1script - 3:54 pm on Mar 23, 2010 (gmt 0)
Something else. A distinction should be made between a penalty and the situation where backlinks are deprecated with the result that the site begins ranking where it deserves to rank in terms of how relevant the backlinks are. It has been noted in the past that much that has been interpreted as a penalty is simply a site ranking where it is supposed to rank.
You do make a good point but I don't want to leave impression that my entire link building strategy was based solely on those template links. Not at all, I have great variety of links from various sources, including in some cases (legitimate) links from good pages on .gov domains and professional organizations relevant to the theme of the sites.
Also, since I have to look at what happened to multiple sites (10+) at the same time, there is no way removal of template links ranking boost would have the same effect (90% of Google traffic is gone) on all sites simply because percentages of those links are vastly different between the sites.
I guess, my question here is whether having template links at all is bad for your site. So much so that it may cause a penalty.
Also, a white bar showing on a toolbar is not a penalty. In some cases it's social engineering. ;)
I am painfully aware of that. Can't remember when was the last time I had the G toolbar installed. Money in the bank is a better indicator I use. Also access logs and Google Analytics :) 90% drop in Google referral traffic starting on the same day for 10+ separate disconnected and not-interlinked websites is really hard to miss.