Who else remembers that month?
I definitely do. And not just me – my whole team who was working with me back then remembers it.
I remember that morning when I woke up and as a regular morning routine, I went to check my website’s search engine rankings and, even more important – our clients’ rankings.
Yes, you can guess the scenario from the drama in the tone of the first few sentences. Most of them dropped.
All I was seeing was numbers and graphs in red. Since then – I HATE THE COLOR RED.
I always thought that I hate the color blue. Well, red is my new blue.
Then the anger came. I had to blame someone and Google was a logical choice. Damn Google! I HATE it! I used to love Google, but I hated it so much at that moment.
I’m sure many of you know the feeling for the same reason. Many marketers woke up that day just to see the same red numbers. And not just that day. Many times before that. And many times after that day.
Although I knew that very well, nothing can really prepare you for this when it happens. And Google penalty can happen to anyone.
Back then, I was working as a freelancer with a small team of other freelancers. We were doing SEO and link building for more than 100 clients.
You can imagine how I felt at that moment. All plans we had for our future were crushed in a single second.
Still in bed, I was refreshing the browser in disbelief, hoping to see some green numbers. But there were no changes. All I had left was to think of the next move.
The questions multiplied with each minute. What to do? How to proceed? What to tell to our clients? Soon there will be at least 40 emails in our Inbox and all of them at once and because of the same reason.
Refreshing the browser didn’t help or change anything. Still red, red and red. I hate Google and their algorithm updates. Why now? Couldn’t they wait for a bit?
Then it hit me. I realized that I need to get up from the bed and try to solve the situation with my partner and the whole team.
The first thing we did when we got to the office was agreeing on how we will explain the situation to our clients.
As our office was based in Europe, and the majority of our clients were from the US, we knew that the information about their rankings still didn’t get to most of them due to time zone difference. They were sleeping and still not being aware of the situation.
We knew a Google update happened, but that’s it. We had no other info, there were no confirmations from Google about any changes happening.
There was no information either on BHW, Search Engine Journal or any other website that usually brings the news fast. There was nothing to find. We were completely clueless.
The positive thing was that we had time to make a plan how to deal with the situation and what to tell to the clients.
As the day was passing by, some rankings started to fluctuate again and went back to the “green area”, but most of them stayed red.
Although we had no 100% certain confirmation that this ranking drop was caused by something we did, we decided unanimously to face the situation and tell the clients the truth about what happened, at least the part we knew for a fact and what we believed to be the cause.
Their sites were penalized and that was the cause of ranking drops. Not all our clients dropped, but roughly 30% of them did. We still didn’t know the exact reason, but we had to make sure to do everything we could in order to prevent all possible causes, including ourselves.
I have to admit – at that moment we were using a lot of paid links on our campaigns. This type of links is by definition not compliant with Google’s guidelines. However, a huge majority of website owners and marketers were using them, including us. It was considered as a gray-hat link building – not really according to the rules, but widely considered as an acceptable method if common sense was applied.
From the perspective of the sites where these links were placed, most of the sites were good. All the sites were real sites, with real traffic. We weren’t using PBNs or anything similar. We disapproved most of the black-hat link building methods that so-called agencies were selling to their clients.
We thought we were better.
However, this wasn’t the case. All the common sense with link building means nothing if there is clearly visible that a compensation was used as motivation for the link placement.
Our links weren’t contextual. They weren’t editorial links. They didn’t follow the natural flow of the website content. They were placed in various spots on the site where it was visible that they are actually sponsored/paid links.
We slowly realized that one of the possible causes was us, or to be more specific, the links we built.
At this point, you might ask yourself how we resolved the situation.
We had to take responsibility for that. And we did.
IT WAS HARD.
Maybe the worst case business scenario for a young marketing team you can imagine. One day you’re up, growing, getting new clients and discussing regular day-to-day things related to the campaigns you’re working on. And before you can say Bam!, you are DOWN, on the very bottom, with no idea what to do next.
