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Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

Traffic Power Class Action – Spammed I am man…

 

For years we have been warning that unethical SEO techniques that violate Google’s SEO guidelines could result in a site being banned from the Google index. In the past week, Google made a fairly major ranking update that appears to have wiped clients of Traffic Power, from the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

A growing class action lawsuit is targeting what are being called unethical SEO practices used by Traffic Power. Many webmasters are familiar with a regular barrage of unsolicited Emails and phone calls from this firm and most wisely choose to ignore them. Some webmasters, unfortunately, did not ignore Traffic Power and contracted them to perform services on their websites. In the past weeks, clients of Traffic Power were almost universally banned from Google. While there is no way these businesses will make it back into the Google index without a significant amount of work on their websites, they may find some sense of solace in a growing class action lawsuit currently being developed by the San Francisco IT law firm, Girard Gibbs & De Bartolomeo, LLP.

Traffic Power (TP) is a fairly large company based in Las Vegas with a very bad reputation. Since the latest Google update, many of their former clients have posted information in a variety of search engine related forums detailing the techniques TP used to achieve placements for their sites. The postings read like a list of what NOT to do when considering SEO techniques. In the words of StepForth PPC and Link Building expert Scott Van Achte, “They (TP techniques) are so 90′s”. Getting a huge portion of your client list banned from Google takes a great deal of dedication to poor practices. Based on information provided by their former clients, here are a few of the methods used by TP and how to spot if these techniques are used on your website.

Doorway Pages

While Traffic Power uses the phrase “Attraction Pages”, the design of numerous pages on the same topic designed specifically to game search engines is a technique that was banned years ago. As recently as November, Traffic Power told clients they would, “…build 280 individual HTML attraction pages that attract the search engines for your targeted keywords. The attraction pages are designed using a computer-generated analysis to conform to the ranking criteria of the top search engines. These pages provide spider food for the search engine spiders that includes significant unique content relating to your site.” This technique directly violates Google’s SEO guidelines. Here is Google’s take on Doorway Pages: “Another illicit practice is to place “doorway” pages loaded with keywords on the client’s site somewhere. The SEO promises this will make the page more relevant for more queries. This is inherently false since individual pages are rarely relevant for a wide range of keywords. More insidious however, is that these doorway pages often contain hidden links to the SEO’s other clients as well. Such doorway pages drain away the link popularity of a site and route it to the SEO and its other clients, which may include sites with unsavory or illegal content.”

As of today, Traffic Power’s website refers to Search Engine Entrance Pages (SEE Pages). Here is a quote snipped from their FAQ page:

“A search engine entrance (SEE) page is a one page version of content taken from your site that is housed at a new Web site address. To create a SEE page site we register a new domain based on your keywords and upload the SEE page, the Traffic-Power.com code, and over 100 unique Advertising Pages. If someone finds the SEE page directly or through an Advertising Page they will be automatically sent to your original site once they click on any link on the SEE page.” This is a spammy technique that violates Google’s SEO guidelines.

Automated Link Building – Link Farming

Link building is an important factor in Google ranking. Link Farming is an unethical means of providing links to your clients. Traffic Power does not refer to their technique as Link Farming but instead told clients they would be added to specifically themed “link pools”. Google’s SEO Guidelines and Webmaster Guidelines have at least two warnings about this sort of practice.

Mouse-Over Redirects

This technique is truly creative spam. Traffic Power designs a page that redirects to the client’s website when a mouse is drawn over any portion of that page. What this does is a cheap but relativity simple cousin to cloaking in that Google is fed one set of information but the live-site viewer is offered a different set of information when they move their mouse over the page that ranked well in Google’s SERP. From what I gather in the various forums, this is the trick that got a wide array of Traffic Power’s client base banned.

I am, or someone I know is, a Traffic Power Client – NOW WHAT?

