Matt Cutts of Google Penalizing Real Estate Websites - Part 1

By
Real Estate Agent with DWELL Real Estate

Executive summary of this post:

  • Google gives more weight to websites that have good inbound links
  • However, Google does not like link schemes designed to increase a site's ranking - reciprocal linking with hundreds of Realtors across the country
  • Matt Cutts heads up the Google web spam team and enforces the Google webmaster guidelines
  • Matt Cutts has mentioned in the past that he does not like the excessive reciprocal linking that Realtors engage in to pump up their results.
  • I have a website focusing on real estate in Sarasota, Florida
  • Advanced Access (AA) is a very large Realtor website provider
  • AA hired Greg Boser, webguerilla.com, to consult with AA customers about a Yahoo problem
  • Greg Boser instructed AA customers to delete state pages containing reciprocal links
  • In April 15th, 2007 Google penalized numerous AA websites.
  • Many of the penalized sites were the people who were most active in the real estate forums
  • There is speculation that Google is trying to spread the word about reciprocal linking in the real estate  community by penalizing the loudest Realtors.
  • Advanced Access sites come back after 35 days or so.
  • Greg Boser, webguerilla.com, started to become active in the Real Estate Webmasters forum on April 27th.
  • May 9th, 2007 Google penalizes numerous Real Estate Webmasters websites
  • Many speculate that Greg Boser had something to do with the penalties.
  • I own one of the REW sites penalized. I had deleted my state pages and reciprocal links around May 4th.  So I cleaned up my infractions prior to being penalized.
  • 45 days later and almost all of the Real Estate Webmaster sites are still penalized.
  • Numerous lessons learned

 

I have been debating the last half hour on whether I should even write this article/blog post. I have recently made a few comments over at Matt Cutts' blog about what Google has recently done and a few of my real estate peers thought it was a bit brave or stupid for being outspoken. I will take my chances and write about what is happening. Hopefully, someone can learn from this in the future. Will Google keep me in the penalty box longer? Hopefully not.

If you have any experience or background in SEO (search engine optimization) you know that Google likes website that have links pointing to it. A part of their search algorithm involves the popularity of the site determined by the number of other sites pointing to it via a link. With all else being equal Google will rank a website with quality links pointing to it higher than another website with no links. If you read Google's Webmaster Guidelines the very first bit of advice they give you is:

  • have other relevant sites link to yours.

Google loves links and they admit it. Webmasters figured this out and came up with all kinds of different techniques for getting links to their sites - link baiting, reciprocal links, ninja links, 3 way links, one way links, contextual links etc. The problem is a lot of the techniques are frowned upon by Google. They want you to get links the natural way and not to try to cheat the system. Their guidelines say:

  • Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?

In one breath Google tells you to get links to your site and then in the other breath tells you not to participate in any link scheme designed to increase your site's ranking. How do you know what a link scheme is? What is acceptable? What is not acceptable?  I guess you have to ask yourself "Does this help my users?" It definitely is not a black and white situation and has plenty for room for interpretation.

Google has a web spam team headed by Matt Cutts. Their job is to enforce these Google Webmaster Guidelines and crack down on link spam. When he talks people listen.  He frequently speaks at search engine conferences around the world.

I could not find it anywhere (didn't really look long) but heard that Matt Cutts in the past has mentioned that he does not like the reciprocal linking that Realtors engage in. Supposedly, he had mentioned this several times over the last few years but has not done anything about it.

Real estate agents trade links with other agents around the country and world with the argument that we refer business to each other so therefore it is a legitimate link exchange and not done for the sole purpose of pumping up our rankings. This may be true in some instances but for the most part it is bologna. I would venture to say that 95% of the agents who trade links do so to achieve higher rankings in the results. That was the only reason I did it.  What was the likelihood that a visitor to my Sarasota, Florida website was there to find an agent in Albuquerque, New Mexico? The only reason I ever traded a link with an agent outside Florida was to get to number 1 in Google.

