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.paligap.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    SoisyourpointthatifthoselinksareOKthenallpaidlinksareok?BecauseIthinkthereisalinesomewhere.I’minfavourofhavngitbeahighstandardtomeetbeforeit’sconsideredillegitimate.

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

    I think we broke the comment system.

  • Matt Hagens

     HAHAHA, totally agree.  Good, healthy discussion.

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

    It’s definitely not a cut and dried case of: ‘Here is the line. Everything over here is OK. Everything over there is evil.”.

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

    They certainly haven’t been de-indexed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.hedger Jim Hedger

     I can. Honest.

    I’m not prepared to comment on Google’s actions because I don’t think the full story is known yet but it’s important to note there are plenty of old-time SEOs who have NEVER paid for a link and still get converting rankings for their clients. There’s a lot more to SEO than link acquisition.

  • NoPaidLinksHereHonest

    Of course there is, and I don’t think anyone would argue otherwise.

    But, I find it very surprising that in all the time you’ve been in SEO (and you’re old-time, as am I to tell the truth), you’ve never paid for a link; whether that be a directory, a paid press release, sponsoring a website, sponsoring a charity and so on.  Which, if you’re being honest is fair enough of course.

    On a side note, and related to my second point.  Have all the links you’ve built over the years (assuming you have), added quality and legitimate content to the net?

  • http://www.dzoseo.com Derrick Hicks

    LOL

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    This is NOT the first time Google has banned an SEO agency for getting its clients into trouble. At the very least, everyone should have thought about Traffic Power.

  • http://twitter.com/rogermedia Roger Williams

    the dream police….

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

    I have known Jim for years .. and when he says he’s never I believe him.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, Michael.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fionn.downhill Fionn Downhill

    IAcuire is a linking building company why would they complain to Google that the agency did somethign they did not want them to do when the contracted with them to buy links.  All companies will throw the agency under the bus to get back into Google I guess.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Crazy idea for Google:  it isn’t about paid and unpaid it’s about whether the page AND the link are valuable to users.

    Good link:  There is a genuine value to users from both the link and the content from which the link originates.  It makes sense that the local SPCA links to companies that support it.  Whether that support is a food donation, or a cash ‘donation’ for the sake of getting a link, a real website of value is linking to businesses that help it, and fans of the SPCA might want to support those businesses.

    Bad link:  The content adds no value to the user, or the link on a valuable page has no rationale for being there (other than that it was purchased). 

    Google could assess the difference by “context” between the site and the link destination, and by whether those links are used by “real” users.  A link that is contextually relevant but drives no users is a good link with no strength.  Probably hard to tell the difference between a “real” user and a bot network…

    Hard problem.

  • allsportstalk

    It’s probably like dropping the nuclear bomb. 10 people get to push a button, but only one of the buttons actually does anything. Nobody knows for sure who actually did it, just that it got done. 

  • http://twitter.com/TippingPointSEO Sam Page

    Yea, I agree. It’s not like these guys were hacking pages and covertly placing links on them. To me, it seems like paying for links is the moral thing to do. I pay for advertising; paying for a link is the same thing. Google opened themselves up to the whole link buying marketplace with pagerank. 

    Outing a company makes you look jealous, under-achieving, and like a crazy ex-boyfriend/girlfriend… no one wants to deal with that.

  • http://twitter.com/TippingPointSEO Sam Page

    Someone once said, “snitches get stitches”.  Oh, and Google’s guidelines are not moral imperatives.

