Imagine this (and no this is not based at all on any of my clients, just for the sake of this argument): you have a client who has a pitch black history in search engine optimization, his tactics ranging from “simple” cloaking to using negative links to push his competitors sites down. At one point, Google get’s on to him, and send him to the deepest possible hell: the “you sure ain’t gettin’ no traffic from us” one.
He’s always been risking this, and he’ll take the punishment with a smile, respecting his “enemy” for his cleverness in finding him.
Now imagine a second client, who’s bought links all across the globe, with only one single purpose: increasing his PageRank. At one point in time, some 4 years ago, an SEO told him that’s what he should be doing and he hasn’t changed his tactic since, unaware of the search world, and the changing ethics within it, and thus unaware of the fact that he’s doing something wrong.
If the first one decided to do a reconsideration request, and Google decides to let him wait for a while before they reinclude him, that sounds fair, right? But if the second one finally finds out what went wrong, and decides to do a reconsideration request, they shouldn’t make him wait too long, right? Or is it perhaps not so simple?
Now you’ll hear people say that it all boils down to one thing: intent.
They both did what they did with the intent of increasing their search engine rankings and traffic, knowing full well, that what they did was game the search engines. The important thing here is whether they knew that they were breaking rules or not and how Google treats that. After all, under most governments, breaking a law that you didn’t know about is still breaking a law (ignorantia juris non excusat).
The other important thing to know is: did they do the buying before or after Google had said that buying links to increase your PageRank was wrong, and how does Google treat that. In a lot of countries only very specific laws can be applied to you if you did something to break them before the law was invented (ex post facto laws).
All this then boils down to: what is Google’s reason for punishing anyone? Well, they’re probably the same reasons as sanctions are used within criminal law: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and restitution. The question is though whether retribution is any good in this case, as most people will never openly tell that they’ve got this problem…
While Michael Gray was very right in saying that Google is not the government, they do have the right to “do as they please” within their own search engine. If Google were a government though, you’d probably have a court of some sorts, deciding on how to deal with issues like this and creating openly available jurisprudence in the process.
Now that’s what we’re missing here, and that’s what makes decisions on whether to reinclude people or not and how long you will “punish” them, seem arbitrary. So what we need is openness, jurisprudence to go by, and a judge. Basically, what we need is a Google court!