Google Explains New Link Warnings, Says Don’t Panic But Don’t Ignore

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

Google’s post starts with some history, explaining just as we’ve done how earlier this year, it began sending out link warnings:

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.

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.stirringtroubleinternationally.com/ Stirring Trouble International

    Nice post, well written and will appeal to people like me who are not posting out the 80 places at once. Thanks for the bookmarking update interesting as well. Well done Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land.

  • http://www.michaelmerritt.org/ Michael Merritt

    It looks like the original unnatural link warning messages are being deleted.

  • Peter Kern

    google is total rubbish these days! what is all about? Do they think people will do the work for them ?? i think removing links is total nonsense as it is very simple to build thousands of links for competitors (negative SEO) Google completely lost it.

  • http://twitter.com/MammothHost MammothHost.co.uk

    Google should never have expected webmasters to do anything about the links in the first place,  Discount the links if they are not worthy of a vote but don’t expect webmasters to clean up things most of them don’t understand, especially when these messages are so vague and not specific.

    Small businesses are officially priced out of the SEO market, Total opposite to what Google was aiming for with their plans of Google local and bringing small businesses to the forefront.

    Not only that but the dreaded 30 listings of the same site in the top 50 has returned in most search terms which is another issue which was previously minimised before Penguin / Panda

    #Rantover

  • http://www.directorymaximizer.com/ Sameer Panjwani

    These warnings only induce fear in people. Google wants you to think twice before you do any link building and while they have their own intentions behind it, I don’t believe they should have to ask people to remove their links. Why waste so much doing something which is highly difficult and not likely to product much results? It’d better to focus on the right things like building content, establishing relationships, etc…  I even blogged about why I think removing links might be a bad idea altogether http://bit.ly/Q5Qmri 

  • http://www.noflux.net John

    Great that Google has decided to punish the linker rather than the linked. Makes lots of sense. :)

  • http://twitter.com/SunWalkMedia SunWalk Media

    Google operates in the reverse of common sense these days… Have more important things to do during my day than track spammy porno links sent in by the competition.

  • http://www.andykuiper.com Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst

    Ok, I’m going to have a team of Philadelphia lawyers go over any warnings I might get from Google… perhaps they will understand them ;-) 

  • http://twitter.com/MaritzaMcLaugh3 Maritza McLaughli

    I even blogged about why I think removing links might be a bad idea altogether http://MomentDifference.blogspot.com

  • Peter Kern

    Exactly. They completely lost it! What do they think? That people will check every link they get every day and report it and remove it? Ridicules. And negative SEO is getting more powerful now :) So I guess this is the way to get the main competitors out of the way.

  • http://twitter.com/AuthorityBuzz Authority Buzz

    I think this just adds to the confusion, but it definitely keeps everyone on their toes. We need to start evening out our focus across a combination of link building, great content and social media. I think that’s the safest bet.

  • jack myth

    Deliberate change takes place by Google on link popularity which impacts on poor link building strategies and promotion.

  • james Dickinson

    Where do these messages go to? Is it to the websites ‘webmaster tools’ account?

  • Peter Kern

    Yes. I don’t recommend using webmaster tools as you shouldn’t allow google to see everything about your site. Using WT for many sites within 1 google account is complete suicide. Less google knows about you and your sites than better. Don’t believe in their good faith, guidelines etc… It is all about the money and control. 

  • http://www.transcriptionvendors.com/ Transcription Services

    Nice & helpful Post , but I think Google should  be little kind and shouldn’t delete the link .

  • james Dickinson

     Good tips.

    A different note -  has anyone seen their site not rank for a strong keyword, but rank well for a very similar keyword, i.e. ‘adopt a pet’ ranks well but ‘pet adoption’ not so well..

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    I don’t think the message is all that complicated or confusing.  Google has no way of determining whether the garbage links going to website A were a bad attempt at positive link-building by website A (or its representatives), or a good attempt at negative SEO by website A’s competitors (or their representatives).  They can’t send messages to the link builders because G doesn’t know who they are.  What they can do is send a message to the webmaster.

    That message is:  garbage links have appeared pointing at your site.  If you’re doing this, knock it off.  If someone else is doing this to you, don’t sweat it.

    The point of all of this is to make garbage link building go away, which can only be done by: 1) correctly identifying garbage links as distinct from naturally occurring links; 2) valuing those unnatural links at zero; and 3) letting everyone who MIGHT be involved know that they are doing 1 & 2 to dry up the incentive (and money) to chase bogus links.

