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://twitter.com/regularsteven Steven Wright

    This sounds similar to a group called MoreDigital who approached me for a paid link on my site to one of their clients. I’ve got the email transcripts on my site (
    http://junkpit.net/2012/dodgy-paid-for-link-building-strategies-moredigital/ ) if you are interested, but where it got annoying is how pushy they were. I was curious about the details, and never really keen on entertaining the thought, but when I gave a thanks-but-no-thanks, they kept pushing! Wonder how long they have got as a result on Google?

  • http://www.facebook.com/danny.milner Danny Milner

    Any insight if the companies that hired iAcquire to build links have also received penalties?

  • http://twitter.com/JamieHBerger Jamie Berger

    iAcquire’s reps have been very pushy lately.  After 4 emails in 2 weeks to get to me, I replied saying I wasn’t interested.  They proceeded to dive into my LinkedIn account (you have to either be a Premium account or linked to me to email), and he emailed my personal email to further try to convince me of the need for “exciting new content creation/curation services.”  The rep then 2 days later called our main switchboard and got through the gatekeeper to my desk saying he was “returning my call.”  After picking up the call not knowing who it was, he said who he was to which I said, “hold on, I’ve passed on your info to another team who may be interested, but I’m not interested… again.”  Are they selling SEO/content or a Buick?

  • http://twitter.com/jhuman James Hu

    has anyone noticed how web properties, like facebook, and other web biz, is becoming more aggressive in acquiring business.  i think we’ve hit an inflection point…go mobile!  

  • russofford

    Man, I wonder who actually get to ‘press the button’ to ban a website on Google. Does it make them feel powerful? I w

  • http://theaveragegenius.net James Hussey

    Oddly enough, I just read a post from Eric Ward on how “Google never said not to buy links, they said not to buy PageRank…” Seems Link Moses was wrong on that one.

  • SEOChemist

    No he was right, the distinction is on the nofollow tag, buying links is fine if they are for advertisement purposes, but if that is the case, the link should always be awarded a nofollow tag.

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

    what the hell? stop outing!!

  • http://www.irishwonder.com IrishWonder

    Google outsourcing it’s work… Only it’s not real work they should be doing but a hissy fit indeed

  • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

    I think this is a Very Bad Thing. What iAcquire did is not that uncommon and, in my opinion, not particularly shady either. The only mistake they made is getting caught.

    Google has started a very VERY worrying trend: it will deindex agency sites for stuff they did for clients. So basically Google is punishing the supplier, and maybe also the actual recipient of paid links. This is pretty vicious, and makes the whole outing practice an even more reprehensible thing to do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/simon.lissa Simon Lissa

    I can only laugh, this will have no impact on iacquire at all. their reputation is where they get all their business. I imagne Google would be pissed because someone has a product that manipulates the search results and they cant get em.

  • http://twitter.com/James_Perrott James Perrott

    Completely agree Barry!

  • Craig Broadbent

    Very much a hissy fit, iAcquire has historically been a link broker and been pretty open about it in the past (although not sure if that’s still the case, they dropped off my radar) and it’s not as though there aren’t a bunch of brokers still indexed then any of us could name right now. There’s  a lot of chat about them buying links at the moment and Google needs to be seen as taking decisive action, but I think de-indexing is harsh. Have they actually broken webmaster guidelines with their OWN site? I don’t think so, so why ban iAcquire? I hope they’ll be back in soon or it’s just a weird bug.

  • Gerard Ryan

     Why should Google not go after an agency that is aggressively pushing a service that clearly defies their guidelines? I would be more concerned if an agency that was merely complying with a client’s demands was delisted, but it would appear these people are proactively encouraging clients to do the wrong thing. Unsuspecting clients need protecting from dodgy practices.

  • Freddie Chatt

    Please explain why people should not out these kind of things?

  • Alan

    MoreDigital have contacted me quite a few times asking the same thing.

  • Armand47

    As long as Google keeps counting back-links as of importance in its equations, its so-called dilemma of buying links to manipulate results will continue. When are the engineers at Google going to wake-up? Whether they are links that are purchased, or the next link debacle of social network signals which can also be spammed to manipulate results, this problem will never cease.

    Google Engineers, wake up and smell the coffee and put an end to this back-link debacle that seems to forever “Haunt You”. Sheesh!!!

  • http://twitter.com/foodera Foodera

    The most possible reason of ban might be that several websites blames the agency’s activities for their unnatural links in their reconsideration requests in response to Google’s unnatural links warning. What you guys think?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheilacruzeforcontentaxis Sheila Cruze

    In this Penguin era link exchanging is a crime and companies should aware of the fact that Google is frowning up on these black hat techniques. With this Google has reiterated that Google is still looking closely at the link profiles of companies and only white hat techniques should be employed. The best way to get this is by acquiring links that are natural in origin and are not manipulative.

