This is not something I enjoy talking about especially as a prior SEO provider and current online business owner. Like most people, I’m embarrassed and ashamed of some of my past poor decisions but none were more grave for our company than this: Google’s algorithm update in 2012 called Penguin ran us over like a tank.
For a couple months in 2010, we regrettably participated in a link building program which we will simply reference as “The Emperor of Links” to avoid any possible lawsuit. Through their reporting, I noticed the links were mostly low quality and immediately quit the service. No damage had been done at that time because Google didn’t actually penalize low quality links, they just generally ignored them.
Google’s penality, Penguin, penalizes website for spammy links often associated with buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily to boost Google rankings
When Penguin hit in 2012, our rankings fell slowly then pretty much disappeared. This is a shame considering we were always top ranked with keywords like “cheap 11×17 poster printing” and many others (we still love our rankings on Bing and Yahoo).
This ordeal would eat our revenue by a depressing 50% during average drops. Sometimes traffic fell as much as 75%.
Why Did We Participate in Link Building?
Why did I bother hiring a firm to acquire links if we were already ranking well? The simple answer is this – I got greedy. At that time, we were growing like crazy and our competition was catching up with our business model and many copycats were popping up. Every week, I was finding new “cheap print companies” with the same product lineup, price structure and funny mascot. I let the stress get to me and made a rash and destructive decision.
The people at “Emperor of Links” put on a good show that we fell for. Tony, my business partner, met them face-to-face at a Ruby on Rails convention, and the company had very thorough videos online that seemed legitimate and whitehat. Even their back-end software and customer support was fairly impressive. The fact that bad links can hurt a domain still haunts me today since that pretty much gives a green light for “domain warfare.” Can other people add links pointing to my site in an effort to hurt our company?
Good Customer Service Saved Us
Through the next couple years, we decided that Printkeg.com was worth saving. Tony and I refused to give Google the power to rename our business and website address. In the past, we have put great emphasis on our customer service and quality, We have collected wonderful reviews on Yelp and Google+. We’ve stayed alive because we treat people well. We care about our products and that shows through all avenues of our marketing. Branding ourselves as a high quality (and not just cheap) service and finding a vertical has allowed us to stay alive, and we hope Google will one day send out an update that will forgive us.
How We Are Trying to Rectify This
We’ve completed the major fixes that Google requires for spammy links. We have asked web masters to remove our links numerous times, created a disavow link file for Google, moved our hosting and created an entirely new website. More importantly, we’ve remained dedicated to “organic” marketing, Google Adwords and social networks. We’ve tried most everything except for replacing our actual domain name, an attractive answer to a penalized website, but we decided our website was worth keeping since we’ve worked very hard to build a quality brand.
We are also creating better content on our blog, offering giveaways, guest blogging, improving our support section and watching common SEO issues with our main shopping website and subdomains. Our marketing person fixes issues related to duplicate content, missing tags, broken links and many other important SEO factors. Our main goal is to not give Google more reasons to dislike us.
More importantly, we are remaining focused on our business and brand and finding new ways to affordably advertise.
For now, we’ve moved our efforts to Facebook and other social media outlets while still managing Google Adwords.
In mid-2015, we are finally seeing dramatic improvements in traffic and new sales, but with less help from Google. Although we are also beginning to see small improvements in Google natural rankings, we hope to move our Adwords resources over to social marketing since we have seen tremendous results there.
Can you imagine running an online business and not counting on Google for new leads and sales? We’ve actually done quite well with a limited budget, and now that we are seeing ourselves ranked for long tail keywords again, things are starting to look up again.
What Have I Learned?
Don’t sweat it. Yes, it sucks being penalized by Google. But if I wasn’t so stressed about it in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this situation.
The great news is this: Facebook and other social networks can be wonderful ways to generate traffic and income. Obviously, we would love our website to be 100% forgiven by Google, but that may never happen. Thankfully, social marketing has provided us affordable ways to attract new customers.
I have learned that Google no longer rules the online advertising world. Making an excellent product and treating customers well is our priority – not Google rankings. In no way am I telling anyone to start ignoring Google, but know this: You must concentrate on following standard SEO practices (Use Moz or Raven for assistance) and providing excellent content, great prices, awesome customer support and an amazing product.
How Does It Feel To Be Penalized?
I cannot possibly convey my feelings of dread during the past couple years. The whole experience has undoubtedly been humbling. I made a huge error in judgement, and the company paid dearly for it. We continue to build our efforts to improve ourselves with Google, but at this point, we have to move on like any other company that deals with major obstacles. As always, our hard work and preseverance is paying off.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please feel free to email me at chris[at]printkeg[dot]com.