Candour

Episode 65 - Garage spam, nofollow confusion and guest penalties with Andrew Cock-Starkey

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, you will hear Mark Williams-Cook and Andrew Cock-Starkey discussing GMB spam, more confusion over the new sponsored and ugc nofollow and Google's advice on guest posting.

  • New GMB spam Google is looking into

  • Are rel=sponsored and rel=ugc ranking signals?

  • Should we nofollow all guest post links?

Show notes

GMB redressal form: https://support.google.com/business/contact/business_redressal_form

Optimisey: https://optimisey.com/

Garage Door spam https://www.seroundtable.com/google-investigating-garage-door-spam-29579.html

Transcription

MC: Welcome to you episode 65 of the Search with Candour podcast! Recorded on Friday 12th of June 2020. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and I'm joined by Andrew Cock-Starkey of Optimisey, the Cambridge-based SEO meetup turn consultancy, and today we'll be talking about garage door spam, the nofollow changes Google made a few months ago, and guest posting penalties.

Andrew, thank you for joining us on this episode, at such short notice as well.

AS: Thanks for having me Mark, I can honestly say how I've been a fan of your podcast since it started.

MC: Well that's a very nice way to start the podcast. Andrew, do you want to give a quick introduction about yourself to those that may not know you?

AS: So I'm Andrew Cock-Starkey and sometimes known as Andrew Optimisey, because as we discovered through my surname is a mouthful at the best of times and falls foul of all sorts of spam filters and traps, and things, so Andrew Optimisey, Andrew Cock-Starkey, either or. I've worked in lots of digital marketing stuff, starting out actually in kind of journalism and content, and lots of in-house roles and I chose earlier this year, just before the pandemic, to launch my own business which was great timing.

MC: Yeah, the perfect time is it because you've now got the full support of the British government haven't you?

AS: Every single penny available for people that have been furloughed, laid off or freelance all that, every single penny that is not available to me.

MC: Just to be clear, it’s pretty much nothing isn't it? Because you registered so close to a pandemic happening, is there anything available for people that registered in the last year?

AS: I am not sure how many stores there are but I fall between all of them so not a penny.

MC: Wow, okay, well very sorry to hear that, but pleased to hear after speaking to you. because of your talents, that you are still in work and have clients, so very happy about that. So Andrew, we've got a few subjects we wanted to talk about today, and again thanks for joining us at such short notice, and the first is actually something you brought up to me which is garage door spam - super interesting, found this article actually based from a tweet from a chap named Ben Fisher, who's on Twitter @thesocialdude, he tweeted: ‘Garage door spam gone wild. Hearing today the thousands of new listings are popping up countrywide with fake business dot site GMB’ - that's Google My Business listings - ‘in a few days’ and he's included Google my Business and Danny Sullivan, who's the Google search liaison, saying just how you doing, it's been a while, and this pattern should be easy to knock out. Danny Sullivan the liaison actually replied, saying, ‘Yes, Google is looking into reports of this’ - so it is something on their radar and I believe this Google My Business spam is something that's close to your heart, Andrew.

AS: Yes it is, so I'm a bit of a fan of local SEO and have some clients in local SEO, and I guess the reason it's close to my heart is it's one of the reasons I started doing the Optimisey meetup events, just because I know lots of people friends of mine that run their own businesses whether they're coffee shops, or big agencies or whatever, and there's so much bad advice out there and it's so hard to go from nowhere to ranking, even on the first page at all, for a really niche local search and then to find yourself completely swamped out of the rankings by millions and millions of completely junks spammy listings or lead gen listings, it's really demoralising. Local SEO has this reputation in certain industries, garage doors are one - I'm not really sure why - I mean maybe we can work out what the pattern is, but locksmiths is another one, there's a whole thing with like drug rehab centres in the US which is even more kind of evil, I guess for one of a better word, it's really hard and there's so much junk in Google Maps.

