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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.

The Mop

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.

Comments
3 Responses to “Google’s Ruptured Pipe”
  1. Adam Audette Adam Audette says:

    Interesting, George, and your analogy is particularly timely for me (my house currently has 12 industrial fans and 2 dehumidifiers hard at work drying out water damage).

    I think your analysis is on target. The problem is how Google has communicated it – they could have done a much better job at crafting their verbiage to be clearer. (I understand they updated the messaging after the fact, but it still didn’t help much.) Then again, they’re playing poker here and not willing to show us many cards, so opaque messaging is the norm.

    Sadly, the latest fiasco around Penguin has created a sort of inverted SEO economy: want me to take that link down? Sure, and it’ll cost you $500. There’s never been a more backwards and confused SEO industry than this one.

  2. Bob the plumber says:

    Spam, beautiful, beautiful spam! The name, the url pointing to a plumber’s website in Vancouver! Brilliant!

    Hey George
    Do you think that leaving the sump pump in the basement to keep the floor dry for a week would damage the structure of the house? (we are about to go on a vacation tomorrow and don’t have the time to deal with this right now)
    Jeremy K from Vancouevr BC

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