Like Me? Follow Me.
We've found a new nefarious link spam tactic causing issues for sites under Penguin this morning, and one which, yet again, is nearly impossible to counteract without a disavow tool.
For one site, which we've started working on since it received a notification about problem links from Google, we've found some unusual scraped article content. Our client has a guest post - quite a decent one - written on a legal subject. This post is also appearing across the internet on a range of article directories and scraper sites, mostly linking out to other companies.
It seems what has happened is a blog post has been taken, quite possibly from its original home on a decent blog, and submitted via some article submission service, and the links changed multiple times - so not only is Google seeing lots of the same article with over-optimised anchor text - but it's seeing it linking to multiple different legal sites. Which one is the original? Who can tell. Try to remove the links? The location where I first found the link has been entirely deindexed by Google and the contact email is not working.
Is it possible that our client did not write the original? Yes, seeing as we didn't do the link building that caused them to receive the notification. I can be certain, however, that our client certainly would not have agreed to use plagiarised content in their own name. They work in the legal industry. They don't do things like that.
Is it possible it is a case of negative SEO? It's possible, but it's unlikely as the volume of links to the site isn't really high enough and we aren't seeing anything really unseemly in the backlink profile - mostly just overoptimised anchor text on the usual low quality directory sites. If it is negative SEO, it's a pretty poor attempt.
More importantly, though: can I disavow the link? No I cannot.
Do I want to email Google to try? Not really and not yet as we're still working our way through potential issues. I'm also not really hot on the idea that I should have to apologise on behalf of my client for the spam tactics implemented by someone unconnected to them.
What is the implication? Well, those wonderful guest posts that the SEO industry believes are the way forward, they may be able to harm you over time. In theory, if Google found your post first on a good site (and this really shows how important getting that schema.org author data set up correctly will be going forward), then they'll know the original post is yours. However, in some instances, the article directory sites where the scraped post is appearing probably have a lot more authority than the original blog where it was submitted. Is this a case of trust wins out? Could be. As I'm not sure where the original lives or who wrote it, I can't really say.
It's even possible that where the article has been scraped, the link has been left in for our client, so we're getting black marks because Google will think that it was deliberate link building - rather than someone using someone else's content without permission for profit.
What are we left with? Another shining example of why letting links you may not have built harm you with no simple way to disavow them is only harming good businesses, and it's not really helping searchers.
Since this was first published, we've done some research and found the culprits behind the rogue blog post:
It seems these 2 respectable-looking young men, who work for a UK-based SEO agency, have used the same guest blog post for multiple clients across multiple sites, in some instances linking to pages that 301 to 404 errors.
If you know these gentlemen or their employer, do tell them that what they're doing is harming their clients and would probably be considered highly unethical.