Is Google Adwords the new snake oil target?

The last couple of months has been a rough ride for many website owners due to the frequent punitive Google Updates and now I am seeing new serious risks appearing for business owners who are not completely up to date with how websites and search engines work. Please use the share buttons above and let your business connections know about this new scam so they can avoid a really costly mistake!

Panda Updates and Penguin Updates

It had to happen really!

Let’s look at the last few months of Google updates and the repercussions felt by a large number of websites both good and bad.

First up, the Panda was tough… and very necessary!

The first Panda update was more than a year ago and I outlined the reasons for it here.

Each of the following Panda updates seemed to be even tougher and there was some serious collateral damage as even a number of high quality sites with tons of great content were punished!

And then came the Penguin… wow!

There will be a large number of web design and development companies who add anchor text based site wide footer links to every client’s site who will be feeling the pain right now (and probably wondering why).

And it seems from the various SEO based forums that SEO companies, web development, bloggers, Internet marketing services and more in the tech services field were hit disproportionately.

But it was not just this field that were hit. Many sites who historically had work done by low cost SEO companies to “boost search ranking on Google” also noticed disturbing trends in their analytics reports after Google’s aggressive targeting of non-compliance.

And because of the close dates of the various Panda and Penguin updates it can be difficult to analyse which particular update has afflicted many sites. Duplication issues, site errors, anchor text repetition, unnatural link profiles, overuse of keywords, over optimisation, comment spam links, thin content, too many links from a particular source, links from unrelated niches? And I could go on.

Google really came out with guns blazing! They hit every possible webspam or manipulative technique they could think of in short succession.

Here is the list of some of the recent Google updates:

April 19, 2012 – Panda 3.5

April 24, 2012 – Penguin

April 27, 2012 – Panda 3.6

May 25, 2012 – Penguin 1.1

June 8, 2012 – Panda 3.7

June 25, 2012 – Panda 3.8

So, Google has decimated webspam. Nice one Google!

Matt Cutts (Head of Google’s webspam team), take a bow.

You have made the Internet a better place…

Or have you?

Let’s examine some of the unintended consequences of these updates.

Matt Cutts’ webspam team have worked really hard over the last year to rid the web of a number of nuisances and hacks. Most of these fall into the Black Hat SEO basket and most would agree that these shortcut nasties are better out of search altogether.

“Applause”

I have ranted in the past about automated comment spam, spun articles, low quality link building, blog networks, paid links, content scraping, massive intentional duplication and a number of other frustrating search hacks.

So, thank you.

Let’s remember that Google runs on a number of sophisticated algorithms. And Google crawls websites based on the amount of fresh content that the site usually produces. Smaller sites may be visited only a dozen times a day whereas a large news site may be visited thousands of times per hour.

The algorithms collect a massive amount of information as they are crawling millions of websites. They are also judging the sites on more than 200 ranking factors for authority and are looking for Red Flags for non-compliance such as over exuberant keyword use, poor link profile, thin content, too much advertising, affiliate links, reciprocal links, connections to bad neighbourhoods and much more.

Phew! This is a lot of data!

And Google will promote sites in search or penalise sites based on the huge amount of data they receive.

Unintended consequence #1

Many times you may not even be aware that you have strayed across the path into the danger zone!

Let’s say you hired an SEO company to work on your site a few years ago and you really don’t know how they built links for you. But it seemed to work, for a while anyway. And you parted company way back and have no idea where they are now.

After one of the recent updates your phone stops ringing, the website visitors have dropped substantially and orders seem to have stopped.

Unfortunately the work that was done way back then is now non-compliant and your site has been penalised for spammy repeated anchor text, bad links or any of a range of other attributes.

In my opinion this has the potential to be very unfair for a couple of reasons.

  • The techniques may well have been OK when they were used. This one is very common – Google recommended through its own guidelines using keyword focused anchor text whenever possible to help them work out what a site was all about. Then they punished repeated anchors as spam with Penguin… with no warning!
  • The site owner may have had no idea what was enacted was non-compliant. Does every small business owner need to have an advanced understanding of SEO in order to have a website? Should they have to be educated enough in SEO to be able to tell if their SEO providers are using techniques that will hurt their business?