MC: So one of the things that interests me particularly is, so for listeners that maybe aren't into SEO or haven't done local SEO - so when we refer to a local SEO, we're referring to when you do a search that Google decides the geography is important, you get that box appear at the top of the search with a map, and you get the map listing, so when we talk about local SEO, we're talking about that. And the thing that's particularly interested me about that is that the two, and when I say two, I mean the listings that are in that map pack and the listings that are the web pages, the organic web pages that are run on two very separate algorithms, and my impression from seeing these over the years is that the rankings that come below, normally below the map box, which is the traditional organic rankings are a long-term thing, that's won over time and it's very slow to shift those, whereas the map listings I would get are or tend to be, sometimes a lot younger smaller companies, and people just drop in there very quickly, it's very volatile and it seems a lot quicker to rank. I don't know one, if you would agree with that Andrew and two, in terms of when you're talking about people spamming these listings, what do you mean by that? What have you seen people do?

AS: The spammy stuff and I guess particularly the stuff that Ben was picking up on is that Google has spent some money or some time investing in Google My Business to try and make it easier for people to use and easier for SMEs to use, it's this idea of, do I need a website anymore, if I'm just a little shop down the road making tea cosies out of crochet, do I need a website? And Google's trying to make that even easier for you and you can just set up a Google my business listing, and off the back of this you can now set up a website, and when you go into Google my business there are all these things you can set your info, your opening hours, all that kind of stuff - there's a website button and you hit it and it will pull you out a website, you can choose a few colours, put in a few key bits of information and then boom, you've got as it Ben’s tweet said, something business.site.

So, I've got one, I've got Optimisey job business site as my one because basically what it does is, it pulls in your Google My Business posts and it looks like one of those social media walls you see at some of these events sometimes. It just pulls in all your latest posts and stacks them up on a page, but they're just dead easy and so then, it's just somebody somewhere that has automated this stuff, as you know it’s easy to do, you know what you're doing with API’s and things, and they're just barreling out hundreds of these things into, particularly into garage doors it seems at the moment, and then I guess they're using it to capture leads and then sell these leads and that's how they make their money out of it.

MC: So there's been a slow rollout of the new features in Google My Business like you've said. For instance, I see that Optimisey uses products as one, so if I Google Optimisey, you have that special extra listing, where you're listing your products, like your technical SEO audits, and a price, so this is almost a way to inject more information into Google directly, that's very easy to do because once you've got that list thing, Google just opens the door and says sure give me posts, give me products, whatever you like, right?

AS: Exactly and you know as you say, it's a way to feed the machine, so if you're telling Google, hey I am X coffee shop and I have A, B, and C products, if you're putting them in a product listing on your Google, it's a really clear way for Google to know - okay, you are in this area, you set up your Google My Business listing, so you've chosen your category as a coffee shop and you've now listed all your products, all listed all your services, and all those things, so it's a way to feed the machine and people are doing it.

MC: So when you say about people spamming these results, what I've seen people doing is just putting key words basically in the business name, is that what you've seen? And it's just they're doing that on mass, so they're going for all these niche terms but they're just creating so many business entries, they're just covering all these niche terms.

AS: Yeah absolutely, I mean there's a separate thing in terms of them spamming listings I mean, agencies are as bad as anybody doing this and I saw, the other day where they listed their name, so it wasn't Candour, but I'll use you as an example so it was Candour agency /or they put a little upright pipe in - and they put SEO, PPC, you know all the different possible things you can ever think of to do digital marketing and they've spat the thesaurus out into their business name, and that's one thing with them spamming stuff so you think that makes you rank better, but I guess they're the more automated spam, all of these kinds of things, particularly around garage doors and locksmiths and stuff.

So I found a whole bunch in the area near me which I've reported on there, and we will come to that in a second, about how you get rid of them, but they've just clearly automated some kind of process through emergency locksmith town and all the different districts, and towns, and villages, and suburbs, in and around Cambridge, they just did an emergency locksmith and then you know there was 30 or 40 of these things all chucked out in Cambridge, all with Cambridge looking phone numbers, but not quite, and just clearly lead gen stuff so then you phone one of these things - oh my god I've locked myself out on my house, it's 2:00 in the morning, please come and let me in - and then no problem, we'll have a look, come to you at a time and they just sell your leads to somebody that actually can get money off the top.

