Google’s manual action penalty over free product reviews
When a Google penalty is handed out, the organic search rank of a site can take a long time to recover and in the past week a significant number of manual actions taken against bloggers have revealed that there are plenty of ways in which to attract the ire of the search giant, according to Search Engine Land.
Webmasters should not have been surprised by this, since an official blog post from the Google Webspam Team posted in March was focused specifically on the issue of sites providing links to third party pages in exchange for free products to review.
This trading of links for free products is against Google’s guidelines, since it is construed as being an active attempt to artificially boost the rank of pages which have not earned inbound links organically.
The manual action is a reminder that Google does not make empty threats!
Google Penalty Problems
While its search algorithms can automatically detect black hat tactics and hand out a penalty without human involvement, this case shows that Google is capable of delivering mass manual penalisation, which in this instance has left hundreds of sites in the lurch.
This means that members of Google’s webspam team have browsed suspect sites, found that suspicious outbound links are present and determined that they do not comply with current webmaster guidelines.
It is a vital reminder that while you might think it is possible to get away with bending the rules, eventually these quick and dirty optimisation strategies will catch up with you. And in this instance it is relevant both for bloggers and the brands with which the link trading has taken place.
For sites hit by a Google penalty, the situation can be particularly dire. Recovering from manual actions is not an exact science and the time this takes can vary dramatically.
Flower delivery firm Interflora was hit with a manual action back in 2013 as a direct result of placing advertorial content on third party sites. And while it initially disappeared from the top of Google’s SERPs, it returned after just 11 days in the dog house.
Smaller organisations are likely to have a tougher time bouncing back, so sticking to Google’s guidelines is the best way to avoid future issues.
The Get-out Clause
In its blog post, Google makes it very clear that it does not take issue with blogs creating sponsored posts in partnership with brands offering them free products or services. It is not even concerned about the content including outbound links to pages where purchases can be made.
The issue, instead, centres upon the idea that these links might artificially benefit the search rank of the sites involved.
To avoid being penalised, sites just have to use the nofollow tag on any outbound link that was not included in a post in an organic manner, but is instead attributable to a commercial agreement.
The other reason behind Google’s decision to penalise sites that are guilty of trading outbound links for products, services or straightforward payment from third parties is that it wants to promote a culture of honesty when it comes to advertorial content.
It believes that visitors who click through to a blog post should be explicitly told whether or not it has been sponsored in some way, since this will give them the proper context in which to absorb the content.
Without an acknowledgement of sponsorship, preferably at the top of the post in question, sites risk being penalised.
Google explicitly stated in the prelude to the penalties that content must be compelling and unique, since this will enable sites to build audiences and gain the trust of visitors. With the content marketing services we offer, it is now possible for sites to have access to unbeatable copy.