As a company, Google tends to favor automation, whether it’s in Adwords, organic algorithm updates, or dealing with the public in general. This automation makes them efficient and profitable, but it also makes it very hard when doing any sort of customer service interaction. Have a problem with feedburner? You are more likely to see Big Foot riding the back of the Loch Ness monster into a space ship that landed in Central Park than to get an answer from Google.
Recently, Google made an announcement that will acknowledge receipt of a reconsideration request. This is a big step in the right direction, but IMHO it doesn’t go far enough. I completely understand Google’s concern of providing more information. They feel that if they say “sorry your website has been penalized in our index for doing X,” they have given away competitive intelligence to people who abuse the index. However, what that also does is frustrate a larger number of website owners who have a problem but really don’t know what it is (see Dear Matt Cutts, what we have is a failure to communicate).
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, a lot of times, what site owners think is a penalty, technically isn’t a penalty. It really falls into the My Site Sucks Ass and Google Just Figured it Out zone. Nobody like to hear that their baby is ugly or that their site sucks, but sometimes it’s the truth. For those sites, I suggest Google reply with a reply that says something like “Hi, at Google we strive to show the very best of what the web has to offer in our results and, while your site is nice, it just doesn’t fall into that category”.
I’m a regular speaker on site audit panels, and I like to think I’m pretty good at figuring out the difference between someone who knowingly violated the guidelines and hoped they weren’t going to get caught and someone who tried to improve their website but ended up doing more harm than good. I’d like to think the engineers looking at reconsideration requests have better tools than I do and are as good (if not better) at this than I am. So, if it looks like someone did something unintentionally, a gentle nudge in the right direction goes a real long way toward creating some good karma.
Ideally, I think it would be pretty easy for Google to create some standard responses with links to guidelines like this one on hidden text, or keyword stuffing, that would answer a big chunk of the reconsideration requests. Getting a response back from Google takes a huge amount of frustration out of the process for publishers. To make an analogy the folks at Google can relate to … If you got a test back from a teacher in college and the teacher didn’t tell you which questions you got wrong, it would be much harder to learn from your mistakes.