Google: You Stopped Ranking For Maternity Jeans Because You Spammed Us

Jan 17, 2014 • 8:30 am | comments (38) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google PenaltyGoogle is really stepping up their transparency about sites spamming them.

A Google Webmaster Help thread has a site owner upset his site no longer ranks for [maternity jeans] in Google.

Google's John Mueller came in and responded that the reason is they have been link spamming the site to try to rank for that term. John even added there is someone out there leaving blog spam on sites pointing keyword rich links to your site.

John said, there is "blog comments left by someone called "Maternity Jeans."

Here is John's full response:

It looks like your SEO (or previous SEO) may have tried to promote your site in a way that's in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, I see a lot of unnatural links in low-quality articles as well as blog comments left by someone called "Maternity Jeans." Stopping these practices, cleaning up unnatural links like these, and using the disavow links tool in cases where you can't clean them up, would be a good step in the right direction. Over time (and this process can take months), as our algorithms recrawl the affected URLs, reprocess the links found on the web, and update their data, they'll be able to take the new state into account.

So now the site owner goes through the link removal/disavow process.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

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01/17/2014 01:59 pm

John Mueller simply "assumes" that it is the site owner spamming links. Then we have SEO people like Cygnus SEO tweeting that "it's now a risk to not engage in neg SEO against all comp." Basically the signals that Google uses to determine value are undermined by not only webmasters who are promoting their own websites, but those who are trying to climb up the ranking ladder by knocking others down. Therefore Google can only trust manually reviewed/whitelisted websites with any degree of accuracy. This may explain why places like Amazon, eBay, etc. will have 4 or five listings in a row on the first page of the search results.


01/17/2014 02:09 pm

I like how you are assuming he is assuming and doesn't actually know that is the case....


01/17/2014 02:33 pm

How would he be able to verify? They've gotten better but Google isn't looking over everyone's shoulder to verify who is doing what...

Shell Robshaw-Bryan

01/17/2014 03:06 pm

I agree. A competitor could easily be employing malicious tactics as a way of getting competitor websites blacklisted. The system is much too easy for unethical people to abuse!


01/17/2014 03:21 pm

One has to ask: did they originally rank for "maternity jeans" because of the spam links, and finally enough of them were created to trip the flag and discount them all? If so, is that really negative SEO? I would say it's not. Or did the algorithm just get better at detecting spam links and finally catch their spam links this iteration (the panda/penguin algorithms are constantly learning and getting better so this is not a suprise) Catching spam that was previously uncaught is not negative SEO. We don't have enough details here to make that determination.


01/17/2014 03:32 pm

Steven, John Mueller is assuming himself when he himself says "It looks like your SEO (or previous SEO) may have tried to promote your site in a way that's in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines." It's pretty obvious John Mueller does not know who built the links, yet assigns the responsibility for those links on the site owner. Regardless, how long has Penguin been around smacking people for bad links? How long has Google been applying manual actions against websites for links? Are we to believe the majority of people out there are too stupid to not know how links can damage websites? Between all the SEO blog coverage, Google themselves and other sources, I'd say the majority of webmasters fully understand Google's policy regarding links. How some of these webmasters use links to further their goals has changed and to think otherwise would be foolish. A good post that highlights some of the craziness surrounding links, penalties and disavow requests is at


01/17/2014 04:12 pm

if they want to "stepping up their transparency" - let add ALL types of penalties (including HIDDEN manual and automatic penalties) into google webmaster tools.


01/17/2014 04:13 pm

no, it just a google experiments on live sites & humans.

Josh Zehtabchi

01/17/2014 04:13 pm

Why didn't RapGenius get the same smug response?

Michael Martinez

01/17/2014 05:30 pm

"It's pretty obvious John Mueller does not know who built the links, yet assigns the responsibility for those links on the site owner." You quote John suggesting who built the links (an SEO provider) and then change the story. That's dirty pool. John may very well know who built the links. "Are we to believe the majority of people out there are too stupid to not know how links can damage websites?" The majority of Website creators have no idea that SEO exists or that search engines use links in their algorithms. Most people do not read SEO blogs or Google blogs, etc.

Michael Martinez

01/17/2014 05:32 pm

"How would he be able to verify? They've gotten better but Google isn't looking over everyone's shoulder to verify who is doing what..." You would be surprised (perhaps terrified) by how much Bing and Google can know about who is linking on behalf of whom (for many Websites). People don't stop to think about how many dots are available for Bing and Google to connect.


01/17/2014 05:51 pm

"as our algorithms recrawl the affected URLs, reprocess the links found on the web, and update their data, they'll be able to take the new state into account." It almost seems as if he's saying that a Penguin recovery may occur before the next Penguin update. Or not.


01/17/2014 06:01 pm

it why negative seo is born and why google not care about it. because if they will care about negative seo - they will understand what all their current actions is very wrong.


