Your Rankings Drop Around May 15th? May Be Due To Link Networks Google Busted

May 17, 2013 • 9:13 am | comments (75) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

underground link networkOn May 15th, Google's head of search spam, announced on Twitter that Google has taken "action on several thousand linksellers in a paid-link that passes PageRank network."

Google has done this time and time again, and we covered at least two previous cases of this. We do not know which link network - some are asking if SAPE links was hit again, but others are asking about a network named ghost. I am not sure. It seems like it may be several smaller networks.

One thing for sure is that around May 15th, many webmasters started to complain about ranking drops in WebmasterWorld. Here are some quotes:

Also, seeing a significant drop in ranks for a different domain I mentioned in another thread that I was using to test junk links. It's possible we could be seeing a penguin update.

I am also seeing a decent drop on the 14th which seems to be continuing today.

The complaints go on and on.

I am trying to figure out which network(s) were hit but I can't seem to nail it down to any specific one.

The Black Hat World forums are talking about it but no one is mentioning anything specific and concrete outside of some guesses.

Do you know which link network(s) were hit?

Forum discussion at Black Hat World & WebmasterWorld.

Update: We have a statement from ghost network about this:

I can confirm that the Ghost Network was not targeted in Google's most recent link crackdown. Our ranks are still holding strong for the time being. Thanks Barry.

Image credit BigStockPhoto for underground

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05/17/2013 01:53 pm

Good. One more down. These types of updates are doing nothing but helping us.

Stephane Brault

05/17/2013 01:57 pm

Yes and no. The updates are not frequent enough so there are a lot of disposable websites popping up. Get rid of that sh*t once and for all.


05/17/2013 02:11 pm

Exactly. I'd rather been outranked by a decent looking website with greyhat SEO then a flat out disposable domain with 1,000 links in the last week.


05/17/2013 02:26 pm

My competitor in the international moving market is ranking even better after the 15th. That site has some crappy links....


05/17/2013 02:30 pm

If it says anything I've seen a slight decrease of 4-5% over a couple of days since the 14th and my website does not have many backlinks at all. In fact, it has less than 15. All are organic. Definitely none are connected to any kind of spam/network. And yet, the site receives well over 50,000 visitors a day with a low bounce rate. Meh.


05/17/2013 02:34 pm

Good. Rankings are higher than ever this week.


05/17/2013 02:35 pm

That is a fair point. However, is there a way to stop these disposables from cropping up; jumping to the top; being devalued and replaced by another disposable? I am not sure that Matt Cutts and his team know how to deal with this issue without laming their algorithm. Cutting the networks that are used to help rank these disposables is a good start, and makes the task of replacing them slightly more difficult; but just slightly. If you, or me, or anyone, can come up with a reasonable way of accomplishing this then I suspect that Matt would have a job waiting out in Mountain View for whoever figures it out. Your thoughts? Your secret sauce that I can 'borrow'? You know a good across-the-country moving company?


05/17/2013 03:07 pm

Well, those are pretty nice visitor numbers, you must be doing something right. Keep at it! Maybe you saw a slight drop in some of your rankings because some competitors are winning out as link networks go down and the black-hatters you are both competing against are dropping...? Just speculation as I type.

Justin Clark

05/17/2013 03:17 pm

I noticed a huge drop in my website rank. Seems Google is confused to show the accurate result and some time feel that LinkedIn, Facebook and twitter hired it for top 10 or 20 position. you just create a Facebook fan page with specific keywords obviously you will be on top position in few days. same thing for LinkedIn and twitter. The biggest question is what Google want to show to the users .. is it forcing users to create an account on Facebook twitter because it has been hired by social media sites. How disgusting.. god bless online marketers.

Miguel Angel Ramos

05/17/2013 03:28 pm

Great! Another one bites the dust. Unfortunately, I think that for every network that gets taken down two or three of them pop up.


05/17/2013 03:29 pm

And what would some of the keywords that have the social site problem you are talking about?


