Those who know me also know that I recently developed a strong stand against Google's attempt to police the Web.
To “clean” it, as they say it.
Webmasters and bloggers have to face Matt Cutt's intentionally vague explanations almost every week as well as the consequences of the ‘cult' both people and condescending SEOs have built around Google and its quality guidelines.
But the fact that Google is a big company with big data at hands doesn't make what it says (and does) right. They promote their own ‘quality guidelines' as if they were civil or religious laws, and that's not right. It's fine, business-wise, to offer guidelines for inclusion in the search engine, and everybody will agree that Google has to market its own services somehow — but the Google we've known from 2011 to today is made of different stuff than the “Do No Evil” nice company of the pre-2011 ‘era'.
Here is a Google that gets aggressive about its goals.
Google's Ban is Not End of World
Every day, you are putting up with the risk to incur in one or more penalties and I know you are scared of Google's next move now that the search giant seems to be attacking even the legit practice of guest blogging. However — and regardless of how scandalous it might sound — getting banned from Google's search results is not the end of the world.
There's a lot to learn from Ann Smarty's recent experience with MyBlogGuest.com. Please, read on.
Google’s Penalty Hits MyBlogGuest
As a member of the MyBlogGuest community, I was shocked to learn that Google applied a sitewide penalty to Ann Smarty's most notorious content-centered effort, MyBlogGuest, pushing it way behind in the SERPs. Over the last two weeks, dozens of articles have been written about MBG's case and Ann and MBG members have been active on Twitter to support their network against Google's questionable webspam action.
On a personal level, I deem the penalty entirely unfounded and excessive in comparison with the accuse — if some blogs using the platform had been spamming, a downgrade in the SERPs for their pages only would have sufficed as a public example, right?
Not for Google, it seems.
On March 27th, Ann Smarty tweeted:
Unsettling stuff, since even Google's Analytics blog publishes guest posts (without a rel=nofollow attribute).
As SEO Tad Chef puts it at Positionly.com,
“The guest posting for SEO debacle just shows how Google increasingly hates proper hyperlinks that are open source and not effectively controlled by Google. Genuine guest bloggers will have to hurt themselves in search now by adding the crippling nofollow attribute to their posts”; so, for Google, “When somebody is using your infographics and credits your site as the source he’s not actively endorsing you but simply manipulating Google according to Google’s latest updates on acceptable link building.”
Perhaps Google doesn't understand that this FUD campaign is going to hurt their search results in the long run, as more and more nofollow links (or lack of them therein) mean less nodes in the Web graph for Googlebot to take note of and index.
OR — Google might just be directed to a more elitist type of search results.
But more on this in the next section of the article — now, on with the real piece of cake. ;)
Q&A with Ann Smarty, Founder of MyBlogGuest
As an affectionate member of the MyBlogGuest community, I decided to ask Ann Smarty a few questions by email, to which she replied promptly and share a lot of good advice.
Here is the interview.
Me: Google banned MBG entirely from their search index, an action they usually perform on websites labeled as ‘pure spam'. How did you perceive this kind of manual action along with Matt Cutts' Twitter comments related to it?
Ann: Well, to be absolutely honest… we used to be indexed after the penalty but then I actually removed the site from Google index using Google Webmaster Tools and blocked Google using Robots.txt, so I am not really sure what exactly contributed to the fact that we disappeared from the index. As for the penalty itself and Matt's tweets, well, let them play :) We are not giving up!
“Webmaster”, or Google “Webslaves”?
Me: Bloggers, and webmasters in general, are more and more scared of Google's next move and they seem to be no longer able to make choices for their own when it comes to the management of their content and links (no more webMASTERS, in a way, but webSLAVES). Do you have advice to share to help webmasters through this difficult time?
Ann: My advice is always the same: forget about Google. Yes, other types of traffic (social, community, word of mouth, local marketing, etc) are more time consuming and you are likely to work harder to achieve results, but in the long run, that results in more confident future! If you have many traffic sources and you lose one, well that sucks but you can still survive (that's what happened to MyBlogGuest). Facing and accepting the fact – “Nobody is safe” – is easier than being constantly scared.
Google: “Do as we say, not as we do”
Me: Google seems to accept guest posts (without the rel=nofollow attribute) on its Analytics blog. What do you think about this when compared with the stress you and other MBG members have been undergoing lately?
Ann: I am in search industry for 8 years now. Nothing surprises me any more. Google's policy has always been “Do as we say, NOT as we do.” They prove that point again and again. The bigger issue is that when it comes to guest contributors and author attributions, website owners don't have any clear guidelines from Google. With paid links it has always been clear: You can sell links but keep them nofollow. How about guest posts moving forward? Only big guys are allowed to invite guests? What's the actual rule? I think Google is very lost and desperate actually. Matt Cutts is trying to fix unfixable: the old outdated algorithm. I feel sorry for him!
