How Google Finds and Penalizes Advertorials

google unnnatural links webmatster-tools

No website owner wants to log into Google Webmaster Tools and see an unnatural link warning from Google. Yet it’s happening to more and more websites every day.

From what I am seeing, many of these unnatural link warnings and manual penalties from Google are a result of having participated in advertorials. Google wants links in advertorials to be tagged with the nofollow attribute and the FTC requires full disclosure. So how does Google find and penalize websites who have links from advertorials? If we understand this, as a website owner, you can make sure that your links will pass the “sniff test”, thus keeping yourself away from Google’s radar, which means that there is less of a chance that you will receive an unnatural link warning from Google.

First, a little background
Back in 2003, when Google was beginning to crack down on paid links, I had a conversation with Shari Thurow about how Google determined, in an automated fashion, whether a website contained paid links or not. In order for Google to “deal” with the thousands or tens of thousands of websites buying and selling paid links was a tremendous task. The only way that they could deal with it all was to use some sort of way to determine which pages contained paid links and which did not: in an automated fashion. Then, perhaps deal with those sites that they found.

Back then, it was a really interesting concept: Google looked at a web page as a whole, and breaks up that web page up into different “parts”. Kind of like several “blocks” or rectangles, so to speak. The likelihood of a list of paid links appearing on the sidebar (the left or right side) of a page, and even in the footer, was very good. Paid links very rarely appear in the navigation of a site, or even in the middle of the text on the page, the main content, within the middle of sentences (more on this later). Take a look at the example below. The likelihood of paid links appearing in the sections that I’ve highlighted in red below is a good example of this.

Search Engine Land Sponsored Links

I’m using Search Engine Land in the example above. There are clearly marked “sponsored” blocks of text (and ads) that are paid links. Although one of the sponsored ads appears in the middle of the page, it just happens to be marked “sponsored” and is next to more text link ads that are sponsored, as well (the ones of the right side). I would like to note that those text link ads do not appear to have the “nofollow” attribute on them.

If Google were looking at the web page (SE Land) today (which I am sure their system is doing), they could fairly easily identify which links are paid (sponsored) and which ones are not.

How Google Identifies Advertorials
Unfortunately, we do not have access to Google’s internal algorithm and how they are identifying issues on websites that they deem to be against their Google Webmaster Guidelines. One of these major issues that they’re dealing with right now (thus this blog post) is the subject of advertorials. Certainly I don’t have access to how they actually identify advertorials, but let’s examine the likelihood of how they do it.

What we know is that Google has to work in identifying advertorials into their algorithm–or one of the “checks” or “processes” that they run from time to time to deal with what I would call “advertorial spam”. It just simply is not “scaleable” to identify advertorials solely based on spam reports that they receive from users or manually review websites. So, what Google does is identify the typical “footprint” of advertorials across the board, and then narrow them down to a specific list of URLs that are most likely advertorials. At that point, how they deal with them is anyone’s guess. Whether or not Google has someone actually manually review those URLs and then decide to give the site that’s benefiting from the advertorial a manual link warning is also anyone’s guess. But my suspicion is that Google’s filter first identifies the sites and then someone works off a list of some sort.

So how could Google identify the footprint of advertorials? Luckily, I have personally dealt with manual link warnings by Google (this is something I specialize in), and have seen the actual URLs that Google has given us as examples: which were advertorials. So I know exactly what Google is identifying as an advertorial because they have given me specific URLs as examples. Keep in mind that Google has absolutely NO WAY to determine whether or not the website owner was paid or compensated in any way for the advertorial. But, nonetheless, Google hands out manual link warnings and manual penalties for these advertorials.

Based on my experience, these are tell-tale signs of advertorials: the kind of web pages that will get your website penalized in the Google search results, even if no money or compensation changed hands for the link on the page. Typically several of these signs indicate that it’s an advertorial:

- The web page contains an article, typically several paragraphs of text.
- The page has one outgoing link, towards the bottom of the page. If an article contains several paragraphs, it is not “natural” to only have one outgoing link at the bottom of the page. What IS natural is to link out a few times to trusted sites in the middle of the article, where the link is in the middle of a sentence.
- That one outgoing link is close to, or at the end of a promotional-type sentence. This is where it gets interesting. I believe that Google has the ability to identify copy that’s promotional in nature. Certainly phrases like “sponsored by” or “provided by” would be good candidates here. But, also something like “for more information, see X” would be a good candidate for indicating it’s an advertorial, as well.

There are other tell-tale signs that an article is an advertorial, and those signs may be a bit more difficult for Google to determine in an algorithmic or “filter” type of way. Once Google’s filter determines if there is the potential for a web page to be an advertorial, they problem look for more “signs”. They might even flag the page for manual review by a human, who would then decide if it’s an advertorial or not.

