Tag Archive for: links

ransomLast week, many webmasters and SEO’s received a scare in the form of extortion emails from a supposed SEO threatening to plague a site with negative SEO if they do not pay a ransom of$1,500.

It seems the emails concerned even the most prominent members of the SEO community such as Dan Petrovic and Steve Webb. Even more interesting, despite assurances from Google that they would investigate the threats, a fair portion of the community appears to be at least moderately troubled by the threats. This gives an indication of just how easy people perceive negative SEO to be.

The email cuts straight to the point opening with, “This is an extortion email.” It then goes on to explain exactly how the individual(s) will enact specific tactics which can hurt a site’s performance in Google and potentially cause a site to be deindexed by the search engine.

The full text of the emails is as follows:


Read this email very carefully.

This is an extortion email.

We will do NEGATIVE SEO to your website by giving it 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks (permanent & mostly dofollow) pointing directly to your website and hence your website will get penalised & knocked off the Google’s Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) forever, if you do not pay us $1,500.00 (payable by Western Union).

This is no false claim or a hoax, download the following Notepad file containing 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks pointing to http://www.negativeseo.cn.pn/ (this is our website and go and see on this website, you will find our email address [email protected] from which this email right now is being sent to you) :


Just reply to this email to let us know if you will pay just $1,500.00 or not for us to refrain or not from ruining your precious website & business permanently. Also if you ignore this email and do not reply to this email within the next 24-48 hours, then we will go ahead and build 20,000 XRumer forum profile backlinks pointing directly to your website.

We are awaiting your wise decision.


Thankfully, it appears the entire situation has been nothing more than empty threats. Despite several credible SEO figures reporting the extortion emails, no one has reported paying the extortion amount and there are no signs that negative SEO is being put into action against these sites.

Now that we’ve all hopefully gotten over the “links are dead” hysteria, SEOs and webmasters are beginning to worry about their backlink profiles again. In the past it was easy. You could buy links or make enact one of the many now-banned tactics to try to artificially inflate your backlink profile and it seemed like no one was the wiser.

Of course things have changed quite drastically, as you should know by now. Backlinks need to be earned, and they need to be quality. As many analysts will tell you, building backlinks these days is more about relationship building than it is about farming as many links as possible. But how are you supposed to earn these prized high quality links?

SEOChat asked a long list of SEO experts where their most valuable links came from, and each gives an example of how you can earn links yourself by simply providing a service to your users and important figures related to your industry.

You may have seen headlines proclaiming “Links are dead!” ever since the roll out of Google’s big algorithm changes, Penguin and Panda. However, it has been over two years since these changes started taking place, and there is still a heated debate surrounding just how useful links are in the hunt for high rankings. Google has remained largely mum on the issue, though their statements have largely suggested that links are only slightly less important than they were a few years ago.

Now, Matt Cutts has used one of his Webmaster Chat videos to address the question, suggesting for the first time that links may be going away (eventually).

The statement isn’t much of a shocker to the SEO community, but it is one of the first signs that links are being steadily devalued. Don’t get too excited however, you can expect links to be a significant part of SEO if Cutts is to be believed.

Matt explained that Google’s focus right now is on finding ways to parse out the content that will meet the expectations of expert users. Unfortunately, Google only has limited means of evaluating the content. This is mostly done by estimating the traffic, content style, keyword density, and engagement on a site, but links have always been used as a mark of quality. Thankfully, Google has also gotten better at judging which links are valuable.

However, as Google improves at understanding the natural language we use, it doesn’t have to rely on links as strongly. It can put more weight on the value of content and other factors expert users consider.

Cutts says it will be years before links go anywhere, but Google is slowly distancing themselves from links. It may be time to put up the headlines claiming links are dead and wait for the day when links finally don’t serve a legitimate person. We won’t reach that point for a while.

Since Google unveiled the Disavow Tool in October of 2012, webmasters and SEOs have treated it almost like a magic cure-all for bad linking decisions, black hat SEO, and any sort of penalty they receive from Google.

Despite the obsession with the Disavow Tool, every online poll of the effectiveness of the tool suggests it isn’t as smooth of a solution as some make it out to be. For example, a poll from Search Engine Roundtable claims that only 13% of webmasters had success using the Disavow Tool.


Source: Search Engine Roundtable

Of course, Search Engine Roundtable openly admits their polls are far from scientific (you can read their disclaimer here). But, while many are taking these results as proof that the Disavow Tool doesn’t work, it could very well indicate something very different. People seem to just be using the tool wrong a huge amount of the time.

As Barry Schwartz points out, there is no doubt that the Disavow Tool can help remove penalties, but it doesn’t always lead to better rankings. With Google’s constantly changing algorithms, it is impossible to expect to return to the exact positions in the results you were already at.