05/17/2013 03:29 pm

Where is Mr Anti SEO? He's the best fun on comments!

Justin Clark

05/17/2013 03:45 pm

you are not getting me properly. Ok let me ... when you search something on Google and you just found 7 Facebook result out of 10 then which type of information you got from Facebook links? Is Facebook or twitter are more useful then websites for accurate information.


05/17/2013 03:47 pm

This thing cannot be solved with an algo change, just manually. Employ 50 people to browse the Web 8 hours a day, give them each specific area and parameters and they will clean the 90% of the web from spammers in 6 months. When spammer or scraper is identified, hit him with -950 penalty and that's it. Unfortunately, most engineers are a special kind. They think it can be solved with a machine, but it can't. That's why we have a mess in search and a ton of innocent sites hit with every new update.

Scott Milsom

05/17/2013 03:57 pm

Google do have a lot of human reviewers. The problem is that certain competitive SERPs are being heavily spammed at the moment. When one spam site gets removed another one pops up to take its place.


05/17/2013 03:57 pm

I got you just fine, I am asking you to tell me which keywords serve up results like that. Maybe I don't perform the right kind of queries, but I never seem to have that problem when searching. So, what are some examples so I can see for myself?


05/17/2013 04:00 pm

Did you buy subscription from Barry already ?


05/17/2013 04:01 pm

I don't think that could possibly scale out to the level needed to combat the thousands of sites spamming certain SERPs and the thousands of sites waiting in reserve to spam those SERPs again. Maybe I am wrong, but I don't see it as a feasible option. I mean, 'payday loan', for example, returns ~34,400,000 results; how do you give each site a fair evaluation, even assuming that some are repeated multiple times.

Brian Mease

05/17/2013 04:03 pm

I feel the same, most of my rankings are much higher :) Finally some of my White Hat worked Sorry for you guys that got hit by sneaky Google


05/17/2013 04:08 pm

you don't have to go through all pages, just page 1 and 2 remember. Nobody goes to page 3 anyway...

Brian Mease

05/17/2013 04:09 pm

odd, the keyword is a business name?


05/17/2013 04:14 pm

That is a another problem with the algo. How can a new spammer site take place of old site? It used to take months to climb to first pages. Now it seems, completely new site with some black hat seo tactics can rise to page 1 in no time. And stay there.

Justin Clark

05/17/2013 04:15 pm

I search ton of keywords on daily basis and i found many times but unable to show you right now.

Graham Ginsberg

05/17/2013 04:35 pm

You can't polish a turd. Google needs to go the way of the dinosaur

Alexus Durwin

05/17/2013 04:37 pm

My site is hit with this update ranking drops keywords is plus 500

Graham Ginsberg

05/17/2013 04:46 pm

Cutts said in his tweet: "In fact, we took action on several thousand linksellers in a paid-link-that-passes-PageRank network earlier today. Interesting because of what it doesn't say. Doesn't say that they have any control over small link selling operations, say 300 directory sites that sell links. I know that their algo has still no affect because if a website had that many single paid links from a network, (and I know of a few) they're still ranking very, very well. Superbly I would say. Google seems to have scratched the surface of major link networks only.


05/17/2013 05:08 pm

Lost my keywords,not fair


05/17/2013 05:32 pm

I guess Sugar Rae's clients are included in part of that link network that went down... "am I the only person who saw significant shifts in the SERPs I track yesterday?"

Jimmy Maddox

05/17/2013 05:36 pm

i only rank when specific keywords are typed in a certain order.... surviving on anchor text results.... ive got social links, youtube videos, tips and tricks, FAQ content on my pages. I dont know what else i can do to add more content and have it be seen as 'quality' in Googles eyes. Im not going to add a bunch of fluff just to increase content volume... My traffic has gone down from 100 visitors a day to like 14 a day. But like i say long tail keywords arent pulling my urls in SERPS, only when you type (ie;) XXX VV GGG in that order. (about 4 major keywords)

Stephane Brault

05/17/2013 05:37 pm

All those disposable websites can be identified easily: they're new, they have few pages and they've acquired a gazillion links from unrelated sites in a matter of weeks. New websites should be sandboxed for a longer period so they'd be penguinezed before getting out of it.

