There’s a really great and interesting interview with Matt Cutts, who heads Google’s web spam team, on the Stone Temple Consulting site. The whole thing is worth a read, but the discussion of infographics is particularly of note:

In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of an infographic. What concerns me is the types of things that people are doing with them. They get far off topic, or the fact checking is really poor. The infographic may be neat, but if the information it’s based on is simply wrong, then it’s misleading people.

The other thing that happens is that people don’t always realize what they are linking to when they reprint these infographics. Often the link goes to a completely unrelated site, and one that they don’t mean to endorse. Conceptually, what happens is they really buy into publishing the infographic, and agree to include the link, but they don’t actually care about what it links to. From our perspective this is not what a link is meant to be.

I’ve come across this more than once when poking at an infographic I was considering publishing here or for work I’m doing for clients – and found links to a casino site or similar in there. Needless to say. I didn’t publish them.

Cutts, in his polite, slightly circumlocutious way, gets around to pointing out that this is spammy, and the chances are Google will start doing something about it:

I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we did not start to discount these infographic-type links to a degree. The link is often embedded in the infographic in a way that people don’t realize, vs. a true endorsement of your site.

It must be a hard time to be what you might call an inorganic SEO person right now. Google has made dealing with the more calculated end of the backlinking game  a priority over the last 18 months, and there’s an edge of panic coming from certain quarters.

Begging a Backlink

Several reasonably high-profile bloggers I’ve chatted to recently have noted the same thing I have: a surge in e-mails offering a “guest post” from a “skilled writer” in exchange for a back link. No customisation of the e-mail, no suggested topic. Usually no hint of who the guest poster might be. Just a clear statement that they want to piggy-back on my blog’s authority for their client, with some generic content.

I don’t accept. The people I talk to don’t accept. Our blogs are our shopfronts – certainly it’s been the source of the majority of my current work – and putting my search ranking at risk for the sake of your back linking campaign? Not gonna happen. The Penguin update in particular included the idea of spotting inorganic, unnatural patterns of linking. It’s not much of stretch to see that these patterns of guest posting might quickly become something the algorithm gets a little sniffy about – and end up penalising both sides of the transaction.

Panda Panic

Bloggers and other publishers declining these offers seems to be common enough that some people are getting desperate. Josh at Talking Points Memo got an e-mail that has to be seen to be believed. He titled it, appropriately enough, Chutzpam – because it was asking TPM to remove links that had been places by… Well, see for yourself:

This request is being made because your domain and link has been identified as one that may be causing our site a penalty post Google Penguin update. The work of previous SEO agencies on our behalf has caused problems for us post Panda so I hope you can help us comply with Google guidelines.

Translation: we spammed you via an SEO agency, could you fix that for us now, as it’s starting to hurt us?

Payback is utterly delicious sometimes…

*• Ironically, given the above, I’m teaching an SEO for Journalists course in September. It’s a one-day, hands-on affair, that will give you all you need to know as a practicing content producer. And, believe you me, it’s all, solid, practical advice that falls squarely in the camp of White Hat SEO, ways of working that assist Google in understanding your content and in making it better for readers. *

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