Another Open Letter: to Google

Stay Calm

On 3-20, in the wake of Google’s recent Blogger Blitzkrieg, one of my sites received notification of a sitewide manual penalty for outbound links. Apparently, having links to a site that Google has decided violates guidelines that are, at best, vaguely related to the target site’s practices, is sufficient to justify accusations of link selling and link schemes.

I immediately added nofollow to all outbound links (even to Google properties… you have warned us to nofollow links to sites we don’t trust, after all) and submitted my reconsideration request. No response yet, but by the morning of the 24th, my site appeared for its own name again. Hard to imagine that it wouldn’t, really.

What is the goal?

I’ve already made my feelings known on Google’s heavy-handed, scattergun-style penalty distribution methods in a previous post, so I won’t bore you with repetition. In the off chance that you might have missed my original open letter, by all means, please read it.

This letter has a different purpose, however… I hope to appeal to your collective sense of reason. I could lay out dozens of examples of communication that could be advantageous for Google, its users and webmasters, but I’ll keep it simple.

Google wants to clean up the internet. That’s a given – I get it. Believe it or not, I even support it. I hate spam and spammers. I hate seeing crappy sites sitting at the top of the SERPs because of their crappy tactics, while sites that comply 100% with Google’s Guidelines sit a page or three deep. And I hate seeing those compliant sites hammered into oblivion for one mistake while their competitors continue to ride high with scores of violations. And many of my colleagues feel the same.

Whether Google’s motivation for that cleanup is altruistic or for financial gain really doesn’t matter, for what I’m talking about. Ready?

If you want someone to do something, the most likely way of getting the desired result is to let them know what that desired result is!

Tell them what’s expected of them if they want to continue to play in your monopolised world. Stop leaving cleverly disguised hints, obfuscated practices and vague descriptions of what is or isn’t acceptable.

Above all, stop playing gotcha by changing the rules and shortly thereafter slapping sites with penalties for having done what YOU used to recommend.

How about sticking a fork in THAT?

What is the path?

Those of us that work in digital marketing understand that you can’t disclose some things, because it would lead to immediate abuse. But you have to stop hiding from us the things that aren’t acceptable, couched in carefully crafted statements. Springing them as massive penalty rollouts when your description of the problem is vague or outright inaccurate is simply ineffective. Worse, it’s irresponsible.

Which would you rather do: hammer one or two large offenders and scare everyone away from ANY use of a practice that is often beneficial to users; or clearly identify the conditions under which a penalty will be implemented, and stop the majority of the abuse?

  • Which do you think will afford you the better chance of seeing widespread adoption of acceptable practices?
  • Which do you think will result in the consumption of fewer man-hours and machine-cycles, both short and long term?
  • Which do you imagine would create an atmosphere more conducive to a cleaner link graph, higher SERP quality and more attention to the aspects of a site that improve the experience for users?

See, Google has created this mess! You didn’t invent links. But you did turn them into an underground currency. And you did perpetuate that situation long after prudence dictated that a change was necessary. And that change didn’t necessarily mean making links obsolete, at least as an element of PageRank – you could have simply been more forthcoming.

I suggest that Google needs to re-think the way it’s dealing with website owners. You want something from us (besides our money), tell us what it really is – oblique hints won’t cut it.

What will be the result?

There’s an alternative, of course… there always is.

You could instead, continue with your present approach. You could just continue to alienate the folks that could be helping you clean up the mess. The folks that advise their clients on the best marketing strategies and techniques. The folks that tell their clients where their optimisation efforts will be more effective. The folks that advise their clients on where their advertising budgets will deliver the best results.

The direction Google selects is the company’s choice.

The end result could be our choice.

4 thoughts on “Another Open Letter: to Google

  1. “Above all, stop playing gotcha by changing the rules and shortly thereafter slapping sites with penalties for having done what YOU used to recommend.

    “How about sticking a fork in THAT?”

    Fantastic! Hear, hear!

  2. Marj Wyatt says:

    Your thoughts on this open letter couldn’t be any clearer and I hope the moguls at the helm of Google read this.

    For the past 2 years, webmasters have been floundering in a sea of ambiguity about what is or is not “acceptable” with the guidelines that shift like a kite in the wind. Everyone and their long-lost relations endeavors to “interpret what Matt meant” when he publishes a video.

    With the caveats you’ve listed above (i.e., withholding details that spammers and scammers could game), the best thing in the world that the Penalty Police could do to make their search results better is list the things that cause their scrutiny in plain language that is actionable.

    There are too many things to list that are “wrong” with the way this is rolling out.

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