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The Great Google Bitch Slap

October 24th, 2007 · 66 Comments

Is Matt Cutts really the anti-Christ?

Well if there was ever any doubt about whether Google would enforce their hard line approach to paid links or “selling” PageRank, it’s gone now. Big G are on a bitch slapping spree the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the S&M World Championship of 1987.

Everywhere you look, sites are having their PageRank stripped back and we’re not talking about small time Charlies here. Andy Beard reports sites including Engadget, Forbes, ProBlogger, Search Engine Roundtable, Copyblogger, The Blog Herald, Quick Online Tips and Search Engine Journal have all seen their PR drop by between 1-3 points.

Is it an automated review of the whole visible PageRank algorithm or is it all part of a big conspiracy theory?

Whatever the reasoning behind it or the actual methods employed, Google would be well advised to consider just exactly who it is that they’re attacking. As Andy points out

For a company such as Google with a stock price based extensively on anticipated growth and public sentiment, it doesn’t take a huge swing in goodwill to have a dramatic effect on valuation. Google has just slapped their biggest fans.

When Google first came on the scene, it was used almost exclusively by computer geeks. I should now. I was one of them. For me, using Google was like a badge telling the non-geeks that I knew something they didn’t. What happened, of course, is that ‘we’ started telling the world about Google and extolling their virtues over and above all of the other search engines. “If you want to find something real quick”, we would say, “use Google cuz they rock, dude”. Obviously I didn’t use those exact words because I am far too British to use the word “dude” in every day conversation but you see the point I’m getting at? Google became what they are today because the tech-heads, the web developers, the early adopters championed them above everyone else.

Well guess what, Google? Those are the exact same people you are currently attacking. The people who supported you in your early years and the people who have the ability to influence the non-tech folks. It’s not a wise move to piss them off in great numbers. Sure, you’re currently top of the pile but with every one of your snidey little digs at the SEO community or the web development community or the blogging community, you chip away at your power base.

Blog Bloke spoke the other day about moving everything away from Google. This is the guy who, a few short months ago, would rather have performed self castration than move his site away from Blogger.

There is no doubt in my mind that these are clinical hand jobs rather than algorithm changes. The sites Big G have targeted, and will no doubt continue to target, are the very people who put them at the top of the search engine pile and this is where they’re making their biggest mistake.

You may well say that a handful of bloggers getting out of their prams over this will make no difference. Google is a multi billion dollar company. Nobody can touch them, right?

Wrong.

For every pissed off SEO or web developer who has been bitch slapped by Google there is a new convert to Yahoo! or Ask or Live Search and guess who they’re recommending to their non-tech clients? “You don’t want to use Google any more. They’ve sold out. Their results are packed with paid entries/spam/Google only sites. You want to use xxx instead. They’re much better” and Mr or Mrs Non-Tech believe them because, well, why wouldn’t you? This guy is an expert so he must know what he’s talking about.

It’s my birthday next week and I’m having a few beers in my local pub to celebrate. It’ll be a real mix of my friends including some actors, a couple of filmmakers and some of my older non-tech buddies. No doubt the conversation will turn to what I’m up to these days and we’ll get onto the subject of web development and SEO. Who do you think I’ll be championing as the new “cool” search engine to use? Will it be Google? Will it bollocks.

Even before all this and I was talking to web clients about search, I was telling them to stop using Google exclusively and to branch out. I was recommending Live Search for images because it’s miles better than Google. I was telling them focusing solely on getting good Google rankings was actually harming them because they were neglecting nearly half of all online searches.

Neither Larry Page or Sergey Brin have, to the best of my knowledge, ever worked as a waitress in a cocktail bar. However that doesn’t stop me finishing this rant article with the opening lines of the 1981 UK number one hit by the Human League which has been running through my head as I’ve been writing this. It somehow feels rather apt.

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up and turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too

UPDATE: I’ve just read a piece by Jack Schofield at The Guardian on the whole subject. I’m pleased not just because he links back to Twenty Steps but also because it shows that the bullying behaviour of Google is starting to seep into the mainstream media. There’s also an excellent piece by Jack about TV Links being closed down for linking to illegally distributed films rather than Google themselves for hosting them on YouTube.

