Can competitors harm your Google ranking?

My little tribute to the Beastie Boys

A client and I were Skyping this week and the topic inevitably turned to Google Penguin and the impending doom of link building *tactics*.

This particular client has been having issues with rogue affiliates setting up fake link networks in order to boost their sales for my client’s products. Despite repeated warnings and/or promises to clean up their act, some of these affiliates have continued using dodgy practices for years, managing somehow to avoid Panda, Panda II and even Panda III. But their house of cards came tumbling down with the implementation of Penguin and with it went over 30 percent of my client’s traffic.

The problem is that, ultimately, my client has NO CONTROL over the tactics used by persons linking to their site. If they spot dodgy tactics being used, my client can alert or even ban the offending affiliate, but what of all the affiliates spamming under the radar? And these are sites supposedly in favor of my client staying in business. Imagine if they were direct competitors? All the education in the world isn’t going to stop spammers using whatever tactics they can if they are rewarded for those tactics in cold hard cash. And who can blame them?

This is inherently the problem I have with Google at the moment. They still claim it isn’t possible for spammers to hurt innocent sites using SEO spam but guess what? There are many, many examples of exactly that happening. Heck, this guy is offering a $10,000 reward to find the persons responsible for link bombing his site. Do you think he’d offer cash if the issue wasn’t crippling his business? There are even public projects set up encouraging people to use SEO spam in order to influence the Google SERPs in a positive or negative way for political purposes. And what about super competitive industries like the PPCs – porn, pills and casinos? I can assure you that competitor sabotage is alive and well and flying business class.

Now I applaud that Google are concerned enough about the issue to roll out updates like Penguin to try and punish persons using obvious SEO spam. Comment spam is evil! they warn. Artificial backlinks are evil! they say. Use of these tactics is a violation of our guidelines! But then they say don’t fret if others build backlinks to your site. Don’t worry too much. Just concentrate on making your site the best that it can be.

Why oh why do they keep insisting that competitors can’t harm your site using those same methods? Asked the question, Can competitors harm your ranking?, this was Google’s reply:

Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.

I look at these posts and this is what I’m hearing:

“Don’t be evil. Don’t do this, this or this. Doesn’t matter if your competitor tries that, they can’t hurt you. Oh look at these naughty spammers ruining your SERPs. We’ve got an update to fix that. What? Your legitimate site was smacked down? Not our problem. Don’t be evil.”

Well Google may not want to admit it but here it is: Can competitors harm your Google ranking? You bet they can.

 

 

 

Share this post with others

Q and A: Why am I getting traffic from porn sites?

QuestionHi Kalena

I run a website about SEO. I use Google Analytics to check some parameters in particular traffic sources.

Once I noticed that a big part of traffic came from a porno website. Does it mean it’s some kind of “black hat” technology and someone try to discredit my website? And what is your advice about how to avoid it?

Thank you
Valentine

Hi Valentine

In my experience, huge amounts of traffic from dodgy or unrelated sites is generally related to AdSense, fraudulent clicks and/or site scraping.

Do you run AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing pay per click campaigns for your site? If you do and if you’ve opted into their Content Networks, your ads may appear on websites that participate in AdSense or the Yahoo Publisher Network. Those networks are designed to show your ads on pages that contain content that is relevant (contextual advertising), but some dodgy publishers can switch their content once their participation is approved, resulting in a temporary display of ads on pages containing adult content, (which is generally banned in the AdSense program), or other unsuitable content.

Clicks you receive on your ads on such sites are rarely authentic. They are more likely fraudulent clicks by the site owner or persons employed by the site owner to falsely inflate their AdSense traffic and earnings. The best ways to avoid PPC traffic from such sites include:

1) Making sure your target PPC terms are laser focused to your product/service.

2) Opting out of Content Networks to avoid your ads being shown on sites you don’t approve of.

3) Using negative keywords such as “-free”, “-best” etc. to ensure your ads aren’t shown for unrelated or inappropriate searches.

4) Monitor your traffic and add any dodgy domains to your PPC campaign’s URL Exclusion list to ensure your ads are no longer shown on those sites.

Another common reason for an influx of traffic from dodgy sites is site scraping. This is where site owners deploy software that trawls the web and scrapes legitimate content from other websites as a way of creating lazy content for their own sites. Usually this content is combined in a haphazard, unreadable way that is designed to fool search engine robots but not appealing to users at all.

Domainers often employ this tactic as a fast way to populate hundreds of domains with fake content so they can throw AdSense code up and try to earn money via PPC clicks. Or they might simply use it to try to gain fast rankings for competitive keywords and populate the fake pages with links to products where they earn an affiliate commission per sale.

Often you’ll find your site content has been scraped, complete with internal links to your pages, which is why you’ll see referrals from the site in your analytics. I’ve ranted about site scrapers before and even managed to get my own back on occasion, but short of sending site scrapers a *cease and desist* email, there’s not much you can do about them.

So while the techniques used to link to you may well be black hat, it’s doubtful any of them were employed to deliberately discredit your web site.

——————-

Like to learn more about SEO? Download my free SEO lesson. No catch!

