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Danny Sullivan to Google: Make penalties public
EditorialGuy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 7:47 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

In a post titled "Open Letter: Why Search Engine Land Will & Won't Cover Someone Being Penalized by Google," Danny Sullivan offers this intriguing call to action:

"Google: You need to publicly report if you’ve hit a site with a penalty....Why shouldn’t searchers and consumers know if a particular publisher has a bad record with you? Why shouldn’t regulators and others, who might be concerned you’re abusing your dominant power, be able to review actions easily?....Open up. Find a way so that people can definitively know if you’ve acted against a site or not." For the full text, scroll down the page at: [searchengineland.com...]

What do you think? Should Google go public with its manual penalties?

 

mrengine



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 9:28 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

What do you think? Should Google go public with its manual penalties?

No. If a site has too many ads above the fold, has stuffed keywords or has dodgy links it makes no difference. Google has many channels to broadcast information and certainly uses all of their resources to drive profits. However, businesses that have been penalized do not have the same capabilities to broadcast their side of the story. Apparently Danny is fine with Google being deputized as the internet police, jury and judge when it comes to penalties. I have a serious problem giving Google even more control over individual businesses then they already have. Besides, discussing penalties in public would leave Google liable for mistakes and would be a public relations nightmare.

This topic is more of a Google policy issue then SEO. It should be moved to the appropriate forum.

rish3



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 9:43 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

I suspect Google's lawyers and/or PR drones are smart enough to know the potential issues with publishing this sort of information.

EditorialGuy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 9:49 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

This topic is more of a Google policy issue then SEO. It should be moved to the appropriate forum.


This is the appropriate forum. (The topic is search, and penalties are a consequence of overzealous SEO.)

Google has many channels to broadcast information and certainly uses all of their resources to drive profits.


Danny's suggestion isn't about profits, it's about transparency in search. Maybe some users would like to avoid sites that Google has identified as violating its guidelines (especially if they're trusting sites with their money or credit cards). Those who didn't care could ignore the information.

brotherhood of LAN

WebmasterWorld Administrator brotherhood_of_lan us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 10:08 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

It can be argued either way whether it's human-policy or more algo-driven... certainly any additional info on a SERP about penalties would affect organic traffic.

EditorialGuy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 10:09 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

I suspect Google's lawyers and/or PR drones are smart enough to know the potential issues with publishing this sort of information.


Well, Google isn't afraid to warn searchers of sites with suspected malware.

In any case, there are positive ways of conveying the information: e.g., a little "green light" symbol, that, when highlighted, gives a Tooltip-style message that says "Google has not issued any penalties or taken other actions against this site" or words to that effect.

Also, instead of worrying about transparency might hurt penalized sites, why not consider how it might benefit sites that haven't earned penalties?

dannysullivan

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 10:11 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

If you read the full post, mrengine, you should be able to see that it's nothing about trying to enable Google to play the internet police. Rather, it's about the ability to companies that are being accused of spamming Google to be able to definitively point at something that clears them -- a clean record with Google. The situation now is there's a rise in the number of "public penalty reports" going on.

That's why one part of the story also says this:

"In a climate where anyone can accuse another site of having trouble, there needs to be a way for people to check with the court of Google to see if it’s really so."

And as the part quoted says, there are plenty of people who would like to know how Google itself is manually censoring and policing its results, so they can decide for themselves if Google is somehow abusing its power.

Since Google feels it's important to disclose such actions when it is ordered to do so by a third-party, transparency in its own actions doesn't seem a stretch.

Str82u



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 3:12 am on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

And you would trust Google to be right every time? There's not a lot, but there are a few people in prison who are innocent, does that make it ok?

Shepherd



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 11:45 am on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

And you would trust Google to be right every time?


I bet they would try harder to get it right/fair/equitable if they made penalized site public.

Unfortunately that's not going to happen but I sure do appreciate Danny putting it out there.

Here's why: about 85% of penalized sites are up and up, true do no evil spam fighting. About 5% are collateral damage. And 10% of the "penalizing" google does is just "business", designed to generate more revenue. It's that 10% that google hopes no one can nail down definitively for a while so they can continue to grow revenue and avoid court appearances.

Why did RG have to be called out for google to do something? Follow the money, google couldn't care less about the "rap lyrics" niche right now, no money in it for them.

But, if your in the travel niche... better hope no one in your office sneezes the wrong way.

