This hangout features discussion about recovering from Penguin, dealing with low quality inbound links and the Google Webmaster Forum.
This is part 1 of the transcript from last night’s Google Hangout from +Dumb SEO Questions.
+Dumb SEO Questions is a Google+ Community that Shopsafe Media is a member of.
Dumb SEO Questions Hangout 14, Part 1
Jim Munro: OK, we’re asking Dumb SEO Questions. Good evening, Lyndon, you’re late :). We’re looking at questions that were brought up on the Dumb SEO Questions community this week. There is a question, not so much a question, but a comment from Richard Herne referring to an article on SEO Round table. Richard says ‘I’ve always suspected that Google was less than honest about Penguin, I think they should have told webmasters that time spent trying to fix things would in many cases be better spent building a new site.’
Does anyone want to kick off with that?
Alistair Lattimore: Yeah, I’ll have a go at that. I think there’s no doubt that penguin has affected a lot of people, or a lot of websites. And businesses and people, I suppose. I think the issue that most people face while trying to recover from Penguin, is that most people don’t probably understand the severity of the issue, and the amount of time or effort required to undo that damage. I couldn’t count the number of websites, even since April, that have been penalised by Penguin. Virtually all of them that I’ve reviewed so far have got a history of really bad links. Low quality, irrelevant, cheap link building tactics, and the amount of effort it would take to undo that is really, really high. And I think, if you went into trying to fix the issue, without understanding how big the issue was to start with, I think Richard’s right: You’re better spent building a new website.
Because I think if you have a history of poor link building techniques or strategies to your website, it’s going to be nearly impossible. As an example, I read an article this week from Cyrus Shepherd about a website that he helped get out of Google Penguin, and in the end, the problem was so severe that they basically binned, removed as many links as they could, and in the end they ended up using the Disavowal tool to disavow ninety-five percent of the links to the website. I mean that’s frightening to be honest. You know to try and actually undo that volume of links manually would be impossible.
Granted, he said ‘OK, we’ve disavowed ninety-five percent of the links and it’s successful. The problem is that he obviously understands what a bad link is. If you’re an average webmaster, or website owner, and you’ve been penalised by Penguin, rightly or wrongly, an average person’s just not going to understand what links are good and what links are bad. I think that’s really the challenge. There are some really great tools available online now to help estimate the quality of a link and the relevance of that link to your website. I think those sorts of tools, these days might really help some websites try and dig themselves out. But I think, left to their own devices, the average webmaster is doomed. They’re not going to get out from underneath it. Not without assistance from someone who’s well versed in this stuff.
Tim Capper: I think on the flipside of that, it’s still incredibly difficult, even for someone that sort of understands. I had a problem with a site, it came to me, I think it was fourteen-odd-thousand links, I spent – and this was pre-Disavowal Tool – I spent six months cleaning up, probably cleaned up about twelve thousand of those fourteen-odd-thousand. Submitted a reconsideration request, and was rejected.
I cleaned up probably – then I really went – you kind of get to the point where you think, ‘is this – why is this unnatural?’ I mean, really breaking everything down. I probably managed to get five hundred gone, put in a reconsideration request, rejected. Disavowal tool came along.
And then, it really was a thumb-suck, because by that time, I just could not figure out, unless you started having to analyse the other sites, what you thought was a natural way, you’d have to actually start breaking down their site. Just to find those one or two (links), some sites are difficult whereas other sites were cleaned up within a month, not a problem. And other sites, there could be underlying issues. Yeah, but for the average guy, I totally agree Alistair, it’s just a minefield, an absolute minefield.
Alistair Lattimore: I had something else, I only found out about this by accident this week, I wrote an end of year type of review and posted it on my personal blog the other day. I do it at the end of each year, just for something to do, and I looked at my web-stats for my personal blog, and traffic had plummeted. And I just don’t even look at that for my personal sites. I’d been affected by Penguin, clear as mud. And I’d never built a single link to my website ever. Not once. It’s a personal blog. Interestingly, when I go and look at the link profile for my site though, I’ve got links, particularly into all of my old content, where I used to write about technical sorts of things from 2004 to 2007-08, things to do with ASP.NET, SQL, Oracle, PERL, you know, lots of programming and technical software development related topics, that content gets linked to all the time.
And I’ve got links from all manner of sites, but there are lots and lots of blogs that link to me. Lots of stuff from BlogSpot and looking at it now, my link profile looks like shit. It looks very, very ordinary,
Jim Munro: And you’ve never built a single link.
