Confused by the latest link warnings that Google has been sending out? As we covered before, it’s all been pretty confusing. That’s why Google has posted more information meant to calm some worries, though it’s still likely that even after this, some are going to panic.
The “Old” Link Warnings: Entire Site Impacted
Let’s talk about the original link messages that we’ve been sending out for months. When we see unnatural links pointing to a site, there are different ways we can respond. In many severe cases, we reduce our trust in the entire site. For example, that can happen when we believe a site has been engaging in a pretty widespread pattern of link spam over a long period of time.
If your site is notified for these unnatural links, we recommend removing as many of the spammy or low-quality links as you possibly can and then submitting a reconsideration request for your site.
Sometimes, Links Ignored
As you can see, if you got one of these messages in the past, it was a sign that your entire site might be distrusted. But Google’s post went on to say:
In a few situations, we have heard about directories or blog networks that won’t take links down. If a website tries to charge you to put links up and to take links down, feel free to let us know about that, either in your reconsideration request or by mentioning it on our webmaster forum or in a separate spam report. We have taken action on several such sites, because they often turn out to be doing link spamming themselves.
This is a slightly new twist to concerns some have had that if they can’t get links removed, what can they do? Google’s saying that in some cases, it might decide a directory or link network is spam, so it will block those sites — and in turn, those links should no longer count as harmful to the sites they point at.
I’ve covered this before, in terms of negative SEO. There are those who received notices from being in link networks, then assumed that this meant anyone could link to anyone from these networks as a means of harming them. That only works assuming that the networks were allowed to continue passing harmful link credit.
The New Warnings
Now on to the new warnings:
In less severe cases, we sometimes target specific spammy or artificial links created as part of a link scheme and distrust only those links, rather than taking action on a site’s overall ranking. The new messages make it clear that we are taking “targeted action on the unnatural links instead of your site as a whole.”
The new messages also lack the yellow exclamation mark that other messages have, which tries to convey that we’re addressing a situation that is not as severe as the previous “we are losing trust in your entire site” messages.
To be clear, there were some people who recently got these “new” warnings that looked exactly the same as the old ones. The concern these raised prompted Google to make the changes above, as we covered previously, along with examples of how to tell what’s more severe due to a yellow warning symbol like this:
New Warnings May Ignore Links, Not Harm Entire Site
As for those who get one of the new warnings, apparently they mean that Google’s not penalizing your site. Rather, it’s going to “take action” against the link pointing at your site, meaning it won’t trust it. Google goes on to explain this more:
These new messages are worth your attention.Fundamentally, it means we’re distrusting some links to your site. We often take this action when we see a site that is mostly good but might be might have some spammy or artificial links pointing to it (widgetbait, paid links, blog spam, guestbook spam, excessive article directory submissions, excessive link exchanges, other types of linkspam, etc.).
So while the site’s overall rankings might not drop directly, likewise the site might not be able to rank for some phrases.
I wouldn’t classify these messages as purely advisory or something to be ignored, or only for innocent sites.
You Won’t Rank For Some Terms But Don’t Panic?
I think Google sees the explanation above as reassuring, since it says that the site overall won’t drop in rankings. But saying the site may drop for some rankings, combined with advice that anyone who gets one of these new notices should take action, is still going to cause concern.
That’s why the next part of Google’s post immediately after the paragraph above isn’t at all calming:
On the other hand, I don’t want site owners to panic. We do use this message some of the time for innocent sites where people are pointing hacked anchor text to their site to try to make them rank for queries like [buy viagra].
Here’s a thought. If you don’t want sites to panic, then send those “innocent sites” messages that clearly explain they are innocent and don’t have to worry about taking any action. Otherwise, there’s no way for them to know they really are innocent. It’s like giving a driver something that looks like a ticket with no indication that it’s just an advisory they can ignore.
Examples Of Those Who Did Panic & Didn’t Need To
The post goes on with examples of things to avoid, such as widget links and paid links. Then a third example says this:
In some cases we’re ignoring links to a site where the site itself didn’t violate our guidelines. A good example of that is reputation management. We had two groups write in; one was a large news website, while the other was a not-for-profit publisher. Both had gotten the new link message.
In one case, it appeared that a “reputation management” firm was using spammy links to try to push up positive articles on the news site, and we were ignoring those links to the news site.
In the other case, someone was trying to manipulate the search results for a person’s name by buying links on a well-known paid text link ad network. Likewise, we were just ignoring those specific links, and the not-for-profit publisher didn’t need to take any action.
In summary, both sites got one of these new messages that Google has said shouldn’t be ignored. At the same time, the publishers — clearly concerned enough about them to write in — were apparently told they could ignore these messages, because the links themselves were ignored. Bottom line: a lot of time wasted by all parties.
If You Get A Message, Investigate, Says Google
What to do if you got one of these new warnings? The latest advice from Google:
We recently launched the ability to download backlinks to your site sorted by date. If you get this new link message, you may want to check your most recent links to spot anything unusual going on. If you discover that someone in your company has been doing widgetbait, paid links, or serious linkspam, it’s worth cleaning that up and submitting a reconsideration request.
We’re also looking at some ways to provide more concrete examples to make these messages more actionable and to help narrow down where to look when you get one.
Google also said less than 20,000 domains have received these messages and going forward, only about 10 sites per day can expect to receive them. It also offered some final reassurance:
If you get one of these new messages, it’s not a cause for panic, but neither should you completely ignore it. The message says that the current incident isn’t affecting our opinion of the entire website, but it is affecting our opinion of some links to the website, and the site might not rank as well for some phrases as a result.
Google Needs Better Messages
I just don’t see how any of these new messages aren’t going to cause panic by those who get them. Saying a site might not rank well for some terms is self-evidently a panic-inducing statement. Worse, it induces panic when, in some cases, the site doesn’t need to actually do anything at all.
Last time I wrote about this, I said Google should just stop sending warnings until it could clear things up better. Nothing in today’s post has changed that view. This entire situation just seems to go from bad to worse.