Want to know if your niche is in danger? Here's a good place to start: [gv.com...]
If there's a business in this list that's in your niche you've got a looooooooong road ahead of you. That good information for all you government regulator types out there, I'm talking to you Mr. Texas Attorney General, why don't you have someone on your staff take a look at the niches in the google Ventures portfolio and then systematically review the search results in those niches and see what you find. You don't have to dig too deep, just take the top keywords and see how many eCommerce sites that are not funded by google are in the top 10 results, 20 results, 50 results. Here's one that's fresh, watch how the search results change for terms like home thermostat over the next year. You can already see the changes from the last few months are systematically pushing the competition out and moving towards the branding of google's latest vertical venture.

EditorialGuy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 1:03 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

it's about the ability to companies that are being accused of spamming Google to be able to definitively point at something that clears them -- a clean record with Google.


That comment prompts a thought:

People here often complain about site owners nofollowing all their links or being unwilling to link at all.

Knowing that example dot com is a "clean site" in Google's eyes might make Joe Webmaster less skittish about linking to Example dot com, and it might help to discourage Joe from using rel="nofollow" unnecessarily.

netmeg

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 1:42 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

I don't agree with Danny on this one. Whether or not my site is penalized is my business and Google's business and nobody else's.

turbocharged



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 1:57 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

there are plenty of people who would like to know how Google itself is manually censoring and policing its results, so they can decide for themselves if Google is somehow abusing its power.

This comment about made me fall out of my seat laughing so hard. How is Google not abusing their power when they fill the search results with listings of the companies they own or are partnered with?

The Small Business Administration estimates that 99% of the businesses in operation are defined as small businesses. They also say nearly half of workers in the United States are employed by small businesses. Considering their relevance in our economy, and lack of small business visibility in Google, how can anyone begin to claim Google has not abused their power?

Google is like an electric company that produces just enough power to supply the properties they own or are partners in with power. The rest of the businesses can buy into a partnership program (Adwords) if they want to keep their meters running after giving the power company a piece of the pie.

Webmaster Tools is the place where Google could and should tell people about penalties in private. The more Google talks about penalizing specific sites in public, the more their "do no evil" motto gets exposed for what it really is - total BS.

The last thing we need is another public "signal" for Google giving their own and partner sites a seal of approval. The lack of small businesses appearing in Google's serps is doing a good enough job killing off these enterprises and redirecting their past customers to those companies where Google makes money from.

If we really want transparency, then Google should be broken up. Let all their companies stand/compete on their own so that search can be fair through its independence. Treat Google search like a utility and regulate it with regular inspections. Yes, this would hinder innovation. But what costs are societies now paying for Google's "innovation" and expansion beyond search? Job losses, less competition, far less privacy and complete sectors under the thumb of one company. One could say that Google already has more control over economies then government. Is this really good for a society where its citizens are not all shareholders with voting rights?

Back to the main point here... I can see why some SEO bloggers would want Google to put together a list of penalized sites and display it to the public. It would give pro-Google bloggers something to write about instead of the small businesses dieing because of how Google self-promotes their other companies and partners in search.

EditorialGuy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 4:16 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

Whether or not my site is penalized is my business and Google's business and nobody else's.


Sure, and:

- Hoteliers hate having their weaknesses revealed on TripAdvisor.

- Restaurateurs aren't thrilled by negative Zagat reviews.

- Businesses in general aren't enthusiastic about having their sins or flaws identified on Yelp, in Consumer Reports, or by the Better Business Bureau.

But just as TripAdvisor, Zagat, Yelp, etc. are concerned with serving their end users, Google is concerned with serving its end users. If I were Google, I'd be more interested in what users want to see than in what site owners want to suppress.

aakk9999

WebmasterWorld Administrator 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 1:06 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

But just as TripAdvisor, Zagat, Yelp, etc. are concerned with serving their end users, Google is concerned with serving its end users.


This is not the same as Google may penalise a site because it did not follow Google's guidance, which does not suddenly make the site bad for Google's users.

E.g. if a site liked by users suddenly acquired unnatural links and got penalised, this does not make that site suddenly worse for users as the site itself has not changed. So it is not all about serving users.

But I do not think Google would do it - it would be too risky for Google on many fronts.

EditorialGuy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 2:09 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

This is not the same as Google may penalise a site because it did not follow Google's guidance, which does not suddenly make the site bad for Google's users.


Google wouldn't be saying the site was "bad for users." It would simply be operating transparently, and users could ignore the information if it didn't interest them.

if a site liked by users suddenly acquired unnatural links and got penalised, this does not make that site suddenly worse for users as the site itself has not changed.


SEOs and site owners often use that argument when complaining about penalties for unnatural links. The argument doesn't keep Google from penalizing them.

np2003

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 7:44 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

Google will never do this.

Shepherd



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 11:39 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

it did not follow Google's guidance, which does not suddenly make the site bad for Google's users.