Alistair Lattimore: And I’ve never built a single link, ever. I’ve participated online in lots of communities. I’ve written on blogs that I really like, part of the web standards base for instance, CSS standard topics, I’ve participated in heaps of niche communities, particularly technical stuff, web development, but I’ve never gone out to actually build a link, ever. I’ve commented because I wanted to engage with a dialog with the owner of the site. And my link profile looks like rubbish. And I can look at it now and go ‘You know what? It makes sense that I was penalised’, it looks grubby. And I haven’t done anything.
Thankfully, six weeks later, or eight weeks later when Penguin 1.1 was rolled out, the penalty was lifted. I didn’t do anything, again. But it was lifted and my traffic came back probably seventy-five or eighty percent of what it was before I got penalised. So, how’s an average website owner to know what to do. They will just look at and think ‘Gee, my website doesn’t perform very well for my business’ and probably just assume that it’s because people don’t like their service online, or they don’t like their website, or they’re doing something wrong.
It could have nothing to do with that at all, simply that they’ve been unfairly penalised, in the eyes of Google’s Algorithm.
Jim Munro: Rob, Andy or Lyndon. Do you want to try your mic now, Lyndon? Well this is good; Lyndon can’t talk (laughs). Rob, did you have anything you wanted to add to that? Or Tim?
Tim Capper: Well funny that Alistair mentioned blogs. This particular site that I’ve been dealing with had a huge amount of people blogging about the products and they all looked, when you looked at them, they were perfectly natural recommendations coming from blogs. But ultimately, I had to disavow pretty much all of them for it to come back. I mean there might have been some other underlying cause, naturally. I’m not saying that it was specifically blogs, but ultimately the only thing left for me to do was blogs. And yeah, it recovered after that.
Alistair Lattimore: The other thing that I don’t, and I guess this will come out in time, the more people go through the whole cleaning up process and really apply some serious analysis to the recovery process. I do wonder about the – let’s say you’ve got a thousand links to your website, and you know a good percentage of those are kind of rubbishy, and you might remove, let’s say seven-hundred-and-fifty of them are rubbish, just as an example, and you might go along and remove six hundred of those seven-hundred-and-fifty, or seven hundred of those seven-hundred-and-fifty, I do wonder whether or not those remaining links that are really bad and grubby, what sort of they might have on your site moving forward.
For instance, is it simply a percentage of good links or bad links ratio, for example? Or are there shades of grey about how relevant a link might be to your website as to how that might affect your link profile. For instance, I can imagine in my head that Google will quite easily be able to build a histogram of links being built to a website over time, and to see what types of websites, and the quality and relevance of those websites are linking at what point in time. And then potentially they might see new unrelated links being built more recently in a websites life, and then you go along to remove all of the links and you just happen to be removing the links that were built most recently as an example. But you’re still left with some percentage of really bad links that were built a long time ago. What kind of role does when the link was built have in the recovery process? Could you remove seven hundred links of the seven-hundred-and-fifty bad links and still remain analysed even though, in the scheme of things now, the percentage is well in your favour. Even though you’ve got two-hundred-and-fifty natural links, fifty ordinary links. That’s not bad, compared to, two-hundred-and-fifty versus seven-hundred-and-fifty, but is it enough?
I wonder about the shades of grey, potentially, and the quality and the relevancy of those links. And how well that might manifest itself in ultimately being analysed by Penguin. And how that will affect the recovery process of the site. I’ve haven’t read anything about it from anyone, but I do wonder about those sorts of things.
Rob Wagner: Can you guys hear me?
Jim Munro: Yep, can now.
Rob Wagner: OK, I wonder about those sort of things too. What are the grey areas? I guess. I think that’s one of the secrets that Google’s not going to want to share with you. Because if you knew that, then you’d know how to game the system, I would suspect.
They’re not going to tell you that, but I think to Tim’s point. Really, everybody’s kind of experiencing this that recovers or doesn’t recover, it doesn’t really matter what you do, in some cases. If you disavow all your links and you work really hard to get rid of them all and you still can’t come back, what is that saying about the algorithm? What is that saying about the update? And if you don’t do anything and all of a sudden recover, what does that say?
