Luxury Retailer Gets Google Penalty For…

… contest and giveaway links.

The past two years have been a wild ride for businesses playing the Google game requires the acquisition of links. Those who compete for serious search terms in the organic listings know that links still play a major role in the algorithm. Those who compete also know that they can be the biggest pain in the rear if you don’t know what you’re doing.

These past two years our newly acquired client has bitten by the contest bug after running their first giveaway campaign when they launched. It instantly brought them a lot of new social media fans, traffic and links. They were hooked from the get-go and over the next year and a half they did one every other month. While this all seems the norm just as thousands of other retailers are doing the same, something went way wrong.

google penalty luxury retailer

They woke up to over 75% less traffic and the dreaded manual penalty notice for unnatural links, every webmaster’s worst nightmare. At this point in time they’ve managed to develop a brand however they still heavily relied on organic search results. I should also mention that this wasn’t a penalty

Their link profile also heavily relied on links from mainly two sources, contest sites and press releases. Not only that there were a lot of obviously paid for links from bloggers to promote the contest without the nofollow tag attributed to the links. So many luxury brands run contests and giveaways that you never expect to run into a problem.

They never thought anything ill of this as their organic rankings increased significantly and stayed that way for just over a year. So the initial shock of that loss of traffic was a huge pain in the companies side as they’ve now built a business way too reliant on free traffic from Google. This is where we got hired since we’ve ran a company on the past that focused on high quality, natural link acquisition that didn’t forge outside the bounds of Google’s TOS.

Step 1: Identifying The Problem Links

contest giveaway bad links

Luckily for us almost all of their links were due to some form of contest marketing so we didn’t have a huge headache coming our way. There were many different types of links that came in and Google gave us only three sample links to start on. Knowing very well that even the best link analysis tools may only see 50% of your links that we still had a daunting task set out before us. Here is what they hinted at to start;

-> paid to post their contest to bloggers fans
-> press releases to announce contests
-> links from contest sites that list contests

If this were 3 years ago I don’t think this client would have had any problems with how they were conducting their contests. Although the mention of links gathered with any exchange of money has been in Google’s Link Schemes guidelines for quite some time, never has Google been so hard on the war path against them.

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 10.26.45 AM Some of you may be surprised to see press releases in the mix as it’s a normal operation for most brands. Releasing a press release for each contest they’ve ran is not necessary and pretty spammy in my opinion. They put in tons of optimized anchor text for keywords their past SEO team was going after, and of course those links were not nofollow.

I was a little surprised to see contest sites on the list of links that were considered naughty. There are quite a few contest sites out there that allow you to submit your contest for no charge. After looking at most of them I could see that they’re quite unorganized, messy and full of duplicate content. The sites don’t provide much value in my opinion so these links also had to be put on the chopping block.

Step 2: Fixing The Problem

You must actively get out there and attempt to and or remove the spam links you went out and paid for and built. You will be stuck in limbo for at the very least a good 6-12 months before it may expire. You must also document everything during your process because you will need to submit this to Google along with your reconsideration request.

Expect your first attempt to fail.

I know this sounds quite drab, but this is the truth coming from not only our experience helping clients, but from what I’ve read dozens of real world experiences and case studies over on the internet. From our trials and tribulations we’ve normally seen the penalties lifted when 85%+ of the links have been removed or a valiant effort has gone underway to remove the links.

This is when you’ll need to head on over and use the link disavow tool to ignore the sites that are just pure junk, as well as the ones that didn’t respond to your outreach campaign.

It’s going to be a lot of work depending on how many links were built and bought. It’s not going to be fun either but that’s the way it is. You can complain all you like, and believe you me I love to complain about it, but we’re still stuck doing the dirty work.

Step 3: Getting Back On Track

For some reason a lot of people expect to bounce right back where they were before the penalty hit them. This could not be further from the truth. All those links you removed and disavowed no longer are unnaturally inflating your position in the organic search results, so you will have to earn your place back.

Not only that, but your website and brand will have to regain trust in Google which I imagine will take at least a year if not longer.

Finally, looking at your site’s history, it looks like you’ve done quite a bit for quite some time, and it looks like our algorithms have picked up on that too. So while resolving the manual action is a good way to start, you need to keep in mind that it can possibly take quite some time for our algorithms to regain trust in your site even after that.

— John Mueller via Google Webmaster Help

The most frustrating part is that the Google reps usually throw in words like “possibly” and “might” in their statements which just throws you off in the need for a straight forward answer. But just like their notices you get in webmaster tools, they’re vague and usually of not much help.

Need Help? We Can Get You On The Right Track

Whether you need consulting and help on getting rid of a penalty and then getting a plan together that attracts links naturally, we’re here to help. We provide content marketing services that aim to go viral and score you those natural links that come from providing something useful and amazing.

Check out our SEO services for luxury brands or just contact me to discuss things over the phone and hear our perspective, real client examples and thoughts based on your brand.

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Ryan Clark
[email protected]

Ryan Clark is celebrating 10 years consulting for luxury brands across the globe helping them reach UHNW individuals online and off. He specializes in luxury digital marketing, SEO, PR and luxury viral marketing. Connect with me to talk about your luxury marketing strategy and how our services can help you achieve more this year. I offer a luxury gaps audit to determine where you're falling flat and where I see you can improve in your marketing efforts.   To connect with him online you can follow on Twitter @LuxuryBranded, connect on LinkedIn Ryan R Clark and read his column on Luxe Getaways Magazine where he covers the world of luxury.