Shocking SEO Agency Fail – How Not To Do Link Building

seo fail

Profoundry, aka Col Skinner,  revealed on Twitter today a shocking link network in action.

UK SEO agency SOZO design was guilty of placing network links on all of its clients’ sites. We’re not just talking keyword-anchored footers here, these are dedicated site pages designed to get links.

sozo blackhat cms

After looking into it further, it appears that the unique CMS SOZO designed for its clients has an additional “hidden feature” – injecting a network.php page onto all its sites. The page then outlinks to other sites on the network, creating a nice little reciprocal link circle. The greedy agency also made sure to place a link to their own site on top.

network 1

network 2

Some of the pages are even optimised further, like this one: http://www.cranbournehousebandb.co.uk/weekend-breaks-in-bourton-network.php, and try to avoid a footprint by linking to different sites on each page.

network 3

What’s most shocking is that SOZO’s clients are unlikely to be aware of this feature, as the network.php pages are not linked via any menus or sidebars. The sneaky agency also removed network.php to avoid any penalties on their own site – classy work, guys.

There are currently over 60 sites in the “network”, all from different industries and locations in the UK. The webmasters of these sites should contact SOZO as soon as possible to get the pages removed, as taking part in link schemes like this could easily result in a penalty later on down the line.

Unforgivable behaviour for a mid-size agency in 2014.

[highlight color=”yellow”]UPDATE: SOZO replied to Profoundry on Twitter and stated they were “working to phase the network out”.[/highlight]

18 thoughts on “Shocking SEO Agency Fail – How Not To Do Link Building

      • I doubt all of these website owners will not know, or not have been told that this is on their website.

        It may be a bit of a dirty SEO tactic but calling them out on it so publicly is just a bit shoddy.

        • … and that’s what I meant by ‘outing’ SEO Companies not being the done thing. Some may have done stuff in the past that is no longer considered white hat (in fact, most) – where do we draw the line?
          That said, this is an extreme example of SEO naughtiness. Personally, I’d contact each and every one of those clients to inform them.

          • Assuming that the clients were not informed of the link circle, or even the risks of being associated with a link circle, it’s immoral of the company not to be transparent with their paying clients. In doing this, they’re effectively exploiting their clients’ trust for their own gain.

          • My SEO knowledge means I may not understand just how bad this technique is (by the sounds of it, the dirtiest of black hats). My issue is that the article and commenters do just that, assumes that their clients did not know about this.

            I’m fairly confident that they would have either had the option to opt-out, or had it written into their contract.

            IF they were not made aware, or it was added at a later date then I agree, it is a terrible technique.

          • David, it’s probably getting a little exaggerated how “dirty” the tactic is. And we are all just assuming that the clients had no idea what they were involved in, or if they were the risks of being involved in it. I, for one, would LOVE to read an honest response from the the agency themselves before we all start sharpening our pitchforks.

          • Even if they were made aware of it, who says they truly understand the implications? It’s not the most dirty technique, it’s leaving a footprint though and those sites/businesses may get a penalty for being part of what will undeniably be seen by Google as a network, or ‘spam’. I’m sure that SOZO knew precisely what they were doing here in regards to the potential implications, regardless though there are way better methods to rank doing ‘shady tactics’ that are less obvious and probably take only a little more effort to do. I just think it’s a case of laziness, it’s not exactly difficult to do what they have – getting clients to sign on to this if it were explained with complete honesty would be difficult.

          • Either way I’m looking forward to seing what they say, if they do.

            Maybe it actually is a genuine local business network for the area and not meant for google…

      • oh I agree 100%, they deserve to know… and they deserve the opportunity to sue their SEO company!

    • The problem here is that these aren’t really a dedicated SEO agency… I’m not saying it’s always the case, but whenever I see a Web Design agency who expand out into SEO you see some truly shocking stuff.

  1. Worrying as anyone who’s spent five minutes reading around would know this is a bad idea, obviously haven’t been doing SEO for very long either, as experience would tend to provide knowledge about the error of their ways here.

  2. If at the very least, my original tweet starts some healthy debate about the morality in our industry then I’m happy.
    Someone from SOZO called me up to give some “context” to their network so expect a comment on here from them.

  3. Hi all. I’ve had a good read of the comments on here and on Twitter, and the somewhat intense opinions expressed towards our client network. So let me try and collectively honour your request for a response on behalf of SOZO.

    Our client network is strictly for our clients only, and we make each and every one of them aware of the network prior to adding it to their website. We also honour requests made by our clients if at any stage they do request for it to be removed. The network is 100% and strictly our client websites only. We only include websites which are completely built and exclusively managed by us ongoing.

    Nonetheless, we have identified and had lengthy discussions internally about removing the Network on a number of occasions over the past 12 months. We had one scenario the other year in which one of our clients requested that their network page, and the links they received from other clients’ network pages, to be removed (which we honoured). Consequently their rankings dropped noticeably over a period of weeks. Out of concern that a similar outcome would occur for our other clients, we decided instead to begin a period of phasing out the network, in the form of reducing the amount of links per site, as well as omitting it completely for new websites. During this time and moving forward, we have invested more time in credible link building strategies which are current and in keeping with the very latest SEO industry recommendations.

    We do not have a network page on our own website because we felt that this, in addition to the links to our clients which occur throughout our website, would be excessive.

    I take all of the ‘constructive’ criticism on board, and with exception to the personal and inappropriate comments made towards us, we’re appreciative of opinions and suggestions expressed concerning our network, and it has helped us realise that we need to phase it out sooner rather than later.

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond to our questions in such a friendly way, rather than getting overly defensive which I appreciate may have been your initial reaction…

      Honestly, I find it worrying that when the network page was removed from one of your clients, they suffered a noticeable drop in their rankings due to this. Surely it should be more of a concern for you if your clients’ ranking is that reliant on that single page?

      Good for you though for recognising the issue with that and investing more time into different strategies.

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