And I had the same experience, I had a website, not that I didn’t care about, I did care about it, but I didn’t do any SEO to it. I didn’t build any links, I never tried and there were some links that were done years ago that I wouldn’t even consider bad. And it got hit. The backlink profile doesn’t even have, I think it had maybe a thousand links, that’s it. And they were crappy though, they looked bad. And if you look at the back linking profile, it looked bad, and I didn’t do a thing. I had some good links in there from really good websites but most of them were bad. And ultimately, if I was looking at it from the outside in, I would say ‘Well where did this link come from?’ and ‘Where did that link come from?’ and I would question it say that ‘Maybe you’re not telling me the truth.’
Alistair Lattimore: I think the only way that this is probably going to come out in the wash, but it won’t be for a while yet, I think will be a big agency, like a marketing agency, or a big SEO firm who might have, potentially, access to hundreds of Webmaster Tools accounts, as an example. And then come up and look at all the messages that are coming in to Webmaster Tools about unnatural link profiles, and then exporting the links to look at the dates where they got the message, and the dates of the links that were built in that timeframe, just as a guide and then to start forming some opinions like ‘OK, we’ve got twenty-five websites out of six hundred that we’ve got access to in our webmaster accounts that have been analysed by penguin, Here are the links that we’re getting link warnings about, roughly, that have been built six weeks either side of when a link notification landed in their account’, as a guide. And then they start analysing those links to say ‘OK, Google’s clearly marking these sorts of links as evil, these groups of links are quite relevant’.
Then they can start to form an opinion. I think the challenge for me is: I don’t have access to hundreds of Webmaster accounts for lots of different businesses. I’ve only got access to Webmaster accounts for our hotel chain. There’s hundreds of websites, but it’s only all within the hotel chain space.
But I think if an agency, of some sort, had access to a very large pool of accounts, they might be able to form a stronger opinion about relevancy and how evil new or old links might be.
Lyndon NA: Can anyone hear me now?
Jim Munro: Yes
Lyndon NA: Finally, great – Now Penguin’s complicated, if I remember correctly, it’s not just links. It’s again, what it’s meant to hit most on the trust and quality of a site, so some sites may be somewhat bullet-proof or protected, or there may be a threshold, it may be if you are untrusted you only need x percent bad links, if you’re highly trusted, you need x times five.
Google have never come out and said if it’s the same threshold for everyone or not. The other problem is, is apparently it may also have to do with the actual content, and whether it appears stuffed or over-optimised. So it may not just be your backlinks.
As Alistair said, Google did seem heavy-handed with it at the start; they did seem to hit quite a few sites that shouldn’t have been hit. From what we’ve seen and what reports I think I’ve read, you don’t have to clear out all the bad backlinks, it was roughly around 80 percent. Whether that is 80 percent of all bad backlinks, or 80 percent of the worst, I don’t know. Again, Google haven’t quite explained it. The real crippler is, regarding the backlinks, you don’t have that much control over them. This is one of the reasons Google never really hammered sites for bad backlinks in the past. They’d prefer to either devalue or annul. For some reason, all of a sudden, they’ve gone in the opposite direction and turned around and said, ‘Any site that we think is questionable, that’s got a bunch of bad backlinks, we’re going to kick to the curb, we’ve had enough’
And it seems extreme, the same way panda was seen as extreme. It didn’t matter if you only had a handful of bad pages; they would kick your site down. You could have nine hundred pages, you could have fifty bad, and eight-hundred-and-fifty good and you could lose the eight-hundred-and-fifty as well as the fifty bad. I don’t know what Google’s logic is on this. They claim that they want to show the best content, and then go and remove a fair chunk of it. While throwing out the bathwater, they’ve also thrown out the baby.
I’m not going to comment on the engineering logic there. But to recover, it’s not instant; you won’t know whether you have done it enough, because you don’t bounce back straight away. And when you do bounce back, I don’t think anyone’s recovered one hundred percent.
Now part of this is going to be due to loss of value. You’ve just removed ‘x’ links therefor you don’t have ‘x’ PR, you don’t have ‘x’ relevancy, you don’t have ‘x’ trust parsing. But I think one of Richard’s points is ‘Is there associated damage? Are you somehow tarnished from that point on?
Is there some sort of suppression left? Is it ‘Oh, we thought you were a bad boy, you’re going to stay with an ankle bracelet on for the next year.
Tim Capper: I’ve got two sites, yes and no to that. One site pretty much recovered completely to where they were previously within a month. I’ve got the other site, which I mentioned earlier, which was an absolute nightmare. I still believe there’s a major trust issue there. Especially with that site, even though it’s been released. I just can’t seem to get any traction.
