Our cover image comes from a scary and instructive post: How One Blog Post Almost Put Our Content Marketing Agency Out Of Business by Dechay Watts for SproutContent.com. Dechay shares a harrowing tale of mystery, abuse and Google’s greatest flaw.
Did you know your site’s Google reputation could be hurt by THEM?
“Them” can be anyone from those inflicting damage for fun to unscrupulous competitors. One October Phil Buckley and I went down the “bad links” rabbit hole. Our site had great organic strength until suddenly and without reason Google was dropping our #1 pages like hot rocks. We blamed ourselves. We conducted an extensive audit of recent changes and didn’t see the culprit. We weren’t the problem.
Alarms went off when traffic jumped. Traffic on an e-commerce website is tied to conversions (sales). When traffic jumped 30% without a corresponding increase in conversions we knew something was wrong. That something turned out to be Google’s greatest flaw – the ability of external links to pull down and destroy any websites hard-won reputation and legitimacy. Our site was experiencing a “spam links” attack.
Google’s dependency on link democracy implies a fair and equitable ecosystem. It’s as if Google thinks we all sing Kumbaya around the campfire. And most do, but there is a dangerous knowledge disparity. Didn’t know inbound links could hurt your site’s hard-won reputation and legitimacy? You are not alone.
Disavow Tool & You = Spam Link Police
When our site was under attack in October several years ago we didn’t have an easy way to signal the attack. There was a process for reporting “bad links” we had to go through daily during the attack. Why would someone attack an ecommerce site in October? Sometimes its cheaper to attack than do great marketing. Sometimes you get attacked because you can be attacked. We got attacked in October because to ruin our holiday traffic.
We saw the sound and fury of our attack rise and then fall. While unaware the attack’s fury was a MONSTER. As we began reporting, much like a fire hose on a fire, the attack calmed and then disappeared. There is something in the attacker’s algorithm signalling “no defense”. No defense meant they doubled down fast and then again faster. Once we were reporting the attack slowed.
When our Traffic / Conversion Key Performance Indicator (KPI) was 30% off (apparently in our “favor”) we started deep diving. Those kinds of metrics dives into analytics, as the SproutContent.com piece shares so well, can take days, go down many bad roads and further endanger your website as you try to tease out the problem. Enough people screamed loudly enough Google created the Disavow tool.
With the disavow tool Google delegates their “spam police” role to you, me and everyone we know. Google didn’t have a choice. Your website is best “patrolled” by you. When our site popped a 30% traffic gain it was an earthquake. During that time of year if our Key Performance Indicators were +/- 2 points of standard deviation we wanted to know why. When something pops 30% we panic (and rightfully so).
Why would someone attack your site with links? “Why” is a crooked road leading nowhere. Why is moot. Knowing THEY CAN and WILL especially when your site wins top listings is more important than knowing the ever mysterious why.
“Yeah I disavow links daily,” a SEO friend told Phil and me at a recent digital marketing conference. That surprised us, but makes sense. Our friend explained that by acting as Google’s policeman he hoped to stand in the “good” category and if that meant eliminating some low ranked links so be it. We wouldn’t go that far YET.
The number of inbound links should be a KPI for your website. (Google webmaster tools is best source for this information, MOZ is what Phil likes and there are several tools mentioned in the SproutContent.com post).
Actions To Protect Your Website
- Evaluate new links on a regular basis.
- Disavow links that look fishy or come from sources you don’t trust.
- Keep evaluating because links are tricky because the content being linked today can change. Don’t assume old links from site’s you don’t know are fine forever.
- If you are lucky enough to receive a link from a .edu or other trusted source websites place those links in your “safe” category and a single check is enough.
- Take out the garbage by using the disavow tool (Google Webmaster tools).
Use the disavow tool Phil and I didn’t have. Help Google police the spam to keep wolves away from your website’s hard-won reputation, seo rank, traffic and money.
Thanks to Timothy Lavallee for a shout out and share on LinkedIn of the how links can kill post on SproutContent.com.