UPDATE 2: Well this site officially got slapped and is now a PR3. Pretty much all of the 50+ sites I own or manage have also been hit by 1-2 points across the board.

Interestingly enough, of all the sites I run, only 2 escaped getting slapped. Both of them have only run AdSense from day one. No competing advertisers. I’m sure that’s just a spooky coincidence, right? Right?

UPDATE 3: I was going to respond to the folks that have been going round saying “I told you so” in response to Google’s stance on paid links but then I remembered seeing the perfect response from Jennifer Laycock in her excellent series of posts NoFollow is for Blog Spam…no Paid Text Links, wait…Paid Ads…Aww Heck, Just Stop Linking and Let Calacanis Decide the Rankings. This pretty much sums up my own feelings on the matter:

For instance…if I tell you today (and every day for the next week) that I’ll be punching you in the face next Wednesday, does that make it ok?


Tags: Search Marketing

66 responses so far ↓

  • AdvertiseSpace // Oct 24, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    LOL. I love it. This is my favorite post today about this silly Google PR nonsense. I’m tired of everyone always trying to appease them. Great post.

  • Wendy Piersall // Oct 24, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    This is one of my favorite articles I have read about the scandal today. :)

    I don’t know how my site didn’t get the slap – still trying to figure it out myself.

  • Mike // Oct 24, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Glad you guys enjoyed it :)

    Wendy – have you got a spycam installed in my office or something? I was just reading your post in my feed reader when you left this comment. I’m spooked now!

  • RichF // Oct 24, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Great post Mike – I’ve been a bit sick of all these goings on, and the link to Andy Beards site shows something that annoys me. The sites listed with reduced PR are damn good sites, they actually add something to the internet. Just because they are high profile on the web shouldn’t mean they get a special hand job from the Google team.

    Anyway, who are google to say if I should be allowed to sell links and how I should show them up. And I love the song lyrics as well..

  • Chris Lodge // Oct 24, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Top quality post, and The Human League quote was inspired :-)

    Google’s heading for a fall….

  • Tim Nash // Oct 24, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    I love that picture its great :)
    I think of all the high profile sites the one I have most argument with is Andy’s who has never bought or sold a link.

  • Blog Bloke // Oct 24, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Ditto! Great post bitch ;-)

    By the way, I don’t use paid-for-links, text link ads or any other of the grey areas. I played by the rules and still I got slapped.

    Thanks Google. I won’t forget this.

    Happy birthday Mikey!

  • robwatts // Oct 24, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    Marvellous, say what you mean why dontcha! ;)

    The worm is turning…

  • John // Oct 24, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    Well said. Though no one told me I could be too British to say dude… :-)

  • Mike // Oct 24, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    Rich & Chris – It was one of those songs that was running through my head as I wrote the article. It just seemed to fit somehow.

    Tim – Andy and Copyblogger are the two which jump out for me. There’s no question about paid links here. There’s something else on the Big G agenda but, of course, they’ll never tell us…

    BB – You’re another one who seems to have received a slap without any justification. Thanks for the birthday wishes, by the way :D

    Rob – I hope so. I genuinely hope so. There are so many reasons to love G for all the good they do (free apps, mail, analytics, etc.) but they’re starting to lose sight of there prime focus and that’s providing a quality search engine. How can you take a search engine seriously when you type in the name John Chow and not see his pages in the results? Crazy.

    John – For whatever reason, saying the word dude just doesn’t work for me. Maybe I ought to practice it a bit more. Dude.

  • Rick Cockrum // Oct 25, 2007 at 1:39 am

    Yeah. It’s been sweet. I saw a 2 point drop in my PR. Will it mean anything? I don’t know. Not bad for a company that makes their money from paid links.

  • Rick Cockrum // Oct 25, 2007 at 1:40 am

    Sorry, I meant to say paid links aka ads.

  • Mike // Oct 25, 2007 at 2:05 am

    Well that’s the whole hypocrisy, Rick. They’re waging a war on paid links and yet their entire business model is based around them.

    Essentially what they’re saying, as far as I can see it, is that paid links are bad unless they’re sponsored by Google.

    However, putting that to one side, how do you explain the drop in PR for sites like Copyblogger, Andy Beard and InstaBloke who have never sold a link? Is there more to this than meets the eye?

