We started working with a client earlier this year who came to us because their keyword positions were dropping. We advised them fairly quickly that their backlink profile was the source of the trouble and it needed cleaning up urgently.
As soon as we were engaged we set about the process of clean up but four weeks in Google spotted the problem backlinks and applied a manual penalty.
The penalty has been a pain the backside for the client. They don't rank any more for the keywords that bring in the revenue for them and they are losing money, fast.
They are not unusual in that they employed a firm to 'do some SEO' and like so many were amazed to find themselves shooting up the rankings. They didn't employ them to use black hat tactics, nor to do anything that would deliberately jeopardise the firm's reputation or online business. Like so many others however they were duped by lazy SEO.
The firms that caused this are mostly long gone, or are refusing to take responsibility for their actions and websites that used to offer to sell you backlinks are disappearing overnight.
So here we are cleaning up the mess, but the issue here lies with how Google are treating firms who find themselves in this unfortunate position.
We've long argued that this clean up and penalising of firms is pointless and unnecessary. Right now our client is faced with a long clean-up project and no idea of when they might expect to be free of Google's swingeing penalty
We followed our usual process of downloading all the links we could find, over 300,000 in this case, and set about weeding them out. We contacted hundreds of webmasters and following a few weeks of effort finally put together a disavow file to go with the file of links we had already removed. We asked Google for reconsideration but this morning received an email denying our reconsideration request.
The problem we have however is that there are a number of worrying elements to this refusal.
Firstly, and most worryingly, the three links they give as examples of links that still breach their guidelines do not show in Google's' own list of links. Nowhere in Webmaster tools do these three links show, nor indeed many other toxic links that we have found. In fact these three didn't appear in the 330,000 links we found for this client which suggests that the problem is even bigger than most of the link tools out there.
The problem therefore for the average website owner is how on earth are you supposed to find and remove links that Google won't tell you are there but expect you to find? And if Google knows they are there, and against their webmaster guidelines, then why aren't they showing in Webmaster Tools?
The second part, which we already knew is that you need to show a significant and sustained effort to clean up links otherwise Google simply won't pay attention to you. Disavowing the links is not enough; you need to be seen to have sweated to remove them.
The final bit which is enough to make anyone's blood boil is that Google "won't review another request from this site for a few weeks from now".
How on earth is this allowed? How can one of the biggest companies on the earth get away with telling other businesses that they are switching off their revenue stream and keeping it switched off for an indeterminate time?
Surely unless Google can prove, beyond doubt that the company have been deliberately trying to manipulate the rankings (which in this case they haven't) then acting a judge, jury and executioner is an abuse of a monopoly position.
It's enough to make most businesses give up. And all of it is totally unnecessary.
Google already knows which links are right and which are wrong. It could simply ignore those that are wrong in any algorithmic calculation and only count the good ones. Surely this is a better way of dealing with it?
We're convinced this is wrong and massively open to abuse. There is nothing stopping us today creating millions of links which are totally against Webmaster guidelines and pointing them at a competitor to damage their site. How would Google know? How would anyone know? And frankly how would that competitor ever clean up the mess?
Google has dug itself quite a deep pit here and should someone choose to take them to task over this I doubt there will be any reasonable defence for this behaviour. Stop it now Google, whilst you still have a good name.
This article first appeared in an unabridged form on the Aqueous Digital website