In the beginning, when I knew absolutely nothing, I was told to trade links with anyone and everyone. I did that for awhile. Then someone told me to only trade with people in the real estate industry. So, I changed it up and did that. The link exchanging worked. I wasn't number 1 but was on the first page for a couple key phrases.

Fast forward a little bit, I changed to a more search engine friendly website, traded links sporadically, added plenty of original content, included and updated a blog frequently. My overall goal was to become an authority site and build a valuable, useful website to people looking for anything real estate related in Sarasota, Florida. I simply wanted to make a website better than my competitors. Eventually, I became number 1 for the most sought after key phrases in my market and was on the first page for hundreds of phrases. I got there by having a better website than most. That is a great thing about the Google search engine.  It generally does the best job of providing relevant results.

It dawned on me that reciprocal linking with hundreds of agents around the country was pretty useless to my visitors so I stopped doing it about a year or so ago. I did a couple contextual link exchanges with other agents in Florida. I figured that would be useful to someone looking for real estate in Florida but was not sure in what part of the state to look.

I had stopped paying attention to what was going on in the SEO world for awhile as I get paid to service buyers and sellers of real estate, not updating my website. I continued to post in my blog but that was the extent of it. So, I was out of the loop for 6 months or so.

A shot across the bow from Google

Advanced Access is an enormous real estate website provider with around 30,000 Realtor websites. I am not up to speed on the details but apparently many or all of the Advanced Access users were penalized by Yahoo. Many of the AA users would trade links with each other and it was possibly viewed by Yahoo as one big incestuous link farm.

Advanced Access hired Greg Boser, a search engine guru, to solve their problems with Yahoo. His recommendation to AA users was to erase all state pages containing excessive reciprocal links. He viewed them as useless spam. Not all of the AA users took his advice. Many of the customers resisted because of the hundreds of man hours they put into accumulating all of the links. Others were probably ranking well and did not want to rock the boat.

In April of 2007 many high ranking Advanced Access websites were suddenly missing from the Google search results. Was it an algorithm change? Probably not since the AA website were the only ones affected. Ultimately, the consensus was that the AA websites were manually given a penalty by Google. Of course, no one was 100% sure because you can't call Google on the phone or email them to get a definitive answer. Why would Google focus on only one website provider? Why the largest provider of real estate websites? Were they penalized for excessive reciprocal links?  Probably. Evidently, Matt Cutts previously made warnings about it. Did the well connected internet guru, Greg Boser, have anything to do with the penalty?  I don't know. Some people believe that. He supposedly knows Matt Cutts.

In the Advanced Access forums one participant noticed that some AA websites were penalized while others were not. Almost all of the sites had state pages and excessive reciprocal links.  Why were some chosen and other spared? How did Google determine which websites to hit and why? The forum participant noticed that just about everyone who voiced their opinions, beliefs and thoughts in the forums were hit with the penalties while the site owners who were not active went penalty free. Did Google hand pick the loudest website owners?

In May, just over 30 days later, most of the AA sites had their penalties dropped and were found again in Google.

Real Estate Webmasters is another large and very visible real estate website provider. Many of their customer sites rank exceptionally well in Google. They also host a very active forum for webmasters. If someone (or Google) wanted to send a message through the real estate community this is a great place to do it. I found it interesting that Greg Boser, the well connected internet guru, became very active in the Real Estate Webmasters forum on April 27th. Just a few weeks prior to many of their websites getting hit with a penalty.

On May 9th, a number of high ranking Real Estate Webmaster websites were suddenly missing from the Google search results. Sites from all over country had been hit with a Google penalty. I own one of those sites and was probably penalized for state pages and reciprocal linking. The damn thing is that I deleted all of my state pages and links on the 4th of May. Google most likely pinpointed me as a violator before the 4th and it took until the 9th to employ the penalty.