MC: I can see nobody's going to be really checking out the veracity of these leads when they are standing outside their house at 2:00 in the morning, they're just gonna click on the top thing. So as you say, they've mapped in all these different towns and cities to get these results. So you mentioned there about fighting back against the spam, so what can companies do if they see these spammy listings in Google My Business?

AS: So I had a really good example in this. So I’m part of lots of forums and stuff on social media, things just trying to help small businesses usually with this kind of stuff or with any kind of 101 questions they get about SEO, because you know we've all seen it, you get lots of these snake oil merchants that email you saying, ‘I'll get you to the top of Google for X dollars’ whatever and I had somebody ask on one of these forums about my client or my companies, being completely out ranked by all these junk listings we know they don't exist, we are in a really small niche industry in this area, we know that these companies don’t exist, what can we do about it? And this was a fairly small scale, there was only about three or four of them, but it was enough to bump them off that map pack you were talking about where you get those first three results on Google, when you search for you know ‘garage door company Cambridge’ or whatever... and the first thing you can do with those is you can go into them and it's all crowd source from Google, so you can just suggest and edit. So there's a little button on everybody's listening where you can suggest in edit, and say look this place is now closed or this place never existed or there's lots of people who use it to be helpful - that this place is updated their phone number and they forgot to change it on their listing, so as a customer you can go, oh that's wrong, and you can update it, so you can suggest an edit and change these places and change the listings or so they don't exist. And then Google will then review them, some of it they'll do in an automated way to check if it still exists, to check if things seem kosher, and then they'll either accept or reject or edit, and you'll get a little email notification saying it your suggested has been accepted and that listings been removed.

If you get up to smaller scale, so gaps to multiples of tens of hundreds that you maybe want to report, there is a redressal complaint form that Google have online, I'll send you the link we can put it in the show notes I guess, and you can submit multiples in there, you can submit a spreadsheet listing out all the spammy listings that you found and again, send it straight to Google to say, look these things don't exist or these people have been ripping the system off or trying to game the system and get rid of them that way.

MC: A few days ago Google published their 2019 Google web spam report, which I will link to in the show notes along with the other links that Andrew mentioned in the previous section, and you can get them at search.withcandour.co.uk.

Now something interesting came up in this web spam report, so as I said I'll link to it and you can have a read through it, it's really interesting seeing some of the statistics about the huge amount of spam that Google is fighting and I think sometimes actually we complain about search results sometimes but I think we probably don't appreciate just how much spam Google is actually protecting us from that's just being published online automatically, the numbers they put in there at just astronomical, so I think they're probably doing a better job than we give them credit for.

But there was one particular tweet by AJ Kohn that really interested me which was basically this web spam report talked about one of the biggest types of web spam that Google is combating is link spam, which unfortunately we have to admit will be due to SEOs, black hat SEOs, spammy links and trying to basically pass PageRank to sites that don't deserve it and AJ Kohn's tweeted, ‘Reading Google web spam report 2019,’ and then he said ‘did I miss the announcement that rel=sponsored and rel=UGC would be used for ranking purposes?’ - So if you've missed that previous podcast or announcement, I will link to it again in the show notes - it was episode 27, we went through the new Google announcement on rel nofollow and the changes they published there. so to give you a very quick reminder, for many years now we've had the rel nofollow attribute that we can put on links, which is when we're saying to Google we don't want to vouch for this link, so Google doesn't pass PageRank through or didn't used to pass PageRank through any rel nofollow link. So you would use this when you link to sites that you didn't trust or perhaps sites that had paid for a link because obviously it's absolutely fine if websites want to advertise on your site to drive traffic, you just need to mark those as rel nofollow to say to Google that they pay for this link. And in this update, Google introduced these two new attributes called rel sponsored which are obviously fillings they've been paid for and rel UGC, standing for user-generated content, which were ways to mark links as those things specifically. So the issue they were trying to tackle here, we believe as a whole, is that many publications, especially newspapers were blanket applying this rel nofollow attribute, because it was easier for newspapers to say, well we're gonna just nofollow every external link in the hope that well the reasoning was they didn't have to then worry about if they were linking to a bad site that might get them penalised or if they were ranking to a competitor that they might then make rank better, they just said let's just put nofollow on on all these links we're talking about, and the downside for Google on that is that these publications were actually sometimes quite helpful in determining which content, which pages are good and which are bad, so part of this announcement they bundled out was they're going to start taking this rel nofollow as a hint, and that means that at Google's discretion they may actually pass PageRank thru nofollow links, if they think it's a genuine editorial citation. I think this is particularly to cover these big media sites, and they added in this rel sponsored, rel UGC and the initial thinking here, which I spoke to AJ about, was our understanding as an SEO community was that Google at the time basically said it didn't matter as a webmaster if you use nofollow or if you actually bothered implementing this rel sponsored, rel UGC and I think that was an important thing for Google to say because as SEOs we have relationships with development teams, with companies and there is a cost to these things. If we say to a company, ok well it's no longer enough to no follow the links we use for advertising, we need to go and update them all to say rel sponsored, well that's a small change, it does incur a cost therefore most large companies will want to know what their financial benefit is for them to spend this money and Google said, well take it or leave, it is there if you want to use it, there's no penalty if you don't use it.

