Blog Post

Google causes panic with unnatural link warnings in Webmaster tools


Here we go again! If you thought that things were going to settle down for the summer, Google has another surprise in for you. Their radical changes from the spring of 2012 are still fresh in most people's minds, with the Penguin update, and the scramble to keep your SEO on the right side of Google's guidelines, having the largest impact on people.

July 19, 2012 Google decided to send out a massive number of warnings in their Webmaster tools. The Google search quality team informed website owners that their website has been using techniques that are not within their guidelines. Their warning was strong and scary, causing severe panic among those who received the unnatural link warning.

Google Backpedals

Realizing that the unnatural link warning notifications were - shall we say - a little much, Google put out a response on their Plus Page. It stated that people should not panic and that they are just trying to be more transparent. Google said, "...not necessarily something you need to worry about." Seriously? Not worry?

The 2nd Unnatural Link Warning was downright bizarre

Apparently, the response to these unnatural link warnings was so strong that the search quality team decided to work all weekend and adjust their webmaster tools warnings. The follow-up alert was delivered on July 23, 2012, and was worded much more softly, but was not much more clear.

In this 2nd warning, Google used softer words. They re-positioned their warning, talking more about bad links and taking the emphasis off of the entire website. They state that they are taking "targeted action", but only toward backlinks. I read this to mean they are de-valuing links they don't like - which is nothing new.

So what do I need to do?

Search Engine Land says you can ignore these notifications, maybe. They have been actively reaching out to Google, Matt Cutts in particular, to get clarification on what, if anything, needs to be done to address these latest (friendlier) notifications. Google is clearly backpedaling, but I know that will not provide comfort to many. Danny Sullivan (Search Engine Land) says:

What’s a confused publisher to do? I think if you got one of the messages last week, don’t worry unless you also noticed a recent traffic drop from Google.

Conclusions

I agree with Danny, the only real answer is to watch your rankings and traffic. If there is no change over the coming days and weeks, then there is nothing to worry about. Think about it this way: What if you didn't have Webmaster Tools at all and your traffic just continued at the regular levels? All good right?

If you do see a sharp change in rankings and traffic, but you are still in Google, you have not been banned - but you have probably had a batch of backlinks de-valued (made essentially worthless). From all that I've read, the recent warnings do NOT indicate a website is about to be banned. In fact, very little in the entire Penguin update sequence has been about banning. As Google has maintained, Penguin (and by extension, these latest changes) are about algorithmic updates and backlink devaluing. If you do see large, sharp, drop in traffic from Google - you need to seriously reconsider your SEO strategy. You need to think long and hard about doing better content marketing, branding and stronger social media outreach to compliment your out-dated SEO strategy.