One of the things I’ve been talking about endlessly when it comes to the new Penguin update is that Google Bowling may well be back. If it is, just how easy is it for your competition to tank your website and just what is it that you might be able to do to prevent it from happening to you? Here’s what you need to know:
What Is Google Bowling Anyway?
Back around the year 2005, the concept of Google Bowling and negative SEO came into full force. In essence, it was a way to beat the competition not by doing better SEO than they did but instead by tanking your competition’s rankings.
It’s kind of like spreading nasty rumors which are patently untrue about your competitor being a philanderer or even worse, a child molester. It doesn’t really make the slightest bit of difference that it’s 100% pure unadulterated fiction. By simply putting the word “out there” you could permanently damage their business.
The thing of it is though, by doing the above, you’d also risk a slander lawsuit and you would lose and end up having to pay millions of dollars in damages. Google bowling in essence did the same thing as spreading vicious rumors about your competitors but it did it without actually pointing a finger back at you and with little to no chance of legal action being taken against you.
Google bowling relied on the fact that Google considered junk links to be indications that a site was trying to game the rankings and as a result, would drop sites in the rankings or even delist them if they believed that you were in fact engaging in such shenanigans.
People quickly figured out that they could do you a favor and give you a whole lot of backlinks, all junk links of course and get Google to basically tank your website, thus eliminating their biggest competitors. It worked for a short while until Google cottoned to the whole concept and then began to simply ignore the junk links.
For the next few years, you could create all the junk links you wanted for your competitors but it would do little to no good because Google simply didn’t count them either for or against the sites which had them pointing at them and rightly so. After all, how could Google possibly know who had actually created those links? It could have been a competitor.
Fast Forward to the Penguin
A few months ago, Google introduced the world to the flightless bird (the penguin update in case you didn’t know that penguins are one of the few kinds of birds that cannot fly. Others are things like the ostrich and the emu). One of the new features in this update was an e-mail sent to the webmasters of certain websites, one which everyone dreaded getting.
The e-mail basically said that a website had been “over-optimized.” What this meant was that your website had been found to have too many junky links pointing to it and as such, it was being dropped in the rankings because of it. To me and most other SEO experts, this sounded suspiciously like an invitation for Google Bowling to make a return.
After all, if you could be penalized for having “over-optimized” your website, what was to stop competitors from doing the job for you so as to get you knocked out of the rankings? I had actually been warning about this in several previous blog posts about the Penguin update and had said that I don’t understand how Google could be doing this. There is after all absolutely no possible way to know who placed a particular link.
Now here’s the interesting part. I did some research on this subject for this article and it turns out that some SEO experts believe that it may be premature to say that Google Bowling is back. They say the question revolves around whether or not you are being penalized for having too many junk links or if you are being penalized for primarily having junk links.
In other words, some people have suggested that the only way to get that over-optimization notice is if it turns out that you created a website which has a ton of junk links and almost no good quality relevant links.
It’s an interesting premise, however Google has typically refused to confirm or deny that this is in fact the case. Mind you, I do understand their reasoning – the less the black hat SEO people know for certain about how Google’s algorithm actually works, the less likely they are to be able to beat the system at its own “game.”
What You Can Do to Prevent the Letter
Now here’s the really good part. I believe that regardless of what actually triggers those letters (and all we have is anecdotal evidence – Google is as I said, not saying for sure one way or the other), there are ways to avoid getting the letter to begin with.
Basically, the key to successful link building and SEO is to make your efforts look natural. I’ve often said that the one kind of SEO which Google and the other search engines are truly happy to endorse is link bait. This in essence means that you create content which is so compelling that people feel the need to share it and you get links naturally.
The thing about link bait is, you will end up with some junky links because, well let’s face it – some people run junky websites but still may find your stuff interesting. Not to mention that oftentimes, people put up links on junk sites in the hopes of getting a reciprocal link in the form of a trackback.
This basically means that you can pretty avoid the dreaded over-optimization letter by making your link portfolio look as if it was created naturally. The thing is, very few people realize this and they end up shooting themselves in the foot because of it.
You see, natural links don’t get built steadily in batches of 100 or 200 per day. They don’t all appear on social media sites or all on wiki sites or all on blogs. Natural links are haphazard. They appear everywhere. They have spurts where sometimes you’ll have 1,000 links created in a day and other times you’ll have around 15 links created in a day. Oh and they rarely follow round numbers either.
In other words, if you want your links to appear to be completely natural and to avoid the dreaded over-optimization letter, then you need to make your links in a non methodical way. Don’t just build 100 links a day. Some days build 211. Other days, build yourself 34. On still other days, you can build yourself 1354 links because you are simulating a spurt of growth. It’s all about doing it in a random way.
You also need to stop following the trends and the gurus who say “wiki links are all the rage now.” And no, that doesn’t mean you follow the gurus who tell you that press release links are really hot. It means that you go ahead and build links of all kinds and at different times.
If you are doing it yourself, you use several different kinds of software to semi-automate the process. If you are doing it with an SEO expert, you make sure that they are not just offering you one kind of link and that’s that (we do offer packages which include a variety of link types by the way in case you are looking for someone to do the job for you).
It’s also important to remember that natural links are not predominantly do follow links. You’ll get plenty of links from no follow sites. You’ll also get lots of links on low ranking sites which have a PR0 or PR1.
This is a good thing because it makes your link portfolio look completely natural and should utterly avoid the dreaded letter, even if your competitors do try to Google bowl you. After all, in a natural setting, you’d get lots of junk links anyway. It’s simply a matter of balancing out the good with the bad.
If You Were Penalized
Now, for those who have already been penalized for over-optimization, I have two things to say: first, please let us know about your experience by commenting below. I’m curious to know if you believe you had a healthy and natural looking link portfolio or if you tried the easy way out and used one of those $5 for 10,000 links deals on Fiverr.
Second and more importantly, don’t lose hope. First and foremost, we have had good success with bringing sites back from the brink after they were penalized under the new Penguin rules.
However, even if you don’t work with us, you can get back to where you were. The key is to clean up your act. Build lots of good and varied links all over the web and then submit a request to Google to be reconsidered. Oh and make sure that from now on, you work to build quality links and don’t try the shortcuts. Otherwise, the Penguin update will slap you again and the second time it’s harder to recover than the first time.