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Google Penalty from Artificial or Unnatural links
gosman

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 8:36 am on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

My site started loosing traffic earlier this year. With every update it got worse, we are now down about 80% on our traffic.

I read about people getting emails in WMT saying their site had been penalized, however I never got one of these messages, so I decided to send a message to Google via the re-inclusion request asking if me site was penalized.

28 days later I get a message back stating my site violates Google guidelines, Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site.

I went about the task of creating a spreadsheet of sites linking to mine. During this process I noticed a lot of blog type pages with poorly written content that had links to my site. I contacted the site owners and asked for the content to be removed, some have removed the content, but others haven't responded and the content still exists.

I uploaded my spreadsheet to Google docs, submitted another re-inclusion request, pointing to the spreadsheet and stating the action I have taken to have the content in question removed.

33 days later I get a reply from Google.

Your site violates Google guidelines, Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site.


How the hell can I can control who links to me? I have never bought any type of links, never participated in any type of linking scheme. We ran a student promotion a few years ago which got us mentioned on a lot of university sites which resulted in backlinks, so never had to.

Somebody has obviously paid for these blog type articles with the intent to get my site penalized and I now have no way back.

I've already let one member of staff go, and my other member of staff, who is my wife is now looking for a job.

6 years work down the drain.

Does anybody know a way of contacting Google other than the re-inclusion request form. I would just like a pointer on what I can do to get my site back ranking. The "Your site violates Google guidelines, Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site." Just don't help.

 

goodroi

WebmasterWorld Administrator goodroi us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 11:42 am on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

I am sorry to hear about your problems. I would not spend time trying to contact Google, instead I would focus my efforts on fixing your links.

As webmasters we do have some control over who links to us. SEO consultants charge so much for quality link development because the good ones can greatly influence who will link to a site.

I am a bit concerned over this:
We ran a student promotion a few years ago which got us mentioned on a lot of university sites which resulted in backlinks, so never had to.

What did the anchor text distribution look like? Often when your run a contest people use the contest name as the anchor text and that might make your anchor text from these links look unnatural. Also if you sell widgets and all of your backlinks come from university sites not related to widgets that can also make the links seem unnatural.

As for the blog links, who knows were they came from. I have had many clients that forgot they bought links years ago or that an old summer intern took a short cut. It is very rare for a competitor to buy links and try to poison a website. It is possible but very rare. Much more often there is a simpler explanation.

I would spend more time on building quality backlinks. Go after relevant websites, make sure the anchor text is evenly distributed and show steady link growth overtime. This will decrease the percentage of bad links in your link profile which can help. Good luck.

gosman

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 11:53 am on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Hi Goodroi

The Edu links are varied, some just say "click here" or are anchored on the domain name. The site has been going 6 years and we have never bought links, never. That is why I'm so frustrated.

We concentrate purely on content, that's what's so annoying.

bhartzer

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 12:08 pm on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Why don't you tell google about that campaign, explaining exactly what it was about and that you cannot get the links removed?

gosman

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 1:37 pm on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Hi bhartzer

I have. I fully explained everything. But they just send back the canned email reply.

At this stage I'm thinking of taking the content and starting a new site. Only problem is the domain is a premium domain name with our targeted keywords.

I also own the hyphenated version so this might be an option, just hate the thoughts of starting from scratch.

netmeg

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 2:27 pm on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Are all or most of these dodgy backlinks pointing to a bunch of different pages on your site, or are they concentrated on just a handful?

Because if it's the latter, you *could* try changing the URLs of the pages that are linked to, which would instantly render those backlinks invalid. I dunno if that would work, but it's probably what I would try if I were in your situation. It's a PITA and you lose history on those pages, but it's probably better than starting the whole site over from scratch.

(After you do it, then send G back another message explaining what you've done)

If it's the home page, of course, then it probably won't work.

1script

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 2:30 pm on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

The Edu links are varied, some just say "click here" or are anchored on the domain name
These are exactly the types of links you should not worry about. In fact, you can save quite some time by disregarding these and instead going after those links that have three-four-five word phrases in the anchor that could be considered the phrases you were trying to rank for.

I would only try to remove "click here" links if the pages they are on also have a ton of spammy links to other sites. Otherwise these are pretty benign.

1script

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 2:43 pm on Jun 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

you *could* try changing the URLs of the pages that are linked to, which would instantly render those backlinks invalid.
Nope. I played with this extensively (pre- and after-Penguin) trying to remedy the issue of bad links from WordPress themes I wrongheadedly sponsored back in 2009. 404-ing or 410-ing the link target URL does nothing to improve the ranking (or remove penalty) of the site overall.

Google seems to be taking nothing short of actual removal of links for a solution. Even then it does not always work because they are not crawling bad sites fast enough - the recovery may be very painfully drawn out because it can take them ages to re-crawl all of the URLs that contained bad links. I think most of the really bad sites you would want your links out of have very small crawl budget to begin with. I am still seeing links that were removed 120+ days ago from such sites.

I'm convinced noone at Google actually reads our reports of the number of links we were able to remove. They probably simply have no time in this post-Penguin world because thousands of webmasters send them those every day. They are just waiting for the links to "naturally" fall out of their index. In late 2011 I was able to get some back-and-forth regarding these links with Google through RRs and emails but since Penguin there's not a peep back. They got themselves buried under a mountain of similar requests for bad links removals and simply stopped processing those (my conjecture of course).

linkbuildr



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 1:58 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well have you folks done or had done, link building where you didn't receive the links out of merit?

gosman

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 2:12 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Other than DMOZ, Yahoo and other reputable directories no other link building has been done.