Stephane Brault

05/17/2013 05:42 pm

Another thing I noticed recently: some top websites are using purely white hat SEO to get to the top of the rankings. Once they're at the top, they push out all those disposable websites and spam the f*ck out of them until they get to the top. The disposable websites have absolutely no connection whatsoever with their main, white hat website. This eliminates lots of their competitors from the top 10, leaving them and 1 or 2 competitors in the top 10 rankings.

Nick Ker

05/17/2013 08:15 pm

Seems like you are only ranking on anchor text links because of quality issues. You are right to not throw more content at that. More content won't help. Better presentation of what you've got, along with improving what you've got should help. Getting some good, legitimate links would also help too. Assuming you are talking about Midnight-Voice, you would definitely benefit from some good on page optimization. Without digging too deeply: on the home page, when I scroll down, the text goes behind your demo players and can't be read. Lots of "little" things in the source code too - like a huge chunk of text (all of it?) designated as H1. Optimization starts with the site, not all the social stuff and links. Run your site through something like or even a free tester like Woorank to see some more issues that are keeping you down.


05/18/2013 12:48 am

Possibly. Another theory I have is after a short downtime. After 7-8 months with merely 2-3 minutes of downtime only when restarting a service, for example, our service provider had a DDoS and we were intermittently down for around an hour and a half until the client receiving the attack was nullrouted. Now, the strange thing is, and it's clearly present, a decline started immediately (when viewing hourly charts) after the downtime and it is still continuing 11 days later. The decline has been somewhat steady, too. It was a little more noticeable around the 14th, Not sure if the downtime just happened to coincide with an algorithm shift for instance. Our website would probably be considered "medium" in size. It receive(d) over 500,000 page views a day, and was touching above 100,000 visits. Our traffic is still there, just seeing declines since the very hour that downtime occurred. So, let's see how it goes :)


05/18/2013 03:42 am



05/18/2013 05:15 am

Right, but once you clean the first three pages, entries from page 4, and maybe 5, move up to fill in the gap. Are they better? If not, rinse and repeat. That's why it doesn't scale to manually hover all the lucrative niches.

Nikolay Stoyanov

05/18/2013 06:17 am

Well, I don't think that SAPE links ( were hit as no positions were lost with links from this network. So maybe the next time.

Syed Waqas Bukhari

05/18/2013 06:21 am

I thought that was just happening with me :), well that was a huge ALGO fluctuation seems reversed. Some keywords drop down so badly and some goes up. Thanks Barry


05/18/2013 07:35 am

I am also noticing drop in ranking but I never do Link Buying kind of practice.


05/18/2013 10:46 am

I think almost all webmasters noticed ranking down around May 15, but no body knows the exact reason behind it. Well I am still finding websites on top results having paid links so what kin of update Google did :( Even not only ranking I am finding my traffic down...


05/18/2013 10:27 pm

Russian Links Still Work... Search For Russian Link Secrets (Ebook)


05/19/2013 12:58 am

)) Interesting that "andrew" mentioned russians, because I just read the article from russian guy, who is working in Google as an engineer. He worked on Panda as well. (in russian) re scrappers .... (summary translation) "It's not a trivial problem to define who is the real author. We use three criteria : - where the content was found ; - who published it first ; - who is more popular. We believe that more popular site is more authoritative." He mentioned markup as an additional way to show who is the real author. (From me) Means if you run your own website with your own articles you MUST use markup. Otherwise any website with fake authority can steel your content and will be considered as the content owner. As I read here some people suffer from this problem. I found interesting how he judges their Panda job. "Not sure how well we did it, you're the judges, but our statistic shows improvement" I found interesting, that he used past tense. Panda is done. I hoped they're still working on it. Also interesting that he used "not sure". Personally from me to former designers, writers, bloggers, sellers and other SEOs ... ) This is an example of what they use in their job : Enjoy ) P.S. I really want to see kind of the research about the regular searchers experience. Probably they are really happy with what they get now from Google ...

