Recently, another batch of unnatural links warnings was sent out to webmasters via Google Webmaster Tools. The warnings are the exact same as the ones that were released from July 2011 to March 2012, and say the following:
Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.domain.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
I did not personally get any of these warnings, but I know several webmasters who did. And most of them claim that they have had little to no unnatural link building done on their site. My first thought was, "YEAH, right." I mean, all of us can probably find at least one spammy link in our profile. Perhaps we have submitted to a directory simply for the purposes of getting a link back, or maybe we left a few too many blog comments with rich anchor text. However, I now think I can see what Google is doing...and it's brilliant!
Google's plan to end "easy" SEO:
Here's a timeline of recent events:
- March 2011. Google started to send out some warnings of unnatural links.
- July 2012. Google stepped up the campaign and sent a large number of unnatural links warnings. Now, many webmasters were starting to wonder. "OK...it's a warning...do I need to do anything?"
- A few weeks later - Websites started to tank. Many people who had received a warning of unnatural links suffered a severe penalty. In some cases, you could clean up your link profile (i.e. delete spammy links) and file a reconsideration request and some sites did recover. As a result of these sites receiving penalties, people made the following conclusion: If you get an unnatural links warning, you'd better clean up your link profile because a few weeks later you're likely to be penalized!
- Shortly after this, Google unleashed their Penguin Update. The mandate was very similar to the unnatural links warnings, but the difference was that the Penguin Update was an algorithmic change, whereas the links warnings were manual. Sites that suffered losses due to Penguin had unnatural linking in their history as well. This article from Search Engine Watch explains some of the types of links that could lead to a penalty - Paid links with exact anchor match, comment spam, guest posts on questionable sites, article marketing and links from dangerous sites.
- Now people are confusing the unnatural links warnings with the Penguin attacks. But, the general consensus is, "Spammy linking can get you in trouble."
- July 2012: Google sends out another huge batch of unnatural links warnings. Anyone who got one is now worried. The last time the warnings went out, almost every site that got one was severely penalized.
The result? Google has successfully instilled fear in webmasters - fear of unnatural linking in any way!
A strange message by Matt Cutts:
24 hours after the new batch of unnatural links warnings were released, Matt Cutts (head of webspam at Google) wrote the following strange message on his Google+ Page :
If you received a message yesterday about unnatural links to your site, don’t panic. In the past, these messages were sent when we took action on a site as a whole. Yesterday, we took another step towards more transparency and began sending messages when we distrust some individual links to a site. While it’s possible for this to indicate potential spammy activity by the site, it can also have innocent reasons. For example, we may take this kind of targeted action to distrust hacked links pointing to an innocent site. The innocent site will get the message as we move towards more transparency, but it’s not necessarily something that you automatically need to worry about.
If we've taken more severe action on your site, you’ll likely notice a drop in search traffic, which you can see in the “Search queries” feature Webmaster Tools for example. As always, if you believe you have been affected by a manual spam action and your site no longer violates the Webmaster Guidelines, go ahead and file a reconsideration request. It’ll take some time for us to process the request, but you will receive a followup message confirming when we’ve processed it.
What a bizarre message! It's like he's saying, "Hey, we sent you a message about unnatural links, but it might mean nothing. Don't do anything for now, but if you suddenly start receiving less traffic you know you should have done something."
I personally believe that this series of events - unnatural links warnings, sites losing traffic, Penguin, sites losing traffic, more unnatural links warnings - were all a well thought out plan to instill fear in webmasters. The goal is likely to get people to stop creating links. And really, wasn't that Google's goal all along? Google wants sites to rank at the top, not because they have a good SEO, but rather because they are the best website to match the search query.
Google could have simply said, "Look guys, we are no longer going to count any links that come from comment spam, spun articles, etc. so stop doing them." But then, people would find loopholes. Now, with what they have done, they keep us guessing. And more and more, the answer is, STOP CREATING LINKS! IN MOST CASES, IF A LINK IS EASY TO GET AND CAN BE SELF-MADE, IT'S NOT GOING TO BE HELPFUL.
Were the latest notices completely random?
That's what I think! I think that Google randomly sent a bunch of webmaster tools unnatural links warnings out. I think that no manual action will be taken on site that received these warnings. But, I do believe that another Penguin update will roll out soon. Sites that have obvious spammy links that somehow weren't caught by the first Penguin wave will be hit. And, through all this Google will have successfully scared SEO's out of self creating links.
What does this mean for SEO?
Is SEO dead? By no means! But SEO is not easy anymore. In the past, in some niches, you could create a few links via directory submissions, a few article spins and some blog comments and voila, you were on page one! What this meant is that you had lots of self proclaimed SEOs who were ranking sites with very little effort. Now, the work of an SEO is even more challenging. A true SEO these days will do great on-page optimization, create (or train others to create) great content, and then work hard to promote that content to other webmasters in an effort to attract natural links.
What do you think?
Did you get an unnatural links warning? Do you agree with me that Google is trying to instill fear into webmasters to prevent them from getting easy links? I'd love to hear your comments below!
Stay up to date on the latest in SEO and AI
I'll send you an email each week once I've published newsletter.