It is interesting that Google would hit customers of another large and potentially loud real estate website provider with an active forum. Is Google trying to send a message to the real estate community about excessive reciprocal links? Maybe. Probably. Greg Boser became active in the forums a couple of weeks prior to the penalty. Did he have something to do with it?  I don't know. Possibly.

Here we are 44 days later and almost all of the Real Estate Webmasters sites are still penalized. We all have deleted our state pages, reciprocal links, removed the URL's through the Google webmaster tools and have asked forgiveness via a re-inclusion request.

Is Google waiting for us to spread the word throughout the Realtor community about the no-no's of reciprocal linking? I don't know. Is it fair that a small group of us were targeted while others continue to fill their websites with spammy reciprocal links? No, but life is not fair.

Rand Fishkind at http://www.seomoz.org/ recently interviewed Matt Cutts. You can watch the interview here. Watch the 2nd video and fast forward it to around the 5:30 mark. Matt acknowledges the Real Estate Webmaster thread discussing the recent penalties.  He also mentions "a shot across the bow" technique of policing.

Isn't everyone employed by Google a genius? Couldn't they have come up with a better system to policing the real estate industry other than hurting a few mom and pop Realtors?

Lessons Learned:

  • Don't try to game the Google search engine. They will eventually figure you out.
  • Don't trade links with hundreds of Realtors around the country. Build links only for the benefit of your users, not your search engine rankings.
  • Build a site with tons of unique content, provide lots of value to visitors and eventually links will come with time. I have received several one way links from the Sarasota Herald Tribune (my local newspaper) from articles they wrote about my website and blog. I imagine this is the way Google likes to see links built.
  • Google isn't perfect.
  • If you rely on Google search results to feed you and your family you better have some money stashed away in the event you get penalized. Fortunately, I did this.
  • If you do make money off the web keep at least one eye on what is happening in the search engine world to stay competitive.
  • I rank fairly well in MSN and really don't get that much traffic from it.
  • Ranking very well in Google will bring tons of traffic to your website.
  • Being penalized by Google sucks.

Marc Rasmussen

Sarasota Real Estate

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Show All Comments
Rainmaker
123,806
Brad Carroll
Dakno Marketing - Knightdale, NC
Real Estate Web Designer
I was helping out a client the other day that has an Advanced Access site. She didn't even know it but her website had links to online casinos, pharmacies, and more. I told her the only thing that could have been worse if she had dedicated directories to porn and Viagra! I now see why Google cracked down on them.
Jul 04, 2007 01:49 AM #34
Anonymous
Anonymous
Steve

The reason for the AA fall is that all of their websites have the exact same content on their tips.  I took my websites off of AA in March 2007 and moved them to Diverse Solutions.  I didn't remove my links or state pages and we continue to generate 400 new leads a month....I think that is silly.  Unique content makes the biggest difference.  I have a friend that is still linking and just broke through to number one in a very tough real estate market city.  Perhaps Matt Cutts should get a real estate license and wake up to reality.

Oct 10, 2007 09:06 PM #35
Anonymous
Anonymous
Anonymous
i don't even bother putting time into Yahoo or any of the other search engines.  Most everyone I know uses Google and I will not waste my time and money targeting other engines.  Thanks for the post!  I started setting up a page for hundreds of link exchanges, but found out about how Google was treating that, so thankfully I saved myself tons of time and bagged that idea.
Oct 17, 2007 07:22 PM #36
Rainer
37,723
Kay Frenzer-Zeeh
Buzz Marketing Pros - Chandler, AZ
Real Estate SEO

You may want to read my blog post Real Estate SEO - Tough But Not Impossible for some tips. One quote that may be helpful:

The first thing you need to do is get your own domain name and web site. The dynamic made-for-real-estate sites are terrific for all the back end goodies you get, but they are hard to rank because those dynamic pages are just that, dynamic, and also pretty much identical. You can have the best of both worlds by placing links on your new site to the back end pages on your dynamic site.

