Last week, in light of the massive amount of manual web spam actions that Google enacted, I wrote an article that took a closer look at what was behind some of the actions. This week, let’s hear what Matt Cutts has to say about the differences between a Google algorithmic penalty and a Google manual web spam action. What does the Google web spam team consider an unnatural link and what can you do to recover from it?
Is Your Site Suffering from a Google Algorithmic Penalty?
Recently, on Google’s Webmaster Help Forum, Matt Cutts was asked the question:
In the video below, Matt explains:
“If you’re hit by something that’s a direct action from the manual web spam team, that directly impacts the ranking of your site, then go to Google Webmaster Tools and check out because it could very well be the case that, (you know, hey), we thought that there could be some keyword stuffing or cloaking or whatever going on and that’s a clear cut case. You’ll get a notification.”
Matt goes on to address the question directly and says that “we don’t think as much and really much at all about algorithmic penalties“. He also noted that when Google rolls out an algorithm change, they try to give people a heads-up, if they expect it to have a big impact.
For example, they made an announcement before they rolled out the Penguin algorithm (which targeted web spam) and the Panda algorithm (which targeted quality content). In summation, Matt says that as we change our sites, that the algorithms can re-run and they can change our rankings.
Did Your Site Get Hit with a Google Manual Action?
In August of 2013, Matt Cutts released this Google Webmaster video to address the dreaded message that your site received a manual action labeled as “unnatural links from your site” and what to do about it.
The bullet points from Matt’s video explaining what unnatural links are:
- The reason behind a manual spam action is that sites that you are linking to have affected Google’s trust in your site.
- Sandy explained that Google looks at a natural link as basically an editorial choice based on the usefulness of the site to your visitors.
- Matt Cutts then went on to wink at the camera and explain that unnatural (or inorganic) links are usually related to link selling.
- Matt also said that it could be excessive link exchanges or links to low quality or spammy sites. For example, if you have links to a forum that has been spammed.
- The point that Matt made that resonated the most with me is to ask yourself if you would still link to that site if search engines didn’t exist. (For those of us with CommentLuv do-follow links, the question is would the person who is leaving the comment, still comment if search engines didn’t exist.)
The bullet points from Matt’s video explaining the best ways to reverse a manual web spam action are:
- Identify the unnatural links. (Unfortunately, neither Matt nor Sandy explain how to do this. The general consensus is this needs to be done manually.)
- Either remove the link or ensure that they don’t pass page rank by either:
- Adding the rel=nofollow attribute to the link tag
- Redirecting through an intermediate URL that is blocked in your robots.txt file.
- The two things that Matt stresses that have to happen before Google will remove the action (and re-index your site) are that:
- #1 – The issue has been fixed. (There are no “unnatural” links passing page ranks.)
- #2 – It won’t happen again.
- After you rectify the issues, as part of your Google Reconsideration Request, you need to:
- Document well what you have done.
- Explain what it was that you believe caused the issue.
- Assure them that you’ve taken steps to not have it happen again.
My 2 Cents:
I hope that I have not linked to this post too often but since many readers have found this post helpful, I felt that it would be worthwhile to some people. In that article, I shared many of the tools that I use not only to recover lost organic traffic but to keep my site safe going forward. Most notably are BrokenLinkCheck.com and the Bad-Neighborhood.com text link checker.
I feel fortunate that (up until now) I’ve avoided being hit by a Google manual action. I do believe that I was on that path and that if I had not noticed a significant drop in my organic search traffic last year, I could very well have been a recipient of one of these actions.
In my case, my unnatural links came from do-follow CommentLuv links. In addition to finding many 404-errors, perhaps the biggest issues were links to spammy sites.
Granted, I had slipped and (as part of a “reciprocating-comments” strategy that I had embarked on when I first started blogging). I had do-follow links to sites that led to sites that had absolutely nothing to do with the article that was being commented on.
Perhaps an even bigger issue was comment links that led to domains that were no longer being used for legitimate purposes. For example, abandoned domain names that were parked at domain registrars such as GoDaddy, who in turn directed them to pages riddled with spammy AdSense ads.
By addressing those issues, I have been slowly but steadily regaining traffic. I believe that monitoring those links keeps my site in compliance with Google’s guidelines. Would it be easier to simply remove CommentLuv from my site? Yes. Am I willing to do that? No (not at this time anyways). I still believe that rewarding my readers is worth the effort.
Over To You:
What are your thoughts? Have you ever received a manual web spam action from Google? Do you have any advice as to how to clean up your site and successfully submit a reconsideration request? Do you regularly clean up the links on your website? Feel free to weigh in on this in the comments below. As I always say, we can all learn from each other.