  • http://www.cutey.co.uk/ cutey

    There are 1000s of companies doing this

  • ClaytonEsperanza

    my roomate’s sister-in-law makes $80 an hour on the internet. She has been fired for 9 months but last month her pay was $16644 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site CashLazy.&#99om

  • http://twitter.com/allanp73 Allan Pollett, SEO

    The whole thing seems really lame. Google is playing god of the Internet. People were buying links before there was a Google. The fact that we have to worry about the wraith of the Google gods is crazy. Their recent war on back links and back link building seems absurd. Google’s algorithm fueled the fire they are now putting out. They make the rules we try to play by then change them if they feel that SEO is cutting into their bottom line. The fact is even the ones build spam links are probably doing so to put relevant sites at the top of the search results. Marketers know to focus efforts on words that convert and that are relevant to their clients needs. So they are aiding Google; however, Google is sabotaging its own quality because it knows that if ecommerce or commercial sites get ranked then these same site owners need not advertise on Google. This is why Wikipedia gets artificially put at the top of most search results. Google’s actions against iacquire were more about protecting their bottom line rather than trying to improve the web.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    Yea but everyone is crying big rivers for them like they’re the victim.  Here you are, witnessing almost daily exactly what they got in trouble for, and yet all these SEOs who are more worried about getting caught themselves than the truth are coming out and blaming Google for this when it’s iAcquire that decided to take on the risk.

    Whatever happened to personal accountability?

    Mike King can’t sit up on stage at LinkLove and talk about White Hat Link Building when his clients links are coming from these kinds of paid sources.  This is ridiculous.

    He made a conscious decision to take a job with iAcquire (what, five six months ago?).  He is responsible for that decision, any “white hat cred” that he had ain’t worth a whole lot in my book now as he knew the kind of company he was joining.

    I don’t believe for one second that it is Mike King’s fault that iAcquire was hit, or that they only started buying links once he started there.  He hasn’t been there long enough to have made that kind of impact, but the second he decided to represent that brand, that brand also represents him.  No one held a gun to his head and make him take the money that he took to join their team, which I am sure they did because they knew he was a well connected blogger and he’d make the otherwise shady company look better.

    I don’t get why everyone is so outraged over this.  It’s not like this came as a surprise. First Panda devalues low quality page authorities to decrease the value of deep links and spammy content, and then Penguin goes after site architecture, too many links, over-optimization, this is all to make Google’s search better.

    If you bought links (which I would never condone) and you got caught, you can’t blame the bar for serving you the alcohol, you can’t blame Walmart for selling you the gun, and you certainly can’t blame Google’s Web Spam Team, who tell us all the time that they’re cracking down on exactly this, for (wait for it) cracking down on EXACTLY THIS!

    I swear I’m going to have a Lewis Black moment and start spitting and swearing and flailing worse than a Matt Cutts Webmaster Tools video.

    Are you people this stupid?!

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    Those people made a choice to work at iAcquire, knowing that they do things to manipulate Google’s search results that Google frowns on.

    From everything that I’m reading, they spun silly minor league blogroll style links and charged about 200x what smaller SEOs would charge, and they targeted Fortune 500 companies to do it.

    They weren’t doing anything special, they just had very aggressive sales people that kept rolling the dice on their sales leads till they got a “Yes”.Do you guys not see in this very blog examples of how iAcquire spammed people and harassed them trying to buy or sell their links?  These guys aren’t winning any awards for innovation or ingenuity.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    It’s not a recent war. It’s one they’ve waged since the SearchKing case in 2003. The rules haven’t really changed since then. People disagree that Google should have such rules, certainly debate what exactly even defines a paid link. But no, it’s not like any knowledgeable SEO company sending out the type of link request that’s at the core of all this would have though they were somehow doing something within the published rules. 

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    He apparently has to say that he thinks iAcquire should be banned from Google.

  • jooose

    Can I just buy a bunch of links for a competitor and then tell Google so that they are banned.  Sounds like an easy plan….

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yes. Assuming Google sees enough other signals to believe that the case warrants that type of manual action, which is what’s happening here. Such examples aren’t common at all.

  • jakesteeley

    I’m picturing somebody resembling Austin Powers saying “looks like the tables..  have turned..”

  • jakesteeley

    I’m thinking there is more.. probably far more.. behind the scenes.  Google doesn’t just randomly pick out a company and kick them out of their index for nothing.