Graham Ginsberg

05/19/2013 01:38 am

"Well I am still finding websites on top results having paid links" same here


05/19/2013 10:55 am

here is an image which shows how "good" Google algo works right now for extremely competitive query in graphic design niche. Legend: Scraper = no original content, just taking content from other sites+using stolen content from premium sites


05/19/2013 10:59 am

forget it, stupid Disqus won't let me upload the image...


05/19/2013 12:27 pm

There is no reason to acknowledge again and again, that Google is not perfect. Everyone knows that already. Do you have reasonable solution ? Then share it.


05/19/2013 12:36 pm

Or better create the website, where people could share questionable SERPs. Attract attention of media. Then googlers will not be able to say "our statistic shows improvement".


05/19/2013 12:43 pm

I can accept not being perfect. "Not being perfect" means to me, a couple of scrapers per page. Now it's about 70%. That's ridiculously high and it shows that algo at this moment is terribly flawed. The other day I have mentioned another competitive query where on first 3 pages you get 50% results from one single domain - a well-known scraper. So out of 30 results you get 16 from a scraper. Now imagine if you type "Transformers movie" and get 15 results from Pirate bay on that query. That's the equivalent of the problem we have in this niche right now. As for the page, that's a good idea and I just might go with for my own reasons. I doubt that helps with Google...


05/19/2013 01:30 pm

Again. No doubt Google is full of problems, but how is it helpful, if we will show each other such questionable SERPs ? As far as I know Google doesn't pay for that )


05/19/2013 01:39 pm

you mentioned "regular searcher experience". This is an example of such experience, very regular one for a competitive keyword in a niche that is not spammy. Besides I don't believe in talk, just facts. A lot of things in SEO are being assumed, people think this and that. This is fact, screenshot, need to assume anything. It's time to stop saying search is good or not good. Prove it. Provide screenshots, links. Talk without solid facts gets us nowhere...


05/19/2013 04:26 pm

I agree with you about the facts and because of the facts I wouldn't consider you as a regular searcher ) Regular searchers are those, who define SEO as the South East Oklahoma )


05/19/2013 05:28 pm

facts are the same for "regular" or non-regular. same query, same results, same glitch.


05/19/2013 06:54 pm

Our, the market participants, view can be biased. Biased view is the danger fact. Probably regular searchers don't care about stuffing. Probably they really like current SERPs.

Graham Ginsberg

05/19/2013 07:15 pm

Sadly for Matt Cutts, Google's attempt at reducing SPAM, has resulted in more SPAM. Say you had a single website that you're worked years to perfect. Yes, its not perfect and maybe it got trapped by the Panda or Penguin web, what can you do now? Don't trust Google to play fair. Create as many sites that will be there for you as 'backups' should your main site get hit. That is what is happening now. Even sites that were not hit are creating several band aid sites, because they know, its a matter of time before they too become a dead site from a Penguin or Panda strike. Its smart business. We cannot control Google. And Google has no control over unexpected and unfair sabotages on sites. A smart business move is backups. What Google should have done, too late now tho because they lost credibility, was to allow an offending site to recover fully, once its proven to follow guidelines. The present Google policy has created paranoia from the smallest website to the largest and its results are worse now than ever.


05/19/2013 08:52 pm

Sites hurt by Penguin and Panda have been targeted for scraping some time ago. It's easy for non-penalized sites to rank copied content from sites that are penalized. So instead of just link spamming, we now have a new and growing problem of content theft. Google is so concerned about links that they are trampling over the rights of those that do create quality content. If you are not getting link bombed by your competitors, they are scraping your content. It's completely out of control and Google's serps definitely show a lack of quality and their focus on penalties.


05/19/2013 09:08 pm

So ?