Typically, from all of the hundreds (thousands?) of advertorials I have personally reviewed in the past, many of them seem to have one common theme in common: the article presents a problem or identifies an “issue”. Then, at the end of the article, the “solution” to that problem is to go do business with another website. The articles have only one outgoing link, at the end, linking to the site (that would receive the unnatural link warning and the manual penalty by Google). In fact, this same common theme is the exact same “theme” or way many articles are presented via the article sites that got penalized so heavily by Google in the past few years.

Let’s take a look at, for example, the type of article that appears in Ezine Articles, a site that was heavily hit by Google’s algorithm recently. Generally, these are seen as “low quality” articles. One reason could be that all of the articles typically have only one outgoing link at the end of each article: which is the exact requirement of these article sites, and, just so happens to be the exact footprint of all of the advertorials that I am seeing that have received manual link warning (and manual link penalties) from Google that have required a reconsideration request.

ezinearticles
This is one of the articles that I wrote back around 2005 that has the same exact footprint of the types of advertorials that are being penalized by Google. And it has the same exact footprint of a “low quality article” that Google penalized during recent major Google updates. Notice that there are no internal links in the article–just one “nofollow” link and then a “do follow” link(s) at the end of the article.

So, there is really a footprint of articles that have been penalized by Google, and specifically these articles are the ones that are resulting in manual penalties by Google. The type of penalties that are not only low quality, but ones that will stop your entire website from losing all of its organic search engine rankings in Google.

This footprint, in fact, is virtually the same for articles that are deemed to be “low quality” than it is deemed to be an advertorial. Are low quality articles really the same as advertorials? It seems to be that way.

Let’s Define Advertorials
Let’s take a look at the actual definition of “advertorial”, according to Google’s own search results. You can search for this in Google to find it:

define:advertorial

The search result is interesting:

define advertorial

“1. a newspaper or magazine advertisement giving information about a product in the style of an editorial or objective journalistic article”, according to the Google search result.

I would actually like to add “website” to that definition, as it could be a newspaper, magazine, or magazine ad. For the purposes of website advertorials, and the fact that some websites or blogs could also be considered “newspapers” or “magazines”, then we should consider that the definition would change ever so slightly. But, what’s important to note is the “style of an editorial or objective journalistic article”. The actual definition does NOT include any reference to whether or not money or compensation (such as a service or merchandise received) in exchange for the article or link in the article. But again, the key here is “advertisement”.

When considering whether or not an article is truly a journalistic article or one that is essentially an advertisement for a particular product, service, or website, we have to ultimately look at the intent of the article. But we absolutely have to start with the way that Google is most likely identifying advertorials, which is using the several “signals” that I suggested above. If the article includes any of the signals that I’ve mentioned above, then you absolutely must reconsider your intent of the article (why it is being written in the first place).

Most articles can be edited and rewritten so that they are NOT advertorials or “low quality articles”. Include research in your article. Include links to trusted sites that tell the reader that they should trust what you’re saying. If they are confused about something or a reference you make, they can click on a link in the article and learn more.

Whatever you do, though, don’t write an article that only includes one outgoing link, to your preferred product, service, or website. That, my friend is an advertorial: and you risk getting penalized by Google or, even worse, given a manual link warning.

SEO Firm Offers Natural Link Building Services

There are so many companies out there that claim to offer natural link building services, which is an interesting type of service. Think about it for a minute. If your company offered something called “natural” link building services, then the links that you get to your website uh, well, would NOT be natural?

My definition of a natural link is one that you did not obtain by asking someone for a link–and you did not obtain that link because you hired an SEO firm to build those links for you.

This is exactly why I continue to be a strong believer in the Link Earning type of linking or link building service rather than “link building”. It’s a strong focus on the actual content: and using social media to get your content noticed. It’s then when you will truly obtain “natural” links.

I just had to laugh when I got an unsolicited email from someone named “Shane” who calls himself a “business development executive”. I have so many problem with this email below it’s amazing. Not to mention the fact that it was sent unsolicited, and I would first consider it to be spam. But first, take a look at it:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Shane Date: Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 7:18 AM
Subject: Natural Link Building Services !!
To: Info@ XXXXXXXXXXX.com

Hi,
I am Shane Business Development Executive.

I was on your website and observed that you are an online service provider. I was just wondering if you would be interested in outsourcing your campaigns to us. We would be happy to execute the same for you on a white level basis.

Why choose us?

