Googles Head of Webspam, Matt Cutts, announced in January on Twitter that Google had penalised the French company Buzzea. This has caused quite a stir in the French online industry, so we’ve examined why the penalty was awarded and what the repercussions are for search engine marketing across The Channel.
Who is Buzzea and what did they do?
Buzzea is a French buzz marketing company based in Dublin, Ireland.
Google penalised them for selling links and articles to bloggers (mainly women’s lifestyle blogs and fashion magazines were affected), and calling them out for being a “link network”.
Google states in its guidelines: “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 Googles’ Webmaster Guidelines.
“Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a free product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.”
After the press release that Buzzea posted on its website, several bloggers saw their PageRank drop dramatically to zero.
Why you might ask?
Our Head of Multilingual Search Marketing, Edward Langley, sheds a little more light on what exactly happened with Buzzea and the bloggers working with them:
“Buzzea was paying people to write content for them and would link back to the writers site via a normal/do-follow link. Googles policy on links is very clear in rejecting those which involve any exchange of money AND links which pass on authority.
“By adding a no follow attribute to the tag of the links, Buzzea could have potentially avoided being de-indexed. If a link involves an exchange of money, but includes the no follow attribute, it can still be in line with Googles guidelines.”
A similar case occurred last year with the brand Interflora, who was penalised for being heavily involved in advertorials. You can read more about this case here
Unfortunately, Buzzea didnt caution the bloggers about the various warnings they had received from Google.
What can a blogger do and not do then?
There are situations where bloggers can work with brands and SEO agencies and not be penalised by Google.
An agency that practices white hat SEO will offer pertinent and relevant content to sites that could use this information. The aim of this is to enhance the user experience on the site, inform readers of interesting and relevant news, which is connected to a brand.
The site has the complete right not to write an article about it.
Brands engaging with bloggers and online publications is standard PR and marketing, and so nothing new. Google doesnt penalise against this kind of procedure. It is the manipulation of rankings through link schemes, rather than growing a brand online through ethical methods, which is the problem.
Will accepting a gift from a company or attending to a blogger event make me a Google outlaw?
No it will not. Lets be clear here; if a brand or a SEO agency sends you a gift or invites you to an event, you have the complete right not to write about it and the brand and the SEO agency cannot pressure you to do so.
If you decide to write about it, then its your choice and the ‘Do-follow’ links you will put in it will be ‘natural’.
People attending events and writing about their experiences, so that others, who couldnt attend the event, can still find out what it was about, and what was discussed is a normal and perfectly legit form of PR. It is not classed as a ‘link scheme’.
What does this mean for the French market?
At this point, French webmasters need only review their own practices to ensure that they are in line with Googles guidelines.
As long as you’re not linking out for money (i.e. hosting sponsored or worse: paid links), but you are writing about or linking out to relevant content and that your readership could benefit from is ok.
Those webmasters who have benefited from authority passed to their site via backlinks from Buzzea will no longer benefit from these links and could potentially see a dip in their authority.
As Buzzea has ceased its operations, these links will not need to be removed, but now is a good time to look at your backlink profile to determine if you have links coming from other sites which have monetised the hosting of content and which links back via do-follow links to your site.
What has changed?
Not much really. Googles guidelines have remained the same, and the only reason Buzzea has been penalised is due to being in contravention of these for a long time.
The actions by Google simply show that the search engine means business, and expect webmasters to adhere to Googles guidelines. It was also announced that there is a German link network, which will see the same treatment as Buzzea, but it is yet unclear as to who this may be.
If you have any thoughts or comments on Buzzea and the implications this has for the French market, please leave your comments below. We’re always interested in hearing others opinions and thoughts.