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How Google Has Messed Up With the Latest Link Warning Notices

In July 2012, Google made a big mistake. Webmasters from all over the world logged into their Google Webmaster Tools accounts to see this message:

“Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links to: http://www.sitename.com”

For webmasters who participate in spammy linkbuilding tactics, this kind of notification would come as no surprise. What did shock webmasters was that some of the sites who saw this notification were quite reputable sites, like SEOMoz.org which also received this notice.

People who’ve spent months and years building organic backlinks to their site suddenly saw a message from Google accusing them of spam. Needless to say, the SEO and website building communities were outraged.

What Happened?

The notice came as a result of Matt Cutts and the Google Web Spam Team making changes to their notification algorithms. More specifically, the Web Spam Team is trying to be more transparent with their processes.

In other words, instead of just banning a site outright one day, they want to give sites that are potentially in violation a little more notice. They want webmasters to know what they’re thinking.

So what Google decided to do was to notify webmasters if they thought they were seeing spammy links pointing to their site. It was meant more as a “heads up” rather than a “we think you’re spamming” message.

Unfortunately, the warning message was worded quite ambiguously. The message didn’t tell site owners how severe the issue was or whether or not they were being penalized. It simply said that “unnatural links” were detected. Also, the message came with the yellow warning logo.

In the past, Google only gave warnings when they thought an entire site might be suspect. If they thought that a site’s linking tactics involve spam, they’ll give you a warning. Today, they’ve changed it so that if you have any spammy links at all, you’ll get a warning.

What Google Has Done to Rectify the Situation

Matt Cutts has already gone on Google+ and clarified their stance of there not necessarily being a reason to panic if one has received this notice. That said, Google has not rescinded their decision to post the message. [Click to Enlarge]

Matt Cutts Link Warning Rectification Notice

Instead, they’ve split the one warning message into two. People whose entire site is suspected of spam will receive a different notification than people who’re receiving spammy backlinks. Webmasters should easily be able to tell whether they’re still in Google’s good graces based on the warning message. Also, the yellow warning sign has been removed.

Note: The main reason Google can’t just ban any site getting spammy links is because competitors can then easily take down any other site simply by spamming it with links. Google wants to warn sites if they’re receiving spammy links, but Google doesn’t want to ban sites that are being spammed by competitors.

How You Know if You’ve Been Hit & What to Do

How do you know if Google has actually decided your website is a spammy website?

The clearest indication is your search-based traffic. In Google Analytics, you can break down the amount of traffic you get from search engines. Look at the amount of traffic you’ve been receiving in the past and compare it to the present. Have you noticed a sharp drop? If so, then there’s a good chance that Google has now considered your website spam.

What can you do to remedy the situation?

First, remove any spammy links that are still pointing to your website. Don’t be too overzealous though in your attempt at taking down links because some links might still work, it’s just the very obvious “spam” that you want to remove. Take down spun articles, take down fake Web 2.0 articles and remove any links you might have paid for which are easily detectible. Of course, there will be links that will be very hard to remove and might not be worth the effort really, so in those cases the best thing to do would be to just focus on renewed link building efforts for your site. Also read, why removing links might not be a completely great idea.

It’s also not just your links that could affect you. Look at your website and remove any blackhat elements on your website. Stop cloaking, stop keyword stuffing, stop doing anything that might remotely look blackhat. Add high quality content and improve your site’s design. Reduce the amount of advertising you run on your website. Make more site more “usable” and “readable”.

Once you’ve “fixed up” your website, submit a reconsideration request to Google. Note that it may take weeks or even months before the Web Spam Team will get around to analyzing your reconsideration request. Once the request is processed, assuming your site no longer seems spammy, your rankings should resume. However, the time lag factor should not stop you from continuing working on your site. Since the Penguin update is algorithmic, with a renewed flow of quality links pointing to your site, there is a chance of also recovering from the fall with any such effort.

Google is generally quite careful about taking actions against websites. In this case, Google made a mistake – Not in how they ranked websites, but in their communication. If you saw the above warning, your site may not actually be banned from Google. It’s more of a warning than an actual indictment.



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