The answer is simple! We provide very UNIQUE link building service. It’s not the same as what most SEO companies do:

Top 20 Benefits of Our Service:

1. Securing “unidirectional” (One-way) or only-Incoming (non-reciprocal) links
2. Links with relevant “Keywords” in the Anchor Text
3. Links from industry-relevant pages.
4. Links from industry specific article pages
5. Links for your Website should not be through a “redirect” script
6. No JavaScript links
7. No links from “framed” pages
8. No “flash” embedded links
9. No paid or time-bound links
10. No email spam used to solicit links.
11. No links from “Link Farms”
12. No links from FFA (Free-For-All) link networks
13. No links from Pornographic, Casino, Viagra and other sites containing offensive content
14. Full data sheet of links created at the end of each month
15. Only relevant established links are counted in the final report
16. No links text nude
17. No “no-follow” links
18. No more than 75 outgoing links
19. No links from blog, directory, forum posting.
20. All the links will be Google cached and indexed pages.

However, all these benefits leads to one goal: “Increase in Sales”.
Let me know your views and I would be happy to provide further details.

Kind Regards,
Shane
Business Development Executive

First off, I would NEVER do business with someone who sent a spam email to an “info@” type of email address on my website. I just wouldn’t. But that’s just me.

I wouldn’t call myself a “Business Development Executive”. We all know that he’s a sales guy. Well, now a sales guy that’s a spammer. But I digress.

“I was on your website and observed that you are an online service provider”… Really? The site it was sent to is a local geo-type blog. Think “cityname + blog” type of keywords for this site. He never visited the site. That’s a lie. I don’t hire liars, either.

“It’s not the same as what most SEO companies do”… really? The problem is that all the SEO firms out there claim and do exactly what this guy is claiming. All of those statements, I would hope, are followed by just about any other SEO firm claiming to do link building nowadays. So, what exactly is unique about what Shane’s SEO firm does that no other SEO firm does? Well, uh, he never says!

Who builds links from FFA (Free For All) sites now anyway? That’s Sooooooo, 1998 link building I’m amazed that it’s even a tactic listed here.

One more thing. What the heck is “No links text nude”. I mean really, I didn’t know that links could be nude.

In a Post Google Penguin World, It is Still Okay to Link Out

In a post Google Penguin world, it is still okay (an natural) to link out to other websites. Here in June of 2013, I am horrified that I actually have to have this conversation with other website owners and bloggers. I mean, really. Why would it possibly hurt your search engine rankings if you linked out to a company’s website when you mention them in your blog post?

Linkout Out to Other Websites

Well, apparently there is a rumor going around. The rumor is that if you write an article or blog post and put it on your website, you should NOT (ever) link out to another company’s website–even if you mention them in the article. Supposedly Google will somehow mistaken your outgoing link for a paid link and penalize your website in the process. So, apparently the answer to all of this is to stop linking out to other websites.

What?!? When I heard this from a fellow blogger, the first thing I thought of was the fact that that is one of the most ridiculous rumors I have ever heard (and I’ve certainly heard a lot of them). But I can honestly say that with all of the information (and misinformation) out there about the Panda and Penguin Google Updates, I can see where people could get confused.

Let’s first start with this. At the Pubcon conference (yes I just linked out to another site), in April 2013, I gave the following presentation about Google Panda and Google Penguin. It’s important to understand the basics–what Panda and Penguin are about.

If you look at the following article (there again I linked out yet again and it won’t hurt my rankings), Guillaume Bouchard writes for Search Engine Watch and mentions the following about what constitutes a fishy link:

Outbound links using exact match anchor text from low quality sites (or penalized by Google), or from the same IP address

Well, that certainly could be confusing. He’s talking about LINKS THAT ARE POINTING TO YOUR SITE, not links that you have on your site pointing to other websites. What you don’t want is exact match anchor text links on low quality sites pointing to you. Get rid of those. Get them removed. Or disavow those links.

Remember, linking out to other web sites is natural and part of one of the core principles of the internet: other websites links to you and you link out to them. Want more proof? Here is what Web Page Mistakes has to say:

Providing Relevant Outbound Links is Good

Why is linking out good? Because as you write your article and make statements you should provide links to related and respected sources to backup your statements. This can be done by quoting a source and providing the link to the original article you quoted from (besides being good manners on the net).

Another way to provide relevant outgoing links is to provide a further reading or resources section at the end of your article.

Wait, what?!? Look at the sentence just before this quote. I linked out to another website, another web page that has all sorts of information to back up what I’m talking about. And, technically speaking, you probably came across this article because it ranks well in the Google search results. So, don’t be afraid to link out to other websites, especially when it is appropriate to do so.

You are not participating in a link scheme that Google will penalize you for if you link out to a company’s website when you mention that company in an article on your blog. That’s just insane to think that way.

In a post-Google Penguin world, yes, it is still okay to link out to other websites. In fact, if you don’t link out, it’s unnatural. That’s what might actually hurt your rankings.

