Ok, so after being hit by some manual penalties over the weekend, I have now become more aware of avoiding SEO footprints and the potential privacy threats in the accounts I use.
I am now convinced that it was not just the Google Webmaster Tool account that was reviewed. There was a parked domain, not registered with any Google account that was unused, but got slapped just the same. Pretty unfair as it was just minding its own business.
I parked it at a server that was also hosting some of the sites that were penalized. This means that they either checked domain registrar records or reviewed the shared server’s other sites.
In order to minimise the damage if and when this happens again, here are some steps (other than the obvious use of different website platforms and themes) I am now taking that I can share with you.
When you are logged in (and logged out) Google Chrome is storing everything you do. They say the data is anonymous, but then they also said they didn’t give data to the NSA.
Therefore switch it up when working on projects. I am now moving away from Chrome. Here are some alternative internet browsers:
- Firefox – Part funded by Google so not 100% convinced but still a good alternative. Great plugin array.
- IE – Welcome back my old friend! Don’t forget to change the SE from Bing!
- Opera – Been enjoying this one lately, clean and fast, definitely my new favorite. Used to have it years ago, so nice to see it still in play.
- Tor – When you absolutely want to go anonymous! Slow as hell, but no-one can spy on you with this.
- Safari – Apple don’t seem so bad now after all. I use this on my Mac and iPad.
I now have groups of accounts on different browsers so I can switch my workflow easily. Make sure you are not signed into Google on them!
If you are interested in seeing what information browsers can see about you, check out Browser Spy. (Thanks Andras for the link)
You could go a step further and use a VPN that masks your IP address. Some browsers like Firefox have plugins that do this, although they can mess webpages up.
See HideMyAss for a decent VPN setup for your home office.
Gmail A No Go
Privacy with Gmail is becoming blurred. It may be a severe example, but Gmail now scans and reports illegal activity to the authorities. See this recent article.
They always did scan our emails so they could serve relevant ads, but this is a public first of its type.
Not that I in anyway condone criminal activity, but if you want more privacy, my advice is to move away from Gmail and go for a cpanel personal domain email where the contents are not being scanned 24/7 for any reason. Take precautions.
Stop Using Google Accounts For Everything
Make sure you keep working GWT and GA accounts pure. Don’t mix legitimate or client sites with any testing or fun you might be having.
Having one bad egg in the basket can, as in my own case, take down good ones. Guilty through association I think the legal term is. Remember to remove old sites from both:
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Google Analytics
If you have to use these accounts for “case studies”, then create new ones and keep well away from each other. Grouping your sites up makes it too easy for the Google janitors to do their work.
Set up fresh accounts, new users and use different browsers and IP’s. Don’t for heavens sake use the same phone number to authorise all your new Google accounts!
Onboard Analytic Alternatives
A great plugin alternative to Google Analytics for WordPress is Slim Stat.
Or you can use Jetpack. Its a bit bloated but has good stats and some other stuff that elimiates the need for a load of other plugins.
Again it links to a Wordpress account so watch out as there may be a footprint there too.
Domain Names, Domain Registrars & Whois Privacy
As you may or may not be aware, Google is a registrar. This means they can not only easily register domains, but also see who owns them as well. In fact anyone can see that from public Whois data.
While this not a problem for most of us, if you do intend on breaking Google guidelines or building a PBN, having all the domains registered in one name is very risky to say the least.
Taking the Whois privacy option means the name is registered by a 3rd party or proxy. The theory is no one has access to this data except the registrar taking the order, like Goddady and the 3rd party. Obviously if you are breaking the law this data could be requested.
There have been lots of discussion about whether Google can see through this privacy whois wall and no one really knows. My feelings are that they can’t , but you will need to research and draw your own conclusions.
Given the huge amount of data Google already has, I doubt it really matters. If G are p-ssed off enough to come after you, then its gonna be all over. This is vital reading on that matter.
Whatever you decide either take Whois Privacy or use alternative registration contacts to be on the safe side. This however could create ownerships issues at a later date.
Here are the 4 main registrars I use with multiple accounts. I alternate between them all. You’ll need a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.
My favorite is Namecheap, as the do a free year whois privacy and it’s only a couple of bucks after that.
Money Site Web Hosting
This is important. Your sites can easily be linked if they all sit on the same server and IP. If you are doing this then you’re in the danger zone.
Here are some of my preferred A1 premium independent hosting companies I use for my money sites as they are fast which helps then to rank well. Some use SSD hard drives while others use good hardware.
They vary in cost and packages but all have fast, responsive servers and good support and are hosted in Tier 1 data centers. I tend to buy the basic packages as I only host one or two sites per account then move on.
I never use the big ones like GoDaddy or Hostgator on money sites as they suck big time. Sometimes I get clients that come already hosted with them, so I am forced to use their services.
The difference in speed and CMS snappiness is night and day. Here are some of my favourites. I’ve put some decent coupons with them which brings the price right down in some cases.
I am in the UK, so having a site that serves a UK audience hosted here makes sense.
That said, they deliver great results worldwide and over 50% of the traffic I get is from the US despite being hosted in the UK.
These guys are my go to for client and personal sites. Solid performers.
US & Canada Services
Some of these guys have data centres in 3+ locations so I open up multiple accounts. You can select at sign up if applicable.
- Stable Host – One of my favorites. Datacenters in Phoenix, Chicago and Amsterdam- Coupon NOOBW40 (40% Off)
- Level Hosting – Another solid performer and great value – Coupon LHSPECIAL (50% Off )
- Hawk Host – Solid. 6 datacenters including US, EU and Singapore – Coupon WHTSHAREDV2 (35% Off)
Tier One Hosting
For those that intend to build out manual tier 1+ sites, then you will need lots of hosting accounts but they don’t need to be so high spec.
Here are some cheap and cheerful companies that I use and work well:
There are loads more I could list but you get the idea. Again get yourself a spreadsheet and get organised. All those cpanel and FTP accounts can get out of control!
Wrapping Things UP
Its been an interesting few days and a real opener for me which has caused me to review the way I work. I hope you got some good ideas for avoiding SEO footprints from this post plus take heed the warnings!
Let me know if you have any other good ways to avoid footprints when it comes to protecting your sites.