It seems like there was some shake-ups in the last week where a lot of fashion bloggers received the dreaded “unnatural links” warning in their Webmaster Tools.
While this is a scary thing to see – it is not the end of the world or your blogging career. There are things you can do to remove those links and be back in Google’s good graces.
The Linking Back Story
Links are a very sensitive subject these days. When we started working in SEO over 10 years ago – it was easy, get a bunch of backlinks and voila – you rank on page 1. Because of that there was of course those that chose to take advantage of various link strategies to rank money making sites and to run schemes. Of course Google had to take action to ensure that their search engine returned only the best results. So links then became the most feared thing in the world of SEO.
Spammy SEO groups tried to game the system by building “private blog networks” and by doing other “black hat” link techniques to game the system. So Google eventually implemented the Penguin Update to combat these link strategies. Their frequent updates continue to wreak havoc on the linking world and brings us to this unnatural link warning!
There was a rumor back in January that there would be a Penguin update – and we guess there was based on the amount of bloggers we are seeing with this issue.
Now it is important to note there are several manual actions that can be given
Do You Have An Unnatural Link Penalization?
- If you have set your site up with Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools) – then you will have either received an email or you can go into your account and see if you have a manual penalty in place. If you are not set up to get email notifications of website issues, we suggest you do so!
- If you do not have this feature working with your website – we HIGHLY recommend you do it. It will give you an overview of how you are doing in Google and notify you if there are issues with your website so you can rectify them as soon as possible.
- If you are logged into your Google Search Console account you will click on the website you want to check and click on the Search Traffic option on the left – under that you will see a menu item for MANUAL ACTIONS. that is where you will see any manual actions that have been taken on your website. You can also check your messages box as well.
I Do Not Have Google Search Console, Is There Another Way To Know If I Have A Penalty?
Without the search console letting you know there is no real way to know for sure, but here are a few other things you can keep an eye on to see if you may have a penalty. In the mean time – we highly recommend integrating the search console with your website!
- You may see a loss in traffic
- You may see your website not rank well for a phrase you have done well with in the past
- You may completely disappear from the search results – this is rare but can happen
If I Do Have A Link Penalty What Will I See?
Below is a sample of what you may see in your Google Search Console if you should have a violation. There are a few variations of this message -but all essentially say – your outbound links are hurting you.
I have A Manual Action But I Do Not Understand Why!
Basically what you are hearing is that Google is finding “paid links” on your website and they do not like it. If you are doing posts with affiliate links, using blog rolls, or doing guest posts with giveaways or for a cost – Google will hit you with a penalty unless you No Follow them!
So What Do I Need To Do To Remove The Penalty?
You MUST MAKE SURE you have a nofollow attribute on EVERY paid link on your website.
So if have a post that is linking out to a paid sponsor or affiliate link and it currently looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.thiswebsite.com”>Visit the ABC Widget Here</a>
You will want to make sure you edit it to look like this:
<a href=”http://www.thiswebsite.com” rel=”nofollow”>Visit the ABC Widget Here</a>
So I Have To Go Through Every Page On My Website?
Maybe not. You should start with your home page and see what links you need to fix there first. You can use a tool like SEO Quake which is an add-on available for most browsers. Here is a the Firefox add-on version and here is the Chrome add-on version. With this tool installed you can easily see what outbound links are on your page and which are dofollow versus no follow. Then you can begin to edit the links that are paid links that are missing the nofollow attribute.
If you have sponsors, advertisers or paid content from businesses – we recommend letting them know that you are making these changes to keep in line with Google’s Guidelines on links.
What Will Google Need To Remove My Penalty?
You will need to send them proof you have rectified the issues.
- Create a Google doc (it must be Google doc they will not look at anything else)
- List each of the URL’s that you have added the nofollow attribute to or removed
- Go to the Request Reconsideration page in your webmaster tools and select the penalized site in the dropdown
- Create a brief email and be sure to include a link to your Google document proving you have edited your links. (See sample email below)
Sample Google Reconsideration Request Email
We received notification on “insert date” that we had a manual action for unnatural outbound links from our website. We have taken the time to review the guidelines from Google and reviewed all the links on our website and edited or removed any links we found that were violating your guidelines. We have nofollowed many of the links and you can find a Google Doc at “out link to doc here” outlining the links that were no followed or deleted.
We will ensure all future links will be within your guidelines.
“your name here”
How Long Do I Need To Wait?
You should receive a confirmation that your request was received by Google within about 24 hours. So first, you do want to make sure you get this so you know it was received. From that point you should expect an answer to your request in about 1-2 weeks.
If you get the email that they removed the penalty – then you are GOLDEN! Just be sure to make sure all future links are correct!
They Denied My Request!
OK, it happens. But then you have to dig deeper.
- Did you really nofollow all the paid links? At this point you may do a more in depth page by page review. You can use a tool like ScreamingFrog to do an even more in depth look at your site wide outbound links. (They offer a free version that will scan up to 500 URLs on your website).
- Review links that may be irrelevant to your website. If you are a fashion blogger and you have posts about dog toys with outbound links to amazon – you should consider removing those links.
- If you are on a CMS – consider adding a plugin that nofollows links for you so you can be sure it is getting done. This one for WordPress can help.
- Make sure you review your sidebars and footers as well!
Once you have done the above – updated your Google Doc with your new information, then you can submit a new reconsideration request and in your email note that this is a follow up to a previous request that was denied.
I Was Declined Again – How Long Can This Go On For?
Unfortunately, you may have to go through this process several times before your website is given the A-OK. Some clients we have consulted with have had to do 5 or 6 requests before the penalty was removed.
Where Can I Learn More About Google Guidelines For Bloggers?
This Is All Way Over My Head – Can You Help?
Sure, if you need help let us know. We can either offer consulting to help you get through the process or just handle it for you.
Should I Just No Follow All Outbound Links?
Absolutely not. While it may seem easier to handle your issues this way, it is not the correct way. Google relies on links to understand the web as well as your website. If you are putting a no-follow tag on every link you are basically saying “these links have no value” – and ultimately that is not a good thing. You should NEVER no follow internal page links and the only links that should be no-followed are those that are truly “paid or sponsored” links.