Penalized or Banned in Google? Don’t Issue a Press Release Like IGXE Internet Gaming Exchange

If your website is banned in the Google search engine or if your website is penalized, then I don’t recommend writing and distributing a press release about it. IGXE the Internet Gaming Exchange, a company that specializes in selling MMORPG currencies, items, power leveling, and CD-keys, such as World of Warcraft gold, apparently got penalized in the Google search engine for buying links. As a result, instead of admitting that they did something wrong, they issued a press release telling others that they should not hire network marketing companies.

Here is some of the text from the press release that IGXE issued today. Essentially, they blamed someone else (network marketing companies) rather than themselves for getting penalized. They bought links, which is against Google’s acceptable Webmaster Guidelines. Google caught them, and penalized their website as a result.

igxe penalized google press release

WILMINGTON, Del., May 13, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — In January 2013, IGXE (www.igxe.com), one of the top in-game branding service websites specializing in MMORPG currencies, items, power leveling, and CD-keys, was punished by Google after IGXE took advantage of network marketing companies to improve its website ranking. When IGXE disappeared from the Google search engine, customers were left wondering why. Some even assumed that IGXE was closed. Others felt panic over their unused bonuses and vouchers. For this, the manager of IGXE marketing department, Vinson Hall, sought to assuage all concerns in an interview.

This punishment brought big losses to IGXE.com, as we lost lots of customers including our old customers. We learned a lesson. Vinson said that IGXE has already terminated its cooperation with network marketing companies. What’s more, bonuses or vouchers can still be used on IGXE. At any given time, IGXE will always protect its customers.

The whole premise for this press release (the reason behind it) is to blame some “network marketers” which I think honestly is a mistake. The problem mean “online marketers” or “internet marketers” rather than “network marketers”. The person who wrote the press release doesn’t appear to have a good command of the English language.

Rather than blaming some other company for your mistakes (buying links), then IGXE should only blame themselves. The company is ultimately responsible for all of their online marketing activities. If you choose to outsource your marketing efforts, then you must police those efforts and monitor everything that is being done.

There is absolutely no excuse for not knowing that you’re paying for links (which is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines). There are plenty of tools available for you to check the links to your website, and even some like Majestic SEO will give you all the data about your own website for free (as long as you prove you’re the owner of you site).

So, what happened?

According to IGXE, in January 2013, IGXE received a notice from Google (most likely via a message from Google Webmaster Tools) stating that there were unnatural links pointing to their website. Google also at the time apparently either banned IGXE from the search results or they severely penalized the site. for what it’s worth, IGXE is back in the search results now for brand-related keyword phrases.

What is amazing to me is that IGXE’s CEO is blaming Google for all of this. The company’s CEO is doing everything they can to blame someone else for this loss of revenue and “reputation”, and they’re not blaming themselves for doing something that is so very clearly against the search engine’s guidelines. Here is what IGXE’s CEO had to say:

It influenced our reputation significantly. Even now, some customers think that IGXE is closed. Besides, Google’s punishment affected IGXE negatively. As far as we know, we have already lost 30 percent of our old customers. Although we tried many other ways to reduce the loss, we still lost the trust of customers. This cannot be calculated.

Apparently IGXE has lost a lot of money and a lot of traffic. It even “influenced their reputation”. And they’ve already lost 30 percent of their customer base. IGXE apparently took a big hit in rankings and traffic when they were “caught” by Google buying links to their website. They are apparently now cleaning up the links. But, based on my experience, the site may not fully recover.

What’s my advice, here? Don’t buy links. But if you’re going to buy links (or participate in link schemes that are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines), don’t blame someone else for something that you did. Don’t blame the network marketers. Don’t blame the SEOs. Don’t blame the online marketers.

And whatever you do, don’t blame Zac, the “famous” SEO specialist:

Zac, the famous SEO specialist, said that there many ways to cheat SEO including hidden links, link spam, paid links, keyword stuffing, and more.

Who the heck is Zac?

It is Still Possible to Spam the Google Search Results

Breaking News: It is still possible to game the Google search results, even for commercial keyword phrases. In fact, you can even put up low-quality, low-content, spam web pages and get them to rank well in Google. Not only that, it is still possible, even when the Google Penguin and Google Panda have been in full force, to rank well with that low quality spam content and redirect visitors using a javascript redirect to another website.

Can you tell that I’m disturbed by this? Well, I am.

Let’s take a very specific example and take a look. It isn’t normal that someone in the SEO community comes out and gives concrete examples, so take a look while it lasts. Take a look at the page, take a look at the backlinks to the page, and take a look at the search results (currently showing up on the 2nd page of results) for a Google keyword search for “wholesale sunglasses”. A highly sought-after commercial keyword phrase.

wholesale sunglasses

You’ll need to click on the screen capture above in order to see the larger version. In this case, there are two sites ranking in the top 20 for “wholesale sunglasses” that are some of the worst spam sites I’ve seen in a while. Visitors are redirected via javascript to another web site, something that Google supposedly took care of about 10 years ago. It’s a classic spam tactic and does NOT belong in the search results.

