Come And Penalize! Chronicle Of A Challenge To Google

This post is about Advertising, News, SEO / 6 minutes

UPDATE/August 2015: This challenge is over, and has been for a few months. Matt Cutts is still on leave and nobody at Google decided to penalize my advertising community until it was online— because yes, unfortunately due to health issues and work committments, Sponsored Circle never took off as I hope it would and I lacked the time to make it grow. Sponsored Circle will not die, however— it is in the process to be incorporated with, so you will see new stuff here in the next months. 🙂 Thanks for following my SEO challenge until it lasted! I didn’t win a penalty, but I still won something else. More news about that soon.

Note: I think it goes without saying that I’m not bullying Matt or Google, just throwing a fun challenge. The purpose of all this is not to bash Google — I may be critical of Google’s way to handle things, but there’s no hatred involved — but to help webmasters dispel the paralizing fear of Google penalties and learn that a website has value (and earning potential) no matter what Google thinks about it. Enjoy the challenge… and smile! 🙂

On April 8th of 2014, after all the noise about MyBlogGuest getting penalized, I threw a challenge at Matt Cutts, asking him to come penalize my soon-to-be-launched advertising community Sponsored Circle.

Heh– Matt Cutts replied:

I was glad to find him so open about it. 😉

Just so you know, Sponsored Circle is a forum-based advertising community I created as an alternative to paid blogging and ad/sponsorship networks, where generally advertisers and publishers don’t communicate directly with each other, but they do business through the platform and the team behind it.

I know there are services that allow for direct communication out there, like BlogDash and Sverve, but these platforms are still strongly Google-oriented: they website ranking and market value on the way Google ‘judges’ websites for their index.

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Sponsored Circle is different. There’s absolutely no enforcement of nofollow tags on links and there’s no push to keep content original (note: ‘not original’ doesn’t equal plagiarized!) — advertisers and bloggers are allowed to make the sponsored content freely redistributable!

My volunteers and I will also NOT allow PageRank-based campaigns and campaigns based on external metrics in the broadest sense. So if you want to make a campaign directed at bloggers who have the lowest Alexa Rank, for example, you can’t do that on Sponsored Circle.

More about my project in the next months. For now… let the challenge begin!

April-September 2014

No relevant updates. Been working on the upcoming website, got my volunteers to help in certain areas and I prepared marketing materials.

Matt Cutts has gone on an extended leave, so he won’t be back until October. Let’s see what happens— will somebody else at Google take the challenge in his place? I hope so. 🙂

September 7th, 2014

Added Sponsored Circle to Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. I unchecked all the “shared data with Google” and experts in GA and I activated _anonymizeIP in Yoast Google Analytics to help protect my users.

I also created a Google+ Page for my community at +SponsoredcircleCom.

Sponsored Circle launches in October, so there’s plenty of time to get it ready for the public. Let’s see if Matt Cutts — or another Google engineer, since Matt is on vacation — is going to penalize my community as soon as it goes live.

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October 2nd, 2014

Sponsored Circle is just a few hours from going live! Well, there might be a few delays because the other members of the team are not around at this time, but the website will still launch in less than 24 hours.

I sent Matt a reminder:

October 5th, 2014

To date, Matt Cutts hasn’t replied to my reminder yet and there hasn’t been any manual action on my advertising community. (I can’t see anything weird that may suggest an algorithmic penalty either.)

No rush on Matt, of course, but if I see no feedback by Oct. 31st 17th (sorry, but the last week of October might be too hectic for me to follow this properly), I will use other methods to ‘tickle’ Google’s Webspam team.

And so I ‘tickled’ Google: October 17th, 2014

Sending out spam reports is pretty nice– even fun, I dare to say.

Of course, it can be a sheer pleasure when it’s your own websites to ‘risk’ a self-induced penalty for challenge purposes, but I invite you to think twice when you report a business website– if you see anything spammy and that site relies on Google for traffic, my advice is to get in touch with the site owner and explain the situation instead of reporting them to Google. That is what we all would do if there was no Google and no spam reports, after all.

But on with the challenge. 😉

Below is a screenshot of my spam report for Sponsored Circle:


Ahah! 😀 And of course—reported


Well, thank YOU, Google! Let the fun continue. 😉

February 5th, 2015

Nearly four months later, still no manual nor algorithmic penalty.


All I can guess is that Google is probably not interested in helping me with this challenge (surprised? Nope!). Matt Cutts perhaps was, but he’s still on leave and I don’t want to ruin his sacrosanct vacation, so I tried to ‘tickle’ Google a little more strongly now.


Click to enlarge the screenshot

I stuffed keywords (a copy-paste from the list Webmaster Tools gave me, really) and spammy links in my footer, under a paragraph style with display:none. The ‘spammy links’ point to two blogs of mine that Google already penalized for unnatural links; namely, Flying Toy in the Sky</em and “Robocity World”. But to make it a bit more enjoyable for this project, I used spammy anchor texts too: ‘best sweet pastries austin’ for the first site and ‘cheap payday loans’ to link the second. (XD)

Then, of course, I submitted a spam report — adding a ‘low priority’ comment as someone suggested on Google’s Product Forums:

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Now all I have to do is… wait. 🙂 Perhaps I could add a few more penalty triggers, like spammy (but nice) reciprocal links or auto-generated gibberish to place somewhere on the site under another display:none paragraph. Nothing that will disturb users — the penalty I’m after is symbolic, not evil.

“Do no evil”, indeed.

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

Added some fun through a spoof subdomain I created just for the project. 😛 Big kudos to the Gibberish Generator for a great job done! Plus some spammy links, of course.

I also asked a few people to help with the reports, but I may have already gotten some legit reports. Who knows?

(Ah yeah, I also joined a low quality link directory with link exchange and I created a dummy blog for spam. You know, for some really cool crappy backlinks. *grins*)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Added a few more anti-guidelines techniques. Got some help from the clever Hyperboria community (love you guys!).

Note: Challenge is officially over.

Originally posted on: Written on April 19, 2014, Saturday

Luana Spinetti is a B2B blogger and artist for hire based in Italy. She has been in business since 2009. When she's not busy writing or drawing for herself or her clients, you may find her reading a Sci-Fi book or scientific articles on robotics and Computer Science. Get in touch with Luana on Twitter (@LuanaSpinetti), Instagram (@luanaspinetti) or Goodreads.

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