So it’s quite difficult to measure that. On the one hand, yes I think there is a trust issue. On the other hand, judging from another site, no. So I can’t quantify it.
Lyndon NA: So I don’t think you’ll be able to, I don’t think it’s a simplistic approach. As I said, it seems based on trust to begin with: you’ve got to be within a certain boundary to be hit. I think Google may have done this on the multi-tier level. It’s not ‘one algorithm fits all’. The algorithms got subsets to it. The same way Panda ended up.
So the only way it’s going to work is if we can pool a whole bunch of data together and examine it. And I’m talking hundreds of sites; I don’t think fifty will be sufficient.
We don’t know if they’re looking for a link pattern as in on the link graph, or if they’re just looking at the backlink text, which is one of the initial indicators, you know ‘Were you overdoing the backlink text?’ It’s just not the backlink text anymore, it seems to be some of the sites, seems to be what pages they’re linked to.
Alistair Lattimore: Yeah, I’ve seen sites penalised that have got reasonably fine anchor text. You know, there’s anchor text in there that’s not optimised, they’re not wailing on it, ‘There’s a handful of things, that’s fine’ but they’re being penalised because the link profile, the link quality of the profile, is horrible. It’s just low quality garbage, even though they’re not linking with some highly commercial link text, it’s just a rubbish link profile.
And in the scheme of things, if Google just completely ignored all of those links, as an example. As opposed to penalising a website, the net effect would probably be the same. The website wouldn’t rank because, cumulatively, five hundred rubbish links still amount to something. And if they just simply devalued all of them and said ‘Well we’re just not going to count them at all’, the net effect of that for the website is ‘I won’t rank anymore’.
Except instead of doing that, which, I guess they’re out to penalise the people who are gaming the system, aren’t they?
Lyndon NA: Well that’s the intent; it does seem to have been an ‘Anti-SEO’ algorithm, despite what Google have said.
Alistair Lattimore: Yeah I mean if you look at it, it’s about over-optimisation, isn’t it? Over-optimised link text, over-optimised link profiles in terms of maybe the number of linking root domains not seeming reasonable, or the quality of those linking root domains isn’t right or the relevancy of those linking root domains is rubbish.
Because if you look at a link profile, just as an example, pick an arbitrary website that’s been penalised. If you went and replaced every rubbish link with an irrelevant high-quality link, you wouldn’t be penalised. It just wouldn’t. If you took seven-hundred-and-fifty, again, same example as before, a thousand links, two-hundred-and-fifty that are completely organic. Seven-hundred-and-fifty have been built.
Scenario one is: seven-hundred-and-fifty rubbish links? You get penalised, no question. Scenario two: you’ve got seven-hundred-and-fifty links but from high quality sites, that are PR four, five, six, seven type sites. You’re just not going to get penalised, you’re not.
And contrary to what you might think, they’re completely irrelevant, but what’s actually going to happen to your website is: your rankings are going to soar. Because you’ve got seven-hundred-and-fifty PR four, five, six, seven websites linking to you.
So you’re right Lyndon, there’s definitely a lot of different facets to how they measure the quality of a link profile. And I think that there definitely is shades of severity maybe, or something that basically says ‘OK, this link profile is three years old’ as an example. And they might use the length of the link profile as something that they feed into this algorithm. ‘This websites only got one year worth of link profile, and as a percentage of time, they’ve got six months’ worth of crappy link building activity. On the other website that’s three years old, they’ve still got six months’ worth of link building activity that’s rubbishy, but it’s six months of three years. So the percentage doesn’t seem as bad, even though the volume might be equivalent. Also there are so many different ways that you can try to analyse the intent behind link building for a website. You know, are they specifically going out to build bad links? Or cheap links? Scalable link building tactics, if you know what I mean?
Or are they going out to build relevant, well maybe not relevant, but quality irrelevant links? – As an example. It’s just not clear; I haven’t seen enough websites to be able to form an opinion.
Lyndon NA: The concerning part to me is that apparently Google examine more than thirty signals when it comes to links, thirty or more.
Alistair Lattimore: Really, they actually said that somewhere?
Lyndon NA: Yeah, it’s horrendous; I could come up with about 16 at a push. The rest, I haven’t got a clue. I don’t know if they’re subsets of the 14 I can come up with, I don’t know if they’re completely off the wall, I don’t know if they’ve got relevancy to the links at all. But I think Penguin focuses on a handful. You’ve obviously got the link pattern; you’ve got the link text and the links using it. You’ve then got the quality of the sites linking to you, and where the links are going on your site. To me those are the main signals, but the other contributing factor is, your site’s trust and Google’s perception of it.