This is a really big deal. I have seen quotes from a new industry which has sprung up in the aftermath of the Penguin Update which scare the hell out of me. $10,000 per month to remove bad links from a website?

I would say that is a good candidate for “unintended consequence number 1”!

Parasites?

Entrepreneurs?

Your call…

I have also previously discussed the spectre of “Negative SEO” where black hat practitioners sell their services to sabotage competitors’ sites for cash in order to gain benefits for the client.

This has been documented and is very ugly!

Unintended consequence #2?

Google PR has been its usual “we are the good guys” stuff we all expect.

“No, it’s not about growing advertising revenue.”

“Every business should be able to rank for their name and maybe a couple of keywords”

However the number of skeptics is growing rapidly and whenever you use a Google product and you are forced to click a box for a new add-on service (Yes we have all seen these recently – do we all have to embrace Google+?) this just adds to the level of suspicion.

Back to my original point and the reason for this stream of consciousness rant.

  1. Google is making it extremely difficult for the small business owner to keep up with and instigate changes to remain competitive in organic search, unless they have a very good SEO provider. Look for a specialist rather than an add-on to web development.
  2. Google is forcing more and more small businesses to opt for Adwords – the paid search options which are less trusted (people trust the organic results much more than they trust ads) and which bring Google their revenue.

Google will deny again and again that there is any connection between algorithm updates and Adwords sales so we will call this “unintended consequence number 2” but we will keep our tongue firmly in cheek!

Now for the motherlode…

Unintended consequence number #3?

Every time someone finds a way through Google’s armour, they package it, sell it, make a ton of cash, and move on. This of course pisses Google off big time!

So they work out a way to shut it down and penalise the perpetrators. Unfortunately the product creators have made their money and are long gone so it is just the usual “late to the party” schmucks who have to target real businesses to use their new found “techniques”!

There have been a number of these:

  • mass article marketing (killed by Panda)
  • automated comment spam (killed by Penguin)
  • paid blog networks (Networks update)
  • boiler-plate anchor text (Penguin)
  • duplication (Panda)
  • Squidoo and Hubpages marketing (Panda)
  • mass directory submission (Penguin)
  • keyword stuffing (Panda)
  • link wheels (Panda and Penguin)

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Unfortunately, every time Google lines up and eliminates a foe a large number of innocents are caught in the crossfire. It was always encouraged to write content and get it published so that’s exactly what many did. And you were encouraged to publish on some of the best sites on the web…

Then Panda made it worthless if it was on the wrong “best” sites.

It was also useful to help Google by making sure if someone linked to you they used anchor text based on what you do. Even Search Engine Land had a video demonstrating this with Amazon!

Then Google punished this… Big time!

This all-out assault has had the desired affect in Google’s eyes.

The spammers, the black hatters, the affiliate marketers and all of the other enemies of Google have increasingly had to call it quits. Many are gone… for now! I am even seeing the emergence of “products” based around “How to market online without Google!”

Because Webmaster Guidelines compliance has become so critical…

Everyone is talking about content marketing, guest blogging, infographics and other “high quality” ways to get back-links.

Yet already Matt Cutts is talking about disavowing links from infographics and dishing out penalties for guest posts on less than outstanding blogs… ugghh!

Because too many people have seen this as a way to “get more links”!

The mantra goes “create awesome content and people will link to it”. Even the heads of the big SEO blogs know that this is a nonsense if you are a small local business. Have the Search Industry lost touch with the reality of a small firm who are trying to balance books, pay bills, attract customers, market themselves, network, learn social media, manage staff…?

And now they have to be “link worthy” authors and graphic designers as well… with a technical SEO understanding that would freak most IT guys out… and write awesome content that will get hundreds of social shares about… printing or plumbing or something.

