Google’s Transparency Called Into Question Again

Though it’s back in Google’s results now, another company is making headlines for being penalized by Google. This time it’s Vivint, which produces smart thermostats, and competes wit...
Google’s Transparency Called Into Question Again
Written by Chris Crum
  • Though it’s back in Google’s results now, another company is making headlines for being penalized by Google. This time it’s Vivint, which produces smart thermostats, and competes with Nest, which Google acquired earlier this year.

    PandoDaily’s James Robinson wrote an article about it, noting that Vivint had received warnings from Google about external links that didn’t comply with its quality guidelines, but didn’t confirm what the links were. Rather, the company was “left to fish in the dark to figure out what i had done to upset its rival.”

    As Robinson correctly noted, Rap Genius was removed from Google’s search results last year for violating guidelines, and was back in business within two weeks. At the time, Google was accused by some of employing a double standard for letting the site recover so quickly compared to others.

    Google’s Matt Cutts had some comments about the Pando article on Hacker News. He wrote:

    It’s a shame that Pando’s inquiry didn’t make it to me, because the suggestion that Google took action on because it was somehow related to Nest is silly. As part of a crackdown on a spammy blog posting network, we took action on–along with hundreds of other sites at the same time that were attempting to spam search results.

    We took action on because it was spamming with low-quality or spam articles…

    He listed several example links, and continued:

    and a bunch more links, not to mention 25,000+ links from a site with a paid relationship where the links should have been nofollowed.
    When we took webspam action, we alerted Vivint via a notice in Webmaster Tools about unnatural links to their site. And when Vivint had done sufficient work to clean up the spammy links, we granted their reconsideration request. This had nothing whatsoever to do with Nest. The webspam team caught Vivint spamming. We held them (along with many other sites using the same spammy guest post network) accountable until they cleaned the spam up. That’s all.

    He said later in the thread that Google “started dissecting” the guest blog posting network in question in November, noting that Google didn’t acquire Nest until January. In case you’re wondering when acquisition talks began, Cutts said, “You know Larry Page doesn’t have me on speed dial for companies he’s planning to buy, right? No one involved with this webspam action (including me) knew about the Nest acquisition before it was publicly announced.”

    “Vivint was link spamming (and was caught by the webspam team for spamming) before Google even acquired Nest,” he said.

    Robinson, in a follow-up article, takes issue with Cutts calling Pando’s reporting “silly,” and mockingly says Cutts “wants you to know Google is totally transparent.” Here’s an excerpt:

    “It’s a shame that Pando’s inquiry didn’t make it to me,” Cutts writes, insinuating we didn’t contact the company for comment.

    Pando had in fact reached out to Google’s press team and consulted in detail with the company spokesperson who was quoted in our story. It is now clear why Google didn’t pass on our questions to Cutts.

    He goes on to say that Cutts’ assessment of VIvint’s wrongdoing is “exactly what we described in our article — no one is disputing that Vivint violated Google’s search rules.” He also calls Cutts’ comments “a slightly simplistic version of events, given the months-long frustration Vivint spoke of in trying to fix the problem.”

    Robinson concludes the article:

    The point of our reporting is to highlight the unusual severity of the punishment (locked out for months, completely delisted from results until this week) given Vivint’s relationship to a Google-owned company and the lack of transparency Google offers in assisting offending sites. Multiple sources at Vivint told us that the company was told that it had “unnatural links” but was left to guess at what these were, having to repeatedly cut content blindly and ask for reinstatement from Google, until it hit upon the magic recipe.

    To these charges, Cutts has no answer. That’s a shame.

    Now, I’m going to pull an excerpt from an article of my own from November because it seems highly relevant here:

    Many would say that Google has become more transparent over the years. It gives users, businesses and webmasters access to a lot more information about its intentions and business practices than it did long ago, but is it going far enough? When it comes to its search algorithm and changes to how it ranks content, Google has arguably scaled back a bit on the transparency over the past year or so.

    Google, as a company, certainly pushes the notion that it is transparent. Just last week, Google updated its Transparency Report for the eighth time, showing government requests for user information (which have doubled over three years, by the way). That’s one thing. For the average online business that relies on Internet visibility for customers, however, these updates are of little comfort.

    A prime example of where Google has reduced its transparency is the monthly lists of algorithm changes it used to put out, but stopped. Cutts said the “world got bored” with those. Except it really didn’t as far as we can tell.

    Image via YouTube

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