A little bit of context
The rate at which Google is trying and succeeding to improve its search results appears to be speeding up drastically. If you look at Moz’s timeline of major updates, more and more updates have been released until we reached the days of Panda and Penguin, now they simply get refreshed and Google is cracking down manually link networks, country by country.
Bearing in mind that Google was launched in late 1998, it seemed for a long time you were allowed to get away with dreadfully black-hat crimes. For example, it wasn’t until 2003 that mass linking from co-owned domains or mass keyword stuffing was stopped.
The freshness of results didn’t matter until late 2011, Google then managed to return more locally-focused and relevant results with the Venice update in February 2012 and finally Penguin was launched in April 2012 to stop over-optimisation and looking a lot more in-depth at link quality. Subsequent updates or refreshes of Panda and Penguin have pretty much brought us to where we are now.
Once manual actions started appearing more regularly in 2011; the game really changed.
So why has Matt Cutts apparently started threatening one European country at a time to remove their spam and in a highly sarcastic fashion hitting them before they have any time to do anything about it?
The first hit was on France in Late January 2014, Germany and Poland came next in February and on the 10th of March Matt Cutts has warned Italian and Spanish Link Networks that they are next. The Head of Google’s Web Spam Team has even done a very good job at keeping people updated with tweets like these:
The recently tweeted warning to Spain and Italy literally translates to Unnatural links on web sites and reconsideration requests – almost a forewarning that Webmasters will have to start submitting recons and changing their outreach strategies going forward. However, since Matt Cutts has been issuing warnings about buying and selling links since 2005 we believe he is taking a much more personal approach on the whole matter, rather than just algorithmically weeding out the large-scale spam.
It has gotten to the point that after so many years of trying to get people to do outreach in the correct fashion, he is now going after those who are still doing it so terribly wrong. There’s no point to him simply removing the link networks from the index, he is ensuring that manual action gets taken against the sites that are using this as a marketing technique, fairly, yet throughout the board.
Since it has reached the point where online PR and offsite SEO are blending into one single avenue of marketing, people who would rather make their methods of deceiving Google more complex rather than actually coming up with a creative PR campaign don’t quite realise the Mexican standoff they have gotten themselves into, obviously underestimating the technological might that Google possesses.
English Webmasters have been asking themselves if the UK is the next domino to fall? You could understand why, especially with this invasion style list of countries being announced by Google, however Matt Cutts has already incorporated many of the UK updates with the North American ones, seemingly trying to keep the two countries at the forefront of the Search engine’s focus (for example, Panda first rolled out in the US and around a week later in the UK). Furthermore, link networks have already been hit in the UK, such as the Anglo Rank network, it just wasn’t conveniently timed like these most recent European culls.
So, what’s changed?
Absolutely nothing. Google is still hunting down spam networks, they are still cracking down on those who violate their guidelines and they are just becoming much more efficient and precise with their actions. Don’t worry, if you weren’t doing anything wrong last week, you aren’t doing anything wrong this week, independent of which European country you are trying to rank in. Google has just become really good at catching spam algorithmically and is now looking into treating more complex cases manually to give everyone the fairest chance possible.
Ensuring that your backlink profile is clean and avoiding any manual actions is all the more important now that big, high street brands are reporting catastrophic losses in terms of search visibility.