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Friendly Fire: Google’s War on Spam

WRITTEN by: Jerrod Swanton |
categories: SEO

Jun 2014


I am a Senior Search Strategist at Upward Brand Interactions. This means most of my days are spent looking at websites through a very specific lens. This lens sees title tags, H1 tags and site layout before the actual content of a website. However, in my spare time I run a small hobby blog that focuses on traditional American clothing (read: preppy). For the most part, I take my SEO hat off when working on my site, but just the other day I was reminded of just how far reaching the effects of Google’s war on spam has become.

I opened an email, and to my surprise it was a link removal request. Now, I say surprised, because 70% of the emails I receive are just the opposite. These emails are from companies, introducing their company, requesting product reviews, pleading for product placements, etc. The other 30% of my emails are from my awesome readers. I turn down the majority of these offers, because they are not a good fit for my website (I know the worth of my site and I value my readers).

The sender of this link removal request (that ended up in my spam box) stated that their website, which is a fairly popular e-commerce high-end shoe site in my niche, had been recently penalized by Google due to backlinks. He then proceeded to threaten me by stating that if I did not remove the link pointing to their website on my blog, they would have no choice, but to add my site to their disavow list. They also implied that I would suffer negative repercussions by being placed on this list.

I was livid. I wasn’t mad that they asked me to remove the link (that I placed for the benefit of my reader). I was angry that they did not thank me for the 25 visits on average that I have sent them every month for the past two years. Visits that are relevant. Visits that, even if I calculate at a conservative 2% (I say conservative, because this is very qualified traffic), bought something, and these somethings are not cheap. I expected a thank you and a we are sorry to ask, but we have no choice, Google is making us.

Now my first reaction was to see just how negative SEO really is and whether or not they truly thought my link was poison. Well, let’s see what they think about $100 worth of terrible links from Fiver with anchor text for every high competition money term I can think of. Fortunately for all parties involved, I took a step back and calmed down after remembering an episode of West Wing about proportional responses.

Later on I started to think about who I should really be mad at. Should I be mad at this site for its lack of couth, or should I be mad at spammers causing Google to engage in this war on links, or should I be mad at Google for creating an environment that has caused them to not be able to tell a bad guy from a good guy? (Check out my organic traffic chart above. That shoe site should have begged me for that link!) Overall, this has led to the many casualties of friendly fire – mainly with small businesses in mind.

In the end, I wasn’t mad at all. I was sad. I am sad. I am sad for all of the site owners that don’t understand SEO and that are victims of Google’s war. I am sad Google invented “no-follow” (Which still isn’t fool proof), and site owners now have more incentive to not link to each other rather than sharing the love. I am sad the Internet, which was once a place where you went to learn about and see cool new things, is becoming as jaded and siloed as the real world with SERPs that look more like the inside of a mall than Main Street USA.

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