Probably one of the scariest things a site owner can go through is getting a warning from Google that says they have detected something wrong with your site. Whether it is spam or malware or the dreaded “unnatural links”. If you are someone who has received just such a message or know someone who does, what are you supposed to do?
The text of the message goes like this:
“Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.somesite.com/, We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes. We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results. If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request. If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support. Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team”
At first you might go “oh my god – what am I going to do? Does this mean my site is gone from Google?”
Well the answer is no you probably aren’t gone from Google but that doesn’t mean Google won’t do something about your site.
But before we go down that road, let us take a look at this message:
“We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank.”
So they told us what they found.
“We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines.”
Ok they’d like you to make changes. It doesn’t say you MUST make changes.
“Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.”
Ok so they want you to tell them that you’ve made changes? Starting to sound a little fishy.
This is where I have my problem with this whole scenario. You see, it seems like they are doing you a favor – “hey we found something out about your site – here is what it is and when you fix it let us know.”
But the problems I have are these: First, while they tell you there are some links of concern, they don’t tell you which ones they are. If you have done any link building at all in the past few years, there is no way for you to know which links are the “bad” ones and which are not.
Then, after you think you’ve gotten rid of the bad ones they want you to let them know that you’ve made changes so that they can go through your site with an even finer toothed comb to see if you have indeed removed the links that are bad, even though they didn’t tell you which ones they are.
You see the problem here? You may have removed a bunch of links that you felt were not totally above board, yet you don’t know for sure if you have gotten them all, or are even looking in the right place?
So you “do the right thing” and let them know that you’ve removed them and what happens? You get another cryptic email saying something along the lines of “while we appreciate your efforts you still haven’t removed all the bad ones.” Really??
C’mon Google, if you want everyone to play nicely, at least share the rules. I mean, you don’t have to tell us what your secret sauce is, but at least point us in the right direction.
So just what do you do if you recieve this email telling you that you have some links Google doesn’t care for?
Well just such a scenario happened to a friend of mine and being in the industry I am he asked my opinion. So here’s what I told him:
Yes, I said. Wait and see what happens.
I said this to him because if you read the email, it doesn’t say your site WILL be penalized, it just says that they’ve noticed some irregularities and you should see about getting those taken care of.
So I said let’s wait and see what happens to your site – if it starts to slip in the rankings then we can deal with it at that time. In the mean time don’t change anything – don’t re-optimize pages and by all means be sure to keep up your link building efforts because if you stop that’s a sure sign that you were doing something to artificially inflate your links in the first place!
I’ve done some research on this whole topic because I had begun to notice a lot of people getting these messages from Google and after the initial freak out most people were coming to the same conclusion: Let’s wait and see. We’re not going to request the reinclusion, especially if the site is still ranking, and tip our hands to Google.
After all, if we remove the links we know we built that weren’t naturally occuring and tell them, Google will just go through the links we removed, apply them to other sites and then send those sites the same message.
It’s really smart if you think about it. They can’t find all the “unnatural” links on their own so they threaten people they suspect of taking part in “linking schemes” in order to catch other sites doing the same. It’s kinda like the cop offering the criminal immunity for rolling over on his partners.
So, let’s say my friend follows through with the message – he has a pretty good idea of what links Google is looking at, but Google doesn’t know about all of them. So he does what he can to remove the ones he can, and he makes a list of the others which he provides to Google. Google now knows which links he removed, as well as those he couldn’t but he’s worried about. Google then takes this list, goes through those sites and finds other sites they also link to, and then contact those sites with the same ominous message. Some of those site owners go through the same process, providing and even larger list of links and they then do the reinclusion request.
Pretty soon Google has a large list of sites where links were built from and can start identifying patterns. They can then use those patterns to update their link algorithms to target those sites.
Should you be worried? Perhaps – a little. Should you jump to conclusions? Most definitelly not! Wait and see what happens – it could be your site slips but in my reading and research there aren’t too many that do. It’s been weeks since the first emails like this went out and from what I’ve found most of those sites haven’t been penalized.
What should you do? Continue what you’ve been doing – continue writing great content. Continue optimizing your website and continue link building. But be a little more cautious of the links you get in the future. There are some out there that Google doesn’t like and you can rest assured that their quality threshold will continue to rise as other webmasters complete their reinclusion requests.