Unless you took an extra long vacation for Memorial Day, you have probably heard the big SEO news of the month. Google deindexed a search agency, Iacquire, for buying paid links to client sites. Yes, it wasn’t the beneficiary of those paid links who got nuked (which has happened countless times, and no clients have publicly said they got banned due to Iacquire practices that I have seen), but the agency that was buying the links as part of their SEO strategy for clients. Of course, we have to believe that Google was pretty certain that it was that search agency behind it (and all the proof shows that it certainly is)
But there are plenty of people shocked (and complaining) that Google will go as far as to remove Iacquire from the Google search index, because previously, Google has banned the sites benefiting from the agency’s tactics, not the agency themselves, when they are caught violating Google’s webmaster guidelines.
If I am a small business owner who doesn’t know a lot about search marketing, and I am hiring an agency, I am going to assume that they practice responsible marketing tactics that won’t get my website banned from Google. So I would be pretty upset if the company I hired caused my site to be de-indexed. And I sure would be throwing the agency who did me wrong under the bus.
But with Google deindexing the agency instead of the customer, it ends up hitting several birds with one stone.
Buyer Beware Isn’t Always Good Enough
There have been countless stories of websites getting banned from Google because they hired what turned out to be a disreputable consultant or SEO company to do their search optimization and marketing. While those active in the industry often know who to trust (and who not to) when it comes to marketing tactics, Joe Business Owner doesn’t know. In the case of Iacquire.com, there is really nothing that should raise a flag. Even their Noob’s Guide to Link Building they offer as a free PDF warns against black hat SEOs (Ironic, I know).
Black Hats are those whose tactics violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines or Terms of Service. Typically these people are engaging in manipulative link activity and optimize their backlink profile heavily for a handful of unbranded anchors. Use Link Detective to see what types of link tactics your competitors are using but don’t get your site penalized or banned!
So seeing that, Joe Business Owner would have a sense of reassurance that yes, this agency is going to follow the Google guidelines. And we have heard of far too many websites falling victim to bad SEO’s, it is about time that the same punishment is given to the agency responsible, even if they only thing the agency gained from it is fees from the client.
JC Penney got banned from Google for paid links (both algorithmically & manually, according to Matt Cutts who tweeted about the spam at the time) but their SEO company SearchDex got away unscathed by Google, although JC Penney did fire them.
Scare Tactic for Cleanup
Any SEO agency that is engaging in risky link practices has to be alarmed by seeing Iacquire getting banned. For most agencies, if a client gets banned in Google, that’s collateral damage. But if the agency itself gets banned, not only does it prevent a fair amount of organic traffic, but if any potential client starts to do research into the company, the first thing they will notice is it is MIA in Google. And of course, if it makes as much news as the Iacquire agency being delisted does, well, that is one heck of a reputation management job needed to get some favorable search results back for anyone doing due diligence…. If the site ever comes back. But even if/when Iacquire gets back in the index, there is no saying if it will regain the #1 listing for their name – or any other terms – and which of the many “Iacquire has been banned” articles will also be in the top ten.
But the real question lies is if many of these agencies can still produce results if they aren’t engaging in paid link tactics, or any tactics that go against Google’s webmaster guidelines. And I imagine some of them will struggle, or will have to hire experts whose SEO skills go beyond suspicious link building techniques. Iacquire has finally come out with a statement saying they are removing financial compensation from the link development toolset .
You know that more webmasters who have fallen victim to agency’s bad SEO practices are going to start outing those agencies – as well as those who are on the receiving end of those link requests. There have been plenty of sites banned in Google because of what the SEOs they hired did ( But now that people can see agencies themselves can get banned, be prepared for more people throwing agencies under the bus.
The paid link request that ended up outting the company only paid $30/month, and it was obviously worth more to that site for the traffic than the $30 would be. But also shows that the link buyers were not doing their homework, you would think someone would know better than to cold email an SEO to buy a link or exchange link, unless they knew the owner personally. Even Googlers have received really bad link exchange requests.
And in the competitive world of SEOs, especially those who are in need of clients or who want to get revenge for someone stealing a client/employee, there just might be more people scouring certain client lists and checking their SEO to see if it is all on the up and up or if something smells fishy.
Clean up the index
The heart of the issue is Google wants a spam-free and natural index that isn’t influenced by who has the bigger pockets for buying links or the best SEOs. They want Suzie Crafter with her hobby site and better content to be able to compete against Savvy Webmaster who has been in the industry for years and has a network they can get easy links from to rank their less-than-stellar content.
Google wants to look good
Google wants to be known for having a good index. And every time some major brand gets outted for spamming, it can put Google in a poor light if their algorithm doesn’t catch it before the media does – as plenty of people asked when the JC Penney link scandal broke. And Google is about giving the users the best possible user experience, even if it isn’t your spammy site that you might think is awesome sauce
On the whole, there has been plenty of discussion about whether Google is doing the right thing or not about banning agencies for their link practices for clients. And of course, the age old “is it okay to out people/companies/agencies” for spamming? There is a pretty interesting discussion about this issue at Inbound.org as it relates to Iacquire – specifically if Josh Davis, who wrote the originating article should have outted Iacquire or not, and tied Michael King (@ipullrank), who is well known writer/speaker in the industry but also the Director of Inbound Marketing at Iacquire, into it (Iacquire’s statement also specifically stated that Michael was brought in to move away from paid links).