Unintended consequence number three… (finally, you say!):

Google Adwords.

This is simple – what happens to all these technically proficient, marketing sales funnel aware, black hat, ethically deficient web service providers who once offered you fast number one Google positions under the guise of SEO? Instant traffic avalanches to your site? Explode your business with the power of Google?…

This is what happens – read this proposal which was sent to a client of ours and be very afraid that this is probably the tip of the iceberg:

*****************************************************************************************

Google AdWords – 90 Day Trial

Further to your interest in achieving a first page position on Google we confirm that we can provide Google AdWord advertising links to your business website for the following search phrases:
1. Heating Auckland – Average monthly searches – 590 – cost per month $199 (plus GST)
2. Heating – Average monthly searches – 49500 – cost per month $199 (plus GST)
The benefits to your business are:
o We provide prominent exposure on Google for the search phrases listed above.
o Your own website will be promoted so you can keep it up to date with all the changes in your business. You do not have to go through a third party.
o Instant results as you will be found on Google Search within 48 hours of confirmation letting prospective clients find you quickly and easily.
o Current research shows that Google is the largest search engine worldwide.
o These phrases are available for $99 (+GST) setup fee and the prices quoted above per month.


AdWords 90 day trial will automatically continue into a further 12 month contract at the expiry of the 90 day trial (for which an additional payment will be due from you for the additional period of 12 months) unless cancelled in writing by notice to us within the first 90 days of the trial period.
Please see terms and conditions for further details.

And check this out:

Keyword targets

**********************************************************************************************

Awesome! I was almost speechless! Am I reading this right?

  • For just under $8000 per month (plus $1800 set up fee) you could be getting clicks on 18 different keywords! (Only 18 keywords… with an Adwords campaign… what?)

I am guessing you are probably as completely blown away as I am.

  • “Current research shows that Google is the largest search engine worldwide”? Hello!
  • Broad match searches? Quoting 49,500 monthly visits for one keyword? (Surely they don’t really expect anyone to believe that there are 49,500 people typing in “heating” in New Zealand every month?) Who would offer broad match traffic figures? They mean almost nothing!
  • Charging per keyword? Per keyword? On an Adwords campaign?
  • Over $2,000 per month for ONE keyword? (Underfloor heating)
  • Instant 12 month charge with no comeback if no written cancellation is received within the first 90 days? What?

BTW this company has PageRank 1 and a Domain Authority of 10/100. So they are pitching a small business with a new website that already has more than double their online authority.

Dumb-asses!

But they will not be alone.

It looks like a whole new scam has been born.

And the new target is Google Adwords or search marketing.

The problem again is that most small businesses have very little idea how Adwords works.

The shame is that all of the legitimate practitioners will be tainted much the same way that SEO has been tainted by the incessant SEO emails from India and the black hat scams that have damaged business sites.

And we know a number of very good Adwords consultants who will be horrified by this proposal.

Unfortunately…

There will always be a market for people who want to make a quick buck.

There will always be people who are creative enough to hack through complex systems – and would even do it for the challenge.

There will always be a target when one company has so much power (a monopoly) over the Internet… Google!

Watch this space!

Thanks for making it all the way through this rant – a medal is on its way – just send the writer $149.95 for postage…

Seriously, have you seen any other instances of a new kind of Adwords service supplier?

Let me know by leaving a comment and please share using the buttons at the top of the post. Thanks.

About Mike Morgan
Mike Morgan works with innovative businesses in New Zealand and Australia developing custom web marketing strategies integrating SEO, Content Marketing and Social Media Optimisation. When not in front of his screens you will probably find Mike walking on beautiful Ohope Beach with wife Midge and doberman Cooper. Follow Mike on Twitter here and

Comments

  1. Another great article Mike – this one knocked me for a 6, I had no idea just how powerful Google has got … and how it is using this power.

    Going forward, what do you recommend a small business does? Will they be penalised tomorrow for what is acceptable practice today? Hmmm.

    • Hi Justine,
      Thanks for visiting and for the kind words!

