This is what happens when you bait Matt Cutts into an attack

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This is what happens when you bait Matt Cutts into an attack

As a prologue, this post is about discovering the true depths that Google will go to, about learning how their current capabilities and the reach Google spam team have currently. Having Matt Cutts target me directly, we got an insight into just how far the Google spam team will go once you’re targeted. Later in the post I look at ways to protect our sites from an attack in the future and remain anonymous, these are things we will have to adapt to as Google becomes more aggressive.
Click here to discuss this post.

The importance of becoming anonymous to Google post 2013

I never like to speculate on something without it being at least a presumption, so I’m often finding myself holding back on saying something which I’ll later likely have to redefine. I remember not too many years ago how I said that Google will begin manually removing sites from their SERPs and was made a laughing stock for thinking such an “impossible” thought. Well here we are today, time and time again I keep being reminded that Google is prepared to take extreme steps to protect the kingdom from its people.

It wasn’t too long ago we saw the Grindstone and Rand Fishkin Dog Snuggie incident which caused some drama in the SEO world and was very bad press for Google.

I’m often talking with the Blackhat Underground Forum and Private Skype Group about the future of Google. We are of the churn and burn species, so we often see our sites penalized, just as we predict they will be. But we have to try and remain one step ahead of the game here and it occurred to us that over the past few months of tracking many niches across the net that the depth at which Google is manually altering search results has hit an all time high. I may even begin to think that Google is no longer just an algorithm, but it could be moving towards a group of people who control what ranks, this seems inevitable for any corporation with enough power for politics to become involved.

So the plan was to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. I’ve been passively goading Matt Cutts over the past months on BHW, waiting for him to bite. I know he would have seen the 301 redirect thread and will have taken note, such is his passion for BHW as a source for information. On the 12th of December I reached out to him on Twitter with a link to a BHW post directed towards him..

Considering the narcissist he often reveals himself to be(Just being truthful Matt!) he obviously had had enough of me and we get to see just how anonymous we really are to Google. Within two days he replied, but not on @agentblackhat, he replied on my personal twitter account which I hadn’t used properly in years, yet he had found it, he also replied with the title of one of my old websites which was sold on Flippa and a question mark.

Forgive my weak attempt at privacy here;

thetweet

I was quite surprised to find that he’d dug this deep to be honest, they really do their homework when they begin to target someone. Like a US drone strike Matts Cutts hones in with precision.

So why did I do this?

We needed to understand how Google is taking the next step into penalizing sites and discovering sites. Google has created a vast network of online properties and software which they are recording user’s activity, your activity. The natural next step for Google is to begin targeting people, not just sites. If you are a big player in a specific niche, it won’t be just your site they target, they will begin doing homework on who you are, what you’re connected to and eventually your card will be marked. I even suspect a database, maybe even a “Most Wanted” database of marketers who cause Google the most trouble.

What we learned from this stunt

Matt Cutts has a personal hand in penalizing sites, he points the finger and you are a target, his team do the research on who you are and use all the tools at their disposal to track you. But how far do they go?

Webmaster tools

Anything connected to my webmaster tools account was penalized, including very very old sites which don’t even exist anymore. I even had unnatural link messages for sites that were deleted from my webmaster tools account. So we can safely say that Webmaster tools is a complete hazard to your sites if you’re targeted. Two, possibly three webmaster tools accounts were compromised by the attacker, in addition, my main personal account using my personal email was shutdown and I was asked to hand over my phone number, I had to contact Google support to reopen the account, no explanation was given by Google support. I found it odd that sites I don’t own or were removed from WMT were targeted and I was receiving unnatural link messages for them. This may also include other webmaster tools accounts you’ve logged into form the same IP, think your clients WMT account.

