FWIW, this is likely my last post on this site. I'm moving on for a combination of reasons - some of which relate to this thread.
Google just penalized my two main whitehat sites. As far as I can tell, it's due to no other reason than I was using the same (custom, user tested) template on both sites. The solution that's been proposed to me is to burn one of the domains, because Google apparently doesn't like someone ranking twice for the same terms (which these sites were).
FWIW, here's the background.
Site 1) corporate site on my company name. all expert level content I wrote myself on technical aspects of our products. 6-8 unique custom calculators developed with the assistance of statisticians and accountants. 5000+ pages of historical material from the 1800's in my niche. Custom template. Anti-spam badges. Links to two dozen media mentions (many national). User testimonials. Backlinks are overwhelmingly authoritative citations.
Site 2) keyword rich domain I bought a year or two ago - rich enough that I'm not going to burn it. It's (my industry)(my country).com. Same template as site 1, and many articles on the same *topics*. However the articles (again, expert level, written by me) are more general and talk about problems, how to buy, etc. The site is intended to be a wiki-like site. Includes articles I wrote on how to get started in my business,info for consumers on how to find ombudspeople in my niche - stuff I won't put on a corporate site. Backlinks are mostly just some reasonable quality geo-specific directories. Site 2 linked to site 1 using the anchor text www dot site1.com (yes, the url as anchor text) with a message 'calculator supplied by www site1 dot com). This is necessary in my industry because gov't regulators get prissy about disclosing who is behind a site and I wanted to make it clear that a wiki-type site was actually owned by me, a commercial entity.
In short, two examples of white hat link building and extreme expert content. Not only that, but I claim that Google's algorithm should be looking to give my site an actual and specific boost, not a penalty. That's a grand claim, I stand by it. Google got it wrong, yet isn't interested in even considering the possibility.
All the other sites but one on the front page of Google for my niche are either IBM sized brands, or independents that are doing blackhat/spammy link building. That's it - two remaining white hat SEO's on the front page and they just penalized one of them. Think about this from a business perspective.
I added the 5000 pages of content along with some funky (but correct for users) 301's. Shortly after that both sites were penalized.
Speculation: the 301's caused a hand review. The hand reviewer saw two sites in the same niche with the same template and penalized me because I'm ranking for the same terms on two sites (though again, the two sites are in the same niche, they actually have different content). Frankly the reveiwers were simply lazy.
Action: I initially removed the 301's and robots.txt blocked the 5000 pages of historical content. Submitted a reinclusion request. Response from google, I have violated their guidelines (wtf? - my main white hat site?) with a link to their guidelines.
Next, I call some buddies for advice. A variety of things are suggested, but basically it comes down to Google sees two sites ranking that I own and doesn't like that (recall that the penalties of the two sites are connected.) Recommended that I burn my keyword rich domain. I refuse. The sites are both owned by me and have the same template but they are NOT the same site nor do they have the same information, nor is it appropriate to combine the info on one site.
Next, I remove the link from site 2 to site 1 and do another reconsideration request noting the link removal, and that the content is different.
It's now my belief that I am penalized for having two sites. Further, I believe that Google employees are at the point where there's no accountability and no one bright enough to actually read my content and respond to my assertations - they simply review and rubber stamp. So I determine I need someone with a brain at Google to look at what they are doing (I further assert that if someone with a brain actually looked at my content they'd agree that my site should be receiving a boost not a penalty - my site is killer for users, and is head and shoulders above any of my competitors).
I then received a response to my second reinclusion request - the same thing. You violate google's guidelines, here's a link to the guidelines. It appears that I'm going to get no further with Google on getting them to reconsider my site. Fine, so how to proceed?
The reason my sites have been white hat has always been that it should be more stable in terms of the rankings. When white hat gets penalized - and confirmed by hand review, then the stability benefits are no longer worth the effort - the stability has been removed. Add in the fact that I was basically the last bastion of white hat link building on the front page (i.e. other stuff is working fine) and there simply is no further business case for white hat.