      Unfortunately it has come to the point where anyone with a website has to have a fairly good understanding of SEO or SEM before they take the risk in employing web based service providers. Google is dead serious about clearing the results of non-compliant behaviour and is even prepared to sacrifice a bit of search quality in order to do this. The point of the post is not really to criticise Google, it is more to warn of the opportunists who target businesses and con them using smoke and mirrors and baffling data.

      What can a small business do to future proof? Go to Google Webmaster Guidelines and make sure you understand all of it… even the tech stuff.

      All the best
      Mike

  2. Wow. You must have burnt the midnight oil for this post, Mike. Congratulations, you’ve successfully managed to freak me out over the power of Google! Anyway, and excellent post; possibly your best yet.

    • Hi Andrew,
      Hahahaa! Yes, it seems like most of my writing is done late at night these days. Great to be that busy though!

      Appreciate the big compliment! Google is extremely powerful and they can destroy businesses with one swift change of code. The answer is to educate yourself and get an understanding of Webmaster Guidelines and ensure you stay squeaky clean when it comes to your site.

      Thanks for the comment
      Mike

  3. Wow! Thanks for this well informed, thought provoking article – it has obviously taken a lot of work to deliver this amount of information which is very current. As a small business owner it’s great to be guided by people like you rather than as you say having to have an in-depth understanding of SEO – your blog is a great resource and keeps us us to date in a format we can understand. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Heather,

      Appreciate the comment. I am really glad you are getting value from our posts. One thing that really bugs me is when innocent parties get hurt in all of the constant online changes. I recently saw a post by SEOmoz head Rand Fishkin where he dreams of a day when Google, Bing and Duck Duck Go all have 30% market share.

      All the best
      Mike

  4. It is to the point that you have to rank without actually trying to rank! Geez! And as for the answer to your “do we really have to embrace Google Plus” well YES because Cutts has more than hinted at social signals becoming a major factor in ranking and although they would probably never admit it openly they will undoubtedly use G Plus as one of biggest signals being its their property.

    • Hi Caleb,
      Thanks for the comment! I thought it was amusing that WPMU quipped “maybe we should hire an SEO to make our links appear more natural” which is at the heart of the debate. How to gain links and increase authority without breaching any current or future guidelines? Crystal ball anyone?

      And yes, we all have to embrace Google+ for the reasons you have identified. What I don’t like is the way Google products never seem to have an “ignore” or “x” to bypass their recommendation. If anyone else tried these tactics they would be identified as spam.

      If businesses didn’t have a good reason to embrace social in the past they certainly do now. No one knows for sure what weight is put on social signals but Matt Cutts has been quite clear about them being taken into account.

      Cheers
      Mike

  5. Hi Mike,

    Glad to have read such an informative post. I tend to agree that affiliate marketers and spammers thanks to Google have had to call it quits. Many are gone – The big question is, how long till there is another loop hole found in the algorithms? And the fact that a lot of spammers had now moved on to the negative SEO side of optimizing – this is an area not being exploited by a lot of black-hatters.

    • Hi Anton,
      Thanks for visiting! Glad you enjoyed my little rant!

      I have seen pretty conclusive proof that negative SEO can work but I am sure that the engineers at Google are working pretty hard on nullifying these practices. And yes, someone will always find a way through the algorithm but as soon as it becomes widely known it will be shut down… guaranteed!

      All the best
      Mike

  6. “There will always be a market for people who want to make a quick buck.”

    True. But Google does it too! The problem with AdWords is that it prohibitively expensive unless you have a rare keywords, Most popular plugin for Forefox kills adword ads completely, and you have to micromanage spending or the campaign will just milk you for money if you don’t stop it. IT won’t just use a limit set by you, you can only limit daily budget. Very vicious – if you don’t check it every day you can spend a lot without knowing.