So the understanding here and the assumption was, well the reason Google's doing this is because, as they say in this Google web spam report, they said that we're using machine learning in the front line to attack web spam. So if as webmasters we provide them with the data set that specifically and explicitly says this link is sponsored, this one is UGC, what it does is it provides their machine learning algorithms with labelled data, and label data gives them this line in the sand, a stick to say look, this is what a sponsored link looks like, this is what a UGC link looks like, so if they have enough data on these other variables they will be able to improve their detection of which nofollow links they should be taking as a hint, which should they should be taking it seriously, because they've identified it a sponsored and rel UGC.

Now because of the way they worded this post page, AJ Kohn raised this point saying, well you're saying it's a ranking factor which is something different because you're saying that this could affect web sites directly. The reply, again from Danny Sullivan the Search Liaison from Google to his tweet was, ‘We never said these have no impact on ranking, we said we treat such links as hints, not to credit for ranking purposes which obviously means they're a ranking impact if we don't use some links just as always in this case there's no follow.’ So I don't know if you have any thoughts on this Andrew, but this to me actually now feels different to my initial understanding of it, which is that Google seems to be saying if you are using rel sponsored or rel UGC, that they will definitely treat those links differently, they're not gonna pass PageRank over them because you've explicitly said that. So they're not only using it as a training tag but they're actively using it. Do you have an account of an opinion on that line of thought?

AS: This is a really interesting one because AJ is one of those people that doesn't talk a lot about SEO and I count myself in the in the camp that probably talks about it too much and I spend way too much time on social media, but when AJ pops up with this stuff and poses questions, it's always worth checking out and he generally has pretty insightful stuff to say. But my first thought, when I looked at this stuff and I saw his tweet about it, I was like ‘are Google kind of gaslighting us a little bit here?’ I'm pretty sure that what they said was one thing and now when I look back and it's like, wow maybe they didn't, and I'm not quite sure maybe I'm misremembering it, maybe they did actually always say that all along, but yeah I mean I remember this when they first brought out those rel=UGC and rel=sponsored attributes that it was like, well hang on people expressly asked if I've already nofollowed all my links, do I need to bother to use these and there were some pretty clear answers saying, no you don't it's fine, you're not going to be penalised if you don't, it's just a health thing, you would do this if you were going to be a good web citizen. That's a good thing to help Google make the web a better place by using these attributes to help us, as you said, to identify for the machines to say okay, right this is what a sponsored link looks like, this is what UGC content looks like with links in it. Okay now the machines are getting more intelligent, it could pick this stuff up better, but looking at that again, I feel sorry for the Google team really, everything they say is picked over with a fine-tooth comb by some pre-forensic - you know Danny was on some webinar, he said this thing but he was touching his left ear when he said it, which means that it's not true - and you know it must be absolutely agonising for them to think about the words they can use, the words they are not going to use andit's a really tricky one, but it does seem a slightly different interpretation from what I first thought it was.