Secondly, I am going to get ranked - I want Google traffic. If I only have time for white hat or black hat, and white hat doesn't provide additional benefits, then my efforts clearly need to be towards building a stable black hat business model. I hate to sound like batman/joker, but that's about what this has become. More specifically, the baseline behind white hat is not getting penalized - and that's just been removed. So if I'm factoring in getting penalized going forward, then repetitive black hat is the way to go.
Aside, I've always noted that one needs to be diverse. While my main business websites have been wiped out of Google, it's just been a nice break from me. I have sustainable online business ventures that provide me enough money to live on, that do not depend on Google at all. In addition I am working on an arrangement where 1000 other sales reps who sell product part time will be funnelling me business from their websites.
I have just robots.txt blocked Google from all my sites, including the two sites that were penalized (I am still getting traffic and sales though). THis removed something like 50,000 to 100,000 pages from their index, all high quality expert level content.
Next I will be trying some techniques to sidestep the penalty without their assistance.
Through the years, in the theme of being diverse, I have built up a stable of old, well linked sites in my niche and others. I have hundreds of pr2-pr5 sites, dozens in my niche and the rest all over the place. In addition, I have a source or two that will provide me the ability to buy medium pr established sites on an ongoing basis, developed that years ago just in case.
After I attempt to circumvent the penalty, the strategy will be to start burning through my secondary established domains in my niche.
Getting back to the point behind this thread now....
Backlink building will consist of the following four techniques:
1) links from my own diverse network (I will be buying domains on an ongoing basis as part of the strategy, ensuring a continued supply)
2) paid blog posts.
3) joining private networks.
4) offering cash for links. I have had some links removed in the last year or two because the sites started selling to other places that seemed spammy. I will be paying cash for those kinds of sites again.
I will be attempting to build this as a repeatable process. I will have multiple aged sites in my niche ready to go an a sustained buy for other links. If a site gets burned, I will have ready another one or two ready to go at all times.
I considered adwords. It costs $3k-$5K to run a top adwords campaign for me (I've done it). However I can build a network of sites and buy links for a lot less than that. It's actually cheaper to go sustainable blackhat than it is for adwords. So I won't be paying for adwords, though I will have a monthly budget.
In terms of content, I will try spinning and low quality articles but I expect to simply hack together keyword rich articles myself by hand- I can write unique articles quickly if I'm not constrained to writing expert level. Quality of content only matters if I'm building white hat links.
In summary, the benefit behind white hat was the additional stability offered in the rankings. Google has removed this stability without recourse or effective reconsideration.
This sounds like no big deal for google - and it isn't. But perhaps it's a teeny-weeny tiny deal. The following is where I've left things:
- blocked them from about 100K pages of quality content - historical content that can't be found anywhere else online.
- blocked them from my calculators, many of which are unique. Bing has them, Google doesn't.
- blocked them from my corporate sites. The articles are one of the sole sources of understandable info in my niche - or maybe that's just sour grapes talking.
- when someone searches on my company name, they're left with a url and the stupid (inapporpriate) description from my DMOZ link. It look ridiculous - on them. I have initial talks with two companies in 2012 that may lead to a national TV ad campaign for my company. If I pull that off, and people start searching for my company name in Google they'll find my link alright - but many consumers are going to get their first taste of really bad listings in Google when the see the results for my company name.
In the end, Google won't stop me ranking though they have changed how that will happen. And they've made it clear to me that their employees and policies are now at the drone level - Matt Cutts/Google/spam team simply don't care for individual cases that require reason or 'consideration'. I've got a solid business plan to rank in Google going forward. I've had to suffer what I expect to be a six month drop in revenue and Google's not going to be better off when I'm done, but my business will be more stable as a result.
So if you read all that - the point is, yes, you should absolutely be buying spammy low end links. Make sure you can do it sustainably, have sites in reserve for when you get penalized, but don't waste your time with the effort of white hat. Black hat is easier than white hat, it's cheaper than adwords, and it is now a more sustainable, solid business plan than white hat is.
[edited by: martinibuster at 8:59 pm (utc) on Jan 26, 2012]
[edit reason] Edited for TOS 12 & 24. [/edit]