    • Hi Roman,

      Thanks for your comment. Adwords can be pretty effective when it is managed correctly and monitored consistently. I have seen people totally blow their budgets with Adwords but it is usually because of them being new to the game. I guess my main issue is whether or not Google is intentionally pushing smaller businesses toward paid search as they feel that larger brands should have more presence in search results. There is plenty of debate going on out there about this very issue.

      Cheers
      Mike

  7. I guess that although this post just implies that the battle between Google and the Black Hat practioners/Spammers/Opportunists will continue until one will give up. Google is banking on the idea that they are the authority that will force people to give up their practices.

    • Hi Judson,
      Yes, of course! It is Google’s ball so they get to make the rules. I really can’t see that they can do anything about people ripping off others for Adwords management though as they will not know what is being charged and for what. These idiots are trying to charge $2000 per month for one keyword…

      Cheers
      Mike

    • Marnie Byod says:

      The word “give up” sounds like just a whisper to the ears of spammers or any black hat practitioners. As long as the INTERNET exist, spammers won’t give up.
      and yes, Google is making its fight against them but people were born smart to find alternative ways.

      • Thanks Marnie,
        I have seen a lot of Black Hat SEOs dropping off. You just have to visit Google Webmaster Central to see the impact. But you are right, people will always find hacks and shortcuts and they will package them up and sell them… until Google catches on again.
        Cheers
        Mike

      • For some spammers “give up” is a keyword)) Well said, Marnie!

  8. Hi,
    Every One,

    Now, Google is much powerful than past. They using very strong and highly programmed robots. But If we follow the term of use of Google ,it will never harm us.

    Looking forward to hear your thoughts on it.

    Admin ,Keep this good stuff up!

    Thanks.

  9. kathy867 says:

    It’s obviously working, but you don’t want to put your business at risk just for the sake of being online. There are things you should know about how to tap into this revenue stream and grow your business using the Internet.

  10. Small businesses should do two things to stay out of the fire:

    1. Subscribe to Google Webmaster Blog
    2. Hire a Google Engage Agency to manage your Google AdWords

    Every since Minute Rice know one wants to wait. And, with a lingering unemployment many people are looking or have heard; ”you can start an online business and make some money.” This is true, but it, like climbing Mt. Everest, is easier said than done.

    You need a good/great team on the field and off the field to win. And, however hard it may be to swallow these Google revisions, they [Google] are probably more in tune with the direction of the bus than its passengers.

    I’ve always stressed to my clientele that we may not be the fastest, but we are 100% organic, then they ask, ”what’s organic?”

    Nice points you dicuss Mike, and thanks for keeping the light on.

    Oevae Marketing Consultants, the best marketing consultants in the world – ask Google

    – Head Honcho

    @oevae

    • Hi Head Honcho,
      Thanks for visiting and the great comment. I agree about following Google’s blog – essential. Add Google Webmaster Tools to your site would be my next suggestion. It amazes me how many developers launch a new site without Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools. How are you supposed to know if anything is wrong if you are not measuring and tracking? And as far as “get rich quick” schemes go? Not on Google!
      All the best
      mike

  11. These two algorythms have killed SEO, at least its old forms. To tell the truth, it is really hard to say what will work now and what you won’t get banned for.

    • Hi Helen,
      As I read recently in a list of techniques to stay compliant “listen to Matt Cutts”. Even though he is purposefully vague it is important to get an idea of what they are trying to achieve with the updates. The big takeaway is not to use any spammy techniques or shortcuts.
      Cheers
      Mike

  12. Thanks Mike. This is very encouraging. We are a small company, and the SEO companies that promise they can essentially outwit Google while staying within the rules make it seem like the only way to be successful is to pay them a third to half of our little marketing budget. We are lucky to have someone in house who can produce great content and put professional videography and photography as a top priority. Visitors to our site will find genuinely interesting and informative information in an industry that is often secretive about their business practices.

    • Thanks for the comment.
      The days of promising to outwit Google are long gone – way too risky! We have seen cases where people have dabbled with the dark side with a totally unrelated website and have made a single mis-calculation which has led to severe punishment. Great content has to be the number one priority.
      All the best
      Mike

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