  • http://twitter.com/nsauser nsauser

    Seems like this is all about protecting the golden PPC egg. Look at this year so far, the Google SERPs have been turned upside down, Penguin, etc. Google is trying to use the old Jedi mind trick “these are not the droids you’re looking for” on SEOs trying to achieve organic rankings. Their current formula for ranking organically is more secret than the recipe for Coca Cola. Although it’s highly likely they don’t really know how the organic rankings work either (see Google Places).

  • daveintheuk

    This is bull****.

    NOBODY is manipulating the search results more than Google themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/regularsteven Steven Wright

    So if you fundamentally disagree, why not ‘out’ them? It’s low level manipulation at the core of seo, it’s done in silence, it’s not authentic, or transparent, not traceable, and dirtier than advertising because of its subtle nature. It would be similar to a mega-company paying an agency to then pay me to talk up a particular brand in casual with my friends. I’m pretty sure it may, or will, happen – but I don’t think either are right.
    However right or wrong I may be in doing so, I fundamentally believe in transparency.Another few points re. MoreDigital:
    • I did say ‘not interested’ a few times. What pushed me over was how insistent they were
    • The combination of pushiness with the product – online gaming – really annoyed me. People with gambling addictions have a real problem. This only makes the practice seem worse and targets people who often have psychological addiction issues.

    While I am not a ‘pro censorship’ guy, I don’t like the quite nature of this marketing, and if me outing them exposes them to a practice that is seen as untoward, then great – they should be accountable.

    Lastly, yes, I’ve heard from Google regarding my post.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Yes. Google is manipulating their own search results. They are allowed that prerogative. If any government comes down on google it will not be about an issue like this.

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

    But the thing is most big companies get big by having sales people and having contacts with big business. I see it at my I work for company we had a bunch of really good sales/BDM’s, but they didn’t know too much about SEO, what did I do trained them up for 6 months so you have sales people who know a fair bit of SEO, not the crazy advanced stuff that you don’t even need for top level client meetings or pitches, they can just bring some good SEO’s in if need be. 

    I mean its all good having an SEO team which is just SEO’s and just doing love for the community but in reality if you want to survive against your competition you need sales people! You need revenue to survive you need revenue to grow. Sure if you have a great product that sells itself you don’t need sales people but if you do SEO like every one now you need them. 

    I am not endorsing annoying sales people or huge sales teams who have no idea about SEO and just annoy people, but I feel sales people area  key part to any SEO team if they are trained well and do things in the right way. 

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    I’d wager that it’s not even that bad because in this case (And seriously people, go read the original post before you post yourself, theres a lot of data there that people seem to just not be getting) iAcquire was found out as buying links for D&BCC BY NAME.  So they got caught.

    Having odd links, and having an e-mail with you actually soliciting those paid links, thats different.  The research linked iAcquire back to D&BCC and that is why they got delisted.

    Google had a healthy amount of proof to take such a bold action.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    Google does this via an algorithm, not via human review.

    So what you’re talking about is impossible, and thats why we’re in the situation we’re in.

    Internet is like… big, remember?

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    Google’s paid links are labeled as advertisements, again, read the original source material, where these individuals stipulated that the links they wanted to purchase could not in any way be labeled as advertising or sponsored or anything like that.

    Not only does that break Google’s TOS, but it’s a violation of FTC Policy as well.  They don’t police the internet much (yet) but it’s illegal to publish editorial content that was actually sponsored.  It MUST be labeled.

    Just like Google’s AdWords are in the yellow box only, and labeled “Ad related to Air Conditioning” or whatever.

    Talk about Congress again, please.  It makes you sound REALLY smart.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    It’s a worrying trend that if you, as an agency, knowingly and purposefully break Google’s Rules, that Google will penalize the responsible agency and the client both?

    That worries you?  So it didn’t worry you when only your client could be penalized?

    I mean… you can always get a new client right?

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    This!

  • http://twitter.com/Chande Chande

    Yes. Because Google doesn’t like competition or someone gaming the system they designed. But to completely remove a company from search results because of what? What are exact violations of Google TOS or Guidelines? This is a very tricky part. Does iAcquire website buy links for themselves? They provide service for their clients, and if they want paid links who should be penalized?