Not only that, but Google has given very specific instructions for how the Disavow Tool is intended to be used, and experts have been regularly updating their own guides for the tool. But, a lot of webmasters see that they received a penalty of some form and immediately go into panic mode. They mass disavow links, without doing the work to ensure the links were ever the problem.

What do you think? Is the Disavow Tool not reliable, or is the tool being misused?

Late last week the SEO community had a good laugh at the expense of a self-proclaimed SEO expert who openly tweeted at major brands about renewing link buys. It appears the links were initially bought through iAcquire shortly before the service was penalized for participating in link buying schemes, and now that they are expiring, a former client is attempting to reach out directly to the link buyers.

The conversation that caught the eye of the SEO community was a long and outright discussion between “Vince” (@VitaliyKolosWDL) and T-Mobile. Search Engine Roundtable managed to screenshot the entire conversation before T-Mobile wisely began deleting their responses. Interestingly, “Vince” hasn’t deleted any of his tweets despite openly talking about selling links and even linking to the page being used to sell links.


Obviously, if the SEO media noticed the conversation, it didn’t take it long to reach Matt Cutts from Google, who probably summed up the situation in the shortest way possible:

Cutts wasn’t the only member of the webspam team to notice, either. Brian White also tweeted at “Vince” with a mocking photo of himself using an Android cookie jar like a phone.

While the person tweeting to companies hasn’t deleted anything, it does appear their website has been penalized already. It took five days since the first tweets started to appear, but unsurprisingly Web Design Library has tumbled down the search results. Search Engine Watch says the site was appearing on the 8th page on a search for [web design] on Monday, but come Tuesday the site didn’t pop up until the 48th page of results.

If you haven’t gotten the notice that selling links can get you in trouble, take this opportunity to look up the numerous other sites that have learned the hard way. Google is treating both those who buy and sell links harshly, and they show no sign of stopping. If “Vince” was as educated in SEO as he claimed, he would have already known this and he definitely wouldn’t have been using an open forum like Twitter to talk about it.


Since the introduction of Google’s Penguin algorithm many have suggested that links are no longer important for SEO. I’ve even seen some misguided folks suggesting all links are outright bad. As usual the truth is more complicated than that.

It has become such a common issue that veteran SEO writer used his regular column over at Search Engine Watch to attempt to fully answer whether links are important for SEO these days. The exact question he was asked was “do you feel Google is putting less emphasis on links as part of their algorithm?”

The truth is there are a variety of types of links that have been devalued and count very little or are poisonous to your SEO. BUT, these links were almost entirely the type “that never should have been counting in the first place.”

You see, the types of links being devalued are being brought down because they are spammy. Google has gotten increasingly smarter and better at its job of helping people find what they want on the internet without running into spam or low-quality sites. The devalued links come from junk directories, link networks, paid link brokers, article databases, link wheels, etc. The list could go on and on. But, this hasn’t brought down the quality links that good SEO professionals have built.

In Ward’s opinion, quality links matter even more now. Google can tell a lot of information about links in your profile, and they are swift to penalize low quality or spammy links, but they are even more rewarding to those who have the “right” kind of links.

Any SEO professional or online marketer you hire to help raise your brand’s profile online should be able to tell the difference between good and bad links. They know what Google doesn’t like, and they stay out of trouble. However, the best online marketers know that organic search traffic and link building are only a part of a much larger system.

As always, there are a lot of different opinions about link building across the web. There are still those who offer ways to “dominate” links with schemes that push the boundaries of what Google allows and some who are beginning to completely write off link building as a practice.

It is a bit hasty to completely do away with your linking efforts, as they are certainly still a consideration by the search engines. But, we also live in an entirely different linking climate than that of just a couple years (or months) ago. Moderation and quality are the key words in the link building discussion these days, and it is important to know when someone is giving bad advice.

If only you explicitly knew what link building tactics you should just not do, right? Erin Everhart from Search Engine Land offers just that with her article from last week laying out exactly what linking techniques we can just cut out of our routines, and how to pinpoint when people are trying to give you bad advice.

Of course, it all starts with discussing that special word “quality,” which is now the most important factor in all your link building efforts. Google no longer cares if you have countless links to your site, if none of them are reputable. Actually, they do care. They will penalize your site for trying to use bad links to boost your profile. Natural, quality links from sites people actually read are the only way to get positive results from your link building, and anything else is just as likely to hurt you.

In the vein of quality over quantity, mass article submission is almost as bad as farming huge numbers of shoddy links. Its the obvious successor to the new “content is king” mantra everyone is espousing now, as those who were directly gaining scores of low quality links turned to submitting the same weak article to hundreds of different sites.

