Even Big Sites Aren’t Safe From Google Penalties
Just the other day I heard a story on NPR about Expedia getting whacked by Google for unnatural link building. According to USAToday, “Expedia’s website lost 25% of its visibility in Google search between Jan. 12 and 19, according to data from third-party search analytics firm Searchmetrics.” That drop in traffic meant Expedia’s shares dropped almost 4%.
Having a big brand undoubtedly comes with many perks when it comes to SEO. It’s much easier for a big, trusted, and well-known brand to earn natural links over time. After all, which source are you most likely to trust and link to–The New York Times or a small blog you’d never heard of before you stumbled across it? This doesn’t mean that small blogs can’t build up a strong and powerful following over time, it does make it a little harder to get noticed because you are competing with the Big Boys for readers, SERP placement, and citations.
However, just because you are a big brand that doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want with your SEO program. Expedia isn’t the first large site Google has manually penalized for unnatural link building. In 2011 the big penalty story was J.C. Penney. The BBC received a notification from Google about unnatural links. And even Sprint was penalized for spam in their community forum. While big sites are usually “big enough” that a few junk links here are there aren’t going to hurt them, it’s not impossible for the scales to tip against them. As a representative from the BBC pointed out, ” Given the BBC site is so huge, with so many independently run sub sections, with literally thousands or agents and authors, can you give us a little clue as to where we might look for these ‘unnatural links’.” A big site might not even realize that they are in danger until it’s too late simply because their link profile is so large it’s impossible to know how they really stand.
This story comes right on the heels of another big website, Rap Genius, that was manually penalized for spammy link building practices. Rap Genuis rebounded in about two weeks thanks to their cleanup process so they say, which has many smaller website owners that have been struggling for months with manual penalties crying foul. It seems like even though big sites aren’t safe from Google penalties they do have an easier time with the recovery process. Many speculate this is because searchers expect to see certain websites in the SERPs and penalizing them for too long would actually hurt Google’s usability in the long run.
Many site owners speculate that Google gives preferential treatment to larger sites, making it easier for them to recover after a penalty. Even if this is true, the immediate backlash of such a public penalty can do serious damage to a large brand’s stock prices (as Expedia is suffering), which could force a larger company to close stores or layoff employees. Even if they are able to recover faster than smaller sites, it’s not as if they are getting off easy!
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