On March 19, 2012, Google started to de-index a large number of web sites that were a part of blog networks used by site owners and SEO companies for link building.
A blog network is a large group of blogs that are set up for the purpose of posting articles that contain links to other web sites. Members sign up for the networks and par a fee for the right to post articles to the various blogs in a network. Some large networks are literally made up of thousands of individual websites scattered all around the world.
The two large blog networks that were hit the hardest were Build My Rank and Link Authority. Build My Rank reportedly had about 90% of its sites de-indexed. An estimated 25% of Link Authority’s sites were de-indexed. Build My Rank is no longer active and is refunding membership fees on a prorated basis. Other blog networks were also hit, but Build My Rank and Link Authority were a couple of the best known networks. They also had reputations for the highest standards for article quality, so it surprised a lot of site owners when Google went after these two networks.
When a site is de-indexed, its individual web pages are removed from Google’s database, which means the articles will no long be found in Google search results. When all of a site’s pages are removed, the site is referred to as being “banned” from Google. Google’s Toolbar PageRank value for the site’s pages also drops to n/a, which means that there isn’t any PageRank value to pass to other sites through links. When the pages are no longer part of Google’s search results, and are no longer visited by Google spiders, and there is no PageRank, there isn’t any value from the links that can be passed on to another site and there won’t be any traffic from Google. The site is effectively neutered — at least as far as Google is concerned.
There is a Modus Operandi for Identifying Blog Network Sites
As soon as the word got out about the blog networks getting de-indexed, there was a lot of chatter and speculation about Google infiltrating the networks to discover the list of sites in a network. Due to the nature of the way that the networks are structured, they would literally have to post thousands of articles, which may not be practical.
There is strong evidence that Google started with a few poor quality sites that literally had thousands of backlinks pointed to the site from blog network sites. Google already has the full list of links pointed to each page on the web, so that is one plausible way that they could have identified the sites. It could also explain why only about 25% of Link Authority’s sites were de-indexed, because that is a much larger network.
Since March 19, I’ve discovered a few other sites that were not part of any blog network that were also de-indexed. Each of these sites was remarkably similar to a typical blog network sites. There is an identifiable modus operandi, or “mode of operation”, that can be used to identify sites that are likely part of a blog network. Be aware of this because your site could get hit with de-indexing if it fits this model.
If your site has the following characteristics, it could be flagged by Google and de-indexed.
- No common theme among the articles in a site. Every web site should focus on a specific area of interest or niche, such as shopping, business, tech issues, automobiles, cellphones, electronics, etc. Google uses themes to determine which sites best represent a group of related search phrases. The lack of a common theme through a collection of unrelated articles could raise a red flag. it appears that none of the websites that were part of the blog networks were focused.
- Multiple links per page pointed to the same domain. Blog networks typically require pre-approval of any site that is linked to, but they do allow multiple links to the site within an article, provided that the word count in the article is high enough. This would be an indication of an unusual linking pattern, especially when the pattern is repeated in multiple pages within a site. A normal linking pattern might include multiple internal links to pages with a site, but would not normally include multiple links to one or more pages within another sites.
- Lots of links to poor quality sites. The primary reason for link building it to help boost the rankings for the sites that the backlinks point to. In many cases, these are not sites that would rank well through their own merits.
Any or all of these issues could make site appear to look like a part of a blog network. To avoid possible de-indexing and penalization, focus the site on a specific area of interest or theme. Watch out for the way that you embed links to other sites in your articles. Most natural links would point to pages in other sites that either rank very well or have very good information related to the same topic as the article on your site.
There is a chain of events that should occur with natural linking patterns.
- The site is focused on a specific theme.
- The article page is focused on a similar theme to that of the site.
- Any outbound links should point to pages or information that is related to, or reinforces, the topic for your page.
There is a randomness factor with everything that Google does, so just because your site has escaped a penalty this far does not mean that you are home free. There is also very likely a threshold level for violations. One or two unrelated articles or links is not going to sink your site, but too many just might. If you keep these issues in mind as you develop your blog it should be able to avoid Google’s new round of penalties.