Furthermore, let’s take a look at one of the sites, why it’s actually ranking, as we can learn a lot from this.

First, it appears that the person doing this hacked a legitimate web site and put a page of content on the site without the site owner’s permission. Or, they may have bought the site and put up the old content. I’m not sure in this case, because I have not actually called the business to see if they are still in business or not.

Secondly, the actual content (shown below) is pretty low-quality. As low-quality as it gets. It is on-topic, though:

My Kids Spending

In this case, it’s this page: http://www.mykidsspending.com/wholesalesunglasses48.html which is ranking. If you click on the search result, it’s going to redirect to another site. If you have javascript turned off in you browser, it shows the content. This is what I call “poor man’s cloaking” at its finest. If you’re to cloak, at least do the cloaking at the IP level by using “IP Delivery” or some other product/script that identified Google’s IPs and only serves up the content to Google. But I digress.

What’s driving the actual rankings to that mykiddspending.com web page? It’s the links.

mykidsspending-majestic-seo

Links from Unique Domains: 1455
Links total: 11,801

There are a lot of links from a lot of unique domain names. That’s exactly what Google is looking for now–a lot of diversity. But take a look at the anchor text. This is the most colorful link anchor text that I’ve seen in a long while. And I see a lot of web sites’ backlinks.

wholesale-sunglasses-anchor-text

So, we can definitely learn from this. Although the web sites (there are more than one ranking) are spamming and redirecting users to another site, and it appears that they’ve hacked other web sites in order to get the pages listed, the sites rank well. They rank well because of the diversity of links (lots of links from lots of unique domain names) as well as the diversity of anchor text links pointing to the site.

This is Not How You Should Perform Link Cleanups and Link Removals For Your Website

A UK-based online marketing agency named datadial recently received a threatening letter (a Cease and Desist letter) from Fox Williams LLP demanding that a link on their website be removed. The link in question was pointing to Shopzilla’s website.

Shopzilla link removed

According to the letter from Fox Williams LLP on behalf of Shopzilla, there were legal grounds for removing the link:

– Trade Mark infringement

The Infringing Website contains a link to our client’s website, http://www.shopzilla.co.uk, creating an unauthorised association with our client and their Trade Mark. Your use of the link on the Infringing Website is:

– Causing detriment to the distinctive character of the Trade Mark;
– Causing detriment to the reputation of the Trade Mark by creating an undesirable association with the Infringing Website; and
– Taking unfair advantage of the goodwill attached to the Trade Mark.

Our client is entitled, at its own election, to damages or an account of profits for use of the Trade Mark.

The letter (which was sent via email) also included the following reason why the link to Shopzilla should be removed from the online marketing agency’s website:

Passing off [Fox William’s LLP’s] client’s goodwill

Our client has invested significant time and money in developing the Shopzilla® brand making it instantly recognisable amongst the public as a trustworthy and reputable online comparison shopping engine. It is highly likely that the average consumer will be confused, believing that our client is in some manner connected with the Infringing Website, either through ownership and operation or through a commercial relationship or endorsement with the operator of the Infringing Website. Such connection is causing our client damage. As such, your use of Shopzilla® in this way constitutes passing off.

And, apparently, copyright infringement was also mentioned. I’m surprised that simply linking to or mentioning another company or another website constituted copyright infringement. but, nonetheless:

Copyright Infringement

The use of the Infringing Website of text and graphics taken from our client’s websites is an infringement of our client’s copyright. You have copies and communicated the copyrighted work to the public through the Infringing Website.

The use of the copyrighted work has occurred without the consent of our client, the copyright owner. We put you on notice that any continued use of our client’s text and/or graphics (in whole or in part) on the Infringing Website will constitute and infringement of our client’s copyright. This is without prejudice to our client’s position that you already have the requisite knowledge to establish such liability.

datadial posted on their blog about being sued by Shopzilla. Honestly, this is a classic case of “link bait” if I have ever saw one. Sure, they got an email from Shopzilla’s attorney. but really–they’re technically not getting sued (yet), as I bet that Shopzilla’s attorneys have not filed any paperwork with the court. The email that the online marketing agency received was just that–an email requesting a link removal.

It turns out that David Bixler from Shopzilla replied in the comments of the blog post:

I’m terribly sorry you received the letter from our attorney’s office. We appreciate that your site is not a spam site and is not mis-using our trademark. We flag up thousands of backlinks that are potentially spam and unfortunately your site slipped through our filter. Please disregard the notice and let me know if the wine was red or white…I’m sure I can find some twix as well.

