care more about Google than they care about ranking on Twitter or Facebook. So, kudos to Google on what they're doing, but there is nothing inherent to search that requires a link to be a vote or for that to be such an important relevance factor.
Just like in real politics, Google must tread carefully. You can't arrest the president because someone bought votes on his behalf, just like Google can't nuke a site because it has purchased links.
The incentive doesn't disappear, as there is a great deal to be gained by being bumped up search results. They raise the costs or circumventing the system, but that just means people look elsewhere. Its an arms race.
The closer a spammer's actions appear to that of a normal person, the harder it is to find and devalue those links.
Google's updates have been in the recent past are saying (Panda, Penguin), "Well, spammers generally tend do to this, let's make that bad now."
Unfortunately, the result will be a lot of sites playing within the rules getting unfairly penalized, just like Panda and Penguin.
If your worried about this update then you haven't being doing "SEO" right.
My site is pretty much all user generated content (car reviews), and Panda seems to struggle with differentiating such sites from content farms, unless they're part of a larger, established brand.
Almost two years of attempting to fix the problem by improving quality and layouts, reducing ads etc had no effect. Then I raised my case on Google's own forums, resulting in a lot of attention, and a few weeks later I saw a massive improvement (I know, correlation is not causation). Unfortunately I seem to have been hit again last week, by something that looks suspiciously like Panda (though I'm not 100% sure).
I've mostly moved on (now working on an iOS app), but it did appear from the outside that Google was comfortable with the impact of Panda, and it's good to know that they're still focussed on improving it.
Most of the collateral damage is going to be people straddling the grey hat line and rightly so in my own opinion.
Glass fans should be happy to know that shortly after the algo change they should be seeing another wave of public demonstrations, perhaps a self-driving car sighting or two.
First point on googles webmaster guidelines says it all. Your chasing google, build a site for your users first, google will follow because it's in there interest to provide the most relevant content.
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.
A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee.
Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?
Google tells you to design for the user. This assumes that Google is just as clever as people - what they love to tell you - but which it isn't. That's the main reason people put text blurbs everywhere, create landing pages, put synonyms and different keywords on their pages, because Google is not clever enough.
And your competition just ranks. If you design your pages for users you don't rank from my experience - e.g. people do not care about URLs, do not care about H1 tags on ecommerce pages, don't care about bold, don't care about explanations on ecommerce sites what a t-shirt is or what trousers are . But Google does.
Most of the current high ranking pages, SCREAM "I've been designed for Google!" right into your face.
see exhibit A: http://www.zalando.de/damenschuhe-pumps/
The text on the page to the bottom and to the left clearly isn't for users.
If you have examples of your SEO work where you rank for keywords and have designed your pages for users and not designed the pages for Google I'd be very interested to learn from you - as would /r/seo.
If your in a competitive market where you have to worry about negative SEO so much so that it is making an impact on your SERPs then I'm sure the web spam team would be more than interested in hearing from you
It's one of the risks you take which should of been identified if your a competent business owner that wants to survive.
If your worried about this update then you haven't been doing seo right and If your relying solely on a 3rd party for the existence or profitability of your company then you have bigger issue at hand than just your seo.
>>If your worried about this update then you haven't been doing seo right
I love this statement, heard it right after Panda when the "good SEOs" were bashing the panda hit sites...and then their own sites were destroyed too. As horrible as it may sound, I actually felt good.
(Downvote if you will but I doubt Google's intentions these days and their earnings are through the roof, even as PPC goes down.)
Eventually. Doesn't mean that Google isn't doing it believing they're controlling the negative effects or doing it "just a bit" this time and a bit more that quarter.
Diversity on Google is largely gone on transactional search, big brands rule both the ads and organic search. This is responsible, IMO, for Google at almost $900/share but will eventually ruin Google. They got too greedy and people will eventually bypass them and go directly to the brands Google promoted for short term cash.
The problem with these spam signals, like comment SPAM, it's very hard to know if they are from the target of the links, or from some other person trying to damage your reputation online and hoping you get penalised. Google doesn't see the IPs / email addresses that submit these comments. So it's impossible to know if they are legitimate or not when it comes to who has created them.
This is clearly nonsense when some webmasters were buying thousands of links.
There is this movement lately to call it "content marketing" instead of just SEO, but really, content marketing is simply an SEO technique.
When google can't devalue hacked/cloaked links well, I expect much collateral damage with Penguin (since it has primarily been focused on low value links). It won't be a precision attack on webspam.
Until recently Google was winning the propaganda war, now not so sure. On web forums people are openly talking about search manipulation to increase advertising via Adwords and ad clicks.