iAcquire Banned From Google After Link Buying Allegations

The search marketing agency, iAcquire, that was allegedly responsible for buying links for clients was just banned from Google’s search results.

iAcquire was cited as the agency behind Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corporation’s link buy request emails. For more on that see our story named What Can We Learn From The Latest Brand To Be Called Out For Paid Links?

A site command search for [site:www.iacquire.com] returns no results. Here is a screen shot:

iAcquire’s robots.txt file and source code has no signs of them manually requesting to be deindexed from Google. So this seems to either be a weird bug or an intentional penalty delivered to the agency by Google.

It also appears that the parties discovered in this investigation are all delisted from Google.

We reached out to Google for a comment but at the time of publishing this story, we have not heard back. If and when Google does reply, we will update the story.

Mike King, the Director of Inbound Marketing at iAcquire, responded to a tweet I sent him asking if Google delisted iAcquire. He said, iAcquire “sure was” delisted by Google. He then went on to explain that there was “no network” for Google to ban so they had a “hissy fit” and decided to ban the agency.

Here is his tweet:

I am not aware of another agency that was banned by Google for this practice. There were link networks and link brokers that have been banned but I don’t believe there was ever an agency that was banned for this practice.

We will update the story when we learn more.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan (May 25, 4:15pm ET)

As noted in the comments below, this is probably not the first time an agency has been banned because Google believes that it has bought or sold links — if that’s why iAcquire was indeed banned. We still don’t have an official word from Google on this, but it seems the most likely explanation.

However, it’s also likely the iAcquire was banned not for buying links but because Google believes it actually does control a paid link network or operates at least in significant part as a paid link company, despite iAcquire’s denials.

From my story yesterday, iAcquire said:

To be clear, we are not a link network. Every link we build is based on the very same principles touted throughout the industry. Our links are contextual and relevant through outreach performed by 40 actual in-house people that sit in our Arizona office and everything is pushed through strenuous quality assurance….

We are not a paid link company.

This leads to an important graphic from Josh Davis that connects iAcquire with companies that apparently are buying links (click to enlarge it):

The graphic, from Davis’s article here, explains why Davis believes the link request he originally received from a company called InternetReach.org is either owned by, controlled by or works in close association with iAcquire.

The companies in the graphic are mostly the same as the companies that DBBC listed in a letter it sent out yesterday to Google and DBBC’s SEO agencies, in hopes of getting the paid links removed.

InternetReach.org (where the original link request is said to have come from), MediaFinders.net and iOutReach.org all have the same San Francisco address listed on their contact pages, as does LinkBuilding.net (it’s LinkBuilder.net in the chart above, but that’s clearly a typo — Davis uses LinkBuilding.net in his story). MediaFinders.net and iOutReach both use virtually the same site template.

LinkBuilding.net has a Better Business Bureau logo on its site leading to a BBB listing for iAcquire, for its office in Arizona. That’s the connection between all four of the companies above to iAcquire. Certainly anyone might have added a BBB listing to iAcquire as some type of set-up, but this seems more farfetched than the idea that iAcquire has some assocition with LinkBuilding.net.

The story from Davis outlines other connections, such as things he was told when he called the number in the link request, that further seem to tie these companies back to iAcquire. By the way, InternetReach.org, LinkBuilding.net and DigitalPros.org all appear to have also been banned by Google.

In addition, there’s evidence that iAcquire acquired the paid link operations of Conductor, when it sold that operation last year, including three iAcquire employees having gone directly from Conductor to iAcquire, according to their LinkedIn profiles (see here, here and here).

I asked Joe Griffin, cofounder and partner with iAcquire, if the companies involved were part of iAcquire, subsidiaries or contractors and if iAcquire had purchased Conductor’s paid link service. I was told, similar to yesterday, that because of confidentiality reasons, iAcquire couldn’t comment on any of this.

As for an official comment on apparently being banned, Griffin emailed me:

iAcquire doesn’t take the position that Google is throwing a hissy fit. Mike mentioned that on Twitter to Barry, and perhaps he is right, but that’s not our position on the matter. Google has a job to do. This was a harsh lesson, but our position is to grow from this, make the required changes, get back in Google, and continue to offer world class WHITE hat services to our customers (financial compensation will not be considered in the outreach process).