Your name is a target

I’m not completely sure how Matt Cutts found my name through my @agentblackhat twitter account, it could possibly that I don’t have privacy on some sites that this blog is connected to in WMT, either way, he spent the time and resources to find my name and then search it online(I wonder if they use Google SE for this or a hidden tool?). Through this they likely found the agency I work for and proceeded to penalize the main site. What is strange about this penalty is that we recently had a partial  manual penalty removed from our site. Google’s spam team specifically said that our site is worthy of having a penalty removed, the penalty was removed a month or two ago. We hadn’t built any backlinks to the site in those months, but yet Matt Cutts has now deemed the site as violating the Google T&Cs, so the question is, does Matt Cutts not trust his Spam team? Or does he go as far as abusing his power and disregard his own T&Cs in a personal vendetta?

In the tweet he specifically pointed out a site I sold on Flippa, I don’t really understand the purpose of his tweet, more than likely a “your card is marked” type warning, but it does indicate just how they will look past the information they know about you in their system and take an interest in what you do outside of Google’s own properties. Judging people by what they do outside of Google doesn’t seem like something Google should be interested in, but we are learning the true depth of how they operate here and the barriers they cross.

Domain contact information

As far as I can tell, only one site was hit which didn’t have my contact information in the domain and was not in my WMT account. I don’t believe domain privacy hides your information securely, it is unreliable. I would bet my left testicle that Google has managed to record the domain contact information somehow and will be able to track all online properties with your name. Using web 2.0s as moneysites and dropping in iframes or faking the domain contact information may be the only ways of stopping an attack if you’re targeted.

What was not attacked

Whether he found these sites or not is hard to prove, it could be that he simply eased off going full retard, but there is a pattern in the attacks and it is fairly simple in essence. All of my sites which ticked these boxes were hit with manual penalties;

  • Domain contact information contained my name – including privacy

  • Was present in one of my webmaster tools accounts or analytics

  • Was connected to my name in some way

  • Sites which did not have my name in the domain contact information(including those without privacy) and sites which I did not have Google analytics or webmaster tools installed  and sites which did not have a connection to my name were not hit.

    What this proves is that Google DOES track your your webmaster tools accounts and will put effort into attacking you on a level beyond their own services by searching for your name online, which includes your activity on sites not related to Google. Most seasoned marketers may already feel they knew this, but it is important to get the facts on these things and see just how far Google has come.

    How to protect sites and remain anonymous to Google post 2013

    I think if you’re a big player in the SEO industry you have to be extra careful not to become a target for Google. You need to plan your strategy before you even attempt to enter a big niche, if Google identifies you as someone making waves and ranking for very tough keywords, they will target you and you will be in the most wanted database.

    Never reveal yourself as the owner of a domain or property

    Fake the contact information in your domain, I would suggest using friend’s details, but considering how Google will go further than their own properties in search of your online history, such as your Twitter and Facebook, it may not be a good idea to leave this footprint.  Another possibility, and something I’ve noticed is recently being deployed by marketers on a greater scale is how using ranking pintrest pages and web 2.0s keeps you anonymous to a degree.

    Keep your personal name and your SEO/Blackhat name completely separate

    Create Separate online personas for each new website and do not make any connection between your real name and your online name, including posting affiliate site stuff to your personal Facebook or Twitter accounts. We don’t realistically know what level of information is passed to Google from domain registrars and social networks. This is especially important if you work for an SEO agency during the day and your own business during the night, Google will make that connection and go down that road if the sites mention your name.

    Webmaster Tools, Google Drive, Google analytics and Chrome are off limits

    Got SEO client information in your Google Drive? Get rid of it, host it elsewhere, this goes for Webmaster Tools too. If you’re targeted and you have information about these sites on a Google property, then they will begin connecting dots and pushing out very harsh penalties. I vaguely remember hearing an ex-Google employee regarding Chrome say something along the lines of “If Google Chrome can track it, it does”. I would not hesitate to think that Google has a database of user activity should they ever need it, such as if they want to clean someone they don’t want creating sites in their search engine.

    Domain hosting and prepaid credit cards

    Host domains using several sets of accounts or with a relatively small registrar, its time to create several personas. If you truly want to go a step further and ensure Google can’t track you then prepaid credit cards are the way forward. Welcome to the new way things need to work in order to protect yourself from attacks. Register these accounts using separate emails addresses, save the passwords in an encrypted mega.co account in case you forget them.

