When walking to the office earlier this week, I passed somewhat of a local landmark, the Tyne Theatre & Opera House, and saw a band loading their gear in for a performance that evening.
I was curious as to who was playing there, and so took to my phone to search for their website – I searched for ‘Journal Tyne Theatre’, as that’s the name I remember it best as, although it turns out it’s since had other owners and name-changes, before settling on Tyne Theatre & Opera House. Anyway, because I must have previously visited the website on my phone, the URL came up in my browser, saving me the need to search for it.
I clicked on it, and was surprised at what I saw on the thejournaltynetheatre.co.uk domain:
Now, you probably don’t have to have 10 years’ experience in SEO to recognise that the above website is not the Tyne Theatre website, but what you might have to have some knowledge of SEO for is to recognise what’s going on here.
- The thejournaltynetheatre.co.uk domain expired at some point
- Someone bought the dropped domain
- The new owner spun up a pretty bog-standard WordPress site hosted on the domain
- Said owner created some posts about an array of subjects, including ISO Cabling Standards, Use of Ultrasound Devices for Therapy, How to setup VPN on Linux and Avoiding Legal Nuances in UK: Personal & Business Cases
“Why?” You might ask…
Well, a domain has inherent authority and trust – the original Tyne Theatre domain has an authority of 29/100 (about the same as the Venture Stream website, so a pretty good score), which doesn’t expire when the domain does. It’s an old-school SEO tactic, and one that I thought / hoped had died out long ago, to watch out for authoritative dropped domains, purchase them and throw a site up on them. Then, the person / agency in question who has adopted this ‘strategy’ goes about creating a series of articles on the new site on behalf of their clients, and more often than not add some exact match anchor text links for phrases they hope to rank for. Needless to say, the website, domain, and content of the articles are neither thematic, consistent, or written for the end user – they’re all geared up to help game Google’s system in an attempt at getting those client websites to rank for those exact phrases.
In this example, there are 4 articles, with exact match anchor text links pointing to 4 websites:
- Article: ISO cabling standards
- Exact match anchor text link: electrical building services
- Linked page: https://www.piggottandwhitfield.co.uk/electrical-building-services/
- Article: Use of Ultrasound Devices for Therapy
- Exact match anchor text link: ultrasonic cleaners by Hilsonic
- Linked page: https://www.hilsonic.co.uk/
- Article: How to setup VPN on Linux
- Exact match anchor text link: comprehensive list of best VPN services on AntaNet
- Linked page: https://www.anta.net/compare-vpn/
- Article: Avoiding Legal Nuances in UK: Personal & Business Cases
- Exact match anchor text link: no win no fee general principles article
- Linked page: https://solicitors.guru/articles/64-everything-you-need-know-about-no-win-no-fee/
What’s Google got to say about this kind of activity?
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines…. The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:
- Links with optimized anchor text in articles
- Article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community.” (source)
Seems to me like this site and this tactic is a great example of what not to do in terms of SEO and Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
3 of the 4 articles above are penned by the dubiously named ‘Jack Pantysniffer’,…
but that’s by-the-by; on closer inspection of the websites linked to, you can’t help but notice that the footer of two of them have something in common….
Spot it? Both of these sites were created by HTP Digital.
You might think that this is an unfortunate coincidence; two of HTP Digital’s clients have used the same SEO Agency and fallen foul of ill-advised, guideline-flaunting, penalty-risking tactics in an attempt at gaining some short-term ranking wins. However, the digital detective in me couldn’t help but scratch a little deeper beneath this murky surface, and so I took to the DomainTools website to find the Whois Record for thejournaltynetheatre.co.uk to see who the new owner was.
I’m not going to name names, or join the dots for you, but the below screenshot should result in the penny dropping, if it hasn’t already….
It’s this kind of strategy and activity that makes working in digital marketing difficult sometimes; so many people have had their fingers burned by other agencies dabbling in this kind of black-hat SEO tactic, resulting in short-term wins followed by penalties and rankings plummeting, which makes trying to discuss long-term, sustainable, SEO strategies almost impossible, as they’re of the opinion that ‘SEO doesn’t work’, or ‘all SEO agencies are the same’.
There are a few takeaways / learnings here.
Firstly, to the people who were responsible for The Tyne Theatre’s website and digital strategy; why was there not a process put in place to secure domains during re-branding or the company changing hands? Looking back, I can identify three domains they’ve had – the currently live tynetheatreandoperahouse.uk, the butchered and bastardised thejournaltynetheatre.co.uk, and the now-expired and left to hang millvolvotynetheatre.co.uk.
Ideally each of the historical two domains should have been redirected into the new, meaning that no authority was lost, traffic and trust could flow from one to the other, and meaning that no dodgy SEO agencies could’ve jumped on the domain and used it to their own shady benefit.
Secondly, to the SEO and digital agencies out there adopting these tactics; please stop. You’re doing our industry no favours. You’re doing your clients no favours. You’re doing yourselves no favours. At best, this is a short-term tactic that you may get some results from; at worst, you’ll end up landing your clients with a Google penalty, which may cripple their business (I’ve been involved in too many rescue-attempts, link detoxes and penalty reversals to underestimate the impact of a slap on the wrists from the Big G). And if you must insist on going down this dark, dark road, at least do yourself a favour and cover your tracks – don’t make it so easy for someone to join the dots and connect your client sites with your link schemes.
Thirdly, to the businesses that fall foul of this kind of activity; please don’t tarnish us all with the same brush – we’re not all bad! And please ask questions of whoever you put in charge of your digital strategy, your web presence and your marketing activity. You should know the ins and outs of all of the campaigns your agency are conducting on your behalf, and if you don’t know, you should at least be able to ask the question of your agency and have them show you what they’re up to. If they won’t or can’t, there’s probably a reason. And if you do get to look under the hood, or behind the curtain, and don’t like what you see, then question it further, seek second opinions, and consult Google’s Guidelines – they’re freely available and relatively easy to understand.
You can also report any site that you think is participating in link schemes intended to manipulate PageRank, here.