MC: Yeah I mean we get that feedback from Google a lot and we always have which is you know Google's guidance for over a decade has always been, use this line of thinking and you'll be okay, just make good content and the difficulty of people who work as either agencies, or even in-house, or certainly as freelancers, is that we're held at the sharp end of the stick, which is if you're incurring cost, if you're telling us to do things, if we're paying you for consultancy, we need to see results so and you know SEO is, in my opinion, in many ways the summation of lots of small things because there are lots of things in SEO where people are like, well it depends, yet this is ideal but it doesn't matter hugely, but optimisation is about taking all of those dozens of things where yeah, it matters a little bit and doing them all, because in combination they give you a result and they give you better rankings, and you get better traffic. So it I think it does frustrate SEO as well and I can see the frustration, like you say, from Google’s side which is Google's like look, this is actually really complicated and if we commit to saying one thing, it's open to be misinterpreted and we're definitely going to set people galloping in one direction because if Google says this is a ranking factor then that's going to be quoted time and time again by SEOs and pushed hard, but when they make these more generic statements about what you should be aiming for, it's more frustrating for SEOs, but it's probably closer to the truth, but again harder for SEOs to get their changes made.

So I guess I’ll ask you if you agree this Andrew, my analysis of this, my summary, is if I was a website owner it means that it pretty much doesn't matter to my own website if I use rel sponsored you or you GC or just nofollow, but that will have an impact on the websites I'm linking to. So from my point of view, if I for instance, link to a site that is bad, that Google would not like me to link to it doesn't matter whether I use nofollow or rel sponsored whatever, however from a probability point of view, if I am that website being linked to, if I have a rel sponsored or rel UGC, the chances of me getting page rank from that link are reduced pretty much to zero, would you agree with that?

AS: Yeah I think I agree with that interpretation, it still comes back to that if you're a site owner and you've already no followed the links that you think should be no followed rather than just doing this blanket no follows, do you need to do anything extra and the answer is probably not. Just from a selfish point of view, will it affect your site? Probably not. Will it affect that linked site? Almost certainly.

I guess the other thing I want to say is this is kind of the ebb and flow of what SEO in Google is which is why it's exciting for people like you and me, but this is the kind of culmination of Google reaping what they sow. So newspaper websites as we talked about is they archetypal blanket nofollow, they nofollowed everything because Google scared them; there's all these people whose site's are getting penalties for linking out things they probably shouldn't have been and not marking up stuff that was advertorials, and blah blah blah, on sites they were gaining from, that shouldn't have been, we're messing up with Google's search results. So they were dealing out all these penalties, you should nofollow these things and so everybody got frightened by this and that's when this blanket nofollow happened. It's much easier for just blanket nofollow everything and there we don't have to worry about, and then that messed Google up as well because then they lost a huge section of the link graph and they couldn't use that stuff to them influence, so then they have to change their mind again and I'm picking it, and now we're getting all this stuff with a ton of people reinterpreting things of, what should I nofollow? And what, how, when, should I use this UGC thing, should I use rel=sponsored and now I suspect, like everything else, there'll be an ebb and tide with this and then something will change again in a few years time.

MC: I mean my personal conspiracy theory, which people are welcome to come and attack me about, is that Google had been giving, whatever we want to call it, page rank and link equity to nofollow links for a while, before this announcement, from just very anecdotally from stuff I've seen, I would conclude that. And I think what's happened is as they've done their reviews of such quality, wherever that they decided, they couldn't do this reliably enough and which is why they've brought in this rel sponsored, rel UGC to help them make those decisions better, because the problem is exactly as you said, and I think it applies even to social media platforms because the blanket answer historically was you know do links from social media help ranking and very simple answer, looking at what we used to know about how websites thing together which is no, you know if nothing else because they're all no-followed. But as I've seen you talk about before as well, there's a lot of nuance to that about entities and popularity and what we're talking about now, which is that Google cannot, any more, work on the principle that they shouldn't assign PageRank, if a link is no-followed so yeah I think, interesting times and more than ever we don't particularly need to worry that, yeah we got that brilliant bit of news coverage from a top tier publication and they won't remove the nofollow which not as important as it used to be.

AS: I love a good conspiracy theory and that's a good one. I think all has happened now, it seems quite sensible really.