05/20/2013 06:27 am

I have more than 10 sites and buy links from and They are slapped 2 days ago from serp!

Crack Marketing

05/20/2013 08:10 am

Yes, even me is not into link buying but my site is dropping also. Everyone else is affected by this.

Justin Clark

05/20/2013 10:58 am

Well said Ginsberg, I agree with you.

Justin Clark

05/20/2013 11:03 am

If you bought back-links from any website and Google found them. you should drop that website yourself because Google will not show the mercy with you.

Ameet Christian

05/20/2013 11:09 am

On 15th may I got excellent ranking update...NO Dropped ranking. For so many campaigns I noticed that and it is still stable. Cheers!


05/20/2013 03:20 pm

The best way to control the quality of your links is to research which will benefit your client and manually put them in there or manage them. Buying random links and things like Yext are just going to increase your chances of getting hit from something like this because you can't control what's going on.

Tyler Elliot Scurti

05/20/2013 03:21 pm

If your looking for a quick fix in buying links the problem is only going to get worse for you and your sites.

Tyler Elliot Scurti

05/20/2013 03:22 pm

unless they're a great paid listing/ directory


05/20/2013 04:38 pm

I love this statement sequel :D


05/20/2013 05:07 pm

I tested it and code is recognized by Google easily. i also use and have been using them for more than a year now and none of my sites have been slaped. The rule is that you should mix types of links.


05/20/2013 05:09 pm

If it was true you could get rid of your competition this way :)

Tyler Elliot Scurti

05/21/2013 02:56 pm

haha forgot to leave that important piece of info out. But as you probably know... just because you pay for it doesn't mean it's good and if you want quality then you should be the one adding to each - paying a site to add you to other places can just cause problems you might have to clean up late is all i was saying.


05/22/2013 07:37 am

i agree what you say,so if is true,it is also a problem


05/22/2013 07:53 am


Seppo Puusa

05/22/2013 11:21 am

Exactly! This is perhaps the biggest problem with Penguin. One of my big sites got hit in the original update. For the past year I've been building another authority site, putting in a full year of solid work. But I've been many times thinking I'm massively STUPID for doing that. Because who is to say that G won't kill that site, even if I don't do anything against their guidelines. It would be far smarter for me to build small affiliate sites and just spam them to the top of G. It still works. And if one site gets whacked, no problem, I can replace it in a few days. At one or two sites per week, I would already have close to 100 sites. Instead, I've been putting my time and effort into building an authority site that's actually useful for visitors. Very stupid of me in the current environment. THIS is the real effect of Penguin update!


05/22/2013 01:27 pm

The only sure way to avoid having this issue is to not use "black hat" SEO tactics. I consider black hat SEO to be: -Using low quality link building techniques such as link exchanges - Relying on tricks to deceive the visitor into clicking onto the website - Deviating from search engine best practices, risking drops in ranking s and potential bans To avoid this focus on: - Building links naturally - Promoting clients’ website using educational means such as informational / how- to articles - Eliminating the risk of penalties levied by the search engines for attempting to trick the viewers - Creating long term results with good return on investment


05/22/2013 02:06 pm

The only sure way to avoid having this issue is to not use "black hat" SEO tactics. I consider black hat SEO to be: -Using low quality link building techniques such as link exchanges - Relying on tricks to deceive the visitor into clicking onto the website - Deviating from search engine best practices, risking drops in ranking s and potential bans To avoid this focus on: - Building links naturally - Promoting clients’ website using educational means such as informational / how- to articles - Eliminating the risk of penalties levied by the search engines for attempting to trick the viewers - Creating long term results with good return on investment


06/01/2013 07:48 am

This is what I've been looking for. Thank you!


09/18/2013 04:43 am

This incident has caused much concern for users, Google is improving the situation,

Spook SEO

01/25/2014 04:45 pm

This is why I called link building is now becoming more and more difficult. Google updates your bad links and drop the rank of your site. So the only way to avoid this problem is you have to read the new terms and condition of Google.

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