Chains
(image credit: t r e v y)

The number of cases of websites being penalised for their link building is on the rise.  There are pages of users posting questions on the Google Support Forum asking where their site may have been penalised or how they have to fix this.  There are several users searching Google for support, and there are enquiries being made to SEO agencies for help with resolving these issues.

This blog post will take you through the warning messages Google will give you if they have spotted unnatural link building behaviour in relation to your site, how to avoid this, and how to fix this.  I’ll start with the unnatural links messages sent out via Google Webmaster Tools.

Unnatural Links

In July, Google sent out unnatural link warning messages via Webmaster Tools, which read as follows:

We’ve detected that some of the links pointing to your site are using techniques outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

We don’t want to put any trust in links that are artificial or unnatural. We recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links are outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action on the unnatural links instead of your site as a whole. If you are able to remove any of the links, please submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took.

If you have any questions, please visit our Webmaster Help Forum.

Google are having a crackdown on links these days and we have seen and read about a number of sites which have fallen foul to penalties because they have tried to manipulate the search results using underhand tactics.  These tactics should be avoided:

Link Networks: Many thousands of websites that have used networks (such as Build My Rank) and other link building tools and systems that have been kicked out of the index.

Link Exchanges: The impact from exchange links on third party website’s “links/resources” pages is obvious to users and Google alike that these have not been gained naturally.  On top of that, the juice from these links are coming from are often very weak, with your link placed amongst several others, often non-related.

Blogroll/Sidebar Links: Google is not taking too lightly to sites which have lots of links in their sidebar.  The search engine is trying to emphasize that this link buying technique is a waste of money.

Repetitive Anchor Text: Google is now strict on sites which have heavy keyword anchor text link building.  A safe option is not to overdo your link building for a single, or couple of phrases but rather to vary your anchor text well and focus on building links to your brand name.

Paid Directories: Most directories aren’t giving off any value anymore, but paying for automatic inclusion in those directories is just inviting trouble.

Here is what a Webmaster Tools message looks like when Google detect your unnatural links:

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.

Avoid receiving this message by playing by the rules and keeping your link profile looking natural.

Manual vs. Algorithmic Link Penalties

Google may not class Panda or Penguin updates as penalties, referring to them as algorithm updates, but if you’ve been penalised by one of these it will hurt.

The quickest way to find out if you have suffered a penalty is to log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and check the messages.  Matt Cutts has previously said that 99% of sites manually penalised will receive a message in their account to notify them.  The message you receive will be similar to the one past in the section above.

These penalties are when a member of the Google Search Quality Team has checked out your website.  The example above is where a website has been penalised for unnatural link building.  You’ll need to fix these thoroughly before submitting a reinclusion request.

If you haven’t received this message and you think you’ve suffered a penalty, then chances are you have been hit by the Panda or Penguin update.

These updates are cracking down on spammers, as Google looks to improve the quality of their search results.  Again, the quality of the links you have built can be a reason why you have suffered in Google results recently.  As well as the quality of sites you’re building links on, over-optimising the anchor text you are targeting is another issue also.

Anchor Text Distribution

There’s no conclusive evidence that demonstrates the perfect distribution of anchor text.  What’s working for some isn’t working for others.  However, what is noticeable is websites with a low percentage of links containing their brand name/domain name are struggling/being hit by this year’s algorithm updates.  Therefore, make sure you build a lot of links containing the brand name in the anchor text.

Hammering your money keyword(s) is no longer an effective strategy.  In fact doing this under the current climate will result in your website being penalised, which means you won’t rank for that keyword, and in some cases, you won’t appear in Google results at all, not even for your brand name.

Dealing with Link Penalties

Of the new clients that have come to us who have been penalised following the Google Penguin update, our attempts to remove some of their bad links have seen responses asking for money for these links to be removed.  So the clients have been charged for purchasing a link on their site and being charged for removing.  Crazy!  Greedy!  And I guess… clever.

Unfortunately if you have got your site into these issues then it may take a lot of time, effort and even money to fix them.  I guess this is the price you have to pay for cheap, low-quality or buying into bad SEOs.

Editorial Link Building

As well as spreading your anchor text around, you’ll want to be building high quality links to avoid being penalised.  Editorial links are what we like to aim for.  These are links that a website has naturally attracted.  Usually because a site has produced good content and marketing.  These are not the type of link that are paid, asked or traded for.

And these editorial links that are picked up through someone citing your website generally give off more trust to your website.

If you want to avoid being hit by Google penalties, and you want to rank well in the SERPs, setting up your website to attract these editorial links will go a long way to achieving that.

Attracting these links can be done in a number of ways.  One tip I can give you for this is to produce high quality content that your users are going to enjoy reading to help increase the likelihood that your content will be shared.

Make your content easier to share.  This can be done by installing social buttons to encourage users to share your work on their social networks.

Social Sharing Buttons

Link Removals

A more recent update from Google Webmaster Tools read as follows:

We’ve detected that some of the links pointing to your site are using techniques outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

We don’t want to put any trust in links that are artificial or unnatural. We recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links are outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action on the unnatural links instead of your site as a whole. If you are able to remove any of the links, please submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took.

If you have any questions, please visit our Webmaster Help Forum.

Many sites that have been penalised this year are now going through the laborious task of removing the low quality links they (or the agency they paid to do the link building) previously built that have got them penalised.

If you, or your SEO agency have been building bad quality links to your website, it’s advised to get rid of them as soon as you can.  Whether you have or have not been penalised for this behaviour already, you’re putting your site at high risk by leaving them around.