We had to start somewhere and somehow. Our first and the only real priority was to take care of our clients.
We made a list of clients that got affected and agreed on the action plan.
To the part of our clients, we refunded the money. Some clients wanted to stay for one or two months with us to see how things will go. Remember, at that moment we still had no clue what the real reason for the drop was.
With part of the clients, we agreed to do penalty removal free of charge.
But, this is where a new problem was waiting – we had no idea how to do penalty removal. We had to learn the process from the beginning at the moment when we had very little time to learn new things.
Imagine having to learn a whole new field of interest from scratch as fast as you can, just to be able to help your clients to get easier through tough times.
We had no time for testing and no luxury to make mistakes. We had to learn how to recover sites from Google Penalty at the moment when we had to deal with all the emails and calls. In one word, it was stressful. On top of that, we had to invest in all the software that helps with the penalty recovery process, with significantly reduced income on sight.
As I said, it was hard.
Days passed and the situation wasn’t going in good direction.
Or at least that was what we were thinking back then.
Today I know that Google update was the best thing ever happened to us.
I never thought that I will think of it this way.
But now I do.
Fast forward – our next months were interesting and hard at the same time.
Most of the time we were doing deep research on how to improve our methods. We were experienced in the world of SEO, but we realized that we have to learn how to do digital marketing completely white hat. Putting ourselves and, more importantly, our clients to the same risk again was simply not an option.
We decided with more motivation than ever to stay in digital marketing and improve our process so our clients would be safe from any of the future Google updates. We decided to earn a way to top for our clients, instead of buying it.
10 years after we finished our college we started to intensively learn again. We were learning, but never aware that we were really learning.
Our experience in the link building and SEO helped in a way it was easier to know where to start. However, the approach was completely different.
During this learning process, the hardest thing we had to do wasn’t actually the learning part. It was a mind-shift from being a link-builder to being a marketer. We had to learn how to forget what we thought we know about SEO and start from scratch.
We did a lot of testing. And I mean A LOT.
The key decision during this learning period when we were practically building a digital marketing agency from scratch was to take beta clients.
Our first beta clients were our existing clients. We offered them to stick with us as beta testers of our new, completely white-hat services, for just a fragment of real price this type of service usually cost.
We were working 24/7 for months and barely slept at all. We invested all the money in tools, experiments, and tests.
It was a painful period. There was lots of little wins, but much more fails. For each win, there were at least 10 fails in the process.
But we persisted on doing it. And we did the research, tests, and development for a whole year.
And the results?
The results were amazing.
The beta clients we worked with were partly our old clients (users of our previous service), partly the clients we got from our penalty removal service (the same service we had to establish in order to help our clients), and part of them accepted to become beta clients when we rejected to sell them our old link building service.
Their role in the whole process was priceless. We pushed our limits far, just to meet their expectations.
In fact, most of the times we were meeting our expectations. We didn’t want to satisfy with average results. Our goal was to be the best.
The New Agency
Today, a full year from the Google update that changed our lives, I feel like I’m sitting next to Google on top of the mountain and watching how many people struggle with new Google Update.
Too many people.
People usually climb mountains to get a spectacular view.
We had a spectacular view. We saw things clearer than ever before.
And to make sure that this moment of clarity stays with us for a long time and reminds us what is important, we decided to call our new agency Point Visible.
I want to make sure each our client feels like I felt on top of that virtual mountain.
The New Us
Today I’m happier than ever that we experienced that OCTOBER 2015 which made me hate the color red. This hate was the strongest motivator to make things right. And it was worth the trouble we had to go through in order to get to the point where we are today.
The only regret I have today is that this Google update didn’t happen earlier to me and my team. It would move me from my comfort zone earlier and force me to improve sooner. Finally, it would make us better marketers long time ago. We would provide a better service. It would switch us to be more creative. And we would grow faster and have more happy clients, which is why we do this after all.
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