We’ve also received an email from someone who said they were an iAcquire client and asked the company about the current situation. This is the email they say iAcquire sent back:

Thank you for the email.  Rest assured that we have always followed best practice and as we don’t have a network and our publishers and clients won’t be impacted.

Going forward we will be ending the ability to compensate for new links. That said, our non-compensated link services are VERY good. This is a good opportunity for us all to evolve our practices and a powerful lesson for our agency, your agency, our clients, your clients.

Our outreach technology continues to be the best in our industry and we have been working on all white-hat options aggressively for the past year. While I understand your concern we have been evolving and have been performing incredible work.

Let’s use this opportunity to serve the greater goals we all have. We know how to deliver amazing white hat off-page SEO solutions – this pushes us all to focus on the right things.  Feel free to contact me anytime if you have any questions.

I’m set to talk with Griffin further on Tuesday, after the long holiday weekend here in the US, and I expect he’ll have more to share on the situation then.

Postscript: See our follow-up article, iAcquire: We’re Abandoning Paid Links.

Postscript 2: See Google Lifts Ban On iAcquire; Company Blogs Of Being Reformed

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Link Building: Paid Links | SEM Industry: General | Top News

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • http://www.adjuice.co.uk/seo-company/ Ewan Kennedy

     Hi @SEObuilding:disqus

    I agree. The real victims are the clients.

  • http://www.linkworxseo.com Link Worx Seo

    A company I work for uses their services and gets paid for specific links and has been doing so for about a year now. In turn iAcquire pay’s us directly on a monthly basis. Although the links these other sites are relevant, they are still bought. As a few months ago I wrote about Why Buying Links are bad for Your Business. This article goes right along with Google’s policies. I figured it would not be to much longer before Google decided to crack down on some of these companies. There is another company as well that I wonder if Google will ban. Back Link Builder is another company you can buy links to achieve higher ranking’s. In the grand scheme of thing’s Google is really making sure no bad practices should be taking place. A lot of the time they even warn you before they make the changes or ban a site. It has been evident that Google is trying to clear up the black hat and spam.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    “Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.”

    That’s from Google’s guidelines. It doesn’t say you’re excused from a possible penalty just because you might buy the links from others.

    In addition, there’s some pretty strong evidence that iAcquire wasn’t just buying links for a client but is running a link brokering operation.

  • Durant Imboden

    Why all the hostility toward Google? Put the blame where it belongs: on companies that get paid to manipulate search engines’ results, and on the clients who hire such companies.

    What I don’t get is why Google doesn’t stop publishing PageRank numbers. If link buyers were forced to buy links blind, the value of purchased links would plummet–or, at the very least, buying PageRank would become far less efficient (and therefore less cost-effective).

  • Durant Imboden

    First, you’re equating advertising with the buying and selling of PageRank. That’s simply incorrect.

    Second, you ignore the fact that Google doesn’t object to links that don’t involve the buying and selling of PageRank (e.g., “nofollowed” text links or the kinds of links used by ad servers). 

    The reason for the iAquire penalty is simple: Google wants to protect the quality of its core product, Google Search.

    Look at it this way: Would YOU send free traffic to someone who was trying to corrupt your site and trick your users?  

  • http://twitter.com/Im_Andy_ Andy Lackie

    Matthew
    Why put a footer link on your client sites?  1. It is a form of advertising and therefore should be NoFollow.  2. You haven’t earned it through merit or great content, just designing a site.

    I have loads of sites, is it ok for me to just add my links to all those sites in an attempt to manipulate Googles search results?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QPDU4ZBPKVAHJAR4OVCGKY24XU Gary

    I guess Google’s corporate motto suggesting “do no evil” stands slightly
    amplified for SEO’s now …

    1. Generally, Do No Evil, but when you have
    no other way, declare your deeds with a “nofollow” attribute.
    2. Don’t fall
    prey to the link selling networks. I guess that was pretty shady for ever, as if
    Google’s powerful robots wouldn’t ever be able to see the entire linkgraph one
    day.
    Gary Lawrance from http://www.webstarttoday.com

  • http://www.actividadeseconomicas.org/ economicas

    come on google dont be evil…

  • http://www.danielhaim.com/ Daniel Haim

    Good example or a bad example? iAcquire was a cool agency but focus on making a good product and don’t manipulate search engines to give you love. It was always obvious that these things would eventually happen. Whale update incoming.