  • Peter Kern

    That’s why penalizing for the bad links is stupid because negative SEO is possible. Why don’t they just value them as 0 (neutral)? Which wouldn’t make any difference to ranking either positive or negative.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Totally agree, Peter.  Any value other than zero encourages the proliferation of garbage links and pages.  I generally believe that Google is smart and rational, and most likely to follow the logical path.  I could see an argument that for sites that don’t have a long history, on which Google has little information (not many natural links), they may make a negative judgment about the site as a whole if there are a ton of crappy links going to it.  But for Target.com that isn’t going to be an issue; it might be for joeschmoessite.com 

  • Peter Kern

    The problem is google takes negative impact on aged quality websites, good businesses just because in 2005 they did some directory submission. This is insane and google will loose its position to other search engines. I hope!

  • georgewscottiii

    I have recieved both warnings (for different sites) in the past few weeks.  Once you get one, you can’t login to Google Webmaster Tools and you can’t “investigate” even on the less severe “we don’t trust some of the links but don’t worry” email.

    I believe this is only happening to those with Google Webmaster Tools on for their sites so for every website I manage I have deleted Google Webmaster Tools, it is just NOT worth it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Juggernart.Games Markus Eichler

    I understand that Google has to act against link spam, bought links and similar. I don’t understand the way they do it.
    I don’t understand their “PUNISHMENT MENTALITY”.
    Citation: “So while the site’s overall rankings might not drop directly, likewise the site might not be able to rank for some phrases.”
    Instead of just distrusting/devaluating certain links Google also applies penalties to pages/sites being linked to without knowing who was responsible for creation of the links.
    A site/page that gets new bad backlinks again and again (for example: links in WP themes or similar) is “doomed” forever.
    Why is there no “disavove links” tool for webmasters? Does Google really fear that it could be abused so much?

    Google: Yes, make the web better, but DON’T PUNISH webmasters for what they might have done or might have not done.

  • Peter Kern

    Google doesn’t care. All their talking is total bullshit. They want to destroy SEO that’s why they punishing websites. You can see now that more BIG names are in top results especially for ecommerce sites. Well… they are google best customers (adwords) :) 

  • http://www.transcriptionvendors.com/ Transcription Services

    Yes James , a single alphabet difference produced a huge impact on the two different keyword ranking for my site.

  • http://www.SmartInternetBusinessSolutions.co.uk/ Tarjinder S. Kailey

    One must say, Google is getting wilder. Don’t Panic but Don’t Ignore …

  • http://www.facebook.com/sean.thinkbigsites Sean Thinkbigsites

     Spot on, this is exactly what we’ve been saying as well. And the return of multiple site listings is VERY FRUSTRATING to try to explain to a client!

  • http://twitter.com/toptalkradio Top Talk Radio

    I have noticed in my analytics I am receiving 5 to 10 unwanted spam links from shady websites over-seas every day. To avoid detection they use numerous domains to accomplish their nasty hit and run spam campaign. Too bad there isn’t a way to ban and block their servers permanently.

  • Peter Kern

    It is not even possible to block those servers because they may use proxy or trojans. So there is no way really.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704066757 Dan Paris

    Message to Google: If you want to put our the flames of panic, don’t douse them with petrol!

  • http://twitter.com/bloggingways Blogging Ways

    Great information about Google here.

    http://www.bloggingways.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.siddle.79 Peter Siddle
  • tabi Ayesha

    http://Www.SmsForChat.Com    Join This Side

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz_PeVlgCcc flash-mob

    It means we should update our pattern of Link Building,like google said : don’t panic but don’t ignore..! lol

  • Jenksy

    I really enjoy the articles in which you are logical to the point of a fault, Danny, as regards Google’s latest clear-as-mud parochialisms and czar-like edicts. It helps remind that you’re not really a sycophant. ;)

    Anyway, and really: doesn’t all of this, everything that has happened basically since the first iteration of Penguin, boil down to a single, salient, almost cosmological constant…?

    GOOGLE, IGNORE LINKS YOU DON’T WANT TO COUNT.

    Nahhhh… They’d rather passive-aggressively mete-out capricious penalties against people who may or may not have any knowledge of what the hell the problem is. Interesting model, that.

    It’s also interesting to me that one rarely hears about how Google absolutely MUST guess, by definition, about which websites are and are not intentionally spamming in an attempt to manipulate SERPs. Unless, of course, Google is committing actionable privacy violations across their product offerings, gmail in particular. 

    As smart as most people assume Google to be, and the trust Google has acquired to this point, no algorithm, or even human observer, can know which aspect, if any at all, of a website’s link profile has been acquired with the intentional, premeditated purpose of manipulating Google’s SERPs in a manner that violates their ToS. Logically, that is the absolute end of the discussion, and the point at which it would be nice to see more Webmasters begin from. 

  • ts2f

    Yes, like a bad cop Google has lost it but, in this world, won’t have to pay for it. Someone, maybe Romney will bail them out.  

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