Kind regards,
David Bixler
VP, Operations – Shopzilla Europe

Shopzilla is using threatening emails to identify spam (or bad) links to their website in order to try to get them removed.

Did the email really request a link removal properly? Absolutely not. In order to clean up links to your website properly, you have to do the following things:

Identify the bad links. There are a lot of links pointing to Shopzilla. You have to go through every single link and determine if it’s a bad link or a good link. To me, it sounds as in this case someone did not know what they were doing when they sent out all these emails to site owners trying to get the links removed. 99 percent of the work during link cleanups are identifying the bad links from the good links!

Contact the site owner. You absolutely have to find the right owner of the site, and this is a manual process. You cannot just send out an email to anyone who you think is involved with the site–using some tool to identify site owners.

Send the right message. The message sent here from Shopzilla was the WRONG THING TO DO. You have to be kind to people, be courteous to website owners and ask them to remove the link or make it a “nofollow” link. I don’t recommend being nasty with people or threatening. At least not in the first email or contact you make with them. It can come back to bite you–what if the site owner got mad and started doing even more negative SEO to your website? I’ve seen it before. It can happen.

After your link removal requests you need to then decide whether or not you need to actually do a link disavow with Google and Bing. In many cases, when I’ve gotten links removed (the right links removed), a link disavow is NOT needed.

Link removals take time and they’re mostly a manual process. There are some great tools out there link Link Research Tools that will help you identify suspicious and toxic links to your website. But just using a tool is only half the battle. You have to go through each and every link in order to figure out which are bad and which are good, healthy links. And which links aren’t worth chasing.

Marketplace to Buy, Sell Links Based on Google Authorship and Klout Launched

The first-ever online marketplace for buying and selling links in articles and blog posts based on Google Authorship and Klout score has been launched. Buying and selling links based on Google’s PageRank has long been a controversial topic, as well as a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. AuthorLinks is a marketplace for buying and selling links based on a web site owner’s Google Authorship and overall Klout score.

AuthorLinks

The goal of AuthorLinks is to change how links in blog posts and in articles are sold. Rather than basing the price of a link on an outdated metric like Google PageRank and maybe even overall link data such as SEOMoz’s MozRank or Majestic SEO’s ACRank, with AuthorLinks, the emphasis is based on how popular an author or web site owner is socially. Social signals such as having verified Google Authorship, having followers on Google Plus, and having a good Klout score are going to be much more important in the future–and indicate that the site who will be linking to your web site is more trusted than others.

AuthorLinks is 2017 Link Building
While many are still caught up with acquiring links from web sites that have good Google PageRank and a history of quality backlinks to their web site, in the future, around 2017, I’m predicting that social signals and getting a “link” from a web site that has a lot of real human readers (thus clicks to your web site) is going to be more important then some link in a sidebar, footer, or blogroll link. AuthorLinks, which only concentrates on links from web sites whose owners are active socially, is 2017 linking at its finest.

AuthorLinks Pricing
Author Links is a marketplace for the buying and selling of contextual links that appear in content. These links appear in content on blogs and as articles on web sites. Pricing is based on the author’s current Authorship status, their current Klout influence, and the topic they write about. The more popular the author is, the higher the cost to get that author to write about your product or service. Authors get paid by Author Links to create and publicize great content.

Built Based on Demand
As someone who has been practicing search engine optimization since 1996, I have seen many different SEO fads, schemes, and scams come up over the years. There’s been everything from getting listed in useless directories, buying and selling of sidebar text links, guest blog posting, and even massive blog commenting and spamming that’s gotten way out of control. The bottom line is that we need to forget about search engien optimization and chasing the latest SEO fad or scheme to rank higher in the search results.

What we really need is a blogger or web site who is popular in your industry to write about your products or services and send real humans to your web site. Forget about Google PageRank or how many links a web site has–you need real eyeballs to hit your web site. People who follow that blogger and trust what he or she has to say. That’s where AuthorLinks comes in. AuthorLinks matches your need as a web site owner with bloggers or web site owners who are willing to write about your product or service for a fee. You can trust the fact that if you pay your products or services will get noticed. AuthorLinks works with bloggers and web site owners who are totally transparent (they have verified their Google Authorship) and they are active on social media (they have a certain Klout score).

I personally built AuthorLinks based on demand–the need for a marketplace where great content can be placed with a blogger or web site owner who is both transparent and who has a good following on the social media web sites. Sure, you can create great content. But if you do not have an appropriate place to put that content and you cannot get that content in front of real eyeballs who will interact with it and who will share it with others, then you’re out of luck.