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

    You have some sitewide DoFollow keyworded footer links.  Are these there through merit or are they from a link farm you are building?  I am pretty sure they are there to adveritise is SEOing the site and in that case its pretty black hat don’t you think?

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

    Just like your footer links heh!

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Yeah, I wouldn’t have referred to it as a tough problem if human review was the answer.  Determining rational context algorithmically is the problem Google, Bing, Apple and IBM as well as other semantic, machine learning shops have been trying to solve for a while.  What I described was a framework for algo development that may be somewhat different than what they’ve done, but gets at a level of context (the notion of a non-profit, the notion of ‘natural, reasonable context to a user’) that they may not be able to algorithmically determine.  However, I’m not sure I’d bet against them, either.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/3XHS7JDFAOCYATXDHIEKBNNPPI Roger

    Hey Matthew, a few things.

    I’ve been doing some research myself and haven’t really found any ‘examples’ of iAcquire’s work other than these links that Josh put up. Those don’t really look spammy at all to be honest (I think we all know what a real spam link on an irrelevant page looks like). If they were building really spammy and blogroll style links, don’t you think they would have gotten crushed by Penguin?

    As far as the sales tactics go, I really don’t know how to speak to that. I’m a business owner and have a sales team tasked with cultivating new business. Nobody likes to be sold to, but thats how business works – that’s how the world goes round. By saying that these guys just kept ‘rolling the dice’ with sales leads, leads me to believe that A) you might have some information about the situation/quality of iAcquire’s work that may not be public yet (certainly a possibility). Or B) You don’t really understand the sales side of business – a necessary evil once you’ve saturated your network of friends and family for leads.

    From a quick look at your LinkedIn, it looks like the latter might be true considering you only have 5 employees. Not making things personal, just saying that a sales team is something that you’ll probably have to deal with once your business is more successful and you must scale.

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

    What will be interesting to see is how long the ban lasts and whether Google will allow iAcquire any means of redeeming themselves (heavy qualifier:assuming all the allegations are correct).

    As with all crimes, the punishment should be proportionate with the level of offence i.e. not excessive. Will this turn out to be just a stern warning to iAcquire and the SEO industry as a whole or the death knell for iAcquire? A permanent ban may have the capability of destroying the business and so there is a balance to be struck between administering penalties and observing corporate social responsibility in the community. It would be a travesty, in my opinion, if all those jobs, some of which may be held by innocent employees, were lost without an opportunity being given to clean up their act so I hope this is no more than the first step in this ‘negotiation’.

  • http://www.imagefreedom.com/ Matthew Egan

    It’s blackhat to sign your work now? lol

    That’s the best you could find in my link profile? That we put a link in the footer of a site that we designed?

    I guess you people ARE that stupid.

  • http://www.imagefreedom.com/ Matthew Egan

    My team is small, so I must not be doing very well?

    Tell that to 37 Signals.

    Sales is great, but selling a product dishonestly is never ethical, whether you “need the business to scale” or not.

    iAcquire was not only breaking FTC Guidelines by requesting that these ads not be labeled as ads, but they also weren’t sharing the details of the risk with their publishing network.

    Did you even read the source research?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IAHZPNEEIW7ZJ6PB3IMR46ZJNM Martha

    my neighbor’s mother makes $66/hour on the internet. She has been out of a job for 10 months but last month her paycheck was $17923 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here CashLazy.&#99om 

  • http://www.imagefreedom.com/ Matthew Egan

    If I design a website, and put a link to my company in the footer, that is not an advertisement as I did not pay the site owner to put the link there.

    My link profile must be pretty amazing if that’s the best you can come up with to try and knock me down for the sole crime of disagreeing with you.

  • Matt McGee

    Matthew – your comment above has been edited. We don’t tolerate commenters calling each other “stupid” or any other kind of personal attack. Disagree with others all you want, just don’t get personal.

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

     Hi Matthew,

    I agree with you on the ethical issues which is why I have not been involved in any kind of link buying schemes. I was not condoning what iAcquire (are alleged to) have been doing.

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