And we haven’t got a clue; there are some good sites out there that are just not popular. The reason is that they haven’t built links, they haven’t optimised, they haven’t promoted. They’re actually vulnerable because of it. So if somebody does happen to go ‘Oh, yeah I’ll link to them with this text’, they’re actually susceptible to it.
It’s not like Panda, where you’re in control of the content on your site. It’s not like Google may have a problem with some of the comments on your pages because you haven’t been moderating. Those are down to you and your site. This is third-party stuff in some cases. And it’s sort of like ‘Alright, I bought this site two years ago, it’s been online for 10 years, and I’ve had nothing to do with the link build-up for eight years before that, and now my site has disappeared.
Rob Wagner: So what are you saying, that every single website, because of the variety of factors you can take into consideration, that virtually every website is going to react to this update to Penguin a little bit different? And it’s very difficult to track that down?
Lyndon NA: I think that there’s only a small percentage of sites that’s going to be hit by Penguin. I think it’s only those that are technically vulnerable that are susceptible.
Rob Wagner: Well that could be a new site; somebody has a site for six months –
Lyndon NA: No, Google don’t seem to have been that over-zealous with it. I can’t think of many new sites that got hit by penguin.
Rob Wagner: As long as the back linking profile is OK, right?
Lyndon NA: Yeah, if the site is being somewhat spammy or low quality. And this is the crippler, Google seems to be trying to adjudicate sites on quality based on various signals that may or may not have anything to do with the site owner. They use links as a quality and trust signal. Always have, or have done for a long time. The problem is: you cannot control who links to you. If Spammy Jose decides that he’s going to link to you from all of his sites, you’re stuffed. You can’t get rid of those links.
Google know this is a problem. One, because they haven’t done this before now. Two, because they’ve now released the Disavowal Tool. To me that’s a partial admission of guilt. To me, the best thing we could all do, is find a list of all those that have been disavowed and see if we can find the common factors. Because to me, Google must be looking at which sites it doesn’t trust, and who they’re linking out to.
The real shocker here is that there are link networks out there that haven’t been touched.
Rob Wagner: That’s true, that’s true.
Lyndon NA: So there are other contributing factors, and we don’t know if it’s a mix and match. We don’t know if Google are saying, ‘Oh, you must have eighty percent questionable links or twelve percent of links all with the same link text, or a mix of the two. In which case, trying to spot that pattern is going to be a nightmare.
So this is the point where chasing the algorithms is somewhat futile, all we can do is hazard a best guess and hit and hope. But normal website owners, not a chance. Christ, we’re talking about people who still try to put twenty words in their keyword tag, or that don’t put the keyword in the title at all. People who put ‘Home’ as their homepage title, these aren’t particularly savvy people. I’m not going to call them stupid or anything, they don’t know. But because they don’t know, they’re actually their own liability.
They go out, they do a search, they read a bit of information, they think it makes sense, they do it, and they get shot for it.
Alistair Lattimore: That’s right, they don’t know right from wrong as far as Google’s concerned.
Lyndon NA: To some extent, I can understand Google’s perception of ‘Ignorance isn’t an excuse’. On the other hand though, if it’s quite blatant, and it must be in some cases, that the site owner really is clueless, and is innocently doing something wrong, they should not be hammered for it. They should be given a warning shot. Google has a trust metric, I’m sure of it. They won’t admit it. They say trust and authority and they switch the two. That’s more to with topical and subject for a site.
I’m sure they’ve got a trust metric as in a spam rating, which I know they have, and a ‘we think you’re doing this on purpose’ rating. If the site is new and hits that level, they ought to be telling them. The problem is: they don’t all have Google Webmaster Tools.
Alistair Lattimore: Ah and there’s the problem though. How is Google to communicate with a billion websites, right? Because they could send emails to the email on the WHOIS information for the domain, well, that will be good for some, lots of people that own Generic Top Level Domains will use private registration. On the flip side, in Australia it wouldn’t be a problem because you can’t use private registration. So there’s got to be contact details on the domain. And then you’re right, not everyone has access to webmaster tools. But at least they are putting out into webmaster tools, a warning: ‘We found some unnatural links’. And then if it continues and they find more, effectively you’ve been penalised because of unnatural links, like they’ve got two different sorts of messages that they’re sending out.