Share this post with others

Thank you Derek Powazek, but…

So last week, Derek, you decided that Search Engine Optimization ( SEO ) was worthless and persons who perform SEO were evildoers.

Not surprisingly, the SEO industry was outraged. Some bared their teeth and responded in kind. Others tried to reason with you and calmly deconstruct your criticisms.  All of us were offended on some level and felt the need to defend the industry, me included.

This week, you seem to have had second thoughts about your rant and you’ve posted an apology of sorts on your blog. This is to be commended Derek, thank you and I’m pleased you finally seem to understand why you were wrong to isolate an industry. BUT, you tarnish the apology by accusing us of being too defensive and not doing enough to clean up the industry.

You say:

“I ask the good SEOs: What are you doing to clean up your industry? Perhaps if you did more, you wouldn’t have to endure the regular bleats of frustration from people like me.”

As Shari Thurow and Jill Whalen state in the comment thread, we write articles. We speak at conferences. We publish blogs and newsletters that educate webmasters about *good* SEO.

I run this (unpaid) agony aunt column answering newbie questions about anything search engine related. My latest post even warns a reader against taking up the services of a scammer (calling himself an SEO) claiming to be able to put a site onto the first page of Google within 24 hours.

I tutor students in 44 countries in SEO via an online educational institution that I founded specifically to educate confused webmasters. And yes, web design, usability and copywriting are featured as key components.

In other words, we’re doing our best.

Derek, you end your *apology* with:

“If someone tells you that your hair is green, the only reason to get defensive is if it’s true.”

Another reason to come to the defense of our industry is when it is wrongly labelled. If we didn’t care about our industry’s reputation we wouldn’t bother to try and correct assumptions and stop the spread of misinformation, right?

As one commenter stated in the *apology* thread,  we felt we needed to clean up YOUR view of the SEO practitioners out there so it didn’t propagate the myth that SEO is evil. It’s just another way we’re trying to clean up our industry as a whole, as you are suggesting.

What more would you have us do?

Share this post with others

Q and A: What’s the difference between a Doorway Page and a Landing Page?

Question

Hi Kalena,

We’re having a debate here – what’s the difference between a (bad) doorway page and a (good) landing page? Is hosting an informative 1 page on a topic (eg:www.bluewidgets.com) and having that point to multiple pages on a related, parent site (e.: www.widgetes.com) frowned upon by Google, and does that technique fall under the landing or doorway page title?

Thanks for your help!

Cindy

An excellent question Cindy.

At their extremes, the differences between a spammy doorway page and a good landing page are usually pretty obvious to us humans. A “doorway” page has been designed specifically to appeal to search engines and rank well for a particular keyword phrase (or phrases) is typically stuffed with keywords, makes little real sense when you read it, and adds no real value to the user experience, whereas a “landing page” has been optimised for search rankings, but also aims to be useful and appealing to human visitors, and encourage them to take an appropriate call to action.

It can be much more difficult to determine the difference between a well crafted doorway page and an over-optimised landing page – not only for humans- but also for Google.

Google has to algorithmically determine the difference between these types of pages and uses a whole variety of factors to decide whether or not a particular page deserves a good ranking or a penalty. The types of factors taken into account could include – keyword density, duplicate content, inbound and outbound links, number of similar pages,

Ultimately the difference is probably a matter of intent – If a page has been created to be useful to visitors it will probably be treated by Google as a landing page, if the page has been over-optimised to a point that it becomes of little real benefit to users, then it will be treated by Google accordingly. This is one of the dangers associated with over-optimising a page or even an entire site. Even though it may have started out with a clear and useful purpose, over-optimisation could result in reduced rankings.

In the example you’ve provided I think the important word is “informative”. It is quite legitimate (and in fact encouraged) to link from a useful page on one site to relevant pages on another site.

Hope that helps.

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting Web Optimisation & Design

Share this post with others

Q and A: Is it spam to have multiple domains forwarded to one site?

QuestionDear Kalena

I’m currently taking your SEO 101 class for certification.  I’ve been looking over some of the recommended reading and I am confused about something.  Can you tell me if it is SPAM if you have multiple domain names forwarded to one website?

Thanks for your assistance.

Laura

Dear Laura

No, not necessarily. It depends how they are forwarded and the original purpose of the forwarding. For example, if you have a main site e.g. site.com but also own regional domains for the site e.g. site.com.au or site.co.uk and you wish to forward people typing in those regional domains to your main domain, then that is a legitmate use of forwarding.

Same with domains for branding purposes, for example, I own both www.ask-kalena.com and www.askkalena.com but I prefer to use the first one for branding as it is easier to read the site name. However I don’t want to miss any persons who type in the second version of the domain, so I forward the latter one to the former one automatically. You’ll see if you type in the second version it will automatically redirect you to the hyphenated version. This is also a correct use of domain forwarding and the correct server redirection technique to use (not META refresh or similar).

The only time it gets spammy is if you are deliberately redirecting people from one domain to another in a direct attempt to mislead them and trick search engines, for example if you click on a domain in the search results that looks like www.baby-strollers.com and it takes you instead to a porn domain or something. Also the redirection of hundreds or thousands of domains to a single domain is likely very dodgy.

Share this post with others