Never before has there been a negative factor when it comes to hypertext links, until now. On or around April 28th 2012, Google released its latest algorithm update dubbed “Penguin”. This update was specifically targeting web sites which have characteristics indicating they have used tactics to build what Google refers to as “artificial” or “unnatural links” pointing to them. Web sites which are deemed to be using methods of generating what Google feels are “unnatural” or “artificial” links receive the below message in Webmaster Tools warning them (that a penalization is likely only days away).
But not every site effected by Penguin will receive this message. There does seem to be sites which are effected by Penguin that go unreported. Well experienced industry professionals have questioned the fact that a mere link pointing at your site could actually harm you. That the idea is a myth or completely falsehood (posted in 2011 – they may have changed their opinion by now) as it would be far too easy for a competitor to sabotage you, but I beg to differ. I have seen at least one instance where a single site wide link damaged a sites rankings in Google. When it makes sense to me anyway, seeing it once is enough, at least for me.
Can Smaller Attacks Threaten a Sites Reputation on Google?
I won’t mention the sites URL here but it’s one of mine, and I know it very well. Not a big site, but a decent one waiting on further development, but clean and user friendly, definitely not spam – put it that way.
The site ranked for its name without quotes for years, but shortly after Penguin hit, it disappeared for the one and only term that it had a closely relevant back-link from a huge site with hundreds of thousands of pages indexed. It was a site wide link and it was on every single page of a closely related sites upper footer area. There was a link to this site using its exact name without the ‘.com’ and with spaces between the words, so it appeared keyword driven but was simply the words in the URL separated. An example would be NumberOneSite.com and the Anchor Text was “Number One Site”. I didn’t think it would be a problem since it was so relevant and wasn’t a highly sought after term, and was the exact name of the site, but it did disappear after Penguin when it has never disappeared before. For years it sat in the number 1 or number 2 position for the term, without fail. It was simply always there.
The site was not a very authoritative because I had never done any link building at all to it, and it definitely wasn’t much of link bait on its own, yet attractive once you’ve seen it and has potential. The perfect site for further development (I’ve currently started developing it further).
After Penguin, the site completely vanished from Google’s first 100 results at least (I never did find out where it went to exactly), but I didn’t jump to any conclusions and just let it sit for a while. I was in no rush with this site.
Roughly a month or so later I finally submitted the site to Webmaster Tools to see if there would be a Webmaster Tools message that popped up, but after a day of the site being verified I saw nothing. I went ahead and submitted a reconsideration request which took about five (5) days to get a response. I received a canned message stating that no manual action was taken against the site.
Below is the actual message in text format:
Dear site owner or webmaster of ********.com
We received a request from a site owner to reconsider **********.com for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the web spam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google. There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the web spam team.
Of course, there may be other issues with your site that affect your site’s ranking. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users.
If you’ve experienced a change in ranking which you suspect may be more than a simple algorithm change, there are other things you may want to investigate as possible causes, such as a major change to your site’s content, content management system, or server architecture. For example, a site may not rank well if your server stops serving pages to Googlebot, or if you’ve changed the URLs for a large portion of your site’s pages. This article has a list of other potential reasons your site may not be doing well in search.
If you’re still unable to resolve your issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team
After receiving the response message (probably a day or so after it was put in there) I was fairly surprised that I did not get a response which indicated the site has been manually refreshed or put back in the index as it was, because I felt very confident it was hit by Penguin in error from that one dopey site wide link (which again, was completely relevant – it was like having a link from a RC Car Forum to a site about RC Cars and the link text was “Another RC Cars Site”. I mean, what’s the world coming to if you can’t link?
Again, anyway… After reading the message and sitting there stumped for a moment (there is another webmaster message where they will actually admit they fixed something), I figured I would search Google and see if it came up any better, and there it was, it had returned to spot #2. So something happened. Somebody fixed something for sure but the response doesn’t indicate that. They did put it back, but couldn’t say it for whatever reason. They had to leave it classically “Google Vague” – but they did indeed fix it. That would be far too much of a coincidence for it reappear on its own within a five (5) day spam after years of ranking steadily.
So I Have No Question (In My Opinion) That:
- Google Penguin, as did Google Panda, hits some sites by mistake.
- It doesn’t take much to take out a weaker site (strength of your average mom/pop site without many links).
- Google isn’t always going to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth when they’ve taken action. (They just can’t do it, for liability reasons (I do ‘get it’ and am not complaining, because I understand, I’m just stating the facts, as I see them).
The Liability Google Creates With Penguin and Algorithms Like It:
Getting back to the fact that it has never before been ‘bad’ to have a link, it now is. If links created by you or by others can damage a site, than a webmaster has good reason to request a link be removed. Upon no response from a site owner who hosts a link, there is good reason to put effort into methods which may prohibit links which are not authorized or to even attempt to force or threaten publishers to remove links, and this includes legal action. It just opens an entire can of worms for a multitude of reasons which is probably why Google waited for so long before doing this, a lot of research needed to be done to measure and quantify their own possible liability and how it may change, shift or otherwise play a role throughout the industry. We’ll surely see many more link policies stipulated on web sites like this one.
The web as a whole has already seen a significant uptick in requests coming in to site owners to remove links in just this last month or so, particularly with directory owners. It’s even spawning a new business model; instead of “link building services” there’s now “link removing services” and “link pruning services” popping up everywhere. It seems Google can’t help but create businesses with every move they make, it’s really that unbelievable.
So What Should You Do If You’re Contacted to Remove Links?
- You should try best to identify the requester to ensure it’s an authentic request.
- You should attempt to remove the link if at all possible, or if a request comes in related to page you control.
- You should try to honor the request if it seems to be genuine and make sense.
What Happens If You Do Not Honor These Request?
Thanks to Google, maybe you will be sued for contributing to someone’s demise on a search engine, or for their lost profits, or their lost business volume or lost revenue if and when laws change. Only time will tell and I’m sure we’ll see a few cases popping up here and there., because they’re already out there.
Links And The Law
The following article on “Web Links and The Law” will soon (likely) become inaccurate as new legislation is bound to be written, if not soon, eventually. The article states: “There have been one or two cases in the United States that imply that the act of linking without permission is legally actionable, but these have been overturned every time they come up.” But this is likely going to change. The article is right that cases are always generally thrown-out or overturned every time they come up, but this is because time and time again Courts dismiss these claims concluding that there is “no liability for a link to a link”. Links are, in fact, a key component of what makes up the web, but although links would likely never seem to be outlawed, there has been other issues which have created legal problems when linking.
If nothing else; if I’m just blowing this whole thing out of proportion, people who are concerned with Penguin or at least are aware of it, just might link less when referencing documents online. The question remains, how could Penguin (Google’s ability to penalize a site based on inbound links alone – ‘measurable damage to be caused’) not change the way liability would be determined, in addition to other linking arguments? What’s different about this?
About The Author: John Colascione is Chief Executive Officer of Searchen Networks Inc. and Internet Advertising Inc. He specializes in Website Monetization, authored a ‘how to’ book called ‘‘Mastering Your Website’, and is a key player in several Internet related businesses through his search engine strategy company Searchen Networks®