Cancellation of the contextual linking program:
On Monday January 28th after much consideration and a lengthy discussion with a focus group comprised of both staff and clients I made a decision to cancel our contextual linking program.
So why cancel contextual linking?
It all started on Thursday when it was reported that our domain www.realestatewebmasters.com was no longer in the top spot for our name (an ominous sign to be sure). Immediately I went into SEO detective mode, completing a full audit of every inch of REW, with a focus on linking activities (both inbound and outbound).
I must admit – I am still surprised by the penalty as quite honestly, I was not intentionally violating any of Google’s TOS – however, what I determined through my audit and several conversations with my peers (who also happen to be some of the top SEO minds in the industry) is that the most likely cause of the penalty was the REW directory. Now – this is my own fault, I have had the REW directory up for 4 years and have not changed it (the way it works, that is – the way it looks has changed a few times) – but anyways – it is my own fault because I know full well that Google has been cracking down on directories and paid links – it’s talked about all the time in our forums – I guess I just assumed that mine was ok because:
#1. It was very old and had never had an issue even when other directories did.
#2. It is moderated and human edited – we must manually approve all submissions
#3. We were selling featured listings (going to the top of the page) not links (featured listings and free listings had the same link popularity benefits – so by “paying” you were not getting better SEO links etc).
The above was my thought process – but after going through this ordeal, I think my arrogance got the best of me, and I should probably remember to do a full audit for “current” SEO items more often on my own domain, as things that are OK today, are not necessarily OK tomorrow. Google, once again I am sorry, and thank you for processing my re-consideration request.
Yeah but isn't this about contextual linking?
Yes it is, but we need the full story.
I was as surprised by this sudden drop in my rankings as I was by an all out attempt at character assassination by an organized group of webmasters (most of whom sell or offer one or more competing service) who are much newer to the real estate space. They believe that by piggy-backing on the natural publicity you'd expect to be created by a penalty to such a well known vendor, they might be able to generate exposure for themselves and potentially increase their own customer base.
Now I am used to a certain amount of exposure; Real Estate Webmasters dominates our sphere in every way from websites, to IDX to search, and when you are at the top, you are a natural target for the envious. These things you tend to have to learn to ignore (paying attention to those who would attempt to gain recognition by defaming others only serves to encourage such behavior).
This time however the nasty statements were not all directed at me. These individuals decided to take it a step further and start referencing and targeting our members and clients as well – not only in public Blog posts and forums, but also sending hate filled emails with threats and attempts to use fear to encourage our most visible clients to discontinue the use of our services – I highly doubt the behavior they have displayed will land them the exposure they wanted, in fact it is has created quite a lot of backlash
Get to the contextual links already – We are getting there:
How might one attempt to strike fear into clients and try to get them to leave REW? Attempt to convince them that their livelihood is in jeopardy and use a red herring to attempt to deceive the customer into believing that something specific to them (Created by us) is in fact the cause of a completely unrelated REW penalty. These people chose contextual linking as their Red Herring and they targeted REW members and clients both publicly and privately.
So are you cancelling or defending contextual linking?
I have already cancelled it. The fact of the matter is, I do not need to defend contextual linking to these people – in fact nothing these people have done (Optimized defamatory posts using both my company and personal name, sent threatening and insulting emails to my clients, attempted to drag good people’s names through the mud or trying to gain financially from another persons hardship) deserve anywhere near the attention that I am giving them in writing this post.
However, this post is not for them - this post is for my members, my clients and my friends – They need to know that I support them and that I am willing to stand up publicly and address these issues so that they do not feel like they are alone in this, or that I am willing to stand for it. They also need to know that I am accountable.
This post is for those whom we linked to and have subsequently removed said links due to this situation. And this post is for Google, I know you folks are a bright bunch and I want to state publicly that the things that these people have said about REW members and clients, and the blame they attempt to place on them is unfounded.
Google - If contextual linking has at all violated your terms of service, I truly apologize it was not my intention, nor would I have implemented the program if I thought there were anything wrong with it – but just like anyone else who does not work for Google – I can only guess what is acceptable – therefore IF there is any issue with the contextual linking program I am responsible.
I programmed a commenting module, I had my staff invite others to participate in a do-follow blog style commenting on approximately 5% of our customers sites and asked that they allow us to do the same.
If there are any issues or penalties required due to MY implementation of this program – “I” am the person to answer for them. I am also posting this to inform everyone (Both previous partners and Google) that we have completely removed all contextual links from any of our existing customer websites and will not be engaging in this type of linking in the future.
What was done – is now undone.
The contextual linking program has been completely cancelled and all links have been removed – It was the last and only form of linking that we did that was not rooted solely in content creation and distribution but if it even has the slightest chance of attracting the kind of negative attention to my clients that we have seen in these recent events, the 5-10 links it provides per month are not worth the grief it has caused to my clients.
Finally a message to those of you who think that it is ok use Google, email or the web in general as a means to attack and defame others – your actions suggest that no matter what I say, I am not going to convince you that you only serve to harm yourselves and your reputation,
- Instead I am going to issue a plea:
I am your target. Not any number of innocent clients that you have harassed.
I am what you perceive to be your competition.
I am your source of your envy –
Please, leave our members and customers alone.
Keep their names out of your online rants.
Stop trying to track down their email addresses, submitting comments to their blogs and dragging their names through the mud.
Stop posing as Matt Cutts and submitting comments like "You are going to get banned" from email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
They belong to REW as members because they are trying to learn to build better websites and build relationships and your actions will not change this.
They use our services because in their eyes we offer a great product –
No-one should be persecuted because of what forum they belong to, or what website provider they use.
Your fight is with me – I wish I could help you to understand that it does not need to be, but if you must continue with these actions – at least have the decency to refrain from lashing out at the innocent.