And we have a winner! I think this was part of the point of Danny's post, if google is being "fair" with it's penalties why not be transparent so the searcher, consumer, and regulators can see why a site they like is no longer in the search results.

Of course, the flaw in this plan for google is that they are a business, not the altruistic gateway to the web that many want to believe that they are. And being a business, they do not play "fair" and nor should they.

EditorialGuy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 2:42 pm on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

I think this was part of the point of Danny's post, if google is being "fair" with it's penalties why not be transparent so the searcher, consumer, and regulators can see why a site they like is no longer in the search results.


Why focus on penalties? For many sites, transparency could be a positive thing. Google wouldn't have to call attention to penalized sites; it could simply identify sites that "appear to be in compliance with Google's Webmaster Guidelines" or words to that effect. Qualifying sites might benefit from that imprimatur, and it certainly wouldn't hurt them.

Whitey

WebmasterWorld Senior Member whitey us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 2:10 am on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

I think one of @dannysullivan 's key points is whether a public officer of a listed company has an obligation to tell the truth about effects on their revenue in a significant channel like Google. The answer is probably "yes" [ subject to a line of defensive corporate lawyers in the middle ], but in the absence of truth and transparency on both sides, who is going to challenge this?

If it were successfully challenged, what would be the implications of a broader nature?

On the note of whether Google has an obligation to be transparent in who , how and what it prejudices one site over another, particularly in penalties - absolutely. But wishing and getting are a universe apart IMO, not the least because equality is never going to occur where business interests exist.

What I think, that is generally accepted amongst business owners as abhorrent, is the ease with which decisions can be made at Google that destroy folks livelihoods overnight, and those dependant on them, without a reasonable explanation, tools or guidance on how to avoid it. Somehow this just doesn't sit right with me, karma or otherwise.

Better accountability and process' to make those adjustments would seem to be fair process. Not some algo adjustment, without proper explanation or a disgruntled employee / competitor etc. creating some negative SEO. Some of the penalties imposed in that context seem unduly harsh and can simply destroy a business. For most of the big players, or more carefully planned business' who have diversification in play it's little more than an administrative hiccup.

I do know of one major listed player who is entirely vulnerable to the pull of a lever at Google, and to the best of my knowledge it is fully disclosed in it's reporting as a chief business risk. It would make headlines if it went, and I somehow doubt if Google would be brave enough to do it. Which brings on a simple tag line : Self interest.

incrediBILL

WebmasterWorld Administrator incredibill us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 3:30 am on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

The whole thing cracks me up.

Google is hardly a public utility as unlike the gas or electric company, where you have no choice, there ARE alternatives to Google. There were other services before Google sending traffic and there will be others when they're gone.

Back in the day people used to bellyache over how many weeks or months it took to get into the Yahoo directory, if you could get listed in the first place. It was a bad time for those attempting to spam the web when it was all done by hand and we'd be better off if it went back to a search engine that only indexed those hand validated sites. But I digress.

I personally don't care what Google does, it's their business and they can do whatever the hell they please as long as it's not criminal in nature.

There's nothing I can do except go elsewhere, such as Bing, which I often use.

I suggest others that don't like it follow suit, start a trend, and end the tyranny as that URL address bar at the top of your browser is your only true power. Where the searchers go the advertisers and the fortunes of the web follow and if people can't figure that simple fact of life out then they'll just get ulcers Google watching.

superclown2

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 7:57 pm on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

Google wouldn't be saying the site was "bad for users." It would simply be operating transparently, and users could ignore the information if it didn't interest them.


You know that. I know that. Joe Public doesn't. To him/her the fact that a site has transgressed some recently altered standard by doing something that was completely acceptable a short while ago would mean that it was a site to avoid, period.

Robert Charlton

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 8:32 pm on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

superclown2 - Good point. Users might equate a Google backlinks penalty with distributing malware.

ColourOfSpring



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 9:41 pm on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

The insinuation is that negative SEO is now a reality for big brands too. The kind of "transgressions" we're talking about now often involve fiverr-esque deals. The scope for bribery and/or reputation damage here is ENORMOUS (regardless of whether penalties are public or not, this is a reality).

EditorialGuy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 11:47 pm on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

As I suggested earlier, Google could simply identify sites that comply with its Webmaster Guidelines. It wouldn't have to explicitly diss those that don't.

Think of it as a reward for good behavior--a positive step, not a negative one.

ColourOfSpring



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 11:51 pm on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

As I suggested earlier, Google could simply identify sites that comply with its Webmaster Guidelines. It wouldn't have to explicitly diss those that don't.