First of all, take a deep breath. The sky may have fallen for a short period but your website is not necessarily damned to eternal Google purgatory. There are a number of resources you can turn to, depending on your web design skills, the amount of free time you have, and your confidence in your own abilities. The SEO Consultants Directory has taken a lead role in helping former Traffic Power clients cope with the situation they find themselves in. SEO Consultants has been retained by a consortium of business owners who are concerned about this issue. While remaining anonymous, the Consortium is obviously actively pursuing information about Traffic Power and has asked SEO Consultants to gather and publish information about this issue. They have published a series of pages with detailed suggestions on what former Traffic Power clients should do. I strongly suggest anyone who has had an association with Traffic Power to visit this series of pages.

What Does this Mean for Ethical SEO’s?

As with our cousins in other service based industries, the Search Engine Marketing sector has had to deal with cheats for years. The fact is, the services we sell can not be touched, smelt, eaten or easily understood by our clients. As a sector, we rely on a trusting relationship with our clients. Without the trust of webmasters and business owners, none of us would work in this fascinating business environment. An SEO who cheats or uses illegal practices as a common rule makes all of our lives more difficult. From a business perspective, cheaters place us all in perceptual peril. From a human perspective, no one with any sense of kindness likes to see other businesses suffer because they got scammed. There are REAL PEOPLE behind the website with REAL JOBS and REAL LIVES, many of whom have never read source-code. These real people have mortgages or rent to pay. They need to feed their children and pay for their educations. A business that has been banned by Google after previously enjoying strong placements will almost certainly suffer for the sudden lack of inclusion. Will any of those real people get laid off from their real jobs due to the techniques used on their sites by Traffic Power? This is a REAL ISSUE for the SEO and SEM communities.

We are in the unique position of seeing commonly used practices suddenly banned by the mediums we work with, however, a good SEO or SEM firm learns to adapt their techniques to meet the ever changing best practice guidelines. As a matter of fact, there is a specific search engine marketing forum dedicated to discussing and promoting best practices in our industry. Run by South Carolina based SEO Doug Heil, the Best Practices Search Engine Forums are among the most widely referred to sources of information and discussion in the ethical SEO sector. As with many other Search Engine related forums, there has been quite a bit of discussion about the Traffic Power issue. Here is a link to the liveliest discussion at the Best Practices Forum. I wrote to Doug Heil asking him his opinion on this issue. Here is what he had to say about “outing” SEO and SEM firms using unethical practices on client sites, “Naming spammers does two things; It ‘informs’ the general public as to ‘who’ might risk your website, and it informs the spamming SEO that they have a problem. “Many” times SEO’s have contacted me saying they made changes to their business model because of what was discussed in my forums, and have become a true “Best Practice SEO” who follows the guidelines of the search engines.” Doug is absolutely correct on this issue.

Here are links to other forums and discussions about this issue.

High Rankings Forums | SEO Chat | WebProWorld

Affilate Gurus | WebMaster World | Traffic Power Sucks

SEOs

This issue is going to spill over into the mainstream media sooner than later. When it does, it is likely our industry will be placed under an electronic microscope. There will be a number of stories about ethical and unethical SEO techniques and there will be a number of SEO and SEM firms who will likely feel the heat. At this time, it is probably a good idea for all of us to review our techniques and be ready to explain them (without giving away the farm of course) whenever clients or the media come calling.

Webmasters and Business Owners

The only real advice I can offer is to ask difficult questions before hiring an SEO firm. Take a few minutes to learn about the industry so you will be able to make an informed decision regarding the company you are going to bet your placements on. If you feel uncomfortable with the answers you are receiving from an SEO, be sure to copy everything down and check your notes with another SEO firm. Look to see if the SEO firm you are thinking about hiring has posted a statement of ethics on their website. Check with past clients to be sure that the company does stick to its ethics. Most importantly, shop around. The highest price does not necessarily guarantee the highest level of service. Similarly, the lowest fees don’t necessarily mean you’ll get scammed. In Latin the phrase is CAVEAT EMPTOR or “Let the Buyer Beware”. Don’t get caught unaware like clients of Traffic Power have.


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