If you link a group of websites together with each other, intending to improve their rankings, would you call that SEO in 2015?
While doing some competitive analysis with one of my favorite tools, “Clique Hunter” by Majestic, I ran across what seems to be some nefarious practices going on by a dental website marketing company here in Portland.
Essentially, they have turned hundreds of their own client websites into their own private network of reciprocal links, by placing a script on the client sites that generates links to their other clients.
Here’s a short video…
The last time I remember something like this coming into the public eye, was a real estate network that Rand Fishkin wrote about back in 2007. I don’t know how many realtors were affected then, but it was a lot, and this situation is no different.
This is exactly the sort of link scheme that Google has been trying to stamp out for years, and it gives the rest of us in the internet marketing industry a bad name.
I’m not one to typically “out” other marketing companies for bad practices, but in this case, because they are representing themselves as a Google Partner, and because their activities are hurting a client of mine by outranking them here and there, and because it’s 2015, I felt I had no choice.
I Didn’t Want to Ambush WEO Media
Okay, well maybe I did a little, but I phoned their office and left a message, then emailed all three partners, sending them a link to the video and requesting a phone call to “hear their side of the story”.
I got a phone-call back from Mark Hutchinson, and we had a very cordial conversation, which was not what I expected. This is the “official response” that he sent me after our call…
Thanks for the call today. I appreciate a person with your expertise and background taking the time to bring this issue to the foreground. We are always working to understand what google wants and how to do it better and in this case our forward looking nature has left some trailing items that may not be good to have hanging around.
WEO Media is a google partner and we have been for several years and so we are on the phone with their team frequently to resolve issues in the index and help our clients get their google presence cleaned up. We think google is awesome and we are working hard to provide the right kind of stuff to be in alignment with what they want to see.
Generally we understand that to be highly relevant and unique content. So we put the bulk of our focus on getting our clients focused on processes to get unique content up on their sites. There are a wide range of smaller activities we do for SEO for our clients and some of those systems are not a focus area for us. The old linking pages don’t seem to be as relevant today as they may have been years ago. We are certainly not opposed to removing any individual activity that is hurting our client’s SEO profiles.
He wasn’t at all defensive, and listened patiently to me explain why I thought what they were doing was wrong, and even asked my ideas on what they might do instead.
He sounded sincere, and unless he was completely playing me, he really didn’t realize that what they were doing was inappropriate. He even seemed open to changing their procedures to be more in line with what are considered to be best practices.
I pushed a little, telling him that I found that really hard to believe, pointing out that it’s 2015, and that they even sent a couple of people to Mozcon. How could they be so totally unaware that a practice like this is “not okay”? He pointed out that they’ve seen no ill effects from it, their clients don’t get “unnatural links” emails from Webmaster Tools, and that this link method has been in place for over 10 years now…
How could this go on for so many years and remain undetected? Have their clients really never gotten warnings from Google? And can an entire agency in our industry really be that naive? Call me crazy, but I think I believe Mark, that he didn’t realize it was a problem, but I can’t speak for the rest of their team. I even find myself wondering if maybe Hillary’s email snafu was an honest mistake too!
What Do You Think?
What should happen here? Should hundreds of business owners get unnatural links emails? Should the agency themselves be punished, like what happened to iAquire back in 2012? Was this really just an innocent oversight?