SnowMan68



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 2:25 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Was this an Ecom or content site?

gosman

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 3:03 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

It's an ecom travel site with a lot of content

arikgub

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 4:27 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

At this stage I'm thinking of taking the content and starting a new site.


OK, so what will you do when the one who set you up with the blog links, will arrange a nice bunch of spammy blog network links pointing to your new domain? What's the plan?

gosman

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 4:40 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Exactly arikgub

That's my worry. I can't understand why Google just don't devalue spam links instead of penalizing a site.

tedster

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 4:53 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

From what Google reps tell us, a lot of the time that IS what they do - ignore spammy links. So my question is why do some sites get penalized for them? What makes the difference?

gosman

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 5:10 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Tedster I don't think I believe a word anybody at Google says anymore.

tedster

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 5:50 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater and all that.

I'm not saying we should swallow everything Google says without using discrimination - they certainly do spin their communications. But if we learn how to listen beyond the spin, there really is a signal there that's very worth listening to. And straight-up lies have not been a Google practice in my experience, just spin.

superclown2

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 6:12 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)


I have a lot of websites. Some are good, some are bad, some are wonderful, some are awful. The problem is that the successful ones, Google-wise, cover the whole spectrum. Sites which have been built in the same way using the same quality of content and which have attracted the same number and type of links can have completely different relevance for similar keyphrases. Some succeed and some fail but there is no logic that I can find to their fates.

I suspect therefore that there is a degree of randomness in Google's algo, whether deliberately or otherwise, and it could be that your site was just one of the unlucky ones. Personally I have found out that the old military adage of never reinforcing failure has been the best approach, for me at least, so in your place I would abandon this site and launch another, then another, then another ad infinitum. Sorry if this sounds negative but this is the real world.

1script

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 6:13 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

@tedster:
So my question is why do some sites get penalized for them? What makes the difference?

My guess would be the ratio of bad links vs good ones? Problem with bad links is that you usually acquire them en masse, which is I think partly what makes them bad in Google's eyes in the first place. Conversely, you acquire good links individually, so they take time to accumulate. In other words, the ratio of good vs. bad is very easily tipped towards bad ones, can happen virtually overnight.

If I can use my sorry story as an example, I have been sponsoring those WP themes for a few months back in 2009 and there's probably 15-20 of them out there (never kept record - what a stupid mistake) that have links in the footer pointing to my sites. One link per a theme of course, but I did various themes for several sites. This was never a very effective tactic because not many people were using them, so not too many links were created this way. Somewhere along the way I've stumbled upon a great designer that was making nicer looking themes and was actually promoting the theme. Not much was happening initially anyhow, and I've stopped the practice and essentially forgot about it.

All of a sudden, 2 years later I've found that some of the nicer themes were used for many blogs, (most of them spam autoblogs) and tens of thousands of links created this way and I think that's what has tipped the scale.

Anyway, I think they may use different criteria but the bad/good ratio is probably the most telling and easily computed one.

arikgub

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 9:35 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

the bad/good ratio is probably the most telling and easily computed one


Indeed, bad/good ratio is the first thing that comes to mind, but in my experience that's not the criteria used or at least not the whole story.

On the date of the Penguin update my eldest and the most authoritative site lost 50% of the traffic. The site was linked by almost every serious website in my industry and also favored by regional and national media. Sure, it had its share of spammy links like any site having that kind of visibility would, but the overall bad/good ratio was very low.

After Penguin, trying to figure out the nature of this update, I bought thousands of the spammiest possible links (xrumer, senuke type) to few of my weaker sites that had only a handful of links before that and used to rank for low competition keywords. Bad/good links ratio surely went through the roof, but not only that didn't hurt the sites, it even helped rankings. The only undesirable impact was the unnatural links notice in GWT, but the rankings actually improved a bit.

Overall, I am really puzzled by this update. Obviously, Google wants us to believe that spammy links hurt rankings, but I am not sure if there is anything more than FUD tactics to it.

That way or another, I would never waste my precious time on chasing spammers and begging for link removals, like Matt Cutts is suggesting. I really have better things to do.

arikgub

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 9:46 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Re: theme sponsorship

I don't get it.

if a design agency distributes a theme with a link in the footer, why isn't this link a legitimate "vote" for the agency's website? Why does it need to be nofollow? If many websites choose the theme, then the designer's website is surely worth checking out.

legaleagle



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 9:55 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

if a design agency distributes a theme with a link in the footer, why isn't this link a legitimate "vote" for the agency's website? Why does it need to be nofollow? If many websites choose the theme, then the designer's website is surely worth checking out.


I guess its not a natural link made by recommendation of the agency and the ability to choose the lets say a "wordpress theme" could be easily artificially bumped up by the agency themselves by creating numerous blogs.

klark0



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 11:52 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

What were the other directories ?

1script

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4469970 posted 1:02 am on Jun 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

if a design agency distributes a theme with a link in the footer, why isn't this link a legitimate "vote" for the agency's website?


I guess my problem was that I was promoting something other than a Web design agency. Additionally, several of the themes had my URLs under "Sponsored by" and not "Designed by" and that's just a dead giveaway. In the end, I think that it's me using the same anchor text on several (not all) themes that made them look closer. Funny thing: I was not trying to rank for the phrase (never did, before or after), just trying to describe what my site was about. But since the text didn't vary much, that no doubt seemed rather suspicious.

I even had some people ask if they can still link to my site when I asked them to remove the footer theme links. I politely declined in one case and suggested a re-worded anchor for the blogroll in the other. I never thought that I would ever be #1 asking to remove my links and #2 saying "no" to people that ask if they can link to me. What a strange world we now live in!

Again, I don't think you'll have this issue if you are actually designing WP themes, only if you are promoting a site that has nothing to do with Web design.

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