Should You be Concerned with Google’s Warnings?
A lot of webmasters have recently received the unnatural link warning message from Google and started worrying whether or not their website would be punished. Previously, punished sites would lose a lot of their traffic, have to fix the problem, and attempt to restore their position on the results pages. However, according to Google’s blog post1 there no need to worry. So where does the truth lie?
According to Google, these new messages differ from their traditional repertoire of accusation. To start off, their more serious messages have a “very-important” symbol, whereas the new ones don’t. That is to say, the new ones aren’t as serious. Furthermore, previous messages meant that Google had detected suspicious activity on a site-wide level, and had lowered the website’s ranking, which in turn meant less or no traffic, or simply that Google had lost trust in the website. As a result, the webmasters had to implement changes and fix the problems before Google would reconsider their website. All in all, it was a pretty serious matter.
The new messages seem to have a different meaning. In a move toward openness and better collaboration, Google is informing webmasters earlier in the process. The search engine has detected a spammy backlink to a generally trustworthy and reputable website and has started investigating. According to the press release, at this stage there is little that webmasters can do but monitor their website performance. If Google sees that a website is the target of negative SEO, it will discredit the backlink farm so that the original website is not affected. Unfortunately, due to the discrediting, the website might fall in the ranking on some keywords. However, if this is not the case, and the website truly breaches Google’s Best Practices, the above-mentioned scenario will happen.
In fact, webmasters can use Google’s webmaster tools to locate the unnatural link and try to remove it. Usually, blog administrators and site moderators will be happy to do so. On the rare occasions that they extort money from you or downright refuse, do not fret but simply include everything in your reconsideration request. Google’s staff will evaluate the website and hopefully decide that your website is not at fault.
The bloggers at SEOmoz did an experiment on whether negative SEO would be successful at getting a website downgraded2. They received the unnatural link message and initially thought that spammy backlinks would get them a punishment by Google. However, after checking their organic traffic, they saw that it had had no effect, so they concluded that the message was Google’s way of saying, “Hey, we dealt with a spammy backlink to your website.”
It is worth noting that the Google blog post included a number of scenarios where the message actually meant bad news3. The first instance included widget links. The accused website was using keyword-rich anchor text into their widgets, and the anchor texts were leading to their site’s URL. The second example featured paid or sponsored links. A website had been backlinked by a spam-filled blog on numerous occasions. According to Matt Cutts, these backlinks were doing harm to the website’s ranking so it would benefit from a closer investigation into the message. Alternatively, the website could be buying links just to boost its page rank.
The last example included reputation management, where one side wanted to boost specific articles and bury others deep into the search results. Google’s solution was to ignore the paid backlinks so they didn’t affect the website’s performance.
In general, if you as a webmaster receive Google’s unnatural link message, check both the most recent traffic data for sudden variations and the new backlinks information.