01/17/2014 06:19 pm

Is this an assumption or do you have facts to back up this statement? I cannot think of any way Google can know who placed bad links. But I would like to be enlightened ...


01/17/2014 07:23 pm

It's always been my understanding that once you submit a list of disavowed URLs, it is pulled in by the indexer. That is, when Google crawls a URL and goes to store that link in their network, they then check it against disavowed URLs. This happens at the time the crawler goes to store the link, NOT at the time you submit the list nor at the time of the next penguin update.

Nick Ker

01/17/2014 07:30 pm

I would also add that a look around the comments on this site, and in various forums would indicate that, yes, there are quite a few people out there who may not be stupid, but they clearly don't have a grasp on what is acceptable promotion as per Google's Webmaster Guidelines. There is a large number of people who still believe that things like keyword anchored links in blog comments, article marketing sites, junk directories and other nonsense were once (or still are) something that was advised by Google. Those things were never recommended, but for whatever reason, there are still many people who have no clue that spam does not help.

Nick Ker

01/17/2014 07:37 pm

It just isn't as easy as that. If it is, why are there not dozens or hundreds of verifiable stories of that happening? There have been plenty of attempts, including several on my own site, but building "bad" links to someone else's site doesn't work very well if at all - unless the target site already has issues that are ripe for a penalty or links that should be devalued.

Michael Martinez

01/17/2014 07:50 pm

"... I cannot think of any way Google can know who placed bad links. But I would like to be enlightened ..." I am sure you would. :)


01/17/2014 08:23 pm

I'd be really pleased to discover that your understanding is closer to the truth than others who feel that you're stuck until the next Penguin rollover. I've pretty much avoided dealing with penalized sites at all, in favor of just starting over. Barry's survey seems to indicate that most Penguin recovery efforts are abysmally unrewarding.


01/17/2014 08:28 pm

Perhaps not. If you had a very high volume of spam on a bunch of low quality sites, it might be the case that a new penguin update will occur before Google re-crawls all those sites.


01/17/2014 09:44 pm

Correct sir! Many, many black hat SEO companies out there scamming people for terrible services they provide.


01/17/2014 10:11 pm

That´s probably most sites. If they are not already cleaning up they are likely to be on the edge of drawing a penalty. Show me a website that is in a competitive niche that has a clean and sparkly back-link profile. I doubt you will find any. I have never seen one. They all have spammy backlinks but the difference is the ones ranking also have some decent ones that seem to keep them the right side of the algos. However, push a bunch of crap at these and they could tilt ... sound feasible?


01/18/2014 05:25 am

When you're friends with people from Google, you get the proper treatment.

Brij Dixit

01/18/2014 07:56 am

To submitting the links in disavow tool whether submitted only link or domains, just seems totally time waste as i done. I have submitted a lot of particular links and Domain to disavow for low quality links and i m still getting all that kind of links in our webmaster inbound link tool. if someone have idea kindly suggest me that when Google will ignore our disavowed links from it's database.

Durant Imboden

01/18/2014 03:42 pm

Maybe because they didn't ask for an explanation on the Google Webmaster Help forums?

Nick Ker

01/18/2014 03:43 pm

If you can't find an example of a site with no (or very few) spammy links, you aren't looking in the right places. But let's pretend that you are right that all sites have some spammy backlinks. Why, then, are we not seeing hundreds of stories of sites with a "normal" amount of spammy links being negative SEOd out of the SERPs? Sure, you see a lot of people saying "I never did anything wrong. It's negative SEO!" - but if/when they actually reveal what the domain is, it becomes obvious that they did indeed have hundreds or thousands of garbage links built long before any "attack" happened. Your idea sounds feasible only if you forget that google has a lot of resources and a lot of very smart people. The algorithms are pretty smart, too. The situation you describe, pushing a bunch of crappy links at site with some questionable links but mostly decent ones, has been tested thoroughly as described here: The attacks which started over a year ago are still going on - and still not having any noticeable negative effect on rankings or traffic. Is it possible that a relatively clean site could be knocked down this way under certain conditions? Sure, few things are completely impossible. Is it "easy" enough that it can be done with just a visit to Fiverr? No, it doesn't look like it is as easy as the doomsayers would like us to believe. The lack of verifiable "victims" makes me think it is actually just as difficult as Google says it is. What is puzzling to me is the number of people who believe it is a widespread epidemic without good reason to believe that. I think some just can't admit they goofed up, and go looking for something else to blame. Others know they goofed up and need to cover their ass, so they perpetuate the misinformation. That makes it a heck of a lot easier for crap-hat SEOs to blame negative SEO when their clients' sites get in trouble.


01/18/2014 05:13 pm

Maybe I am not looking in the right place. Show me some. Competetive niche, with a nice clean backlink profile.


01/19/2014 02:24 pm

I see it is a little too tough for you too then Nick. I did not think you would be able to show an example because there is not one on the whole net.