  • Armand47

    Sheila, in this “day and age” every type of linking can be manipulated, and make sure not to “hold your breath” waiting for someone to link-back naturally to your site.

  • http://twitter.com/IanLockwood Ian Lockwood

    If that is the case, how long before a competing agency (probably the one that caused the client’s problem in the first place) uses reconsideration requests to drop an innocent agency in the poo?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheilacruzeforcontentaxis Sheila Cruze

    So what could you suggest webmasters to manipulate Google’s search algorithm? I don’t think Google is so innocent that it can track the pattern of your link profile. I strongly believe that after Google penguin update time has come when webmasters need and should hold their breath till they get the links naturally. Any attempt against this notion might be fatal and it will have adverse impact in long run.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheilacruzeforcontentaxis Sheila Cruze

    Totally Agreed Barry Google has gone smarter and instead of cutting down the branch it’s now hammering the root of the cause. So, here a question comes whether SEO company should display their service pages or not or should they wind-up their services?

  • Armand47

    Sheila, maybe you missed my point. Until Google realizes that they have to cease placing importance on any type of back-link within their Algorithms, then, and only then, will they put a stop to this never-ending problem.

    As we speak, text links are being sold in secrecy, as we have seen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.curtis.10 Michael Curtis

    A) It is not any marketers job to police Google. Google make quite enough money to do it themselves.

    B) Google’s guidelines are often less than clear. If I send a product to a blogger to review, and that blogger links back, have I ‘paid’ for a link!? ‘Quality’ content is an entirely subjective term!
    C) The problem with having a search engine actually act on third party  accusations is that false accusations will very quickly start flying around as people try to sabotage their competitors. What if I were competing with iAquire and I decided to fake an email campaign looking to ‘buy’ links, before subsequently faking outrage? Acting on ‘The Mob’ has never once proved a good idea in all of history – and any SEO worth his or her salt has the knowledge and tool set to create a simulated angry mob out of thin air.

  • http://twitter.com/ContentAxis Content Axis

    But Barry, one thing became obvious right at the time when Google launched it’s Penguin update. Google is looking for service provider that can satisfy customer’s query and needs and not hard core salesmen. Aggressive link building technique is certainly be reconsidered by webmasters and search engine optimizer.

  • http://twitter.com/todayztrendz Andrew Lang

    While you hold your breath and wait for those links that likely won’t arrive (if you’re an SMB), you are a prime target for a quick and cheap $5 negative SEO attack since your link profile will be almost empty.

  • http://inboundmarketingnj.com Jason Diller

    This is crazy.  I’m all for outing…It’s “gamesmanship”.  When I played basketball in college, I would alert the ref if I was getting fouled and they weren’t calling it.  I have even flopped a time or two back in the day.  If my teammate was fouled and there was no call, the ref would def. hear about it from me…

    I think the way google handled it is crazy, however.  @ipullrank is a good dude…and his post on seomoz with Kanye was awesome.

  • http://www.jellyfish.co.uk/ Matt Owen

    great post

  • http://twitter.com/YoungbloodJoe Joe Youngblood

    the problem is that people bought and sold links in the pre-google era which page rank was founded on.

  • http://twitter.com/connections8 James Norquay

    How will it have no impact? Marketing teams read marketing news, some one in an internal marketing department actually sent me this article today. I mean any time they try and pitch business under the iAcquire name it is not going to go down well in a pitch process, even if you search for the brand term now you see the llsocial site come up. They will need to re brand the agency imo. 

  • http://www.paligap.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    It might be Google’s ‘job’ to police Google, but it’s real people and real businesses that are hurt when competitors using such tactics are outranking them for critical terms and creaming off visitors they haven’t earned.

  • http://twitter.com/Jehochman Jonathan Hochman

    This is going to make SMX Advanced a lot more interesting.    

  • http://twitter.com/Lucborg Luciano Borg

    With 70% of the market share, Google must realise and live up to its “Monopolistic” responsibilities. If it wants to punish someone for not heeding to its regulations, then it should drop itrs rankings from the search engine searches, but “delisting ” for searches and “banning” the site completely are two completely different things. Google should have de-ranked iacquire for various search terms but it should have allowed searches for “iacquire” to return the website in the results. Google must not take advantage of its “monopolistic” advantage!

  • http://profitpathz.com/ Bill Davis

    Google is in reactive mode and I believe that they will worsen their own self-made situation before people leave in droves.

    “Buying links” — what exactly does that mean, anyway? Most of these agencies “rent links” — is there any distinction between the two?