MC: Okay, finally we want to talk about guest posting again and this is particularly interesting because, in the last episode where I spoke to James Brockbank, who did absolutely brilliant podcast with me about link building, we brought up the subject of guest posting. we have both concluded that yeah if done right it's okay. And a really interesting thread that Andrew actually raised with me today - we kind of first became aware of this because it was shared by Dawn Anderson, very well-known SEO, I suggest you follow her if you don't, who posted a link to an article an SEO roundtable which was titled: ‘Google, all guest posts or guest post links should be no-followed paid or not’ and you know, I can agree with that headline because as I raised it in the last podcast, actually the Google Webmaster guidelines when they talk about link schemes and when they specifically talk about guest posting, they are quite explicit when they say that you shouldn't do guest posting on mass, that's against Google's webmaster guidelines, and it doesn't even mention the word paid on that whole page about a guest post. What they're saying is, if the reason for the post is links and you're doing it on mass that is bad.

However, there was a conversation started yesterday, so June the 11th, by Mark Preston who tweeted John Mueller, who obviously is our pretty much main touchpoint at Google now, if you're on Twitter, and he said since your recent tweet with SemRush - which is obviously referring to again what we spoke about in the last podcast about SemRush offering a guest posting service I think we could say - it would be good to get total clarity, as there now seems to be a lot of confusion around. We all know that “paying” for a guest post is against the guidelines but what about guest posting in general where no money changes hands? and John Mueller has replied, the part that's problematic is the links. If you're providing the content slash the links, then those links shouldn't be passing signals and should have the rel sponsored slash rel nofollow' attached, it's fine to see it as a way of reaching a broader audience’ Which is really interesting because

What John is is saying effectively is all guest posting and there he's carefully defined it as when you send a post to a site saying, here is some content that your users will find valuable, how many times you've heard that, and you've included links to your own or sites you're promoting these links should be no-followed and the quote that Dawn Anderson, again who I say is an SEO that I highly respect, she’s been in the business a long time, really knows her stuff. What she said, in light of this is, ‘Interesting times, something is brewing, only my opinion based on seeing this kind of build-up before 2012’ - which I assume she's referring to the penguin update - ‘but expect a slew of manual penalties to start to be dished out over the next few months.’

So firstly, what's your initial reaction to that, Andrew? What are your thoughts about?

AS: I repeat your thoughts about Dawn for a start, I mean again she's in that kind of AJ Kohn category of you know she doesn't talk about SEO nearly so much as lots of other people do, but when she does it's always worth listening. So yeah when she raised that and when she goes out on a limb to say, I think that something's brewing here, then that makes people like me think, actually yeah maybe there is.

I'm really torn on this stuff because I know Google is clever, but how clever can they be? I think sometimes people overestimate how clever these machines could possibly be. For example, we're doing this interview now and you're gonna put this on the Candour website and maybe put the transcript on those things if I mention Optimisey, that maybe that get picked up in the transcript and here’s a link to my website so am I effectively guest posting on the Candour website now?

MC: Yeah, this is interesting because specifically in the Google guidelines it says that you are basically not allowed to send free products for a link because that's something everyone used to do, it was like here's a free pair of trainers write a review on your blog and link to us so Google's like well no that's not a natural citation, don't do that. But I link to everyone that's on the podcast because I think, obviously, there is value to my users there because they've heard you or whoever speak and they wanna know where you're from, but what you're essentially doing is gifting me, if you like, with your knowledge, which is what we sell as SEOs, so arguably is that a free gift and should I be nofollowing the link I'm gonna place to Optimisey?

AS: So if I send you an invoice, does that mean you won't nofollow?

MC: Well no it's definitely the paid link then, isn't it? You have to be very very careful with your answer because you know, I will no follow this link based on your answer. So what's your honest opinion on this interaction we're having and what's your interpretation on Google's guidelines, should this like be nofollowed?

AS: It's all getting very meta cause like when you are asking me to come on the podcast, I was actually listening - I'm a bit behind on the caption of my podcast, but I was listening to the episode where you were talking to James and his definition of whether you should or you shouldn't try and get a link somewhere was, if Google didn't exist would you still want to link there? And the example you were saying to build your brand is that other people that listened to the podcast, the sorts of people that I would like to raise my brand awareness, they've probably half of them, most of them - half, probably underestimating - but most probably never heard of me, so getting my name out in front of them and they might think, oh who is that guy, that's good branding and good awareness for me, so if Google didn't exist yeah, of course, there'd be a great relevant place for me to be, so I think Mark, you should definitely do-follow, as Barry did with you today, definitely a big do follow in there.