Of course, there are other link problems aside from link farming in various manners. Though it has become less popular after Penguin, there are still backlink profiles out there with higher exact-match anchor text percentages than their company name. Anchor text is still very important, but there is no reasonable scenario in which you should end up with that high of a percentage. You need way fewer exact-match links than you did a couple years ago, so just follow the rule of moderation.

Guest blogging is even becoming a problem. There are so many sites hiring “article writers” who churn out 10 to 15 articles a day that the tactic has become yet another link building scheme. Instead of outright buying links, they are buying writers to build them cheap links. Guest blogging can be great when done correctly, but you have to take the time to ensure they know a lot about the industry they represent and will provide value to your site.

There are even more link building tactics still happening right now despite Google’s best efforts to shut down the more spammy efforts. Everhart covers a few more in her article, but the main point is that any good-natured SEO tactic can be corrupted and used to try to trick the search engines, the problem is Google and Bing have gotten much smarter, and they will almost always catch you if you try to outwit them. Play be the rules, and give your sites the attention they need, but don’t try to play the system.

The amount of talk about SEO coming from blogs and experts help make SEO one of the more discussed aspects of the internet behind the scenes. You won’t see search engine optimization coming up on the news, but just one search can lead to dozens of resources filled with writers offering their opinions and ideas.

In many ways, this is great because it keeps the community up to date with continuous changes, and delivers a wealth of free knowledge to anyone trying to get involved. However, it also creates an echo chamber where misconceptions run rampant, and there is always a need to clear up the bad information out there.

This time around, it was Eric Ward over at Search Engine Land who took it upon himself to dispel the rumors and lies surrounding linking. Links are a hugely important part of SEO, and many don’t understand exactly how they are used and evaluated. Add to this the never-ending changes to search rank signals, and bad ideas grow into monsters.

Many of these bad ideas come in the form of absolute statements, such as “anchor text will stop being used as a ranking signal altogether” in the next year. Google has done work to spot people misusing anchor texts, especially those attached to purchased links that say anything you want. But, as with most Google changes, they haven’t disavowed the practice altogether, they have only tried to punish those who take advantage and misuse the practice.

As Ward puts it, “Are you really going to tell me that if the Library Of Congress site links to Consumer Reports magazine’s site using the words “Consumer Product Reviews” that this would be a useless signal? No way.”

Another preposterous statement is that linking will no longer be the most important ranking signal, dethroned by social media signals. This concept ignores the number of Google searches done without being signed in, and not only that, Google uses tons of signals, and social media is one of them. But, relying on one user generated signal to return results to that one user doesn’t make any sense, when Google considers tons of signals as of now to return results.

The reason social signals will never be the primary signal for search engines is, quite simply, people like to do some things anonymously. They don’t want questions about body hygiene, marital issues, or personal problems being associated with their Facebook.

While linking may not be the clear-cut MVP it once was for SERPs, claiming that it is going away altogether doesn’t make any sense. It is this type of misinformation that leads to confused clients and well-intentioned but misinformed bloggers spreading the information far and wide.

MajesticSEO is a tool that is as well-known as it is respected. It is great for site audits and research, but it also has an important use in the current state of SEO where it has become clear that your site can be hurt externally, through bad links.

MajesticSEO can help you diagnose bad links, and possibly a bad linking campaign. Though, it is entirely possible the bad links dragging you down are not coming from external sources, but instead are caused by unscrupulous site owners or SEOs.

Search Engine Journal writer Irish Wonder helps walk you through identifying and understanding bad links with the use of this great SEO tool. They aren’t perfect means of diagnosing your problem, but they can help point you in the right direction if you can’t pinpoint the exact issue.

I recently wrote about the release of Google’s Disavow Links tool, but there are some more questions popping up that need answering. So, let’s cover a little bit more about the tool.

First off, the tool does not immediately take effect. This is one of many reasons Google suggests publishers try to remove questionable links first by working with site owners hosting links, or companies that they may have purchased links through.

Instead of disavowing the links immediately, “it can take weeks for that to go into effect,” said Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team at a keynote during the Pubcon conference. Google also has reserved the right to not use submissions if it feels they are questionable.

It is important to be accurate when making your file to submit to Google. Because of the delay in processing the file, it may take another few weeks to “reavow” links you didn’t mean to discount.

Once you have submitted a file to Google, you can download it, change it, and then resubmit.

The tool is mainly designed for site owners affected by the Penguin Update, which was focused on hitting sites that may have purchased links or gained them through spamming. Before, Google ignored bad links, but now they act as a negative mark against the site.

This change prompted fear in some of the SEO industry that site owners would create bad links pointing to their site, or “negative SEO.” This tool helps to ensure that negative SEO is not a worry by allowing you to disavow any of those types of links.

Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land has even more information about the tool, and Matt Cutts has a 10 minute long video answering questions.