    And what about barter (i.e., reciprocal links or some other transaction where money doesn’t trade hands)?I think this situation only points out flaws in Google’s own algorithm. Their entire ranking concept may have to be rethought (i.e., maybe inbound links really don’t matter or ought not to be considered).

  • http://twitter.com/JohnCarcutt John Carcutt

    This is interesting because about a year and a half ago Text-Link-Ads came back into the index after years of being de-indexed. You would think if any link selling company would be de-indexed it would be them.

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

    You have no idea.  How are you building links if you’re not asking for them?  Perhaps you’re just creating your own 2.0s or maybe manually social bookmarking.  To summarise, not getting results and wasting your clients money.

  • http://twitter.com/Chande Chande

    iAcquire is a link broker. And a damn good one apparently since Google is pissed off. What does almighty Matt Cutts has to say about it?

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

    This is nonsense.  MOST small businesses cannot afford the likes of iAcquire or any of the other top SEO companies which are doing this, it is only the few top100 type companies with $XXXXX budgets who can get reliable results with this tactic.

    Or do you think guest posting is fine as long as no money changes hands but the content is free or you take someone out for a meal it is still a paid link.  

  • http://www.paligap.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    I think guest posting is fine if no money changes hands, or if sponsored posts are marked as sponsored posts with links nofollowed.

    Taking someone out for a meal isn’t paying for a link in my book, though no doubt there is a lunatic fringe out there that considers it illegitimate.

  • NoPaidLinksHereHonest

    It boils down to this.

    As an

  • NoPaidLinksHereHonest

    It boils down to this.

    To all those SEO professionals in this thread who are defending Google’s actions; can you hold your hand up and say “I have never invested in a single link of which the primary purpose was to improve rank”?

    Sure, you may well have bought a link and said to yourself “It’s alright, I’ll get some traffic from it too.  I’ve not been naughty.”  But, that’s little more than denial.

    For that matter, when you’re building links that add no value whatsoever to the net, how on Earth is that any different?  And if you’ve not done this, then sorry, you’re not doing your job.

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

    In the UK I cannot take someone out for a meal, give free advice or even buy a beer for someone whose business I am trying to win because it is classed as bribery.  Giving someone “free” content for a link is giving something of value in exchange for something of value.  This is paid link buying.  

    If you’re link building in the whitehat way  then all links you create should be nofollow.

  • http://www.paligap.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    Sure, but the law is an ass. If you’re the head of Vodafone and you’re taking a guy from HMRC out for a meal to earn a £7bn tax break then, sure, that’s not on. If you’re building a relationship that leads to an openness to accept links, I’m OK with that.

    There are obviously others considerably more anal than I am, however, who would disagree.

  • http://twitter.com/Chande Chande

    You are right. In the end. You see the website. You ask yourself a question: is outreach to this website worth to my/my clients busines. Answer: yes. Solution: acquire link, story, blogpost, banner, anything. You add value. The google positions itself as advertising source. When you buy links/adverts from other sources than Google, you take their ad-dollars. So they kill the ecosystem in favor of adwords. Simple as that. Outing is shit. Google has done too many stupid moves, yet it improved their technology a lot. It is the single most dangerous company on the planet. They control information discovery. Money, resources, everything can be replaced. Information and idea cannot. 

  • http://profitpathz.com/ Bill Davis

    I’m convinced Google doesn’t know what they’re doing. It’s somewhat understandable, too, because they are so big and there are a lot of moving parts. Plus, they have conflicting business objectives (paid search versus organic search).

    (You can buy links if they’re from Google, but not if they’re from somebody else—if not already, some Congress person will take the stance that this is anti-competitive behavior and WAHM! another lawsuit for Google.)

    Furthermore, even IF a company buys some links, it may still well have the most relevant and useful page for a given search term, bought links or not.

    If Google de-indexes (or whatever term they choose to use) the site, then didn’t they just run counter to their own proclamation?

    It’s as if the penalty is more important to them than giving their users what they think they want. SPITE comes to mind.

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

    Ok so you think a bartered link is different from a paid link.  Interesting.

  • http://www.paligap.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    Absolutely. In that instance the link is the result of building the relationship. Of course if you never call again and lose the relationship it’s a shame, but you’ll get a reputation, so it works itself out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.curtis.10 Michael Curtis

    This isn’t a pro-blackhat argument – there are plenty of whitehat-built sites that are untouchable, no matter how many spam blasts you setup.

    But, if you want to add an ethical dimension to this, any SEO who takes money and gives no return on that investment implementing a strategy that they know doesn’t work for an employer or client is at best incompetent and at worst an outright thief.

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

    nonsense.

    Giving anything in return for a link is still a paid link.

    Even designing a website for a company and having a footer link.  That is still unnatural, especially if it is keyworded.

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