Lyndon NA: So yeah, my suggestion to a Googler for the Disavowal Tool was the SERPs filter. If somebody does a site operator search, there ought to be a little symbol from Google, you can click it and then if you’ve got a Google account that can talk to you. If it’s verified in Google Webmaster Tools, they can talk to you and give you even more information. At least it would be prompting people to sign up and get the info that they need. Because otherwise I know that people are going ‘My site’s gone, why is my site gone?’ I’ve had quite a few that have just phones up and said ‘Hoping you could help? Could you have a look at this?’, ‘Yeah you’ve been hit by Penguin, go read this, go read that.’
Jim Munro: If you do a site: search, you do get ‘Is this your website, open up a webmaster tools account.
Lyndon NA: Yeah, what you don’t get is a little red warning box. Which is what webmasters really need. Red Warning Box or ‘bugger’
Tim Capper: Seeing as we’ve just been talking about it, I’ve just gone into, I didn’t go into my webmaster tools for the site I mentioned originally, I just did a quick HREF, and talking about blogs, one of the blogs which was a perfectly natural, in my view, link. What had happened was one of the regular blog posters, also has their own blog and what they did was they’d put an image with a link through to the main site. Now of course that was on a blog roll, so all of a sudden there was something like a thousand links coming out of the site.
Now, when I was battling with trying to find any possible sources people were saying, and I think there was things saying: blog rolls. So I asked this blogger to at least no follow that link, which she has done. However just looking at the quick HREFS, because she’s used an image from photo bucket, now I’ve got over seven-hundred-and-eighty anchor texts coming into the site for photo bucket.
Do you get what I’m saying, there’s just so many things which are uncontrollable to a normal average joe. It’s just crazy.
Rob Wagner: Can I add Alistair, I think it’s the ecosystem of the internet, where the internet is built around links and Google was a Search Engine. So therefore, since the nineties and before, it’s just the way we do business on the internet, right? That’s what we do, we link to each other, even Google+ it doesn’t matter where you are, you’re linking. So the whole ecosystem is built around that. And Google kind of inject themselves into the ecosystem and are giving penalties out with the penguin update to people who were abusing that system. And therefore the whole system is – Google is kind of pushing the ecosystem, they’re injecting themselves into that bigger picture ecosystem, if that makes any sense.
Jim Munro: It Does
Rob Wagner: So in Tim’s case, the whole internet is built around linking, that’s what makes it work. One website links to another website so that when you upload a photobucket, naturally it’s going to make links and that’s an issue.
Tim Capper: that’s the thing so as a precaution on this blog roll; they’ve no followed it as I’ve asked them to. And it’s a great blog, but I’ve asked them to no follow it which they have done. So I’ve removed anchor text coming into my site with the actual domain name, which theoretically is perfectly fine, but now I’ve got a photobucket anchor text coming through. So yeah, it’s a juggling act for owners and people out there. Until we have some kind of idea on what Google’s up to. Well we know what they’re up to, but parameters I mean.
Jim Munro: Cool, cool, cool. I hope no-one else has got something else to add.
Tim Capper: No
Jim Munro: That’s the end, no more
Lyndon NA: Just a quick one, how do site owners identify the bad links? You know it’s not too hard for an SEO, but for an actual site owner without a clue, trying to look for all those links and trying to decide if the site is good or not, if the link is good or not, that’s gotta be hard. In fact, I know some SEOs that struggle in deciding, but how a site owner’s meant to figure it out, I don’t know.
Rob Wagner: And the time involved in trying to figure it out. I mean for an SEO, someone who knows what they’re doing will be cool with that but the site owners not going to have a clue, they’re working against time on an uphill battle.
Lyndon NA: so the question is, can Google do anything else to help? Will Google do anything else to help? is it possible for them to go, ‘Oh well actually we think you’re not a bad site, you’ve just a been a little bit silly, so we’ll throw you a bone and point out fifty sites that are bad, these are the links you’ve got to get rid of.’ Could we ask Google to look at it that way?
Tim Capper: No, they’d just tell you go to Webmaster Forums where the poor buggers just get slagged off.
Lyndon NA: I was going to say, I recommend the Google Webmaster Forums, the problem is they’re hands are tied. For starters, you’ve got to tow the party line to a certain extent, because if you don’t they’ll get rid of you.