Not Without Controversy
In the past few months, I’ve quietly launched AuthorLinks. Well, apparently not so quietly, after all. Turns out that AuthorLinks has already made the rounds on Twitter, on Google Plus, hit the homepage of Inbound.org, as well as being mentioned in a recent presentation at the SMX Conference. There has been a lot of confusion over exactly what AuthorLinks is and what it’s doing. One thing for sure is that AuthorLinks is NOT selling Google AuthorRank. It’s certainly NOT selling Google PageRank (we don’t even calculate or check Google PageRank for a site selling AuthorLinks), which is a violation Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. AuthorLinks strongly encourages authors to comply with all FTC guidelines for disclosure as well as any search engine guidelines for paid posts.

AuthorLinks is selling access to transparent authors who are active on social media web sites. If you’re interested in that, then take a look. If you’re a transparent author who is active socially then you may be interested in monetizing your web site further by being an approved AuthorLinks author.

http://www.authorlinks.net/

Update: AuthorLinks has rebranded itself as AuthPost, and can now be found on http://www.authpost.com/.

Google Webmaster Tools Link Data Error Uploading into Google Docs

Way to go, Google. This just goes to show that the employees who work on your Google Webmaster Tools don’t talk to your Google Docs employees. Nothing can be more frustrating than using two Google products that don’t work with each other very well. Such is the case with Google Webmaster Tools and Google Docs.

Google Docs upload error

If you’re a webmaster or web site owner and go into Google Webmaster Tools, you can download sample links to your web site. Google offers a download, either in CSV (comma separated format), usually which I open up in Microsoft Excel. Or, you can download the sample links to your site into Google docs format. Herein lies the problem.

If you have over 100,000 links to your web site (as my client does, they have over 1+ million links to their web site), Google will allow you to download 100,000 “sample links” to your web site. In this case, it’s less than 10 percent of the links to the web site (but I digress).

When you go to upload the links from CSV (Microsoft Excel format) into Google Docs, Google will not let you do that. You cannot upload a spreadsheet that has more than 400,000 cells in it. But that’s data that Google themselves give you.

I’m increasingly running into this cell limit error, especially dealing with data that Google Webmaster Tools themselves provides.

If Google gives you the data, then you should be able to upload it into Google Docs and work with it.

How to Respond to a Link Removal Request

Google has a lot of webmasters scared. Seriously, they really do. Webmasters are so scared now that they are randomly and blindly emailing all the sites that they know about that link to them–and asking for links to be removed to their website. Google has been sending “unnatural link warnings” to website owners, telling them that they have unnatural links pointing to their website. Unfortunately, many webmasters freak out, think it’s the end of the world or something, and don’t do their proper link research. They’re then emailing webmasters of good links to their site and getting both the good and the bad links removed.

I have been helping webmasters and website owners who have received unnatural link warnings from Google clean up their links. And, if necessary, use the Google Disavow Links tool, to disavow the bad links.

Here’s a typical email that I received recently from a website owner, named Will:

From: Will
Subject: Got Odd Link-Takedown Request Yesterday; -WTH?

Message Body:
Hi Bill!,
Read your article found through a Google search.

-So Yesterday, I got this takedown request and I am not exactly sure what to make of it.

Do you know what the hell this is?

It seemed a little odd and counterintuitive, as:

1)My site, XXXXXXXXXXXX.net is a legit, high-quality XXXXX blog and has nothing to do with spam.

2)I did the posts because I thought XXXXX’s infographics were great, not because of something nefarious.

3)I was following proper Source Attribution ethics, such as Maria Popova’s “The Curator’s Code”

4)All Link-Text/Names were checked vs. their URLs, and there are no discrepancies.

-So: is this just XXXX carpetbombing because Google penalized them for shady SEO in the past, or is it something different?

Any thoughts & ideas would be most welcome.

Cheers+Best,

Will

Here’s The Email I Received, Quote:”
Hi Will,

My name is Jonathan and I’m getting in touch on behalf of XXXX company. I noticed that you’ve linked to my website on your page XXXXXXXX.net/page.html with the text “XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX” and am requesting that you remove the link.

I’m asking this because it’s come to our attention that some of the links to our website have been acquired against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, so it’s important for us to remove links that are harming traffic to our website. Furthermore, by linking to our site, it could be detrimental to your site’s overall traffic, so it will be important for you to remove the link.

Please let me know if you have any questions. If you could email me once you have removed the link that would be great.

Best,

Jonathan XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXXXX.org
Compliance and Standards Team”

-End Quote

I have removed the names of websites and the anchor text and URLs in this to protect the innocent webmasters involved. This is typical. Many of these webmasters are mistakenly emailing lots of good websites–and asking them to take links down or remove the links. This is just wrong. There are cases where links need to be removed–especially if someone hacked into a website and added a page to the site (with your link back to the site). I spent HOURS today identifying all these bad links and am going to take care of them for my client. Here’s just one of hundreds of pages that have been added to literally thousands of websites by hacking into their site:

bad-backlinks-example-hacked-site

In the case above, it’s very clear that this is a bad backlink. The page is on someone’s site that has nothing to do with the University of Texas at Arlington (it’s obviously been hacked) and the page should only be on an .EDU site, NOT on some miscellaneous website. Those are the types of links that must be removed.

