Google’s Ruptured Pipe
One morning you wake up and find that the water pressure in your bathroom isn’t as high as usual. You scratch your head, finish your morning routine and head to the kitchen for breakfast. You find your dog in the kitchen who is happy, excited and soaking wet. Your stomach sinks. You have a ruptured pipe in the basement.
Restoring order requires completion of three separate tasks:
- Shutting off the water;
- Fixing the leak;
- Cleaning up the mess.
The order of operation matters. If you start by firing up the pump and starting to mop the task will never be completed. Stopping the flow of water has to be the first priority.
Google has stirred up a hornets nest of angry SEO’s with warning notices to webmasters about suspicious links, then warning notices that are of an “advisory” nature, then mixed signals about whether those “advisory notices” require or even suggest taking corrective action.
Danny Sullivan and many others are calling for Google to stop sending the messages unless they’re willing to clarify what the webmaster is supposed to do about them. Everyone is talking about negative SEO. Are we being punished for bad links? If so, could a competitor torpedo us?
The concern and confusion is understandable. Jobs are at stake, businesses are at stake, folks want clarity.
To me, there is a perfectly clear explanation for Google’s actions and statements: it’s connected to the leak metaphor.
Suppose Google has developed the perfect algorithm for separating quality links from garbage links, and garbage websites from quality websites. I’m not suggesting they have, just let’s suppose. It’s kind of analogous to inventing a better mop.
A better mop will help clean up the mess, but that won’t solve the bigger problem if they can’t shut off the flow of water in the form of crappy links.
Shutting off the water
What’s the best way for Google to shut down the creation of crappy links? Tell webmasters that they’ve identified the crappy links pointing to their site, and tell them every time they see a new one. If the website owner isn’t creating crappy links, and isn’t hiring someone to create crappy links then there is no action to take because the bad links don’t do harm, they just don’t help.
If the site owner is creating crappy links, or hiring someone to do so for them, the message is exactly the same: these links aren’t helping you. However, the rational webmaster will take action in this case. The action will be to stop “wasting” their own time, or the money they’re spending on crappy link building activities.
By letting folks know that the links aren’t helpful they destroy the financial incentives driving garbage creation. If Google can shut off the gigantic garbage creation machines they can start meaningfully cleaning up the mess.
This strategy may be quite effective if they have really cracked the code identifying garbage links. If they haven’t, the credibility is lost and the garbage creation machines will keep pumping.