    Be anonymous in everything you do

    The real lesson and concession from Google in this instance has been that Google has moved from looking at specific sites, to monitoring specific people online who could be a danger to their police state “utopia” of SERPs. You are not safe hiding your sites, you have to hide your identity as well.

    Intrigued? Enter The Blackhat Underground Forum

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    Agent Blackhat
    Written by Agent Blackhat

    I am an individual, I run this blog and these are my thoughts, experiences and experiments with search engines and online marketing.

    38 Comment responses

    1. Avatar
      December 16, 2013

      Wow… this is pretty alarming. Personally I knew this stuff was going on already, but that really does suck.

      Was this a bit hit to your business/wallet? If so, it speaks to the idea of not relying on google for traffic anymore.

      Wish you the best of luck,
      Brandon

      Reply

    2. Avatar
      December 16, 2013

      If you are based in Europe, you could use the Irish data protection act to request google provide you with all the information they have on you. Considering Google have consolidated all their logins, Google should be compelled to provide all the data (by law). This would the same as what the Swiss guy did on Facebook.

      Reply

    3. Avatar

      One the funniest (well, not really, considering…) occurrences in SEO consultation is to have clients even in the most competitive industries such as gaming or pharma enquire about cloaking campaigns, negative SEO and all other sorts of blackhat stuff – blithely posting via their Gmail accounts!
      This merely goes to show the degree of ignorance and/or carelessness rampant amongst Internet marketers.
      Beyond that, I’m afraid I have to agree 100% will all the caveats you’ve spelled out so nicely – would it were different, but no cigar. It’s a Google-eats-dog world out there and if you want to not only survive it but accomplish your monetary aims, you really can’t be paranoid enough about your anonymity.

      Reply

    4. Avatar
      December 17, 2013

      Don’t tug on Superman’s cape. I’m kind of glad he turned around and punched you in the face. Maybe now you won’t send him obnoxious messages on Twitter.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        December 17, 2013

        Forgive me, but I don’t believe you understand the article.

        Reply

        • Avatar
          December 17, 2013

          I understand completely, I’m just on Matt’s side when it comes to your personal obsession with him. It’s utterly pathetic the way you guys hang on his every word, continually rub his nose in whatever’s working at the moment. Why is it so hard to do your work and leave him out of it? To ignore what he says? To do your business and not act like a petulant child? HEY MATT! LOOK MATT! THIS 301 TECHNIQUE HEHEHE YOU CAN STOP US. HEY MATT!! – seriously, grow up.

          Reply

          • Avatar

            You actually do seem to misunderstand the article’s point. Note that I fully agree with you that all this childish thumbing one’s nose at Matt Cutts is, well, infantile and utterly counter productive. A prime waste of time, nothing more.

            However, this article merely lends some hard-proof data to what all blackhats worth their name have inuitively known for ages: that Google will relentlessly use *all* resources at their disposal to hunt down whoever they disfavour. And that you can’t ever be too fickle about holding your cards close to your chest when playing with them.

            What I personally liked most is the extent to which this was checked and outlined here: it’s one thing, having a hunch that you’re dead right about something, quite another seeing someone else underpin that hunch with proof positive.

            Reply

          • Avatar
            December 18, 2013

            I have no problem or interest in Matt Cutts as an individual, nor would I like to make enemies with anyone. Google’s algorithm is a hobby to me and I love writing and discussing the details of how it works and ways to take advantage of its weaknesses.

            I’m sure Matt Cutts is a top bloke in real life, but it just so happens he is the face and voice of Google, and as such, he is undeniably an impact in my life as the core director of webspam for Google.

            Reply

    5. Avatar
      December 17, 2013

      I agree that it is amazing how much information they can use to identify web property owners. There are many additional things they can look at as well, like who is on the same name server, ( see http://www.dnsqueries.com/en/ip_neighbors.php).