    Are Big G finally realising that the PageRank monster that they created has gotten out of hand and are looking to kill it off?

  • Andy Beard // Oct 25, 2007 at 2:21 am

    I was really please to see you receiving a link from The Guardian along with Court.

    You know, if I sold links on my site I could buy PPC traffic to replace what Google sends me each month from search, and it would be more targeted.

    Don’t feel sorry for me, I set my site up for this battle, it just took a year to come to fruition

  • Dan Jensen // Oct 25, 2007 at 7:42 am

    Mike,

    This is the post I wanted to write but wasn’t *game* to do so.

    I do have it sitting in draft on my blog and you’ve inspired me to make it live.

    I don’t think any of us here would complain that Google has the right to alter their algorithm how they wish. However, it is the fact that they conduct the same business practices themselves, that they are penalising everyone else for, that is getting up people’s noses. Not just that, but they do it in far greater magnitude.

    Where it becomes absolutely absurd is in the situation where the adsense/adwords ads displayed on one’s site are clearly and unashamedly ‘guaranteeing Top 10 rankings’ and worse ‘selling PR6 links’.

    So what exactly are we to believe?

    I think the lyrics of System Of A Down’s – Prison Song – best sum it up.

    “They’re trying to build a prison” x3
    “(For you and me to live in)”
    “Another prison system” x3
    “(For you and me to live in)”

    Actually the whole song is apt. if I was any good with Final Cut Pro I would make a video all about Google using that song as the background music and I would launch it on YouTube :P

  • Toivo // Oct 25, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Google has been undependable and inconsistent as an income source for awhile now. Remember ‘Multiple Streams of Income’ and ‘Too Eggs in One Basket’.

  • Mike // Oct 25, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Andy – Cheers, mate. Got a link from Forbes this morning too. Just wonder if it’s the pic of Matt Cutts that’s bringing them here ;)

    Dan – Read your post and duly Stumbled. You’re spot on with what you say regarding the hypocrisy of it all. Incidentally, what sort of feedback did you receive from directory owners regarding the last round of carnage?

    Toivo – I totally agree with you and have been saying the same thing for some time now. However what they’re doing at the moment is trying to force people to drop alternative revenue streams by penalising them. Let’s forget paid links for a second, by reducing PR on these sites it’s directly impacting the sites income potential via the advertising mediums that base their rates on PR so making them appear less attractive alternatives to AdSense.

  • TheAnand // Oct 26, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Thats an interesting piece of thought “dude” :-P Google is surely cooking up something…guess what they are aiming at? This, this public media publicity shud be what they aim ….and its too cheap…** goes off to find out how he can move away from google as mentioned in the articles **

  • Mike // Oct 26, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    It’s what they’re cooking up which is worrying everyone, Anand. If you do find a successful method of weaning yourself of Big G, do let me know. Dude.

  • Blogtommy // Oct 27, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    I’ve read quite a bit on this topic but don’t think I laughed quite as much as when I read this post. Hilarious stuff. I’ll tune in again for sure.

    T

  • Boris // Oct 28, 2007 at 12:14 am

    “Bitch Slap”… I could have not said it better myself!

  • Kirk M // Oct 28, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Looks like just about everyone took a hit. I had a comment roll into my email that the PR refresh was completed and not only did I lose a point on my personal blog but just about everyone in my blogroll did also including my wife’s standard type business website. The latter makes no sense at all since her traffic has increased since the last roll up and she runs no ads at all. Go figure.

  • Mike // Oct 28, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    Blogtommy – Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the link :)

    Boris – That’s exactly how it feels, though :(

    Kirk M – I know. It makes no sense. Almost all of my clients sites have taken hits too and none of them contain any ads, paid links or have been involved in any kind of naughtiness. All I can think is that all of my client sites contain a backlink to my design company and – surprise, surprise – that got hit too so perhaps it’s just a case of incoming links losing their PR juice so the recipient site loses juice. Who knows? I can’t imagine Big G will clarify the situation any time soon…

    Thanks for the link as well :)

  • Qtpies7~ // Nov 25, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    My blogspot blog got slammed. But only the one that does ads. I like to tons of people on my other blog, but not for money, and it is ranked higher, but I don’t know that anybody links to it except me!
    I am just so disgusted with Google right now.

