If you show advertising on your website / blog, or are thinking of doing so, this is something you need to know.
I’ve just removed what little advertising there was on my blog. The ads were shown below my category list, and included just four simple text link ads (two for print cartridge retailers and two for web template sites).
Why did I do this?
Google have been working behind the scenes, and I no longer rank highly in search resutls for design-related topics.
On Monday 10th September, I received 30% of my traffic from Google. I first noticed the search ranking drop on 20th September, and on Monday 24th September I received just 6% of my traffic from Google. Quite a decrease.
Here are some of my previous rankings in Google:
- #1 for ‘David Airey’
- 1st page for ‘graphic design edinburgh’ – important for local business, as described in my search ranking article
- 2nd page for ‘logo designer’ – I was almost on page 1, which would’ve been a boost for business
Here are my current rankings after Google affected the search results:
- Somewhere around #60 for my own name, ‘David Airey’
- Around #60 or #70 for ‘graphic design edinburgh’
- Similarly, around #60 or #70 for ‘logo designer’
There were also many relevant design-related searches that I ranked very highly for. Things like ‘business card designs’, ‘best logos’, ‘printing questions’ etc. Sadly, no more.
How can I be 100% sure that accepting payment for links has affected my rankings? I can’t, because there was no prior notice, and no explanation.
I guess my naivety has cost me. Having read Google’s stance on paid links, I would’ve been fine if applied the ‘rel=nofollow’ code to my four text link ads.
The money I received was minimal. It covered my hosting, and a little extra on top, but nothing to write home about, and certainly nothing worth sacrificing the traffic I was receiving from Google.
Here’s what Google have to say on the subject of paid links:
Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:
- Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the ‘a href’ tag
- Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file
I’m not exactly sure what that second option entails, but I know how to add rel=”nofollow” to a hyperlink. Rand at SEOmoz recently asked Matt Cutts, head of Google’s spam team, some questions about nofollow, and the answers provided some insight, summed up here on Search Engine Watch.
So advertising is allowed, providing you don’t give any search rank benefits to your sponsors. Personally, and with agreement from Lyndon at Cornwall SEO, I’ve removed all advertising, as I’m hoping that Google take a second look at my site, and deem it trustworthy again.
First thoughts when I noticed the drop in rankings
At first, I thought the search rank drop might have been due to a higher than average number of back-links I’ve been receiving, following my $4,000 prize giveaway, so I contacted Lyndon and Andy (niche marketer) to ask their advice.
Andy didn’t realise I had paid links using ‘dofollow’, but said he would’ve been surprised if my prize giveaway brought a negative impact. Lyndon suggested that I add ‘nofollow’, or remove the text link ads, then ‘request reconsideration’ through Google’s webmaster tools. That’s what I’ve done, although an automated message told me not to expect a response.
Andy, Lyndon, thanks very much for getting back to me about this.
It’d be a real shame if I’ve received a permanent decrease, as I’ve worked hard on my blog, but I’m hoping that after a few weeks things will return to normal.
How did Google find out?
During the past month, I posted a message on the Digital Point forum for ‘link sales’, wondering if any relevant sponsors would like to purchase a text link. I remember someone asking me, in the forum thread, if I used ‘nofollow’ on the links, and I said no, stating that I wanted to give my sponsors as much benefit as possible.
It’s my guess that someone then reported me to Google, using the ‘report paid links’ page in their webmaster tools.
Of course I can’t be sure of this, but I think it’s a resonable assumption.
If you’re in a similar situation, you should check out this post on SEOmoz: How to handle a Google penality. I’m not sure this is a penalty, but that’s a useful article nonetheless.
Have your say
Do you think my prize giveaway could’ve triggered some sort of search rank filter, or is it much more likely to be the paid links that cost me?
What are my chances of returning to a trustworthy status with Google?
If you show advertising on your site, I highly recommend adding rel=”nofollow” to your sponsor links, otherwise Google can penalise you without prior notice.
UPDATE: Google have removed my penalty. Find out how I reversed the decision, and exactly why it was imposed in the first place, by reading ‘how I reversed my Google ranking penalty‘.