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    How to deal with a link penalty from Google

    Posted on August 2, 2012

     

    Over the last few months many website owners have received unnatural links warnings from Google in their Webmaster Tools message sections. These messages aren’t, as some SEOs would have you believe, a symptom of Google ‘changing the rules’ or ‘moving the goalposts’ or any other clichés you may have heard – they are instead a result of Google simply getting better at detecting spam links.

    Google’s recent updates, dubbed Penguin and Panda, don’t represent big sweeping changes to the way Google works, they just enable Google to improve its search results, making them better for the user, and get rid of the sites who use spam and paid links as their weapons – better for website owners and genuine white hat SEO companies.

    However, one of the problems of Google doing this is that sites can be penalised for work done not today, not last week, not even last year – but potentially years ago. There are many SEO companies out their offering supposed ethical services but, sadly, many of these SEO companies actually engage in poor link practices and rented links. These strategies worked once. They worked very well. Yet they were always unethical and were always in direct violation of Google’s Terms of Service. Google has just become better and detecting them and dealing with the websites that use them. Consequently websites are being penalised for practices their SEO company may have done many years prior.

    One of our clients received one such warning in Webmaster Tools. They were on page one for the majority of their keywords but, almost overnight, their rankings disappeared after receiving the following unnatural links notification:

    Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links to http://www. ********.co.uk/
    April 20, 2012

    Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www. ********.co.uk/,

    We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

    Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

    We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

    If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.

    If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

    Sincerely,

    Google Search Quality Team

    Many website owners who receive these warnings do not know what they mean, or how to deal with them. Without taking action, your website’s rankings could be affected on a permanent basis – but what action should you take? Sadly, it can be quite difficult as you need to find out what links Google is referring to, try to get them removed and then submit a reinclusion request to Google.

    Identifying the offending links can be tough though, as they could have been built at any time, going back many years. They could have been built by you, or anyone whom you have hired to perform SEO on your website.

    We don’t use paid or rented links, and we don’t use poor quality link building methods – so isolating the offending links in this instance wasn’t difficult. We quickly identified the links as being built by our client’s former SEO company, and even supplied our client with a list of some of the links to request his former SEO company remove.

    However the former SEO company, not content with affecting our client’s rankings with their poor quality links, wished to charge our client to remove the links. They claimed they had to charge him to spend time analysing his links built up over the last 12 months. Firstly, this is unnecessary as we were already able to identify the links and, secondly, the offending links were older than 12 months (as they’d been created by the former SEO company in the first place) so analysing new links would be a waste of time.

    Immediately on receiving the links notification we made a reinclsuion request to Google based on this information, but Google wasn’t willing to budge on the existence of the offending links and responded after five weeks:

    Reconsideration request for http://www. ********.co.uk/: Site violates Google’s quality guidelines
    May 27, 2012

    Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www. ********.co.uk/,

    We received a request from a site owner to reconsider http://www. ********.co.uk/ for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

    We’ve reviewed your site and we still see links to your site that violate our quality guidelines.

    Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

    We encourage you to make changes to comply with our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

    If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.

    If you have additional questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

    Sincerely,

    Google Search Quality Team

    We now had one option – and that was to speak to the former SEO company ourselves and provide them, and Google, with a complete list of the links that had been created. Following some initial arguing, and insistence the links weren’t theirs and the reason for Google’s unnatural links warning wasn’t necessarily anything to do with them, they did remove the offending links – without being paid any money from our client.

    We then resubmitted a reinclusion request to Google, explaining in full detail what had happened and gave them a full list of the domains used by the former SEO company for the purposes of link building. After almost nine weeks Google replied with the following:

    Reconsideration request for http://www.********.co.uk/: Manual spam action revoked
    July 13, 2012

    Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.********.co.uk/,

    We received a request from a site owner to reconsider http://www. ********.co.uk/ for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

    Previously the webspam team had taken manual action on your site because we believed it violated our quality guidelines. After reviewing your reconsideration request, we have revoked this manual action. It may take some time before our indexing and ranking systems are updated to reflect the new status of your site.

    Of course, there may be other issues with your site that could affect its ranking without a manual action by the webspam team. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users. If your site continues to have trouble in our search results, please see this article for help with diagnosing the issue.

    Thank you for helping us to maintain the quality of our search results.

    Sincerely,

    Google Search Quality Team

    The whole process took over 12 weeks from the date of the penalty, to Google revoking the manual action and the rankings returning. This represented three months of affected business for the client, all as a result of the link building practices of their former SEO company. The moral of this story is to never buy links, never rent links and never use an SEO company which uses these practices.

    If you have received an unnatural links penalty from Google and don’t know how to deal with it, contact us for help. We know how to identify the offending links and how to liaise with Google to get the manual action lifted.

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