Tim Capper: Oh yeah, how does that happen (laughs)
Lyndon NA: Arguing with people a lot and being rude and offensive don’t do it. The other problem is, you’re not dealing with Google, you’re dealing with volunteers. And though they are clever, they have experience, they have insight, they do have some access to Google, they don’t have the answers. All they can do is best guess for you. And in cases like this, you need a Googler, they’re the ones that can look at the data and give you the pointers. I’ve seen people come in with issues with their site that Google has, it’s not with an algorithm, it’s nothing they’ve done, Google have stuffed up. And the only way they’re ever going to find that out and get it fixed is Google. And it’s horrendous. So go to forums, be nice, read the FAQs, search and read related topics, then ask your question. But don’t expect a miracle.
You’ll get support, you’ll get help, you’ll get a back rub. If you go in like an idiot, if you ask a common question, if you’re rude, if you don’t provide the relevant information, you may get a flea in your ear.
Tim Capper: You’ve seen them, yes there are people out there which come in with all the ‘I don’t know what happened, Never done SEO’ and then just a five minute look at their profile and you’re like ‘Come on, no, sorry’. However I have seen some innocent site owners just going along, going ‘What’s going on?’ and of course they don’t know that they’ve had an unnatural link warning because they don’t have Webmaster Tools, but you get all these comments where people jump on going ‘Yeah great! Google slap-down’ and you’re like ‘No sorry, you are not helping this person.’
Lyndon NA: I must admit, I’ve had it pointed out to me, and I have looked, and you’re right. It has gone downhill a tad. And I feel a hypocrite because I’m mister nasty and I was horrendous when I was on that forum.
I was rude, I was abusive. You get no help, you’re left to be abused, you can flag it and it takes hours for anyone to act on it. During that time, you’re suffering more abuse and the worst part is the constant barrage of repeat questions. You end up very, very calloused. So it’s unfair for the innocent. It’s very unpleasant if you’ve gone in innocently and you get a wallop upside the head. But appreciate of those volunteers is in order, because some of those volunteers answer a hundred questions every week.
Tim Capper: But what you have to understand is, if someone is slapped with a warning right, let’s say firstly – two situations. So you get ones that don’t even know that Webmaster Tools exists, and eventually find the forum and ask their question ‘What’s going on?’. But then you get the other side, if somebody gets a warning, it says: If you need help, visit our webmaster forum’ Now in an innocent case where we’ve all had situations today where we’ve never done any SEO on the site, purely over time, it gets nailed. So from an innocent point of view, they get told from webmaster tools to go to the forum. They go to the forum, they ask their question ‘What’s going on?’ and do you see what I mean.
Lyndon NA: No you are right.
Tim Capper: You can’t defend them. Google is selling them as a help line saying ‘Go there and get your help’
Lyndon NA: I can defend them up to a point, it is a valid point to raise, it isn’t the right way and I can understand why Google gave me the boot to a certain extent as well. But I’m going to lay the main problem solely at the feet of Google. If you’re going to offer support, YOU offer that support, YOU provide staff, you don’t rely on volunteers to supply answers to hundreds of people each and every week.
I can’t remember my post volume, but for a while I had the highest post volume for months. And I tried to clean up all the questions that were unanswered.
Jim Munro: I’m not sure I’ve you’ve met Christina S; she was the most prolific –
Lyndon NA: No I was ahead of her by quite a stretch before I got booted. I think there was one other TC that beat me
Jim Munro: I was keeping tabs on them all and you were making more posts, but you posted longer, I thought you must have been employed by Google at first.
Tim Capper: The whole hang-up is, Google says, you’ve got this warning, to seek help, go here. They don’t say, you’ve got this warning, you’re pretty much knackered, go and see a volunteer help-line, which is not staffed by us, we only step in and moderate every now and again, and it’s volunteers who are obviously doing it for their own reasons. They’re going to slag you off. Do you see? Google doesn’t say that, they say ‘Hey go here for your help’ and in a way they are saying this is an official thing. Nobody understands that this is a volunteer thing. I think they just need to be clear about it
Lyndon NA: That’s actually a complaint a lot of Top Contributors raise. That Google ought to be making it clearer to people that TCs aren’t Google.