  • Mike // Nov 26, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Qtpies. Thanks for stopping by.

    A lot of people feel the same way, unfortunately. I think that until Big G come out and make a public statement on this one that people will continue to feel the same way. It just seems like a scatter gun approach to the “problem” they were looking to resolve…

  • Jon // Aug 15, 2008 at 10:37 am

    this a great tip to help us to stop google slap.

  • DavidC // Aug 27, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Not only a great article, but I think that it still applies today.

    We have given Google way to much power, and depending completely on the traffic they decide to send is not the best idea.

    It’s obvious that their results are flawed and that in many cases they pay too much attention to factors that give bad results to the average user. I often find top10 sites for highly competitive keywords that are there because of domain age and high use of adsense (even tho they lack of content/design/usability/navigation/etc quality)

    I used to tell everybody to *ONLY* use Google, because they had the best results, but that’s no longer the case. We all have to open up and improve the SE spectrum.

  • Mike // Aug 28, 2008 at 8:58 am

    I think it all depends on the niche, David. Generally speaking I can’t grumble too much about the quality of the SERPs. I think more often than not they get it right but there are some certain niches or keyword sets (your market specifically) where the results tend to contain a lot of AdSense packed sites. Is that the niche or the search engine?

    Since I wrote this article, my Google referrals have increased further and now, as you say, I am almost dependent on them to drive traffic to the site. I still use social media, bookmarking and wherever possible word of mouth promotion but the fact remains that they’re an invaluable source of traffic that I simply can’t ignore.

    I was one of those people who really really wanted the Microhoo! deal to go through because I saw that as serious competition but until that happens Big G will rule the roost.

  • Antoine // Aug 29, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    Mike, a couple of quick things. Just found your blog on a dofollow list and I think it’s one worth coming back to. I hope to be a positive contributor.

    Why do you think some of your sites were slapped by google back then?

    Google really gives higher serp rankings to adsense loaded sites?

    S&M World Championship of 1987? Wh wh what? I missed it?

  • Mike // Aug 30, 2008 at 12:29 am

    Hi Antoine. Glad you found the site although I’m wary of dofollow blog lists but that’s for another day…

    Why did they get slapped? Some of them were displaying paid links but the rest of them were squeaky clean so who knows why. One of the sites has gone back to a PR4 having dropped from a PR6 and that may be in part due to a few inbound links having gone by the wayside but the rest? Well only G have the answer.

    Google say they don’t positively discriminate sites with or without AdSense. I guess in my case it was just a spooky coincidence. For what it’s worth, I don’t think they do favour AdSense sites.

  • Daniel, The Hosting Blog // Oct 4, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    I heard about this and noticed that many sites are still being penalized for it. A lot of the popular web hosting directories went from like PR7 down to pr3. Thats got to suck so much for them. I wonder though, if SERPs drop as well?

    Whats next, Google starts penalizing blogs that allow do-follow comments? I mean after all, that is still artificial rank inflation. You may not be spending money on it, but you are certainly spending time.

  • Mike // Oct 7, 2008 at 10:22 am

    I have noticed that my search engine traffic fluctuates around the time of a PR update but then seems to level out. Don’t know if the two are connected or not.

    Interestingly enough I got slapped again in the last round of changes despite increasing my link profile…

  • ben leefield // Nov 5, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Interesting post. Our site which is a Global Address Book with a People Search engine remained unchanged. Obviously we are doing the right thing – whatever that is…

  • Gewdton // Dec 16, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Over a year now, but who gives crap.

    Haven’t been slapped yet, but I got sandbox’d a lot. Hahaha!

    Maybe… one day, it will happen out of no where and WHAM!

    A big read G-Slap mark across my face.

    Let’s hope that day will neve-*SLAP*

    AUGH!

  • arshad // Feb 3, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    nice article.hope everyone knows the page in google webmaster where in people could report paid links.thats a cool way isnt it ?

  • Mieszkania Gryfino // Mar 17, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Yeah, google needs to be more careful with that stuff. If they get too comfortable with their position they might one day end up like yahoo – they were huges at one point too..

    Note From Mike: Link removed due to attempted spam comment from IP address 95.108.47.231

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