For the past couple of months, Google has been issuing warnings to folks whose sites have questionable links pointing to them. “Specifically,” one such warning reads, “look for possible artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.”
These warnings began going out to site owners in February, right about the same time Google started ramping up its efforts against blogs and sites providing links of questionable repute. However, Google insists that the two incidents are unrelated. In an email to Search Engine Land, a Google spokesperson wrote:
“The majority of the increase in messages to webmasters is not due to messages about links. Rather, Google recently started sending messages to sites even for egregious or ‘blackhat’ violations of our quality guidelines. The vast majority of the increase in messages is thus due to expanding the types of messages we send, not because of more warnings about links.”
Although Google has long been adamantly opposed to the idea of buying links, they’ve always endorsed the idea of link building. Matt Cutts has said time and again that one of the best ways to build rank is to create awesome content and then encourage others to link to it. So naturally, this fundamental shift in Google’s attitude towards link building has got much of the search marketing industry up in arms.
Unfortunately, the initial reaction to these warnings from Google has been panic from a lot of webmasters and site owners, who are rushing out to dump their backlinks en masse. There are even rumors floating around that Google has offered to go light on those offenders who provide the name of the SEO companies responsible for developing the questionable links.
“Google does have a way of inciting panic.” writes Miranda Miller on Search Engine Watch. “If the knee-jerk reaction to Google’s sending out warning notifications is that everyone and their brother runs out to file reports and beg for mercy, or to go so far as trying to delete backlinks, hasn’t Google saved themselves a lot of work?”
Most search experts are recommending that webmasters and site owners avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to inbound links. Ditching all of your backlinks is one way to rid yourself of the handful that Google finds questionable, but it’s also going to put a dent in your rankings and traffic. Miller questions if this is truly the best course of action, “[o]r should you stop, breathe, plan, and try something new to build up some volume of backlinks before pulling plug on any that might be deemed ‘unnatural?’”