Err....including brand new, 1-day-old domains? Yeah, they're much better than 15 year old, neg-SEO'd domains. Experience (as in, living from day to day as a poor domain name) is a bitch.

aakk9999

WebmasterWorld Administrator 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 11:57 pm on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

As I suggested earlier, Google could simply identify sites that comply with its Webmaster Guidelines.

Any kind of endorsement or punishment by Google (for following or breaking Webmaster Guidelines) would be misunderstood by general public and they would think Google endorses (or punishes) the site for a different reason.

turbocharged



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 3:17 am on Feb 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

As I suggested earlier, Google could simply identify sites that comply with its Webmaster Guidelines.

And spending $20 or less in Fiverr spam link gigs can change that all in a moments notice.

What is so funny about the entire concept of Google displaying penalty information in public is that many webmasters all over the world complain about how Google displays pagerank. Now some of these same people want to champion a cause that would encourage Google to create another publicly displayed metric/notice that would be manipulated into the same uselessness as pagerank.

I design websites for small businesses, many of which are lucky to have a few hundred links pointing to their sites. Who links to them? Their suppliers, Angies List, BBB, some local directories, customers in forums, etc. Basically there is nothing too fancy about their link profiles because their main business occurs with some sort of human to human interaction. Most of the people that own these businesses define seo as some offshore company that is trying to milk them out of money. This is why they don't invest anything into offpage optimization. Even though these businesses have done nothing wrong, on or off site, their search positions in Google are down the toilet. So if you did some black hat stuff and hope going white will fix your search positions, think again.

Ahrefs states the largest home remodeling company in my city has fewer than 100 links pointing to their website. The top Google ranking auto repair company in my city has 39 links pointing to their entire site. And I do not reside in a rural area either. I could go on, and on, and on. These are typical and natural link profiles for small businesses. In fact, ahrefs reports some that have fewer links pointing to their websites than the years they have been in business. Imagine how a single $5 10,000 spam link gig from Fiverr would influence any adopted "Google Compliance Rating." I've seen it, and it is not pretty.

People can pretend negative seo does not exist, just as some can pretend that Google does not make algorithmic/cosmetic changes to their search pages to increase their profits, but that does not make it true. It only makes one ignorant to the extent that some people and businesses will go to make money.

I don't dispute that the core principal of making Google accountable through transparency is a good concept. But displaying penalty information about each website in public has the potential to do much more harm than good. If people are really concerned about how much control Google has over their online presence, and there is no impartial appeals process for those suffering website penalties without cause, these people need to take their complaints directly to their elected representatives and regulatory agencies.

ColourOfSpring



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 8:36 am on Feb 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

Ahrefs states the largest home remodeling company in my city has fewer than 100 links pointing to their website. The top Google ranking auto repair company in my city has 39 links pointing to their entire site. And I do not reside in a rural area either. I could go on, and on, and on. These are typical and natural link profiles for small businesses. In fact, ahrefs reports some that have fewer links pointing to their websites than the years they have been in business. Imagine how a single $5 10,000 spam link gig from Fiverr would influence any adopted "Google Compliance Rating." I've seen it, and it is not pretty.


I've seen it too. I'm also a web developer (since 1997) for small businesses. Businesses are getting penalties even nearly 2 years after Penguin started. They're not interested in SEO at all (they know the dangers), yet get penalties. When I look at a few cases, it's always crappy links - blog comments, forum profiles. Taking out the competition (in small business niches) only costs $5 per competitor, or FREE if you have the right tools.

CaptainSalad2



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 10:59 am on Feb 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

turbocharged, ColourOfSpring, as a small business web developer I can also testify local sites have 3-30 legit backlinks if that and it takes less than 30 exact match links to sink them. (I have tested this).

G has made negative SEO easy and you only need search for “negative seo” to be presented with a site selling backlinks while implying they can be used for negative SEO, the title even contains the words "negative SEO for $5".

See screen print: [imagizer.imageshack.us...]

One department says "don't buy backlinks" and the other says "buy backlinks here". Think about this, the spam team are penalising their advertisers buyers, who are the buyers? Googles own users! .

When a business is too big to be accountable for what two departments of the same company are doing, especially when they are working in violation of what the other department is doing and their own guidelines...That's when a company is ripe to be broken up!

The defence "two departments of the same company aren't allowed to communicate" has caused some amusement in our office.

[edited by: CaptainSalad2 at 11:56 am (utc) on Feb 18, 2014]

[edited by: aakk9999 at 12:22 pm (utc) on Feb 18, 2014]
[edit reason] Fixed URL [/edit]

ohno



 
Msg#: 4645351 posted 11:13 am on Feb 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

& if that is their defence then do as Turbocharged says & break that company up.

This 45 message thread spans 2 pages: 45 ( [1] 2 > >
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