  • http://twitter.com/lordofseo Lord of SEO

    Goolge big joke, find another search or use more sources. FTC or EU will most likely bring corrupt Google down. Their ‘spam’ team are a big joke.

  • NoPaidLinksHereHonest

    “Put the blame where it belongs: on companies that get paid to manipulate search engines’ results…”
    What… all SEO companies?  

  • http://www.seopackages.net/ Harry Watson

    I think Google is preventing t

  • http://twitter.com/Im_Andy_ Andy Lackie

    http://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-wpmuorg-recovered-from-the-penguin-update
    Seems like footer links aren’t acceptable after all

  • http://twitter.com/ajmihalic AJ Mihalic

    All commerce is an exchange of value. Google makes links valuable, then says trading on that value is not allowed, and then doesn’t define trading. If you’re in a competitive market and Google is returning crap, is the suggestion to these businesses “just be patient” (and lose out on Google traffic until Google cares). I think it is to “help them” return reasonable results. The debate about “how” is superficial. How you rank is controlled by Google. Anyone who is bitching about tactics that work, should be complaining to Google, not anyone clever enough to take advantage of it. 
    It also is NOT within Google’s Guideline jurisdiction to penalize a site that isn’t violating those guidelines. Hopefully, they are penalizing iAcquire for some legitimate problem with iacquire.com. Sure, they can do whatever they want, but if so let’s be clear about why iAcquire has been de-indexed. Google controls a large marketplace (and profits heftily from it). If there is business ethics at play, ethically they have some responsibility to return good results, but not to punish people who also play in the world they created. They can choose to do so, and that may be the way they like to do it, but I don’t see how that makes it OK for someone else to tell Google to penalize some site based on their practices. Besides, who cares about linking practices. All that SHOULD matter is relevance, right? If it’s relevant (and quality), Google should rank it well. Why make more to the story than that? Spam should be irrelevant results, not results with “funny looking ‘link profiles’”. Link profile shouldn’t even be a meaningful word to Google. I don’t understand the self righteousness around complaining that someone is using signals that are Google’s own criteria for ranking in Google. If you call yourself an SEO isn’t this just laziness to not be figuring out what works (and doing it)?Is Matt Egan’s site about “San Antonio SEO” or is that title designed to get organic search query traffic? Seems like his site is only about one San Antonio SEO firm…his. Just saying….seems manipulative…I don’t know…I wonder if an SEO can take credit for “white hat cred”? Sounds like that is just following the guidelines, which pretty much any webmaster can do. Beyond making your site “crawlable”, “white hat SEO” doesn’t exist. Either you care about Google traffic or you don’t. You either publish like users matter and Google does what it pleases or you attempt to make Google find your site for relevant queries (SEO). 

  • http://www.adjuice.co.uk/seo-company/ Ewan Kennedy

    @AJ Mihalic. One vital distinction between link buying and some other practices you have mentioned e.g. optimising title tags is that the former contravenes Google’s rules and the latter is not only within the rules but actively recommended by Google. Poles apart. Google is entitled to set the rules governing the use of its own property and rules have to be enforced if they are to be effective.

  • http://www.itmasterservices.com/ Reno Computer Repair Services

    Wow this was an interesting read to say the least. I have to agree with others that the intent is the key! If you are gaming the system then you will pay!

  • http://www.itmasterservices.com/ Reno Computer Repair Services

    Nice!

  • Jas10

    As for paid links, Google has a two-tier policy:

    – severe penalty for some operators

    – no penalty at all for some other operators:

    Look at the only commercial site that has links in the institutional UNESCO world heritage site. It paid $1,5millions for  thousands high PR, permanent, do-follow links. No penalty at all.

  • Jas10

    As for paid links, google has a two-tier policy

    – severe penalty for some operators

    – no penalty for some other operators.

    Look at the only commercial site that has got do-follow links from the institutional UNESCO world heritage site. It paid $1,5 millions and got thousands high-PR, permanent, do-follow links.
    No penalty at all.

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