      They could also identify you by looking for common cms plugins extensions, or other anomalies in your html. Also as most people reading this probably know that can look for similar backlink profiles as well.

      Matt Cutts, if you are reading this please do not make me suffer for commenting here. I’m a wh I swear!

      Reply

    6. Avatar
      December 19, 2013

      Wow, just shows Matt Cutts has a dark side, and it seems he uses cookies (Family Guy joke :P)

      I’d suggest anyone looking to build a site to never use GWMT, it just causes wayyyy too many issues.

      Reply

    7. Avatar
      December 19, 2013

      Very interesting reading. I’m surprised that Matt got so riled up as to go after you personally, but it does affirm my belief that google know *exactly* what is going on. It’s really pretty easy to spot manipulation and I think the net is closing fast on the few remaining loopholes.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        December 21, 2013

        I don’t believe he was riled up, it is as simple as a policy change. Google is now becoming extremely aggressive, they want to hit us in the pocket, even if that means hitting everyone else in the pocket too and targeting individuals.

        Reply

    8. Avatar
      December 20, 2013

      You conveniently omit a link or screen shot to Matt’s ‘response’ . While I agree with your sentiment and points, that would be nice.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        December 21, 2013

        What response? I posted all of the conversation. So there is nothing “convenient” about something which doesn’t exist.

        Reply

    9. Avatar
      December 20, 2013

      These tweets are not from Matt’s account. Not on the current time line either.

      Reply

    10. Avatar
      December 25, 2013

      what if you are using their adsense, how can u be anonymous?

      Reply

    11. Avatar
      December 31, 2013

      Good post!

      I think they (Google, Twitter, WEB 2.0, FB etc.) could have some sort of agreements. They could share information about “some sort” of users, IPs, DNS data, emails etc. to stop spam and black hat techniques. Technically it’s very easy to do, law? who cares… (not big boys for sure).

      Also, Google have logs and stuff…, they keep a LOT of data. It’s easy for them to analyze IP and track it activity etc.

      Using VPN and Shell accounts is a MUST for anyone trying to stay anonymous.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        February 20, 2014

        And just how’d they link that data? Ok, MAYBE via e-mail IF the users registered on FB, Twitter etc. with a Gmail account. But the rest of the data would be still useless for them, because they couldn’t link them together.

        There’s also the legal issue. You MIGHT think that they don’t care for law, but usually corporations usually run ALL major decisions through legal department to make sure that they don’t get their pants sued off later. And misuse of personal information (which this “cooperation” would definitely involve) would definitely open them up for legal liability. Believe it or not, there are some borders which they probably wouldn’t cross.

        As for the data, the more of it you have, the more time you have to spend analyzing it. And even despite the article I don’t see them coming after all the more prominent black hat “SEO” guys anytime soon.

        Wouldn’t a proxy be enough for most of the SEO “stunts”? They’re usually cheaper than VPNs for instance….

        Reply

    12. Avatar
      January 02, 2014

      You’re a little late to the game in learning about some of these things (such as Google sending notices for accounts that have been removed from GWT).

      But you don’t yet see some of the clues they have to your activity.

      Reply

    13. Avatar
      January 16, 2014

      Wow, that’s almost creepy. Did he really go out of his way to find your information or was it that easy? It almost seems like a breach of privacy & I’m starting to get paranoid about google knowing my presence. Time for us to become invisible and ban all the use of googles tools to “track us”.

      Reply

    14. Avatar
      Matt
      Twitter:
      February 04, 2014

      You revealed yourself to be the real narcissist here:

      Thrush Site < Flippa Google Plus > agentblackhat.com

      No Webmaster Tools data required.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        February 05, 2014

        This comment has no bearing on anything I said and does not understand the article, you’re also clearly not Matt Cutts for the reasons of being factually incorrect..

