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Matt Cutts and link networks – A history in the making

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 by Lee Wilson

Matt Cutts and Link NetworksBacklinks, link networks, paid links and reciprocal linking is about as synonymous with Matt Cutts as summertime rain is with the UK.

Attempting to put a starting point on when Cutts first took up the challenge of link spam is a difficult one. However, it is likely to have dated back before his ‘head of the webspam team’ days and instead stem from the time when he joined Google as a software engineer back in 2000.

We hear so frequently about another link network being de-indexed by Matt Cutts (or another high profile website/brand falling on the wrong side of acceptable linking), that people can seem a little despondent when it comes to the importance and value of the right kind on linking.

So, I thought I would flag some of the more memorable link networks and brand penalties, plus some link feedback directly from Matt Cutts so we can summarise his thoughts in this area.

The end of guest blogs for SEO

In January 2014, Cutts posted on ‘The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO’ and the headline that caught everyone’s attention was:

“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.”

If that wasn’t enough, the following probably sent shockwaves out:

“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.”

Matt vs machine

OK, it’s actually Matt vs link spam, but I just wanted to say ‘Matt vs machine’ in a blog post.

There is a lot of history leading up to the above and many supportive YouTube videos; a few of my favourite are below:

Matt Cutts doing the robot (joking – he’s actually discussing things to be aware of when guest posting):

matts cutts link video 1

Matt Cutts on making sure guest blog posts don’t appear to be paid for links:

matts cutts link video 2

Matt Cutts back in 2012 reiterating Google’s view on guest blogging for links:

matts cutts link video 3

Link networks be gone

matt cutts twitter link update

This warning shot on Twitter proved to be one of a number of guest blogging and link network ripples sent out by Matt Cutts to reinforce his intentions.

By March 2014, if everyone was not 100 per cent clear on where Cutts stood in this area, they would have missed a lot of tsunami-sized ripples spanning a number of years (a few of these are to come later in the post).

Shortly after this warning from Cutts – two days later in fact – PostJoint confirmed a Google link penalty:

“As you’ve probably heard, My Blog Guest, the well known guest blogging platform has been penalised by Google. You can confirm this by doing a brand search for “myblogguest” – the site is nowhere to be seen on the organic search results. Worryingly, for publishers, there is some evidence that participating sites have also been penalised. This would be easy for Google to do, as the site list from MBG can be crawled or browsed by anyone logged into the site.

We previously wrote about Google’s fight against guest blogging and noted that their tactics seem to be focused on PR and scaremongering because their algorithms are unable to detect links within guest posts in the absence of obvious spam signals like keyword anchor text over optimisation. This action against MBG would make sense for Google’s webspam team from a PR perspective since MBG is the most widely known guest blogging system out there.

 This comes as a surprise to some including the owner Ann Smarty, who has been an advocate of Google’s policy on paid links. To others, its not so surprising, given that the service openly touted guest blogging for links, and that there was little in the way of quality control.”

For full details on the PostJoint update see here.

Banished backlinks

Back in December 2013 we had the public disapproval and associated link network demise of Anglo Rank:

matts cutts anglo rank link network

In Matt Cutts’ blog (a great place for his thoughts on all sorts of topics including Google and SEO) he recalled a Q and A session where an unfortunate site – micromatic.com – asked for link feedback. Here’s what he told them:

‘…you guys are both trying to buy backlinks, and I can tell that you’re buying them from the same network, and here’s an example page from ketv.com where both of you are even on the same page, and it’s not doing you any good at all’

See this in context at http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/tell-me-about-your-backlinks/.

Linking by country

Matt Cutts has also been tackling link networks by country, including:

German linking networks in Feb 2014:

matts cutts german link networks

Spanish and Italian link networks in March 2014:

matts cutts spanish and italian link networks

Some specific French networks in the penalty limelight:

matts cutts french link networks

Oh, and Poland didn’t escape either:

matts cutts polish link networks

Big brands who couldn’t avoid Google penalties

The brands that people often remember the most (especially outside of the SEO industry) are those that are regularly used or which get the most coverage in non-SEO circles.

Ones that I think will stand out for many include the following:

  • Interflora for unnatural link penalty in Feb 2013. It lost pretty much total coverage (including brand and historical search topic dominance areas).
  • Expedia.com for a visibility drop in Jan 2014. Was later suggested to have witnessed a 25% decline.
  • The BBC for unnatural partial match link penalty on isolated page(s) in April 2013. The penalty impacted at least one identified page on the site.
  • Rap Genius for unnatural link penalty from link buying (not for cash but in this case for Tweeting posts from links in lyrics).
  • Halifx Bank’s suggested link penalty from large number link acquisition in Dec 2013 and onwards.

The reason for writing this post was to add some cumulative and historical weight to the ‘who, what, where, when and how’ of Cutts’ and Google’s link mission.

It would be great if anyone would like to comment on the link stories that stood out for them over the past months and years.

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About the author

Lee Wilson

Lee Wilson

Lee joined Vertical Leap as an SEO Campaign Delivery Manager in 2010 and heads up the SEO team after successfully managing the online and direct marketing development of a financial services company for over seven years. Lee is a certified web applications developer (Cert WAD) and a regular LinkedIn user. Follow me on Google Plus