Why Was Russia Today Really Punished by Google?

Google Announcing a Punishment Based on Subjective Interpretations of Content Rare, Uncharacteristic

By: Peter Egan

** UPDATE: Google Denies Taking Manual Action (re-ranking) Russian Websites, Seeks to Diffuse Situation **

Regarding Google's recent announcement involving the de-ranking of Russian websites which have raised fears that Google is planning to censor the internet, I'm not sure this is an example of censorship. That said, I cannot say for certain one way or another, yet. I've closely watched everything Google has said and done involving search since 2005.

One thing they haven't done is made announcements like the one made about de-ranking Russia Today and given a stated reason that is truthful and forthcoming. Their search algorithm is the company's most valuable asset and they'll go to great lengths to protect it from anyone who isn't a Google employee on the Search Quality team.

Russia Today - Google

My suspicion is that Russia Today did something naughty that is against Google's webmaster guidelines, perhaps in an innovative way that most elite SEO professionals have yet to discover (or refrained from trying due to fear of punishment for use of blackhat techniques). Google isn't going to announce what they did if that is the case because they don't want smaller sites that are much harder to monitor to act as copycats, artificially inflating their search position until Google implements a permanent fix.

During the 13 years during which I've kept close tabs on that company and anything having to do with organic (unpaid) search rankings, this type of announcement (discredit Russia Today) is consistent with what they've done in the past to announce a manual action (punishment) against a big-name site (one people would notice if it disappeared from search) when they've had to crack the whip and punish a site's position. What they want to accomplish is twofold: 1) They want to make an example out of Russia Today, announce the actions taken and get out in front of the story (public relations 101); and 2) Do so without revealing the true reasoning behind the actions taken. The less Google has to reveal about how its algorithms work, the better in their view.

Personally, I am extremely hard-pressed to take this story at face value.

Black Hat SEO

I have not yet had a chance to evaluate what Russia Today or Sputnik were doing in terms of SEO, but I'd be willing to wager that the punishment has far more to do with that than it does with speech of any kind. If and when I get around to evaluating RT's backlink profile and check on a few other odds and ends, I'll update this post to reflect what if anything I've discovered.

The update atop the page would seem to confirm my suspicions. The Russian news outlets likely had a talk with Google, were informed that a particular practice (or multiple tactics) must cease or there will be manual action taken. Russia agrees to terms, disavows all shady links and everybody is happy again. In order to reach that resolution, Google could not publicly speak of their algorithm without providing information to people who would use it to seek to exploit the search giant's results.

Again, I reiterate that the stated reason given makes very little sense, and I've never known Google to take such actions for such reasons.

I would never recommend anyone use blackhat techniques in an effort to game Google. And for all I know, Russia Today wasn't. Maybe their promotional efforts involved nothing but white hat SEO. I do intend to find out though, and when I do I will be updating this blog with my findings.

Lastly, if anyone reading this wishes to learn more about SEO or speak with a white hat SEO expert who has proven himself to be very good at getting sites and pages to rank well without using shady tactics, I'd suggest contacting Dean Cacioppo - especially if you're looking to hire someone to optimize your site.

Peter Egan is a public relations, marketing and online marketing specialist for a healthcare agency in Louisiana. He is in his mid-30's, and has worked for the same Metairie, LA home health agency for a number of years. Peter has built over 300 websites since 2005 either for work or in his spare time. Peter is as qualified to speak on this topic as anyone he knows, with one or two possible exceptions.

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