        Reply

        • Avatar
          February 15, 2014

          Sorry, mate, but you have read way too much into this. I was very quickly able to find out who you are by searching agent blackhat in Google (and it was just as easy with Bing). No access to Google’s data required, just one search and two mouse clicks. Finding your Flippa sale, personal Twitter, etc, was very simple once I had your real name. Anyway, you think you are so smart, I will let you figure it out on your own.

          Reply

          • Avatar
            February 15, 2014

            You have clearly not understood what I intended to achieve and you are quite aggressive which shows you have no constructive interest in the information on this post.

            Reply

    15. Avatar
      February 09, 2014

      Great article, just checked out your replies to Matt on the blacked out Twitter part, and it appears that you have messaged him several times before. Perhaps that is how he located your account? Just a thought.

      By the way, quick question. At the moment, how long does a 301 penalty take to catch up to the new domain?

      Reply

    16. Avatar
      February 11, 2014

      Hi Agent-Blackhat, it took me less than 5 mins to find out your BHW username, your real name, your hotmail address, the company that you work for, and evidence of your (prior) ownership of that domain !

      ps I do not work at Google.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        February 15, 2014

        That was intended, as I said, there were several levels of anonymity, each gradually harder. I never tried to hide these details.

        Reply

    17. Avatar
      Lysis
      Twitter:
      February 15, 2014

      You got pwnd, son. You poked the bear. Nice job, Matt.

      btw, you’re not that hard to find. Don’t pretend like you meant for this to happen. You thought you’d get a little slap on the wrist and Matt came around and curb stomped you to the ground. haha

      Reply

      • Avatar
        February 20, 2014

        If I didn’t want it to happen I wouldn’t have done it, would I? Also, who said he stomped me to the ground? ;)

        Nothing has changed for me. But on another note, are you not the least bit concerned about how Google acted in this instance? Targeting an individual rather than a website?

        Reply

    18. Avatar
      March 02, 2014

      Agreed people are missing the point of this article. Thanks for poking the bear.

      Reply

    19. Avatar
      March 11, 2014

      Well, if you mess up with god, for sure you will feel his wrath. A friend told me a couple years ago that Google bought a domain registrar license, not to sell domain name, but, just to monitors the activity, so, I bet a domain registrar can access a lot of information… By the way, never wonder why we where all forced to agreed with their policy of one login for all their properties? Well, NSA just thought it was easier to track down people and now that Google had to make it possible for the NSA, Matt uses it too ;) Did I say BIG BROTHER?!!!!

      Reply

    20. Avatar
      March 24, 2014

      Yup you sure poked the bear, got some noobs thinking you can rank sites bcuz Matty is supposedly spending his weekends spying on you.

      News flash bro, you’re not even a stain on Cutt’s boot and this whole post is complete bullshit. Maybe he’d throw a freshly hired intern at you to completely dismantle everything you own if he was having a bad day and you were mouthing off on Twitter. Besides that he wouldn’t waste his time pissing on you, even if it was just the dribble at the end of his stream.

      Please have the balls to publish this comment so others can read a real opinion on this.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        March 25, 2014

        Hey Jacob, I was talking to you on Skype the other day and you seemed fine? Is something the matter? This is just weird man.

        Reply

        • Avatar
          April 01, 2014

          Don’t worry, he probably suffers form bipolar disorder or just trying to win some cheap hits for his ego.

          This is critical for someone like myself who sells link services and also targets the big niches.

          “Only the paranoid survive in business”

          Appreciate the post!

          Reply

    21. Avatar

      either a really good link bait post or your just talking shit so people will sign up to something fucking bullshit either way it’s looking like a success.

      Reply

      • Avatar
        May 02, 2014

        I’m not in the business of being a bullshitter, it goes against my core values and I’d rather not be seen as a bullshitter either. Its in my best interests to be truthful. I’d rather tell the truth and look silly than lie to cover my back, because at least then I have some integrity. Hopefully as time goes by, people will realize this.

        Reply

        • Avatar
          June 04, 2014

          Simple solution, never get involved in a situation that you can’t control, or one which can only end badly for you.

          Reply

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