Example debunk post

Over the years I’ve written a lot of blog posts to debunk misconceptions or claims that weren’t true. Sometimes I publish the blogs posts but often I don’t. This is a pretty typical example post. Someone claimed that Google was evil for removing a particular domain, when in fact the domain had been removed from Google’s index via a self-service user request to our url removal tool.

When we see misconceptions, we try to figure out where the confusion happened and how to prevent that type of confusion in the future. It’s also safe to assume when you read “Google cancelled my account” stories that there’s usually another side to the story, even if for some reason Google doesn’t go into the details.

My guess is that you haven’t seen this one unless you live in Switzerland. A few months ago, a friend noticed this complaint in Heute Online:

Benbit complaint

My ability to read German is well, practically non-existent except for spammy words. So I asked a friend to translate it for me — thanks, Johanna. 🙂 Here’s roughly what it says:

Search giant kicks Swiss blogger out of the index

“Google is evil after all”

Zurich – On his blog, Benbit* from Zurich often discloses security holes of big companies. This makes him unpopular (see box) – so unpopular that Google kicked him out of the index.

heute: Congratulations, you are one of the first Swiss citizens to be kicked out by Google. Proud?
Benbit: Nowadays, everybody uses Google. So, it is not funny at all if you suddenly disappear completely from the search engine. To me, Google’s motto “Don’t be evil” is not right. Google is evil and misuses its power.

Why did Google delete your site?
I don’t have a clue. I sent emails and registered letters, but no one contacted me to give me reasons for this.

Might it be possible that this is connected to your hacker activities? Didn’t you publish the security holes of many companies on your blog?
I did, but this doesn’t violate Google’s guidelines. I am neither a spammer nor have I been doing illegal search engine optimisation for my blog. My only explanation is that I stepped on the toes of a Google advertising client who in turn complained about me.

Any idea who this might be?
Well, one of the companies that I mentioned on my blog. Among them are also powerful major banks.

As a small blogger, do you have any chance at all against Google?
What Google is doing is a clear case of censorship and violates Switzerland’s federal constitution. I demand from Google to provide me with information about the deletion from the index. Otherwise, I am also considering going to a justice of the peace.
* Name known to the editor. PS: Until our press deadline, Google did not comment.

Okay, let’s pause for a second. At this point in the story, I think we can all agree that Google is 100%, pure, concentrated eeeeeevil. How dare they squash that poor, hapless blogger at benbit.ch?

Except I haven’t told our side of the story. Our side of the story is pretty short: someone from benbit.ch used our automated url removal tool to remove benbit.ch themselves. Now why would someone from benbit.ch remove their own site (multiple times with multiple url patterns over multiple months, I might add), and then lay the blame at Google’s feet? I could speculate, but I genuinely have no idea.

One important thing to mention is that even with a really harsh story like this, we still look for ways to do better. For example, this incident happened in March of 2007 using our “old” url removal tool that had been up for years. In April 2007, the webmaster tools team rolled out a new version of the url removal tool. In my opinion, it kicks butt over the old tool in a couple ways:

1) site owners can easily see the urls that they’ve removed themselves.
2) site owners can easily revoke a url pattern that they’ve entered in the past.

Just to show you what I mean, here’s a snapshot where I’ve removed everything in the http://www.mattcutts.com/files/ directory of my site:

Url removal snapshot

As you can see, I can easily view the removal url patterns that I’ve submitted, and there’s a “Re-include” button if I decide to revoke a removal and start showing the urls again.

My takeaways from this post would be:

– Sometimes people say negative things about Google. Remember that there is often another side to the story.
– Even when people say negative things, folks at Google do listen and look for ways to improve. Case in point: the newer url removal tool resolves a whole class of potential misunderstandings like the one above.
– Google does provide a lot of useful tools for site owners. 🙂

I’m glad that the webmaster tools team works to make it easier to debug and to fix lots of issues for site owners. If the tool had launched just a month or two earlier, the folks at benbit.ch could have diagnosed their issue themselves — but at least everyone can benefit from the better tool now.

8 Responses to Example debunk post (Leave a comment)

  1. Hmm. Can I propose one more takeaway. The translation starts:

    “Why did Google delete your site?
    I don’t have a clue. I sent emails and registered letters, but no one contacted me to give me reasons for this.”

    He tried to ask, but hit a wall of silence. I appreciate that Google cannot respond to every email, but if you don’t, then these types of PR problems can only multiply. For a person/company that is lost, the only thing they think they can do is send a letter from the lawyers requesting a reply. But then this is only likely to start an entirely different set of cogs working at the plex.

    So thanks for pointing it out, but let me ask you… Have you replied now to the blogger’s registered letter? Or is he still non the wiser and you are relying on someone telling him that you responded here?

    2007 is quite a long time ago. If it has taken 5 years for him to get a reply in this manner, then maybe a valid revenue model for Google would be a paid premium support offering, like Microsoft do. Not everyone wants to use (or knows how to use) the public forums and you may need something between a wall of silence and a bank of lawyers.

    Hope that comes across as a constructive, rather than negative comment.

  2. I guess somebody might have guessed the password of benbit and removed his urls.

    Anyway, when I read articles like the one above I always have to think about this xkcd comic (last two pictures).

  3. One problem with the “Remove URLs” tool is, that people get it wrong. For several times I have seen people trying to use this tool after they made a complete update of their site or mayor pages. They thought they can remove the old content from the index with it, and by that force Google to faster reindex the new content.
    Even the re-include button did not help them, as they thought this is for re-including the old content in the index.

  4. Really interesting post Matt.
    My question is – will you contact someone to re-include the site? Or you will leave it deindexed and let the story to be continued?

    It would be really nice Matt if you could provide better informations about “what the f*ck is going on with my site”. For example – a short description of “what the problem is/can be”. For now a lot of webmasters aren’t sure if they should re-check their backlinks or just make new site/optimize existing one.

    I am not sure if using Google Webmaster Forums is the point – they are webmasters too – they don’t know everything about Google, insted they would work for you. 🙂

    Greatings from Poland Matt. 🙂

  5. Maybe this clown removed his own URL so he could claim to be de-indexed and get some publicity?

    …and it worked.

    Das ist nicht gut benbit.ch

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  7. I had some urls for my website that I changed them to a new one.
    then the old urls doesn’t exist anymore. but google has indexed them.
    What should I do?

    Mehdi Dehban

  8. is there any info graphic chart for debunk?
    if so please let me know where is it?

    Mehdi Dehban