Thus began the time honored tradition of SEOs blogging and tweeting about who got penalized…
Our first analysis is online: Google’s Penguin Update 2.0: Loser analysis http://t.co/1h6h1ydcGK
— Searchmetrics (@Searchmetrics) May 23, 2013
What caused the penalty…
— Dan Horton SEO (@danhortonseo) May 23, 2013
And how to avoid or recover from the update (preferably by buying whatever they’re selling )…
— Christoph C. Cemper (@cemper) May 23, 2013
If your website hit by Google's Penguin update. MashPoint helps you to get recover from Google penguin update. We… http://t.co/vmqOSqtQYF
— MashPoint (@MashPointech) May 23, 2013
It’s so expected it’s almost a Pavlovian response at this point. Even more astounding is that each and every one of these things happens within the first 24 hours of every update!
Each of these reactions is troubling in its own right but for the most part, I get it. We’re marketers at heart, and it can be tough to pass up a chance to peddle your product.
Plus, we’ve been told for years that you have to blog and provide near instant commentary to become a “thought leader” in this space.
But there’s one portion of the post-update ritual that I really don’t understand…
Bragging About Ignorance
If people would have listened to cutts in the first place, they wouldn't be complaining like whiney bitches about penguin 2.0
— Harrison Jones (@hgjones2) May 24, 2013
Glad I never saw negative effects on the sites I am running. http://t.co/LT7hkszM42
— Jomer B. Gregorio (@JomerGregorio) May 23, 2013
@Thos003 oh I wasn't referring to SEO humility. None of the sites I've managed or that executed my action plans have ever suffered.
— Alan Bleiweiss (@AlanBleiweiss) May 10, 2012
No matter what the penalty or update is, there will always be an SEO there to brag about how they’ve never had a site penalized – as if that’s something to be proud of.
Pushing Boundaries is How You Learn
The way I see it, getting a site (or even multiple sites) penalized or banned is an important part of an SEO’s education. If you’ve never tested Google’s boundaries to their breaking point (and even beyond), how do you know where they actually are?
If you only use the “whitest of white hat” SEO tactics approved by Google, how can you know whether things like buying or spamming links, spinning or scraping content, cloaking, etc. are actually dangerous?
Sure, you can watch a site rocket through the rankings on the back of spammy links and flame out a few weeks later, but watching from the outside doesn’t give you the kind of intimate details you get from being at the helm of that doomed site.
Watching Matt Cutts’ videos or reading about how content marketing is the wave of the future you might get the impression that Google is getting good at detecting and devaluing paid links.
But if you actively tried to get a site penalized or banned using paid links, you might change your mind.
Most SEOs think link exchanges went the way of the dodo bird, but in fact there are thousands of sites in very valuable niches ranking right now on the back of exchanged links.
And while helping a site recover from a penalty or a harmful update can be incredibly enlightening, you won’t learn to spot the early warning signs that can accompany manual penalties.
Unchain Your Elephant
There’s an old proverb that claims if you chain an elephant to a stake in the ground when they’re young and weak, they’ll grow so accustomed to the restraint that they’ll never test it when they’re older and more than capable of breaking free.
While that story may not be true when it comes to actual elephant behavior, it’s proven on a daily basis in the SEO community.
Google developed a set of constraints to prevent marketers from exploiting an algorithm, and thus conditioned many SEOs to stay in those chains forever. In fact, many SEOs embrace the Google shackles and deem breaking them to be unethical.
— Jill Whalen (@jillwhalen) April 24, 2013
— Christi Olson (@ChristiJOlson) April 24, 2013
Risk vs. Reward
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you should have client sites getting swatted by Google on a regular basis. But there’s nothing wrong with using aggressive tactics if the client is aware of the risks and has prepared appropriately for them.
Better yet, develop your own SEO testing environment far away from your client sites (different domain, web host, registrar etc.) and include riskier “gray hat” techniques in your experimentation. (Obviously, avoid tactics like phishing or hacking that break the actual law, not just Google’s guidelines.)
SEO at its core is simply a balancing act – finding the equilibrium between risk and reward that works best for you or your clients.
While you may ultimately decide to stay well clear of the self-serving and arbitrary line that Google draws in the sand, you’ll never know precisely where that line is unless you step over it once or twice.
So get to steppin’!