Note: PlugRush is my ad network of choice. I’ve had not have any of my sites punished. Since I use PlugRush, this issue is a major concern to me. I have switched pop-unders to CrakRevenue. Reasons listed below. I discovered that aside from the redirect issue (assuming the cause of penalties) PlugRush has had a reputation problem with malware, especially in the pop-unders.
I will continue to monitor some of the chatter on PlugRush and see if anything new develops.
Want to switch from PlugRush? List of PlugRush Alternatives
PlugRush Publishers receive Google Penalties
So late December a whole bunch of commotion is being caused by PlugRush, some Google bans and SEO implications. Doing searches within the Webmaster Help Forum will come up with many posts as well. It appears that many adult webmasters monetizing ads via PlugRush are getting SEO penalties.
My personal belief (from the start) was that is was from redirects of some sorts. PlugRush offers several, which will be discussed below. I’ve warned against adult mobile redirect scripts hurting SEO for a while now. Since Google released their mobile SEO best practices I knew these shady ad network redirects were going to be an issue.
Google stated that it was a horrible practice to redirect any desktop page to the mobile home. Instead, webmasters were to either serve responsive content or redirect every desktop page to the corresponding mobile version.If redirecting to the mobile home is a Google no-no, redirecting to an ad network sounds like the worst possible decision period.
Needless to say I’ve never used adult redirect scripts just for that reason. I’ve had suspicions that it would only harm mobile SEO, although it appears that it may actually cause for manual actions against websites.
Google and Cloaking – Matt Cuts Explains
The above video is what has been referenced most by the Webmaster Help forums. Webmasters can breathe a sigh of relief, Cutts discusses display ads that rotate content and state that webmasters with display ads need not worry. Cutts stated that serving different content to different IPs, user-agents, ect. isn’t something that needs to be worried about either, as long as Google isn’t singled out in particular.
Does PlugRush Single Out Google-Bot?
As I’ve mentioned above, and many other people have hinted at, I suspect mobile-redirect scripts. Just to cover all the grounds, let’s review everything PlugRush offers and see if there are other problems that could be identified. PlugRush does offer other redirects outside of mobile.
Here are the ad-types PlugRush offers:
Widget – This is there standard iframe display ad. If their widgets are the cause of this, then the adult webmaster community has a lot to fear. It would be safe to assume that all the display ads would be at risk of similar penalties. I’m running widgets PlugRush widgets on the majority of my sites.
Slider Widget – Creates a widget that slides onto the screen and displays an ad. The widget can be closed by the user. I do not use these on any of my sites (never have). Therefore, I cannot comment on whether these might impact SEO. There could be other SEO implications such as load time. It could be that Google might also look at these widgets as “too much above the fold advertisements”.
Pop-Under Script – I use pop-under scripts on almost every single one of my sites. The majority of those are PlugRush. I have not seen any SEO implications as a result. If sites with PlugRush pop-unders are being targeted by Google, other ad networks with similar services could also be at risk.
Mobile Redirect Script – As I’ve mentioned above, I feel that this is the culprit. It would seem that Cutts and others would also concur. Still, there are Webmasters that are claiming to have PlugRush sites not running mobile scripts that have been penalized. This is a red flag for me and something I’m going to be monitoring.
Adblock Redirect – Here is their other redirect script. It detects browsers with the Adblock extension and redirects them to a page explaining how Adblock sucks and we need to support internet monetization. After Adblock is removed, it’ll redirect the traffic to the ad campaign. This also seems shady to me.
So PlugRush is running two kinds of redirects. Mobile and Adblock. Both of those, I feel could qualify as cloaking. The slider widget is intrusive, and may get dinged from other algorithm updates, but I really don’t suspect that it’s what’s causing this. I am hoping it’s not the plugs itself.
PlugRush Website Itself Punished?
There are many SEO resources stating that they believed PlugRush itself was punished and not ranking for it’s own branded search. If that was the case, they’ve since recovered and rank first for “PlugRush” (like they should). I cannot comment, as I was not Googling them in December.
PlugRush WordPress Plugin
On some of the Webmaster Help discussions, there was talks of the PlugRush WordPress plugin. Since it came up in discussion, I felt it might be worth discussing. The plugin, when activated will create both mobile and adblock redirect ad-types within PlugRush. It will not active them by default, however.
I personally find it hard to believe that just having the WordPress plugin on your site would be cause for a penalty.
Webmasters Only Using Display Ads
As mentioned above, there’s been PlugRush users that have stated that they’ve been penalized and do not use redirect-scripts. I find this very shocking and alarming. So I tried to browse and find possibilities for a Google ban, outside of the redirect scripts. Here are several thoughts that were circulating around the various webmaster resource sites and forums:
Serving USA Geo-Targeted Ads?
It had been suggested that a possible cause for the penalties could be USA Geo-targeted advertisements. There is some logic behind this, as Google’s crawlers are all from USA. On the other-hand, Cutts stated in his video (above) that as long as you were Geo-targeting USA and not Google-Bot specifically, there wasn’t an issue.
Malware In Ads
There have been multiple discussions of PlugRush’s major malware issues. I haven’t noticed any malware in particular, but there have been those obnoxious “your browser has been locked” scams. Seeing how I’ve had those appear on my own sites, I thought this revelation was worth switching my pop-under scripts away from PlugRush. I’m experimenting with CrakRevenue for pop-under scripts and see how the conversion rates look for various programs. I figure it’d be a safer alternative, as I know the pop-unders will be from a program and not an ad network where malicious things can slip by.
Embed above is a video of Cutts talking all about malware. Notice at around 2:10 he mentions that the malware might not be from your site, but possibly from 3rd party sites. He explicitly states “ad networks” as a possible culprit.
Google has a free tool to check websites for malware events. To check your site, replace the placeholder with your site and paste it into the browser:
If you are a PlugRush publisher that’s been hit without serving any kind of redirect, you might want to run this diagnostics and see if malware wasn’t a reason.
PlugRush Infects 1 Site With Malware
Playing around with the tool reveals that 1 site was infected with malware via PlugRush over the last 90 days. That means 1 event where it was detected, I’m sure there’s possibilities of more. After I seen this result, I queried some other networks and the results are very interesting and something I will be blogging about here shortly.
I view PlugRush to be a little sketchier than I did at the start of writing this. Mainly due to all the chatter about malware. I feel the plugs should be fairly harmless, though there may be a chance of a display ad linking to something malicious. On the forums, it seems as though the PlugRush pop-unders are the real malware concern.
As for the redirects go, I feel it’s a primary issue on many of the adult webmasters who have been nixed by Google. Remove the redirects. Doesn’t matter which ad network your using for your mobile redirects, they’re probably going to net the same complications.
There might be ways to effectively leverage redirect scripts, but if you’re highly dependent on organic search traffic, might want to think again. If its a property that only gets direct or referral traffic though, redirect scripts should still be fairly profitable. I don’t understand the idea behind not creating a search-friendly website, however.