Link warnings from Google have caused more panic than necessary

When Google first launched over a decade ago, it was designed around the concept of counting links as votes to credible sites that feature good content. Today, this isn’t the most effective of concepts for Google to employ and for years they have been talking and strategising how they might discount certain links that they decide aren’t genuine ‘votes’. The latest update to their algorithms, the Penguin Update, has appeared to be a step in this direction of discounting ‘bad links’.

Google sent out warnings to publishers who were involved in unnatural linking. Those that ignored the warnings faced a penalisation and as a result saw a rankings drop after the Penguin Update. Google advised that anyone who had received such warning messages and were penalised should take action to remove bad links in order to recover their ranking.

A website that generally adheres to good SEO practices could still be hit with a ranking drop after this update, either now or in the future, not because they’ve been specifically penalised for having bad links, but simply because these links (and they may not have been artificial links) are no longer defined as votes in Google’s ‘election’ of ranking sites with good content. 

Sounds simple, right? Well last week Google sent out a new wave of warning messages to publishers, worded in the same way as the previous messages. This caused panic among many puzzled publishers, who suddenly had to worry about removing links to their website that may not even be artificial links. Head of Google’s web spam team Matt Cutts, attempted to clear up the confusion by stressing the point that these messages were different to the previous ones, and that they are intended to just inform publishers that there are incoming links that Google might now not count as a ‘vote’ in their algorithm, and thus not something to panic over.

In an effort to further clear up any confusion, Google also made a change to the way in which these messages are displayed in the user’s inbox. Before there was no way in which a publisher could distinguish between a warning message and an advisory message, now a yellow warning sign appears to the left of a message that does need urgent action in removing (bad) inbound links. If there’s no yellow warning sign, then there is no action that needs to take place. You may face a rankings drop of some sort, but it won’t be because of a penalisation, it’d just be because those particular inbound links simply don’t count as votes anymore in Google’s election to determine website rankings.