Can you escape the past?

Interesting post by my ex colleagues at Bronco on Dave Naylor’s blog today – worth a read.

It’s the story of a domain that Bronco came in to help escape from an apparent Google penalty that they’d gained on the basis of past SEO activity – specifically linkbuilding. I won’t rehash the whole post, but I’ll add this: Google are moving into dangerous waters.

Effectively, they could be punishing sites for things that happened in the distance past (in internet/SEO terms). Picture this:

  1. 2007: Company launches
  2. 2007: company hires SEO company
  3. 2007: mass link building begins – site starts to rank.
  4. 2009: SEO company is fired as part of general cost cutting
  5. 2009: company hires an in-house SEO to carry on work at a lower rate
  6. 2009-2010: the company continues to buy a few links here and there but focus on onsite issues
  7. 2010: the company is taken over by someone entirely new. All SEO activity is suspended because the new MD doesn’t even know what SEO stands for
  8. 2012: the site is penalised by Google for linkbuilding and loses all organic traffic

Doesn’t that seem a trifle uneven? And how – if the Bronco example is typical – can you possibly go about rectifying the problem? I could point my browser right this second at 3 or 4 sites in the car market that would fit a fairly similar profile. Maybe they’re just sat in the dark waiting for a hammer to fall.

If Google are really looking years back into the past for infractions, then it’s very hard to see who’s safe: after all, the game even in just 2010 was very different to the game today.

I speak from a position of sympathy. When I took up my current role, the site had been boosted into reasonable positions on the back of a quick, relatively massive linkbuilding campaign. Uneasy about this, I stopped the campaign within a couple of months and went so far as to submit a reinclusion request (which was actually more of a link building mea culpa) in an attempt to pre-empt what I thought would be problems down the line. In effect, I submitted a link disavowal before there was such a thing.

Nonetheless, the progress that had been gained was largely wiped out by Panda and Penguin and it is only thanks to some diligent, detailed work that the site is getting anywhere near where it once was (and that still has some way yet to go).

While we never experienced a massive collapse in traffic, that was mainly due to the fact that the site had never reached the upper echelons of the rankings anyway. Had the business model been dependent on organic traffic, I suspect that we would have had extreme problems.

Today, looking around our vertical, I see several sites who are huge presences in the SERPs who really only rank because of historical old-skook linkbuilding efforts.  To some degree they are quasi ‘brands’ who have become so on the back of legacy SEO tactics. The question is now: when Google bring the guillotine down, who is safe?

Categories: SEO

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