For those of us that live in the real world, we can only hope to wield the power that Google holds. When they sneeze, we get concerned. Talk about influence. Sheesh... if this is what it's like right now, how much power and influence will they hold in the future. Only time will tell.. only time will tell.
Nevertheless, lets face facts.. living in the world of Google is a lot like living at your parents house. My house, my rules.. sound familiar ? Ohhh my.. that familiar phrase. I'm sure, those of you that are parents may have even used this common phrase yourself. There were many days at home where life just wasn't fair. I'm the oldest of five and trust me when I say there were many days that truly "just weren't fair".
Such is the case (at least I'm sure they think so) when we start talking about the big brands out there that have been slapped by Google penalties. In this age of penguins, hummingbirds and whatever other animal that gets to be the face of the next (enter sarcasm) highly anticipated Google update.. businesses small and large embrace the on and off ridiculousness that is Google all for the sake of online visibility.
Enter the first tale of woe.. BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).. well known and respected across the globe. This was such a pointless move on the part of Google as I can't imagine it was done to simply reinforce Matt Cutts claims that big brands get penalized too, but hey it's Google so you can't rule that kind of thinking out. It's instances such as this why sometimes it's better to just take what he says with a grain of salt. However, the caveat to that statement too is that you can't always dismiss Matt Cutts either. You've got to navigate what is dismissable and what is not.
BBC, a major brand, as unlikely as this was, got hit with a manual penalty for.. get this... one page that supposedly had unnatural links pointing to it. Do you know how large the BBC website is ? Their link profile rivals some of the largest websites online. This isn't to say that there wasn't any wrong doing, but what makes this tale of woe even more egregious is that if it was anything like the Mozilla Google penalty which was very similar in nature, this penalty didn't last long and btw, BBC is still as strong as it ever was, so what was the point of the penalty if it should realistically even be called one at that considering the full scope of details were never provided by Google anyway.
Next on the list is Overstock. I'm sure you've heard of it... yet another big boy in the online sea. Now in this interesting story, Overstock.. whether this was clever (which I'm inclined to agree that it was) or a clear violation or manipulation of Google's rules. This is a grey area, but if you make Google look bad in a blatant way, intentional or not.. it probably won't bode too well for you. Overstock developed a program where they would provide small discounts on products in exchange for .EDU links to college and university students and faculty members. These kinds of links are considered highly authoritative and among the most trusted kind of links you can get in the SEO world. So getting your hands on these kinds of links is like hitting the lottery and Overstock was getting lots of them quickly. Overstock would outline what anchor text they wanted for the links and provided instructions for how to embed the links too. Wild but true and this behavior was reported by a fellow competitor. They lost a ton of first page rankings.. Overstock dropped to page 5 or deeper for many terms they ranked on page 1 for before and were "only" penalized for 2 months. Today they are still highly authoritative and retain many first page rankings.
In my last tale of woe, we'll look at JcPenney's - a shopping retailer that's been around since 1916 that got hit with a Google penalty for paid links. Apparently JCP had hired an SEO company.. a practice that is not uncommon by companies of all sizes to increase their online awareness and visibility. SearchDEX, the company hired to help the online retailer was promptly fired by JcPenney's after they received their penalty and claimed that they had no idea what SearchDEX was doing.
Lets be real about something.. No company in the world that generates millions in revenue would put the fate of their company in the hands of an SEO company and "not" know what kind of linking practices they're engaged in. It's not even a bad joke.. it's just a flat out lie. SearchDEX bought links with the intention to make it look like people were "naturally linking" to JCPenney's. As a result of this, JPC moved up in both Bing and Google search results. JCPenney's has to be among the most fortunate companies that exist online today. To have had so much to lose and do this and still be a viable company online in search results speaks to luck in every sense of the word. After seeing many of their rankings tank following the Google slap of a 90 day penalty, they have since then regained those rankings and have returned to prominence.
The takeaway for those of us in the blogging world and beyond is that links are still important to Google, but even one bad decision can lead to a manual review and penalty from Google who is judge, prosecutor and jury. Recent times have shown that Google can do whatever they want. While it may not be of popular opinion, there's something to be said for building slowly and manually and you shouldn't let your business live and die on your efforts to look good to Google either. Bing may not control a large piece of the search market, but they still own a share of it that the big G does not. Learn from these brands because I assure you that penalties of 2 days or 90 days are far more lenient consequences than what may be handed down to the rest of us.
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