3 Ways Google Penalties Have Pulled SEO Out of the Gutter

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The business of SEO requires a unique personality. A good SEO needs to be well versed in marketing, writing, technical skills, public relations, and analysis. The job spans different departments, so it requires a collaborative approach. The silo mentality will not work.

SEOs also have to be comfortable working in ambiguous situations where the rules are fuzzy and change constantly, based on a recent survey of U.S.-based professional SEOs. Phillip Brooks, director of content marketing for SEMrush, summed it up: “Google has become the judge, jury, and executioner for any tactics it deems shady. But they answer to no one. That kind of power can be problematic for business owners who depend on the search giant’s largesse for traffic to their sites.”

Furthermore, SEOs must convince clients that SEO campaigns will have positive return on investment (ROI) even when:

  1. They can’t define precisely what those results will be.
  2. They can’t control when those results might become evident.

Knowing all this, you’d think that SEO professionals would be frustrated and angry with Google, exasperated with clients, and at their wit’s end with the entire industry. But the remarks from about 60 professional SEOs tell a different story. Here are the big takeaways.

SEOs Approve of Penguin and Panda

Prior to the first Google Algorithm update, every SEO did things that were “iffy.” The rules were vague and there was little chance of penalty, so why not? When the penalties started rolling in 2012, the jig was up. It was a scary time because everyone was vulnerable.

Now, after having lived through numerous Panda and Penguin updates, SEOs no longer fear them. Ninety percent of respondents said that Google updates are good for the industry. The updates are “for the greater good of the Web” (Andrew Akesson, Venn Digital), “a necessary evil” (Collin Jarman, COCG Digital Marketing + Design), and “trying to bring the highest-quality content to the top of their search results” (Ashley Sweren, Firework Writing).

Maciej Fita of brandignity.com goes so far as to say that “Google’s algorithm changes are morphing us all to be better marketers.” Google does harp on quality, diversification, and finding a genuine audience for your content. Indeed, Google is challenging us all to be better marketers.

Those who expressed negativity about the updates don’t like them mainly because they fail to catch every offender. Certainly, anyone who’s trying to follow the rules feels discouraged when they see a spammy website with top search results. Jill Caren of 2 Dogs Design says, “We see Google talk about the algorithms and we will then find a site ranking on page one that has no back links, is brand-new and not well optimized. Clearly we know something is being done that is probably not ethical to get to that point – but Google has not figured it out yet.”

The Rules are Clear-er

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At least 50 percent of respondents said, in so many words, that Google updates not only clarified the rules of SEO, but challenged them to think bigger, to look beyond links, and page one rankings and focus on other channels.

“It’s important to remember that SEO can no longer be your only strategy,” says Brittney Sheffield of 352 Inc. “Search should be one of many pillars in a marketing strategy that includes on-site content, social, email, search ads, digital display ads, and content marketing.”

Allen Greer of FUZE, INC. SEO sees the industry as “moving away from a link-based economy and toward one that rewards brands with strong online PR. This means it’s no longer enough to build 1,000 links and magically land on page one.”

To Peter Geisheker of The Geisheker Group Marketing Firm, it’s all very straightforward. “Google tells you what you need to do. What Google wants is simple. They want you to create quality original content and not buy links to try to game their system into giving you higher rankings.”

Ricky Shockley of Web Success Agency has learned to “consider traffic from search a nice bonus and stop focusing on search as a primary driver of visits and sales.”

Good Guys Are Determined to Win

The Google updates and refreshes have weeded out some of the bad apples but everyone surveyed agrees that the worst offenders don’t always get caught. They want them to get caught! Even now, says Ian St. Clair of Clicks and Clients, “Snake oil salesmen, the ‘SEO Ninjas’ who do shady work, are out of control in SEO.”

Ricky Shockley of Web Success Agency put it this way: “There are a ton of hacks in our industry. Our industry is full of people who sell empty promises and perform work that has little to no impact on a business’ bottom line. Thousands of businesses are paying someone today to post article links on their Facebook pages. They are having SEOs build irrelevant, spammy links to their sites.”

Jill Caren finds that “most clients still seem focused on the ‘rank me on page one’ concept. I am trying hard to explain to them that that is just not the best way to increase visibility and traffic.”

Josh Rubin of creativecali.com spends time “building up the reputation of SEO after a business has been burned, often multiple times, by service from a search marketing company that was only interested in a quick ‘churn and burn’ dollar.”

Peter Geisheker mentioned, “All the misinformation out there and all the con artists selling SEO and other online marketing services.” And Josh Williams of visibilityandconversions.com is frustrated by “unscrupulous or uninformed marketers that perform low-quality SEO and their clients get smacked by Google, making it harder for legitimate companies to be taken seriously. Re-educating clients and changing their perspective is extremely difficult once they’ve been burned by a bad experience (or several).”

Ricky Shockley points out a major flaw with Google’s attempts to penalize spammers. “One small (algorithm) tweak could drastically change your current status even if you have followed Google’s guidelines to the letter.” Often, though, the penalty is catching up to toxic links that were created a long ago. Most small businesses don’t review their backlinks and use the disavow tool to remove those toxic links. Andrew Akesson reminds us how that can be a problem for an SEO who gets involved with a client with a bad backlink profile. “Google never forgets. The public can’t remember that dodgy campaign you created to drive numerous keyword anchor text links to your website from low-quality domains, but Google still can. If you don’t deal with the issue through link removal and disavow files, then you can pick up a new campaign from a client that has potentially been under penalty since the dawn of Penguin, which can be a very slow process to claw back.”


SEOs are demonstrating resilience and optimism in an industry that’s been rocked by uncertainty and turmoil. They’ve realized that Google updates have freed them from having to get in the gutter with the “snake oil salesmen,” clarified the rules, and pushed SEOs to realize there’s more out there than just links and page one rankings. Many SEOs echoed the sentiment of Phillip Brooks of SEMrush: “We don’t need to rely on shady practices to get results. Find your audience and deliver content that they can relate to and the SEO value will follow in-turn.”

SEO professionals can and do get results from many different channels. SEO is still a great place to be for those with an entrepreneurial spirit.

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