There's no question that this week has been a rough one for black hat SEO's. Even those that might have had a brush with a bad SEO consultant years back (as surely has one of our clients remembering why they pay us what they do right about now).
First, the good news...
...Google Webmaster Tools will, for the first time ever, tell you if they see issues in the quality of links that point to your site (at least some of the time). And this will no doubt encourage some link spammers to chill out.
Now, the bad news...
....which will occupy the rest of this post.
Since late last week, most of us SEO's have enjoyed deciding how to deal with a serious off-page SEO penalty for anyone that has purchased links in a private blog network, an apparent effect of the Panda 3.3 algorithm update. You might say hey, Google always penalizes bad off-page SEO. But I'm not so sure. While I act on data and past research as an SEO, I've generally had faith that Google was (or would become) smart enough to 100% devalue bad links, and that no off-page penalty, exists. This is key. In other words, an inbound link can lose all value, can hurt other links built in bulk at the same time, as well as the publishing site. But not your site. Not in any huge way.
Most all studies that I've seen (from both black and white angles) as well as past experiences, support this theory. Logic would say that this must be the case, or else a practice known as Googlebowling becomes very realistic: the process of knocking a competitor out of the rankings using bad links. There are services that will send out 100,000 forum spam links at once using a piece of software for $20 (aka. an xrumer blast). Does that mean the cost of emptying out page 1 is a flat $200? I (and anyone with half a brain) would never touch a corporate site with obvious black hat tactics. But, putting ethics aside, who's going to be afraid to Googlebowl a competitor?
Doesn't Google realize this?
My assumption is yes, they do, but at the end of the day, these guys are anything but dumb. As time has gone on, I've noticed that the devaluation effect is usually what's been seen over the past 10 years, but at times it waivers, almost as if Google is at war over this issue internally.
A much more realistic theory may be this: Panda 3.3 is a short term gambit to clean up the web. Panda 1.0 should have been short for Pandaemonium. The whole web scrambled to clean up the quality of their content. Right now, webmasters everywhere are scrambling to clean up the quality of any backlinks that they can. If in six months, Google goes back to operating exactly how it did before, this effort was most certainly successful from their perspective.