Jonathan Jones

01/19/2014 11:20 pm

From the looks of that discussion it seems like they knew they had built poor links to their site as their original domain (the .com) is redirecting to the domain. It seems most of their "bad links" are on the .com domain.

Subhash Prajapati

01/20/2014 04:13 pm

Brij lot of webmasters submitted the disavow file. But no body get responded from Google. There no real idea how much time it will take to recover the website or Google remove the low quality links which is submitted in the disavow file.

Nick Ker

01/20/2014 04:54 pm

I didn't reply to your previous non-sequiter since you clearly don't want to discuss facts. Showing you something that you are unwilling to look into for yourself, and is not relevant to the conversation, is not a high priority on my to-do list. It is hard to care about your opinion when you are unwilling to acknowledge facts already presented to you, and refuse to provide anything to back up your claim that crap links could be pointed at a site with a small to moderate amount of spammy links which would cause the site to be penalized. Just one or two real examples of that theory working on a site that doesn't have an above average amount of self-inflicted bad SEO would be enough to make you seem almost like a serious person. But just to humor you, here's one in a pretty competitive local SEO market that has very few links at all, and ranks pretty well for some things: I said in my last comment to you that we can, for the sake of argument, assume that you are correct that nearly every site has some spammy links. I even showed you a fine example of your theory being tested & failing, and you ignored that too. Clearly you want to believe what you believe and there is little anyone can do to change your beliefs. You also ignored the fact that your theory would mean that there would be hundreds or even thousands of examples of relatively innocent sites that are victims of negative SEO. There are not. There are, however plenty of sensational headlines and complaints - none of which ring true when you dig into the details. Where are the examples of this alleged epidemic of innocent sites being penalized?


01/20/2014 05:06 pm

Why does that matter? Your negative SEO theory doesn't work on sites that DO have some spam. Why do you think would it work on one that doesn't?

Ashish Ahuja

01/20/2014 07:47 pm

the title of the post should be "How to do negative seo by John Mueller"

Ashish Ahuja

01/20/2014 07:56 pm

I agree and disagree. If a website is super authority then its difficult to take it down by negative seo but the lower the authority the more easy it is and mostly the lower authority sites are mom and pop sites which are not able to create huge noise when their site go down with negative seo. Many of them don't have webmaster tools installed. The no of verifiable stories are less because most people are not doing negative seo correctly (I am not a supporter of negative seo, nor do I do negative seo) and I am not going to tell the right way publicly. The other problem with negative seo is proof, just like google cannot prove that a website owner has created bad links, similarly, owner cannot prove that the bad links are a reason of negative seo.

Julie Waters

01/21/2014 10:04 am

Submitting links to the Disavow Tool is a waste of time. Most people use it when they receive a penalty, ignoring the fact the tool does not work if you have a penalty. When you have a penalty, you should try and get the links removed in order for Google to see that you have made the effort to clean up your backlink profile. The best way to do this is to get a link audit. It is a good way to determine the harmful links, so you know exactly which links need removing.

Nick Ker

01/21/2014 02:54 pm

Yes, it is hard to prove a negative, like "The 300 links AFTER October 2013 are the problem, not the 10000 that came before". It is also hard for people to be taken seriously when they have been spamming for a long time, and suddenly want to blame a relatively minor spike in links that are probably ignored. You almost hit the target when you said "most people are not doing negative SEO correctly". For NSEO to work, someone would have to put almost as much effort into bringing a site down as it takes to bring one up. This is why negative SEO is not the epidemic that many claim, and most webmasters have nothing to worry about unless they have already been breaking some of the rules. Negative SEO only seems to work against sites that already deserve some kind of penalty or devaluation for something Google didn't notice previously. Think of it like law enforcement. A guy who has been selling marijuana is framed by his competitors so that it looks like he also sells cocaine. When the police investigate the cocaine, they find all that marijuana, which is still illegal most places in the US. Should he be let go because he wasn't selling cocaine?


01/22/2014 09:26 pm

Well, what he's doing, is he's very cleverly stating that there will be a repositioning of the affected site's rankings when the bad links are removed, but he's not actually promising that the previous rankings will return. It's a beautiful commitment to action without actually committing to anything substantial. You have to appreciate that level of PR speak - it's not natural, it's honed over time for public-facing members of technical teams, and it keeps them out of the PR fire when things don't work out as well as the complaining party was hoping they would.


01/22/2014 09:29 pm

From the article: "It looks like your SEO (or previous SEO) may have tried to promote your site in a way that's in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines." Doesn't look like JM is assuming it's the site owner at all. I also know from experience in this industry with clients in all fields that it's far more likely that sites are getting penalized due to links built in the past (that worked at the time) than that the sites are being targeted for negative SEO by other companies. Unfortunately for you, as the person making the more outlandish claim here, the burden of proving that it's negative SEO from competitors, lies on YOU.

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