One of the experts at Google, John Mueller, regularly hosts an “office hour” session on YouTube, where he fields questions from search engine optimization (SEO) professionals and other people who run a website. Some of the things that Mueller says during these relatively informal sessions, though, can seem to tip Google’s hand and reveal important information about new developments at the search engine.
Most recently, Mueller ventured into the world of negative SEO – something that Google rarely does, seemingly preferring to act like it doesn’t exist – and seemed to suggest that the oldest attack SEO method in the books, the backlink blitz, had been solved.
Google Expert Says Not to Worry About Spurious Backlinks
The particular office hour session was held on November 29 and posted to YouTube last Friday, on December 6:
In it, John Mueller fields a question from a concerned website owner who had been the target of a backlink blitz – hundreds of pornography sites had linked to his site (which he says has nothing to do with adult content) and his rankings had dropped precipitously. The site owner wanted to know how to deal with all of these unwanted links, save his site’s reputation, and gets his ranking back.
Everyone watching the video at this point was probably rolling their eyes: It was common knowledge to disavow the links. But Mueller gave the backlink issue the back of his hand and pointed to a different website problem (it was on an expired domain) that he said was far more likely to be causing his ranking problem:
These kinds of links from spammy sites are really common. I wouldn’t necessarily worry about that.
Has Google Solved the Backlink Blitz?
A huge part of Google’s business has been to keep ahead of online marketers who are trying to game the system and break Google’s algorithms in ways that promote their clients’ websites.
In recent years, one of those methods had been negative SEO – the practice of tanking a competitor’s website and indirectly moving up in the rankings as they drop from their spot. A popular negative SEO move has been the backlink blitz: Spreading dozens or even hundreds of links to a competitor’s site from places on the internet that Google looks upon with suspicion, like sites that host adult content or nothing but links. The idea is to trigger a penalty that hurts the competitor’s site.
Based on what little information we have about this particular website owner in Mueller’s office hour session, that seems to have been what happened to his site.
That Mueller disregarded the link scheme as the source of the site’s problems, though, insinuates that Google has accounted for fraudulent backlinks in its algorithms. We know that Google is aware of the practice of buying backlinks to promote a site – they caught J.C. Penney doing it way back in 2011. We also know that Google has tinkered with its Penguin algorithm to block the backlink blitz in 2016. However, we also know that Google continues to maintain its link disavowal tool, which is generally only used by victims of fraudulent link schemes.
It raises an important question: Did Mueller just let it slip that Google thought it had beaten the backlink blitz? Or was he just talking off the cuff in an informal Q&A?
The signs aren’t clear, just yet. But we’ll probably be returning to this issue in the near future.