Building successful site without Google
Me: I'd love it if you could share a few tips on how to help a website build traffic without Google. Having alternatives helps. :)
Ann: It all starts with the basics: Build some content that you can land traffic to via your multiple efforts. Now, when it's done, things are getting much easier.
- Here are some re-packaging techniques to ensure your content can reach multiple diverse channels
- Try ViralContentBuzz to put your content in front of eager influencers outside of your network (and thus both getting traffic AND increasing your network)
- While generating traffic through your sharing and networking tactics, build up your following and email list (here's a good article on that) – THIS will be the foundation of that traffic becoming stable and NOT so much depending on your current activity.
Me: This last question is more about a perception I have of Google's behavior toward the Web in general: Google seems to be leading its ‘cleaning the Web' mission to the restriction of its own SERPs to an elite of websites they consider helpful and ‘righteous' (as in, ‘they follow our guidelines and keep up with us'). Did you have this perception, too? If you did, and based on your experience as an SEO, would you think such a restricted search model would work?
Ann: Well, try looking at that from the different perspective: Why would they do that? Ranking brands higher doesn't mean more revenue for them (brands can actually invest more in the ads than us, small people).
The only reason why there are so many penalties is that Google algorithm is broken and Matt's team, who have NOT developed the algorithm itself, are just trying hard and struggling to deliver good results.
Yes, this strategy is doomed. Yes, a lot of small businesses suffer from Google's deficiency. But if they are actually evil or simply desperate – that's something questionable.
Google is large enough to exist even with the broken algorithm. For how long? Well, other Google departments are smart enough to care about the future: Android, Google Glass, even Google Chrome, and many, many other products are geared towards the future of Google.
As for the search, it's dying. People are switching to apps. Mobile and local search are gaining power. Google's web search will die sooner or later. So we just need to adapt to the future and think about Google's web traffic as “It was fun while it lasted; NOW, let's move on!”
Thanks Ann! :)
Is Google's Monopoly Tending Toward Elitist Web Search?
This past week MBG was not the only website to get a manual webspam penalty from Google. Doc Sheldon's SEO copywriting blog was also penalized for publishing a guest post about Hispanic social networking. Way before their case, Rap Genius received a penalty for promoting links without a rel=nofollow attribute, but Ann's and Doc's websites have always promoted genuine contents and links, so the penalties make no sense.
No sense, indeed, unless Google is up with something else. You know, a hidden purpose.
While this part of the article is heavily based on speculation, as there were no official announcements from Google in this regard, I still invite you to read it – as is, a reflection over the big picture of the recent events.
An elite web search would help Google get rid of all mediocre to discrete results and only keep the best results. ‘Best' in Google's view is a website that abides by Google's guidelines and keeps up with the algorithmic and manual changes of the search giant.
As Rae Hoffman says at Sugarrae.com says, “Google acts like they themselves are some kind of protector – and decider – of what is good and what is evil on the web.” If Google is really tending an elitist type of web search, then a day might come when no effort is worth being put in Google marketing, because they will be the ones in charge of choosing who makes it to the index and who doesn't, no chance to appeal.
Makes me wonder if a web user really needs a search engine of this kind, though.
What Happens If We Default Nofollow Any Outgoing Links Out Of Google FUD
Econsultancy.com just did that for guest blogging links. Who's next?
You know what FUD means (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) and the consequences of it — webmasters are becoming increasingly scared to link out ‘naturally' because of Google's recent actions against Doc Sheldon's blog and Ann Smarty's community, and so far nothing good has come out of that sentiment. If you stop by Search Engine Roundtable and browse the comment section of the posts about these news, you will read many webmasters saying they have shut doors completely to guest writers, while others have switched to an all-nofollow link policy for outbound links.
Sounds scary, right? Yet, that's what is happening.
When you default nofollow all outbound links…
- … your site doesn't vouch for these links anymore — from an algorithmic viewpoint, you are switching to a neutral vote about everything and everyone you talk about and cite
- … your site doesn't create any more relationships with other sites via links, which leads to less chances for the contents you link out to to get found by other visitors, as your ‘votes' don't count
- … you contribute to make the Web graph a disrupted graph were nodes (pages) become more and more isolated
- … you may end up getting paid with the same coin and stop earning ‘natural' (dofollow) inbound links (if you don't link out ‘naturally' to others, why would others link out ‘naturally' to you?)
To the very extreme, a situation where most of the Web becomes nofollowed becomes dangerous for the SERPs of every search engine that implements the use of nofollow of exclude webpages — so even if Google (as speculated) is really tending toward an elitist type of Web search where only a few survive, other search engines would be in trouble — and their users with them.
Nofollow Links And Google AdWords Ads
Google insists that AdWords links don't pass PageRank and are akin to nofollowed links, so they're within Google's search engine guidelines.
However, think about it — why would AdWords links even need to pass PageRank when such paid ads already dominate the SERPs?
Google places them above organic results so they are already given all the possible Google boost, deeming PageRank useless.
