This is an open letter to Google on behalf of many websites out there who have suffered needlessly. I ask that you share this as much as possible to get the message to Google.
Recently, I have been helping many webmasters clean up penalties, deal with malware or disavow poor links to their website. Generally, when these people come to us they have no idea why their traffic has declined. Let me describe a few scenarios.
Situation 1: Source Code Cloaked
This person has no idea how to check for this type of thing. They also never received a warning that this was an issue in Webmaster Tools. But while they were never notified, their traffic continued to drop from Google until it was almost non-existent. If this person had been notified earlier, then this small business would not have been pushed to the brink of going out of business.
Situation 2: Old Website with a Link Exchange Directory and Bad Links
In this situation, the client had been doing business online for almost 10 years. In the old days, you would link to your friends and they would link to you. Also, over the years they had hired various SEO companies to help them. The business owners really had no idea what the SEO companies actually did, they just looked at results.
This business was sent a notification in Webmaster Tools. But they had no idea how to approach dealing with the bad links. If they could have been given simple examples, they would have gladly worked to resolve the issue. Traffic kept dropping so they worked for many hours to do many disavows and reinclusions, until the point they blocked almost every link in Webmaster Tools. But Google still would not provide examples or give any information on what was wrong. They also would not lift the manual penalty and gave no clear reason why.
I know Google says they are working on this, but in my opinion, they should have had this process in place beforehand. They have greatly hurt businesses by not thinking this through.
If a little direction would have been provided here, this little family business would not be on the brink of having to lay people off.
Situation 3: A Competitor Responsible for a Penalty
In this situation, an owner of a small business lost an employee who went to start their own business. The owner of that new business was spiteful. Over the next year, hundreds of poor links were built to the old company’s website (you can see this when looking at third party tools). These were not built by the original business owner. The original business owner received a penalty notification in webmaster tools, but had no idea how to deal with it and lost a great deal of visitors to a good website online.
Google, please think about how you are affecting these little businesses online. Right now, I believe the current system is doing more harm than good. Please bring more transparency and clarity to messages in Webmaster Tools. Also, please consider simply discounting bad links. You say that you are moving away from external linking as a ranking factor anyway, so why punish people for it?
What do you think about this discussion? Comment below!