Why would I write an open letter to people I don’t know, have never met and will probably never share a beer with? How about this: because they need to hear this… not because it comes from me, but because it is coming from from a large portion of Google’s user base.
Call it hate-mail or call it whining, if you like, but it’s neither. Maybe it’s tough love, maybe its venting… or maybe it’s a wake-up call. However each of you decide to categorize it, recognize the fact that it is coming from a hell of a lot of people, each of whom holds a small portion of your company’s future in their hands.
At 5:20 pm PST, 3-20-14, I received a sitewide manual penalty for outbound links in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines on one of my sites, http://docsheldon.com. Google’s Spam Team decided that this site is guilty of “unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links” that “may be the result of selling links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.”
Really, guys? This says something about your team’s process. For instance, it tells me that “manual action” is nothing more manual than a human clicking on “partial” or “sitewide” to initiate a penalty after an algorithm has flagged the site – no human review deemed necessary.
Not an earth-shattering conclusion, but amazingly, I’ve actually seen several people say that a manual action was only taken after a manual analysis of a site. Bet you’d LOVE to have that kind of manpower available, huh?
But, taking a walk into Fantasyland for a moment, let’s see what such a manual analysis WOULD have found…
- A Sept. 2011 post about a video that had recently been published on MyBlogGuest, with a link to the site and the YouTube video embedded. No payment, no other consideration… just something that I thought might be valuable to some of my readers.
- A couple of comments from the owner of MBG, with the attendant links back to her site.
- A couple of announcement posts of blogging contests in which I was either participating or sponsoring elsewhere, one of which also included MBG as a sponsor.
- An acknowledgement page dedicated to the 40-some participants of my ebook, which also included links to their sites and social profiles. (One was Ian Lurie, of portent.com… was HE the evidence of my sin?)
- ZERO guest posts linking to MBG.
- ZERO guest posts acquired at MBG.
- ZERO links that any reasonable person would consider to be “unnatural, artificial, deceptive or manipulative”.
What else would it have found?
- An admission in that Sept. 2011 post that, at that time, I was a moderator at MBG. OMG! The Smoking Gun?
- A page entitled “Guest Blogs” where I lay out some rather stringent conditions under which I might consider publishing a guest post, along with advice on making any post more readable, regardless of where it’s published. (I have published a total of five guest posts on my site since September, 2010, out of a total of 111 posts, none of which came from MBG.)
While hardly an epiphany, a person is naturally led to believe that the recent penalty isn’t so much about MBG as it is about that business model.
Now I’ve said, long ago, that requiring followed links was unwise and a poor business move on MBG’s part. Common sense told me that it couldn’t end well. But that doesn’t change the fact that technically, MBG wasn’t in violation of any published Webmaster Guideline. They received no payment for those links. There was no link exchange or other consideration involved.
Then there’s that January thing, where Ann Smarty thumbed her nose at Google. While it’s never a wise thing to poke the bear, I now find myself more able to understand how she might have been driven to stamp her foot a bit when she heard everyone predicting that her business was what you were talking about sticking a fork in, Matt. Yeah, today, especially, I can better understand that.
A lot of people think that you and your team went after Ann and MBG because of that poking. I don’t, however. I imagine that axe was already about to fall when you tweeted about an impending hit on a big blog network. MBG was already the target, long before Ann said anything.
So one has to wonder why Google would go after a business as a “blog network”, when it isn’t really a network, for inbound links for which they received no consideration, that was supposedly in violation of guidelines that didn’t come close to describing what that business was doing.
I have a theory… one that I think is well-founded. I think MBG is simply a large enough target to make a good “example” of. I think that by hitting not only that network-that-isn’t-really-a-network, but also people that had ever linked to them, had a profile on that site or published a post they had acquired there, enough FUD would be generated to effectively destroy not only MBG, but their business model.
As a corollary to that theory, I think that Google knows that in doing so, they’re hurting a lot of innocent sites, and has made a conscious decision that those are “acceptable losses”. It’s easy to consider them acceptable, provided the losses aren’t yours, aren’t they, guys? Is a scorched-earth approach really the one you want to employ?
Don’t get me wrong… I’m not whining about my lost organic traffic. I’m fortunate, in that the vast majority of my business comes from client referrals. I don’t need Google, in that regard.
Unfortunately, all my clients don’t enjoy that luxury, though. So I have to be concerned with how they may be affected if one day, your team lumps them into the “acceptable losses” category. And as the owner of a site that got tossed with the bath water, I also have to wonder how many others out there may be similarly trashed, whose livelihood depends on the income their site generates through their organic visibility.
And of course, as someone that makes their living online, I also wonder if all those folks will be as capable of correcting whatever it is that Google incorrectly sees as “manipulative” in the few hours it took me. And I have to wonder if the several weeks of delay it takes Google to even process a reconsideration request will be economically recoverable for them.
By extension, I have to wonder to what extent Google has forsaken the “Don’t be evil” mantra of its IP prospectus. Is that no longer expedient? Are acceptable losses no longer just accepted, but actually embraced, if they amplify the FUD?
I’ll posit something for your consideration, guys… you are NOT too big to fail! You may be too big for others to destroy, but as a business, you can destroy yourselves quite handily. And although it may be very difficult to see it from your perspective, you would do well to take an objective look at a few basic facts:
- The billions you rake in come from us!
- Most failed societies, governments and businesses destroyed themselves from within, by losing perspective.
- We all got along quite well before Google!
- The way things are going, we might get along even better without Google.