When Will We Get OUR Number 1s Back?

Cringely "SEO"

Every SEO must have heard this at some point right?

Your client has been riding high for years, sitting proudly atop Google’s upside-down traffic fountain, hungrily lapping up their justified rewards. They don’t care why or how they rank, just that they rank, and that they bloody well deserve to rank. Anyone who looked at their site would surely agree that they have the best range of products, the cheapest of prices and the most outstanding customer support team the world has ever seen. Wouldn’t they?

Enter The Google Penalty

When such individuals see their site slip, a rankings drop post-Penguin, or receive an unnatural links warning, their initial reaction is the same as most: “Oh shit, what are we going to do?”

As the SEO consultant who ends up with the job of helping them fix this mess, you wince as the conversation soon comes round to the subject of “getting back up the rankings”, and, of course, the classic “so when will we get our number 1s back?”

Perhaps you put them off, wanting to audit the site first before you suggest any timeframes, and as you sift through their cesspit of links you see the house of cards they’d built their expectations on. The road to recovery will be long and hard, but the biggest challenge will be crow-barring open the client’s tightly locked eyes.

Should We Blame Them?

Are these people truly narcissistic individuals, or have they just been conditioned by endless free rides on Google’s gravy train? Any website that has been ‘optimised’ in the last 10 years will have had some spammy or unnatural links somewhere down the line – and as far as penalties are concerned, it normally comes down to ratios. Those that recognised the value of linkbuilding in the mid-2000s and invested heavily will have bought themselves a whole spambucket of links, and most SMEs in this position won’t have developed the natural growth or had the awareness to pivot in order to swerve the oncoming shitstorm.

As they see it, these site owners bought some links because ‘that’s what you do’, and when they started ranking, they went ahead and bought some more. After several years of sitting pretty, that is simply ‘where they rank.’ They happen to be the number 1 site in the world. The best at what they do. The market leader. They deserve to rank at the top, and not Google, not no one, ain’t gonna tell them different.

A Cringeworthy Case

I saw a public example of these recently where the self-proclaimed ‘sex symbol’ Robert X. Cringely wrote a post about his sister’s site losing rankings.

Cringley Article

I urge you to read the article, if only to gape as Mr Cringely sweeps from inaccuracy to misplaced injustice with flair and panache, his ignorance matched only by his profound hubris.

For those that can’t be bothered to read it, here’s the best bit:

Cringely SEO

Is that so? Shall we take a quick look in ahrefs at how ‘fairly’ Cringely’s sister has behaved in the past (using one of our bullshit techniques, no less):

ahrefs Graph Portrait Quilts

What’s that? 24,000 pages ‘naturally’ linking to your site about quilt covers? They were probably all brand links though, almost definitely.

Portrait Quilt Anchor Text

Hmmm, not quite. So what might have possibly caused such an innocent website to get so unfairly treated by the Big Bad Google? Using our Website Penalty Indicator Tool we can see the site has been unceremoniously kicked in the balls by Penguin. Several times.

Website Penalty Indicator Tool

Ignoring the self-entitlement issues prevalent throughout this post, one of the most concerning things is the comments, a lot of them from normal internet users and website owners themselves. Some of their genius arguments:

  • “The site ranks number 2 on Bing, therefore Google is shit”
  • “The site tanks number 2 on duckduckgo” (therefore Google is shit)
  • “You (the author) should handle her marketing”
  • “Perhaps the Google machine could use a little human guidance in formulating its rankings.”
  • “She is top of paid ads, it is disgraceful that she has to pay to be there”

Without investigating the why, most of the commenters came to the conclusion that this website deserved to rank (based on Cringely’s say-so alone!) and that Google was unfair in penalising her. They appeared to believe that, at any given moment in time, which site is ranking at the top of the SERPs is doing so because it fundamentally deserves to be there.

Eyes Wide Shut

Maybe we should blame Google for raising false expectations by failing to deal with spam issues for so many years, or maybe we should spend more time trying to properly educate people about what has caused the issues. The problem is that a lot of people simply don’t want to know, for it is easier to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.

Many blamed Google when updates like Panda and Penguin crushed SMEs, whose source of revenue had vanished overnight. But the real issue stems from the arrogance of the business owner that didn’t focus on client retention, that didn’t invest in other advertising methods or that didn’t seek out more diverse lead sources. But then again they didn’t need to, because they deserve to rank.

Rae Hoffman put it better than I could in her recent post, so I’ll leave you with her words:

Google doesn’t want to make websites popular, they want to rank popular websites. If you don’t understand the difference, you’re in for one hell of an uphill climb.

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