In case it wasn't bad enough that fear of Google has kept people from linking to other sites, and got them requesting legitimate links be pulled down, Google is reportedly sending unnatural link warnings to sites based on links that are actually natural.
Is Google ever wrong about links? Does Google ever really look at legitimate links as bad? Let us know what you think in the comments.
It's hard to say if this is happening often, or if with 100% certainty that it is happening, but Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable appears to have found at least one example in a Google help forum thread.
The webmaster says he received a warning in February, noting that this was "understandable" because he's worked with SEO agencies in the past that did advertorials, and was spammed with "really bad links" by unknown individuals.
"So we spent the last months, contacting webmasters, getting links removed and nofollowed and we disavowed around 500 Links," the webmaster writes. "Next to that we stopped the redirection from our old domain to which there are quite some spammy links pointing."
"I think we have done everything within our ability, at considerable time and cost to our company, to comply with Googles guidelines," he adds. "We have completely stopped working with agencies and we pursue a quality approach."
He says after his last reconsideration request was declined, Google gave the following URL as an example of one of the bad links:
"This is a completely legitimate post and it was not influenced by us in any way," he says. "They are writing about a campaign we are running. I have the feeling this sometimes is completely random. I am even unsure if it makes sense to take the time to actually file another reconsideration request under these circumstances."
He later notes that there is no relationship between his company and the blog with the "bad link".
Another discussion participant suggests that the "money" keyword link "Guide To Recycling" in the article, which points to the webmaster's page, could be the problem.
"Well the so called 'money keyword link' was chosen by sustainablog itself, probably because they thought it would best describe what we do," the webmaster responded. "We have no influence on this, and we certainly have no interest in ranking for 'Guide To Recycling'".
So yes, this sounds like a natural link, at least from this side of the story.
Interestingly, the person who suggested the "money keyword" issue said the same thing happened to one of their clients - also in the furniture space.
Schwartz suggests the webmaster is "better off disavowing the link, and also finding links like it," and doing the same for them. This might be good SEO advice, but it also highlights a possible issue in webmasters being forced to have Google ignore legitimate links.
If this is really what's going on, it's pretty sad.
It does, however, come at a time when independent reports are finding strong correlation between Google+ and authorship and search rankings. You have to wonder if links are simply starting to play less of a role in Google's algorithm than in the past. Even if they are still playing a role, it's possible that they're not being given as much weight. Following a recent Moz (formerly SEOmoz) report about +1s and rankings, Matt Cutts set out to "debunk the idea that more Google +1s lead to higher Google web rankings." But if you think about +1s like links, it's not necessarily link quantity that really counts either.
There's also question about whether Google is going to continue to update Toolbar PageRank. It's not the same as pure PageRank, but it's still a de-emphasis, if they' are in fact killing it.
Do you think Google is capable of making mistakes like this? If so, do you think it happens often? Share your thoughts.
Note: This article has been updated from its original form.