MC: Yeah exactly, that's definitely a thing. Yeah so, you really tickled me there. So I think it is really interesting, because I mean I know Mark Preston himself focuses particularly on kind of technical SEO and on-site SEO, he's not particularly into the link building world and to rewind a little bit too - I'm gonna be very careful about this, so I had a discussion with an SEO yesterday, so Thursday, about guest posting, about the SEM rush thing, and we were talking about some sites that we saw were commonly coming up those emails you get, you know you get those emails when they say ‘oh hey like basically I'll sell you links and they give you a list of sites’ I assume you've had some of them as well?

AS: One or two.

MC: Yeah, so we were looking at these sites and one interesting thing that came about was I noticed that and we, Candour had a link from one of these sites on this list of sites that someone was saying, okay we're selling links, and I was chatting to this person and saying, well that's interesting because you know we didn't pay for this link, it was a situation. It was actually a HARO request, so Help A Reporter Out request, where I wrote an article in response to a reporter wanting to know something or a webmaster and then they publish my article and they link to me. So the conclusion I think we came to was there are certainly an awful lot of sites, that don't know that they're selling links because there are sites that regularly accept contributions from other experts, webmasters, whoever, and I think what's happening there is that people build relationships with these sites and they become regular contributors and those people that are contributing then decide they're going to monetise this contribution by emailing lots of people basically saying, oh I can get you a link here, and the reason is that they are essentially guest posting at this site. So that's something that I consider when you say about how smart Google is, how are they going to know when it's actually the site is selling links or they have y people posting you don't have many scruples that are essentially selling these links? Because we've got a link on a site that I now know someone is offering to sell links from and going with that, the person I was speaking to had actually experimented in buying links from a whole range of these sites, for their own affiliate sites and they said to me well, you know the links they looked a little bit crap in that some of these sites were you know quite obviously guest posting sites but it worked, I did nothing else, I had content, I had some pretty stable pull rankings, I spent a few grand on links and then a few months later, I had much better rankings.

So I think you've hit the nail on the head Andrew when you said how smart can Google be? And you know, I guess my question to you is, what do you think of the ramifications if Google gets it wrong? So if you've genuinely written for this website, but someone else is selling links to it, and I buy from it, what happens if Google decides that site is just a link selling platform? AS: I think there's a big risk if I'm honest. so that example of the site you were talking about where yeah you'd already got a link and owned it you thought through the right channels and doing the right kind of things and making useful contributions, so what if you've got a link from a site that three-four years ago was really reputable and good, but then since then maybe their editorial standards have drifted a bit and then they start selling links left, right, and centre, should you be then going back to disavow that link that you quite rightly earned? I guess it kind of brings us full circle really, back to the garage-door spam, Google always talked about all you know they remove all this spam, I think like 25 billion pages they've removed from the web, from their search results, and in that Webmaster central blog post you were also talking about, but that's just a drop in the ocean really isn't it? A lot of these businesses that get squeezed out by these things will get wrongly penalised, they're like a fraction of 1%, it's a rounding error for Google. So if you get caught in something that maybe you thought you were doing the right thing but they penalise these websites which end up dinging your rankings, you’re one site out of trillions of websites, you're not even a bit of grain in Google's desert, they don't care.

MC: Andrew, we're already at pretty much 40 minutes now, so I'll have to end it there. Thank you so much for, again short notice, taking time to come and talk to us, we really appreciate it. Just Google Optimisey if you want to find Andrew - absolutely fine SEO, one of the best people as well for networking, I see him everywhere, sponging up and talking to other SEOs. An absolutely brilliant resource for information.

We will be back on Monday the 22nd of June for episode 66. As always, if you are enjoying the podcast please do subscribe. You can find the transcription of today's episode with the do-follow link to Optimisey and all the other links everything we've talked about at search.withcandour.co.uk. I hope you have a great week.

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