Oct 17, 2007 10:37 PM #37
Anonymous
Anonymous
Anonymous
Thanks for the post.  I've started looking into what Matt and Google are doing these days and it's already led me to do some changes with my webpage.
Oct 18, 2007 10:37 PM #38
Rainer
32,416
GA-agent.com Georgia Real Estate Directory
GA-agent.com - Canton, GA
Thanks for providing us with this incredibly valuable info backed by a compelling story.
Oct 22, 2007 08:32 PM #39
Rainmaker
346,955
Dan Brudnok
Keller Williams RE- Exton - PA License Number #RS225179L - Downingtown, PA
REALTOR,e-PRO,ABR,GREEN,SRES,CSP

Marc,

Go ahead and speak your mind....I for one am happy you have.  I need to see all sides of an issue, that is why I appreciate Active Rain so much.

Have a great day!

Oct 23, 2007 09:50 AM #40
Rainer
1,639
Amanda Wheel
Laguna Niguel, CA

I am writing to let you know about my horrible experience with Advanced Access. I purchased their template website and premium marketing package for $4399. After 10 months of waiting for results, I was disappointed to learn that I only had 30 unique visitors for the previous month. 30 visitors? That is a ridiculously low number.

I was told at the time I signed up for my Premium Marketing Package that the metatags and keywords would be customized for each of my webpages. This was never done. Instead, all of my webpages have the same metatags and keywords. So, for example, when you search in google for my website only one page shows up as having been indexed.

I was also told at the time I signed up for my Premium Marketing Package that I would receive a monthly analysis of my website with personalized suggestions as to how I could add to, or alter, the content of my website to increase my search engine rankings. Despite this promise, the first time I received an e-mail from AA with specific suggestions on how to improve my search engine rankings was 9 months after I signed up for the package. These suggestions were only provided to me after I called AA to find out what was going on with the search-engine optimization of my website. During this call, I was also told that the person who had been assigned to optimize my website was no longer with AA and that I would have to be assigned a new representative. Had I not called AA, I don’t know when you would have figured out that no one was working on the search-engine optimization for my website.

These are just some of the ways in which AA failed to live up to the promises that were made to me when I signed up for the Premium Marketing Package. More than 10 months after I signed up for the Premium Marketing Package with AA, my website still has not been optimized. As the statistics for the last month show, I had 30 unique visitors to my website.

I sued AA in small claims court and obtained a judgment against them for all of the money I paid them. I have not received any of it yet because they are appealing the Judge’s decision. It is ridiculous that AA forced me into the position of having to sue them for their failure to optimize my website, and that they are still refusing to admit this failure by appealing the Judge’s decision.

I strongly encourage anyone who is considering hiring AA to optimize their website to do their homework. Knowing what I know now, I would never choose to work with them again.

Very disappointed,
~Amanda

Dec 03, 2007 11:40 PM #41
Rainer
81,971
Rey Gallegos
W.J. Bradley Mortgage Capital LLC (NV License # 504) - Las Vegas, NV
FHA, VA, Home Loans Las Vegas, NV
This is a scary thing!  Especially if you don't have much knowledge of the inner workings of SEO and how to fix problems.
Dec 05, 2007 11:23 AM #42
Rainer
37,723
Kay Frenzer-Zeeh
Buzz Marketing Pros - Chandler, AZ
Real Estate SEO
What is really sad about this, Amanda, is you could have hired someone to build you a website on your own domain, with some basic SEO elements added, for about the same price. I'm not a fan of this type of website for the very reasons you discovered.
Dec 05, 2007 12:42 PM #43
Anonymous
Anonymous
Anonymous

Matt cutts has a great piece on his block in reference to real estate links and ranking. I am afraid that many realtors with Advance Access had their page rank wiped away

http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/text-links-and-pagerank/

Feb 02, 2008 01:09 PM #44
Rainmaker
18,634
Schlauch Uhlmann Platinum Properties
PureWest | Christie's International Real Estate - Bozeman, MT
Bozeman Luxury Real Estate

Great post, wish I had more time to read it all... will definately come back to this one. I also checked out the Advanced Access site. I am the assistant to Stuart and Sally and I worked for Advanced Access a couple of years back, in Yorba Linda, CA. I admit that they are extremely good at what they do, I was shocked to hear about the reprocussions from Google & Yahoo. I will also be checking back to their blogs and forums to find out more, mainly because we use reciprocal links too. We don't have that many really just under 100 or so. Perhaps I need to read more and link less?

