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The recent spate of Google penalties has affected hundreds of brands across the web,  with some not even aware they were at risk.

The loss of traffic and leads that can result from a Google penalty means that it is critical as a CMO to be able to detect and deal with such issues as quickly as possible.

The marketing world is in a bit of a transformation and has been in this ever evolving state for years. Most people know about this change and that it is moving very rapidly from the traditional style of marketing to the new digital rules.

Gone are the days of waiting for a tiny amount of mainstream media coverage and utilising that. It is now about knowing your audience and showing them the content they need on the right channel no matter what part of the sales funnel they are in.

This has all happened because of the rapid increase in digital and the amount of consumers using it to make purchasing decisions.

This rapid growth has definitely had its growing pains. There have been many quick wins over the years as new technology and companies evolve to this new way of accessing content.

The results of these growing pains still exist today and can be more damaging than ever. In this article I would like to talk about one that has affected a huge amount of brands, large and small.

That is the changes to Google's link based algorithm and how it has evolved to deal with spam. The reason I want to discuss this specifically is because there are a lot of CMOs being affected by this today and this is all being caused by work done in the past and beyond their control.

The typical scenario here is a new CMO will start at a brand with big plans and insights of what to do over the next 12 months.

These plans and projections are all well and good. However, that CMO is completely unaware that 20% of the brand links pointing to their website are complete spam.

These links will not just hold back organic growth but they will negatively affect the site's growth as Google releases algorithmic updates over the next few months to target these types of links.

This ends up with the CMO not hitting targets, discovering these links far too late and then spending the rest of the 12 months dealing with the penalty issues just to get close to being back on track.

Unfortunately this is a common problem for a lot of brands, even large brands such as eBay and Expedia have seen the damage a Google penalty.

Most of it is caused by digital marketing agencies in the past building automated, manipulated links that used to work well in growing a site organically. However, Google has become extremely sophisticated in the last few years and can easily detect these types of links and penalise a site for them.

 Expedia Visibility

This just shows the ability Google has of a sites traffic. Here is a snapshot of the visibility drop of Expedia.com when Google penalised the site for building unnatural links.

So where does this leave us today as marketers?

This leaves us in a position where all brands need to be checked for these "spammy" links before any organic projections can be made.

Indeed, we run a check on every single new client simply because we know exactly how much this type of thing can hold back a site and in some cases worsen if Google hasn't quite caught everything pointing to the site.

I don't want to go into exactly how to solve these link based issues, most brands have agencies or in house marketers that can deal with this themselves.

What I want to do is raise the importance of checking for these issues and dealing with them so that your site or brand can grow as you expect. A lot of SEO agencies have built some very spammy links to build growth for a site and in some cases not even told the site owners where that growth is coming from.

These sites end up losing visibility in Google and not understanding why.

There are a few tools such as SEM Rush and Search Metrics (the screenshot above) that will allow you to quickly see any rapid drops in visibility and there are some link data tools such as Majestic SEO or AHrefs that will allow you to quickly look at the links pointing to the site.

These tools will allow a CMO or marketing manager to quickly see if there's a problem. If there is, they will need to quickly move into getting their teams to fix these issues.

Majestic SEO

This images shows Majestic SEO and how to quickly check for unnatural links. Most natural sites will have variations of the brand name of the site as the most common anchor text. You can see here that the most common is "new look discount code" and there are others such as "discount codes" and "voucher codes". These are what we call commercial anchor texts and are usually built for manipulation.

Bad Link Example

Digging a little deeper into the links, this confirms that the site has some unnatural links pointing to it that need to be removed.

Again, I don't want to go into too much detail here as it is beyond the scope of this article. But I will bullet point a few issues to look for to detect a penalty or action taken by Google.

  • Using Search Metrics or SEM Rush to find any peaks or drops in organic visibility over time.
  • Check messages in webmaster tools for any notifications or manual penalties.
  • Check only organic traffic in analytics for any drops around any Google algorithmic updates.
  • Check any previous SEO reports to see what previous links have been built.
  • Use link data tools like Majestic SEO to quickly find unnatural link patterns.

This is part of the growing pains of this new era of marketing and what happens when people take advantage of the quick wins available when companies like Google are still in their infancy.

But if you use these five quick steps to check a site over, you should find any obvious problems pretty quickly and know whether you need to spend further resource on investigated any kind of link based penalty.

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Published 14 July, 2014 by Adam Mason

Adam Mason is the Co-Founder of Datify and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can find him on Twitter and on Google Plus.

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Comments (5)

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Ben Acheson

There is now a new type of manual action penalty too - and it's nothing to do with links:

http://www.digivate.com/blog/seo/google-new-thin-content-penalty-has-arrived/

over 2 years ago

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Adam Mason, Co Founder at Datify

Very true Ben. Google seems to be rolling out more and more manual penalties. Even one for abusing rich snippet mark up:
http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2327459/Google-Starts-Penalizing-Sites-for-Rich-Snippet-Spam

I guess they are realising they cannot do everything algorithmically and need to rely on some manual checks. I still think this is why they softened the recent panda update. They seemed to soften the panda update and then launch the thin content penalty you mentioned. I think they were struggling devaluing thin content via their algorithms.

over 2 years ago

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Derek Jansen

Agreed 100% Adam. The impact of Google's penalties (esp sitewide penalties) can be absolutely devastating to businesses small and large. We've seen some companies having to result to serious staff layoffs in response to a Google penalty.

Monitoring incoming links is now a required activity to fend against Google penalties.

over 2 years ago

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Adam Mason, Co Founder at Datify

Thanks Derek. It is a shame in some cases because a lot of damage can sometimes be avoided if they are aware of the issue and can tackle it early on. Hence why I wanted to write this piece.

over 2 years ago

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David Quaid

Yes, absolutely right!

The real pity is how many organisations have CMO's who've been waiting for Google to die out. This is just another nail in the coffin as far as they're concerned.

2014 has been a great year for SEO (and PPC) in one sense because of the dearth of factless claims that SEO is Dead. That hasn't stopped the 000's of Marketers who grew up with a "Mad Men" view of the world that Marketing is really about segmentation.

Instead of dealing with penalties, I assume that many will just show the drop in traffic as the realization of the prophecies of the past few years - less traffic = death of search.

over 2 years ago

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