By notifying the site owners of these types of pages, many have gotten right back to me–explaining that they didn’t know their site was hacked like that. And they’re taking care of the link. So, if you get the link removed, do you really need to use Google or Bing’s disavow link tool to disavow the link? Well, no.

So, if you have a good website and you know that your outgoing links are not bad outgoing links, and you receive one of these takedown notices or link removal notices, then don’t take it personally. In many cases, the webmaster is wrong–and the link should NOT be removed. Perhaps they might like to change the anchor text of how you’re linking to them–but in many cases, if you know your website does not have a problem (like it’s not been hacked and it’s not been de-indexed by Google), then you have nothing to worry about.

So, what about Will? Well, I immediately emailed him:

Bill Hartzer wrote:
I would not worry too much about it. Some websites got link warnings from google and are mistakenly sending out notices like this. They are really only hurting their own site. I would not take it personally.

Here’s what Will wrote back to me:

Ok, cool.

Thanks VERY MUCH for your Extremely fast reply!
I was a little worried there for awhile.

Cheers,
Will

Another fellow website owner helped–for some reason I feel really good about this one. The site was actually really good–and the anchor text of the link was about 5 words in length. Not something that I would have tried to get removed. Oh well.

Why I am No Longer a Link Builder But Now a Content Publicist

I think the title of this blog post says it all. Really. Here we are in the beginning of 2013 and many respected experts in the Search Engine Optimization industry offering their predictions for the year. I purposely have decided to not offer any predictions for the year. Rather, just go ahead and change my whole entire attitude and way of thinking when it comes to SEO, web site marketing, internet marketing, online marketing, whatever you want to call it these days. What is the change I’m making?

broken link

I am no longer calling myself a link builder. I no longer do link building. It’s now all about link earning, so I am officially going to call myself a content publicist. I am no longer a link builder, but am now an online content publicist.

Why the change? In 2012, we have seen a lot of changes in how the search engines deal with links, which types of links they are “counting”, which links that they are telling us that are unnatural or bad, toxic links. And even the link moses, Eric Ward, who has been doing link earning all along, has offered his predictions for 2013.

Link Networks – gone and devalued.

Infographics – people are starting to ignore them. I’m not a big fan.

Directories – there are really possibly less than a half a dozen still worth getting “listed on”. And even then, the SEO value of those are potentially questioned.

Sponsorships – potentially devalued in 2013, but since they’re paid anyway do we really think the search engines would value these anymore? Paid posts and paying for links has been out for several years now. Devalued. Why should a search engine give value to a paid sponsorship of an event?

Blog post comments – pretty much still worthless, unless it’s a comment on an A list blog with a lot of traffic and a lot of trust. Still then, comment because you want to comment. Now because you are looking for a link.

Forum Posts/Signatures in Posts – Might bring you a few clicks if it’s a popular forum. But other than that, no longer any SEO value there.

Links from Social Sites – The search engines crawl the social sites, and the best way to get a page crawled is to mention the URL in a Tweet or on Google+. But the value here is more when it is done for content awareness, and not because of the actual link or SEO value of the link.

For me, it all really started with Danny Sullivan’s rant about link earning in June 2012. It really comes down to one statement by Danny that sums it all up quite nicely:

What you want is to be linked from places where there’s an actual audience that might see your link and click on it directly to visit. Do that, and you’re building the type of links the search engines want to reward.

If you want to hear and read the audio from Danny Sullivan’s (now) famous rant? Jeremy recorded it and posted a transcript.

I’ve officially stopped focusing saying that I do link building. I’m no longer a link builder. I’m a content publicist. Why? If you stop thinking about building links, you start thinking about publicizing content, then you start to focus on what matters most: getting really good content in front of people. Real people have the ability to “like”, “plus one”, and share content with their friends and others. If it’s good content then it will get noticed if you do the “publicity part” right. And it’s a lot easier to get links to great content–so the link building (or link earning) part will come naturally.

It’s now my belief that a link will have more value or be valued more by the search engines if that link has traffic and visitors associated with it. The search engines have a lot of data now. They know when people are clicking, tweeting, liking, sharing, and visiting certain URLs. Trust me, they know.

If you are a link builder or do any link building for your web site or a client’s web site, you need to stop calling yourself a link builder. Start changing your whole attitude, start thinking of yourself as a content publicist. You’ll thank me when 2014 comes around.