Unnatural Links: What is the Purpose of the Google FUD Campaign?
Google has been sending out "unnatural links" warnings for some time. At first they meant you got penalized in Google search and thus you lost your rankings. Lately they have been sending out even more of the cryptic messages, telling webmasters in Google Webmaster Tools that they have "unnatural links" as usually without any help to detect them or remove them.
Google was just plainly scaring people.
Then they seemingly backtracked a few days later to say that these messages do not mean you have been penalized, they don't matter. Of course this was just temporary.
Then Google spokespeople apparently again changed their mind to say that of course such a message can mean a penalty and that they can't be ignored. Given the fact that all of this happened in July while many people were on vacation there is only one logical reason for making webmasters panic in such a way.
It's a so called FUD campaign by Google to discourage people from practicing SEO.
FUD stands for "fear, uncertainty and doubt" and is an unethical business tactic to make your competition appear untrustworthy by spreading disinformation.
Google calls that "transparency" but the corporation is known for its bizarre Orwellian newspeak. In case you want to know what transparency means in the search realm just try Blekko, a search engine that publishes its ranking factors right below every result [update: by now a paid feature].
On Blekko you just have to click "SEO" to see the stats and understand why a particular site ranks well.
Blekko is one of the few Google competitors left but it's barely a blip on the map compared to the giant from Mountain View despite often better search results. Blekko gets advertised as "spam-free search". In reality Google does not compete with Blekko or even Bing, they just do for the public. Google's business model is selling ads and so called paid inclusion (hidden ads that can't be distinguished as such) not search itself. In short:
Google gets paid by advertisers so that they show up on top of so called organic search results.
These organic search results by now almost disappeared in most lucrative niches like ecommerce or travel. There Google dominates most if not all of the visible screen real estate. You have to scroll to even see the so called natural search results. These in turn will most likely show either Wikipedia on top or other corporations you can't compete with.
So most business owners have to pay to get included on Google.
Despite this over the years demand for SEO has grown steadily, just like the demand for Google Adwords, the ads Google shows above the real search results. When you look at the actual graph of search popularity you'll notice that both are head-to-head while recently in 2012 Adwords almost caught up with SEO [Update: By now Google has changed how the tools displays the numbers]. I have used the data of the US for this comparison as there are many people and celebrities in Asia called Seo so that the data is not really clean enough to get compared.
Earlier this year Google also enabled so called negative SEO by announcing that they it's not impossible to hurt a site by pointing bad links towards it. A huge wave of negative SEO ensued and many rogue businesses either tried to hurt their competition by buying unnatural links to link to them or by blackmailing webmasters so that they pay them to get unnatural links pointing to them removed.
In case studies that tested the impact of negative SEO Google has been sending out unnatural links warnings quickly to the victim sites.
So let's make this clear: A criminal can hurt your site by simply paying 10$ to some hacker who will then spam thousands of blogs and forums so that they link to your legit site. Then Google will penalize you (or take manual action as they call it in Google-speak). Then the same person can extort you so that you pay them to get those harmful links removed.
Google could easily end this insanity by simply discounting all unnatural links
as in not counting them at all, neither as positive nor as positive links. Instead Google wants to offer a so called disavow tool. It will be added to Google Webmaster Tools. In it you will have to manually check all the links pointing to your site an then mark those you don't trust as "unnatural".
This way Google gets an army of unpaid workers to clean up the Web.
That's not the reason why Google first created the problem to later provide the solution though. It's just a means to an end: Google is making the point that links, the foundation of the Web are dangerous, link building, perhaps the most important SEO techniques is high risk and costly. So what are webmasters left to do? They have to pay Google to get found.
In the meantime SEO practicioners have to adapt to the new Web owned by Google
where +1 votes and Google+ shares will be more and more important for website ranking. You can't manipulate them that easily because they are connected to personal accounts preferably run by real people. Once most people are afraid of links Google can easily take over the Web with their proprietary technology.
The SEO industry will have to assimilate by offering Google Adwords and engaging on Google+ or get wiped out. So what is the purpose of this Google FUD campaign? It's not to improve SEO or the quality of natural search results for sure. Google wants to sell more ads and replace links with +1 social signals.
* Creative Commons image by another sergio.