Is Google Going Too Far In Its War Against Web Spam?


If you heard a low but annoying groan that seemed to come from all the four corners of the world  during the last week of last April 2012, you probably heard the collective whine of many of the Internet’s website owners and website managers. Google released its Penguin algorithm update at that time and many formerly high-flying websites’ search engine rankings crashed to earth. If this drew a shrug from you, here’s a quick tip, whenever you enter a search term into Google, the search engine ranks the results.

If you own a website, you would, naturally, want to be ranked on the first page and near or at the top. Google’s Penguin upended many sites’ rankings and many have never recovered. The owners of these sites lost more than traffic. They lost money. Less  traffic means less money. It’s that simple.

While Google’s intentions are worth praising, the results of its latest updates have produced well, uneven, results. Many high-quality sites have been knocked to the basement of the rankings while bad low-quality sites rose up or continued to hog the top spots? I can sympathize with Google’s never-ending drive to clean up its results. Can’t argue with that.

After all, it was porn spam and totally unrelated garbage results produced by spam that doomed Altavista, Lycos, Excite, and other early search engines. Google’s just trying to maintain the quality of its service. No problem with that. The problem, however, is that it might be trying to kill ants with a blowtorch.

Penguin’s rationale was there were too many spammy sites enjoying high rankings not because of the sites’ content quality but due to the site owners’ search engine optimization skills. Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, has been telegraphing for several months before Penguin that Big G will be cracking down on ‘over optimization.’

In other words, if the only reason your site is ranked #1 on Google for a keyword phrase is because of your mad SEO skills, Google was going to take you down a notch or two. It did that and then some. The Penguin update launched a brave new world in search engine optimization.

Google is now looking at sites’ backlinks to see if they are ‘over optimized’- in this case, if there are ‘unnatural’ patterns in the backlinks to a website.  The problem with this is it now opened the door to ‘negative SEO’ where your competitors can make tons of ‘unnatural’ backlinks to your site. Google will think this is you trying to pull off some SEO shenanigans and bowl you off the rankings.

This is every search engine optimization specialist’s nightmare. And it has come true. Google later released a ‘disavow’ tool people can use to disavow backlinks so their rankings can recover. Sadly, this is too little too late.

Moreover, it seems less a move to help webmasters clean up their backlinks and more like a crowdsourcing attempt at getting a huge list of ‘bad’ link sources. What if your site is on the disavow list? What if a site on the list linked to you or you linked to it? See where I am going with this.

Penguin represents Google’s new direction against web spam and it looks overbroad and doesn’t really factor in websites’ overall quality. By being too focused on backlinks ‘overoptimization’, Google stands to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I am not so sure if this is a good direction for Big G to take considering that its search results are still peppered with Buy Viagra spam.

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