 

Thanks again for the post!

Feb 14, 2008 02:56 PM #45
Rainer
18,471
Larry Yerkes
Harper Real Estate - Ridley Park, PA
Associate Broker, Southeastern PA Real Estate Services
Hi,
   
I don't know what any of your current status/interest is with Advanced Access, but for current information about Advanced Access, we've just started "AAUG - Advanced Access Users Group" which hopefully, as we get going, will bring members up to date and keep members informed about the company and it's products and services.
    
You're invited to join and contribute ideas, news, incite, experiences, tips, comments and suggestions if interested.
    
Larry

 

Feb 24, 2008 12:43 AM #46
Rainmaker
1,345,674
Vickie Nagy
Vickie Nagy, Broker Associate Realty ONE Group BMC Associates | BRE#01363932 - San Ramon, CA
Broker for San Ramon, Danville, Dublin, Pleasanton
I understand your hesitation in writing this blog. It's a bit of a sensitve issue, but I believe you handled it well (and fairly)
Feb 24, 2008 01:05 AM #47
Anonymous
Anonymous
Anonymous

Marc,

Sorry to hear you were penalized, but it was inevitable- Google only likes links that are built naturally and have relevancy to the content- it is why linkbait is essential. 

 The latest scheme floating out there is an email about 3 way linking where I link to you, you link to Tom, Tom links to Dick and Dick links back to Mary... still a reciprocal link scheme that Google will recognize.  

These are the reasons I hate blogrolls and link schemes... they are cheating and Google always catches cheaters. 

Feb 24, 2008 08:37 AM #48
Rainer
6,687
Mark Knowles
Niche Properties - Denver, CO

If you write good content that is relevant to the title and tags, you will naturally generate links back.

Buying links or creating ways to cheat the system does you no good in the end. Even if you come up with a 5 way linking system, google will see it and penalize it.

Allow your links to grow organically, and you will never get penalized.

Feb 24, 2008 10:20 AM #49
Rainmaker
237,438
Rick Belben
Belben Realty Group - Orlando, FL
Orlando Real Estate - Belben Realty Group

Marc

 Great post! I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about building a better website with original content and becoming an authority site in your area. That is what Google  is really looking for and the same for the customers doing the search.

 

Feb 24, 2008 10:43 AM #50
Rainmaker
819,445
Lyn Sims
RE/MAX Suburban - Schaumburg IL Real Estate - Northwest Suburbs of Chicago - Schaumburg, IL
Schaumburg Homes
Should be named Life lessons learned on SEO. Great post, alot of heart & content, advice for us all that might think about trying to "game" Google.
Feb 24, 2008 11:16 AM #51
Rainer
5,069
Randy Zlobec
Search Engine Marketing - Real Estate SEO - Myrtle Beach, SC
Internet Marketing Specialist

It was not because Matt Cutts doesn't like Real Estate Sites, it's because REW was involved with Paid Placement links. Google is cracking down on Paid Linking as it has been used to inflate page rank. Google likes to see natural links not paid..

Hope that helps 

Feb 26, 2008 01:07 PM #52
Rainer
32,532
Michael Fowler
Fowler Realty Quad Cities - Davenport, IA
Broker, Owner Fowler Realty
Great post.  Lots of information.  I learn more about how to increase my page ranking everyday without penalty.  Thank you - Mike
Mar 01, 2008 02:48 PM #53
Anonymous
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Rainmaker
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Marc Rasmussen

Sarasota Real Estate
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