The contradiction? You pay to take advantage of this implicit PageRank, exactly while Google insists that you shouldn't pay for links that help you dominate the SERPs.
How, Then, Can I Build A Web-based Business Without Google?
I can hear you. It is already tough enough to keep a business or even a small niche blog running with Google's ever-changing algorithms and penalty policies, how can I ever make it without Google?
Believe me — you can.
Web-based businesses used to thrive long before Google was even a thought in its founders' mind, so there is nothing new here. It's just a matter of re-discovering old and evergreen business strategies and make them work along with social media channels (not only networks).
Here are a few tips:
- Customer Relationships – When you take care of your customers, you are already on the way to success without Google. Satisfied customers love to spread the word with friends and family members and they may also endorse you on their social media profiles, blogs and forums. Be open to their feedback and help them solve their problems.
- Social Media Outreach – Create a Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest profiles. Even a Google+ account, if you wish. Then reach out to both customers and names in your niche — engage in the conversation, be helpful and ask for help when your business needs it — customers enjoy giving back, be it via polls or written opinion, and other business owners are most likely to network with a ‘colleague' who knows how to provide value and innovation.
- Blogger Outreach – Try to make connections with other bloggers who will likely link back to you or promote you in other ways. Offer free banners for widget-loving bloggers to link to your site.
- Industry-specific Forums – Participate in forum discussions in your industry. To be helpful helps and it makes a nice asset for inbound marketing.
- Directory Listings – They still work, especially if they are highly trafficked niche directory.
- Guest Posts AND Guest Talks – Guest write (yes! No matter what Google says) for blogs and publications in your industry, share valuable advice and be there when your readers leave comments (reply to them!). Guest talks offer even better chances to brand and buzz because you are physically there for anybody who has questions for you. Don't forget to smile warmly!
- Get Interviewed – Be open to web-based, phone and in-person interviews and use them not only to get publicity for you and your business, but even as chances to put your know-how at the services of those who will read or listen to the interview.
- Sponsorships – As a business, you can sponsor an event, a charity or an educational institution and build a reputation through it. Don't limit your presence to a mere link on a page or a bunch of brochures, though — make it a given to attend the event, visit the charity or the educational institution during the time of the sponsorship, and keep in touch afterward if you can.
- Partnerships – Partner with other businesses, so they can help and sponsor and help each other thrive. Last year, I offered to draw free illustrations to clients and colleagues who so kindly left me a LinkedIn testimonial; well, none of them was required to link back to me, but one of them still did and brought in some relevant traffic.
Market Your Website Like Google Doesn't Exist
Lynn Terry at Clicknewz.com advises web-based business to keep optimizing their websites even though they're not going to focus exclusively on Google.
That's right — it would be silly (and rude) to avoid SEO practices entirely, especially on-page SEO, because there are other search engines that like to display accessible, optimized, helpful results, not just Google. While you won't focus on Google traffic, you would still benefit from traffic generated by other search engines. Also, on-page SEO combined with a bit of UX definitely helps users focus on the content and make it easier for them to read your content.
Just make sure you don't fall into the trap of following Google's guidelines word for word, or you will be back to step one — to find a way to get rid of Google's heavy influence in your business and, consequently, in your life.
Focus on basic SEO that will make every search engine happy. Leave the remainder of the work under your ‘master' part of the ‘webmaster' word.
The Core Message Of This Article
Food for thought, that's granted, but I also wrote this to ask you, fellow website owners, bloggers and content marketers, please—
Help bring linking and content creation back in the hands to the real ‘masters' — webmasters!
This is the core quest of the current Google-dominated world where bloggers and website owners bent over ‘god' Google's mission to “clean up the Web”.
We would be fine and happy if Google only spoke of its own web search rules as service rules – we all agree that every company has rules for the use of its service. But Google didn't stop to “this is how it works for my service” talks – no, Google made its rules into ‘ethics', their articles speak of ‘penalties' and ‘hunts', the Webspam team talks about ‘cleaning the Web from spam' (and NOT just cleaning their search results!).
Google's mania of grandeur is dangerous and it actively fights every form of freedom of speech and expression on the Web. It's dangerous because it gave life to a cult.
If you like Google and its guidelines, by all means follow them. But don't make Google into a god and its guidelines into commandments. Don't build a religion around a company!
The cult built around Google and what its spokesmen say is a real plague these days, much more than Google's guidelines themselves.
You don't like Google? Welcome in the club. To put it with Lynn Terry,
“Market your website and business like it's 1997. (…) Pretend like your site has already been penalized or de-indexed by Google. Stop for a moment and ask yourself what you would do to continue running a thriving online business. Now… go do that.”.
Oh, and once you do, you may as well nofollow Google and say “I don't endorse Google!” out loud. ;)
Remember, Google is only as powerful as we — users and webmasters — make it.
Image credit: Antonio Manfredonio & Kipp Baker