Tim Capper: They need to be clear, that if you’ve got a warning from Google, you’re f****
Jim Munro: I can’t see that appearing in Forbes Magazine; we’ve actually got two viewers at the moment
Tim Capper: S***, it’s John Mueller
Lyndon NA: (Audio Distortion)
Jim Munro: You’re breaking up; look, I wanted to say something in defence of the Webmaster Forum. Ninety-five percent of it is good. Alistair Lattimore, you have given some of the best answers I have seen, I was thinking of compiling some of it into a textbook and making some money out of it. They’re on the webmaster forum and there are some good people there. Some things really, really get up my nose and that is that any poor sap, who goes there and says or has a website, they’re grandmother might have a website that has SEO written on it, and their asking a question, every troll in the whole thing descends on them and they say ‘Why are you asking, you’re supposed to be an expert’ it’s just such a pain to me. But anyway, by and large I think the webmaster help forum is good.
Tim Capper: Do you not remember Max-SEO or SEO by India? No? Were you not there when they came in? That these are two fairly large SEO companies in India that used to hit Google Forums and ask for free help with their clients websites where they were charging hundreds of dollars for, and it’s like ‘No, you can go jump’
Jim Munro: Fair go, nothing is cut and dry, if everybody new everything, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I don’t think it’s any big deal not to know anything. Actually I know nothing so I qualify
Tim Capper: I think it’s good, we’re getting a lot of questions on the Dumb SEO Community, SEO Questions, Technical SEO Community, got a lot of questions going in there. It’s really good, I’ve got nothing against the Google Webmaster Forums, They’re there, and they’re helpful. My key point is, just the fact that people don’t know it’s a volunteer service and if Google tells people to go and get your help there, people assume it’s an official Google product as such. That’s my only thing
Lyndon NA: Yeah, the expectations high, you think it’s Google.
Tim Capper: Yeah you ask a question and people go ‘Hey! Spammer slap-down’ and if that was me, first time ever visiting asking a question which I believe is relevant ‘Gosh what’s happened to our site, traffics gone, can someone help me’ and then someone goes ‘Spammer slap-down’ and the next one goes ‘Yeah!’ and then you’re just like ‘What the…?’. It’s really bad from a Google Branding point of view because these people don’t know it’s not Google.
Lyndon NA: No you’re right. I was guilty of that to a certain extent. Part of it is actually the forum format. We all begged Google to make search a requirement before you were allowed to post. Because ‘Why is my site not indexed’ – four questions in two hours, the exact same title by four different people. If they searched, they would have found seven hundred posts of the same or similar title with seven hundred answers, all pretty much the same, including an auto-response that I typed up and started linking to, to save myself some time and going mad. Google won’t do it, Google seems to thinks it’s a better usage of our time to answer the same questions, than to actually point people to FAQs and pre-set answers.
It’s as Sash likes to say, every person is an individual snowflake and they want their own answer. I think Google needs to change the help system approach; the forum should be the last step. There ought to be tree branches, there ought to be yes-no tick boxes, and there ought to be walkthroughs and guides. They ought to be holding the hand and automatically getting people to identify the issues, providing the right information and collecting it all up. Only if they don’t find a solution through that system, should they go to the forum, and all the data they have entered should be auto-posted. So that as a volunteer, you can get all the information you need straight off the bat. Because the number of people who go ‘My site’s not ranking’, and I can see why: you don’t have a domain name. You think that would at least appear, but no.
It’s not nice as an experience.
Tim Capper: You read all of Google’s stuff about providing a user experience, create this user experience etc.
Lyndon NA: You don’t expect Google to follow their own guidelines do you?
Tim Capper: No the funniest thing is, if anyone opens or just – Google’s pretty much sending out spam emails now for Adwords. My clients probably get three-four a day now coming from Google. Of course, if you open up you Adwords, they give you free vouchers etc. You get phone support, you can phone Google Adwords and pick up the phone and go ‘Oh, can someone help me?’ and they are bending over backwards to help you.
But if you’ve got a problem, there’s nothing for – Oh, Jim’s chastising us.
Jim Munro: No I’m not chastising, I’m just saying the first question wasn’t even a question and we haven’t finished it yet.
Lyndon NA: There are questions that correlate to this that we can come back to. The first is Google’s switch towards Freemium and premium. And the other one is the recent uptake of Google offering phone support for business local. But we can come back to them after dealing with the questions.
Jim Munro: Oh, Tim I’m sorry we can’t cover that subject.
Lyndon NA: What subject, I’m making coffee what did I miss?
Jim Munro: It’s OK. Alright.
This is the end part one of the Google Hangout on the 10/01/13