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More confusion on the Unnatural Inbound Links notification



6:30 pm on May 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

I got one of these last night in webmaster tools. The message is:

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 unnatural or artificial, and we recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links may be outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action to reduce trust in the unnatural links. If you are able to remove any of the links, you can submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took. If you have any questions, please visit our Webmaster Help Forum.

What is sort of scary about this notification is that there is a tiny difference between this one and the template that was used last July when so many people got them. Gone are the words "....instead of your site as a whole" at the end of the sentence "we are taking very targeted action to reduce trust in the unnatural links."

Has anyone else gotten one of these recently? I know that when this whole thing happened to so many thousands of webmasters back in July there was a huge amount of chatter about this and some back and forth with Matt Cutts from which it seems like there were going to be sort of two sorts of unnatural link notifications moving forward, the old one that had been used, accompanied the yellow highlighted (!) in Webmaster Tools, which was severe and was sitewide -- maybe armageddon -- and then this second one which was more of a slap on the wrist and an indication that it's not sitewide but just a limited ding on a specific set of links.

I'm not so sure about this one that i got....anyone have any ideas?

I should note that my traffic dropped about 20% with the thing that happened on May 9. A good buddy of mine who is an experienced SEO thinks that whatever damage was going to happen from this has already happened, and that that this notice is kind of like getting a citation in the mail after the fact. But I worry that there could be more damage to come if I don't handle this thing properly....

I should also note that I have been link pruning like crazy over the past couple months and have gotten a large number of spammy links taken down by the sites that pointed them at me, and at the end I did a big batch link disavow a little over a week ago. I wonder if this notification has someting to do with that?

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 8:06 pm (utc) on May 17, 2013]
[edit reason] formatted quote block [/edit]


8:30 pm on May 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

One of my sites got one on at the beginning of March and about 10 days later there was a huge drop in traffic, I am talking about a handful of G referrals a day. The effects are site wide and it seems to affect all keywords it used to rank for except some minor ones.

At first I thought of doing nothing as I thought any bad links would just be discounted, but I was wrong. Ive been getting rid of links, submitted a reinclusion request, got told the site still violates the guidelines...so I'm still working on that and will submit another reinclusion request.

Basically I think that notice is an imminent manual penalty.


3:58 am on May 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member whitey is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

The problem is that nobody knows what links these notices are specifically referring to. Take this BBC example, where an employee questioned the notice, and John Mueller from Google responded :

Google's John Mueller dug into the details and discovered this was a "granular" penalty. John said in the Google Webmaster Help thread:

"Looking into the details here, what happened was that we found unnatural links to an individual article, and took a granular action based on that. This is not negatively affecting the rest of your website on a whole." [seroundtable.com...]
The consequences of Google being vague is that it causes the webmaster to be on guard and take action on all links considered "unnatural" , as at the same time Google likely cannot fully detect all "unnatural links". On top of that Google improves it's data footprint of what is likely to be "unnatural" links via subsequent disavow tool activity, plus provides a widely publicised FUD warning to the SEO community about paid and SPAM links.

But for the site-owner, what if some of the links are undetected or perhaps wrongly interpreted as "unnatural", and removed, causing the site's rankings to bomb by widespread removal?

Some major brand sites I know of did this, and their rankings went rapidly south. It became a can of worms to fix.

With the Penguin 2.0 update coming, webmasters will have the opportunity to reflect better on what they should have done. It may be too late for some to apply a remedy without getting hit in this next update.


5:23 am on May 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

I got inundated with those on July 23rd 2012, and I only have 2 sites. Two each for each domain (one for the www and the other for the non www. I'm still not sure what to do - but I didn't see any traffic loss close to the date.


12:01 pm on May 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

@FLKeysPaul Just to confirm we have received several of these on May 16th - Looks like Google has pushed something out algorithmically that has triggered these notifications.


2:24 am on May 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I have also received a couple of these, I have just noticed.
For sites that have been considered authorities on their subject and have never had any links bought what so ever.
There are so many links to these sites, it is silly to even try to contemplate which ones Google considers unnatural.
As if that is my problem anyway.

I wonder if there is a legal case here against Google for any loss of traffic due to unnatural link penalty.
They are sort of admitting a penalty only on conjecture.
Wouldn't the onus be on them to prove that links have been paid for?


4:41 am on May 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member

Wouldn't the onus be on them to prove that links have been paid for?

I think that would be trumped by the fact that it's free traffic so we don't really have any "rights" to it. And despite some webmasters' feeling that Google organic should be their only source of traffic, there are alternatives.


10:45 pm on May 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

On May 16th several of our websites received this message. This is not a manual action and seems to be algorithmically triggered.

As of today (May 20th) two of the websites have lost all rankings for their "money" keywords.

As this is not a manual action, could it be some new phenomenon/penalty where Google is now completely devaluing a websites backlink profile.


1:28 am on May 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member whitey is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

fyi: -
Q: I've read the FAQs and searched the help center.

My URL is: sprint.com

I'm Kent Van Deusen and I support the Sprint website. I received a message on 5/17/2013 that "Google has detected user-generated spam on your site." I have run queries against the site, but haven't found the content referred to in the alert. I have read Google's documentation regarding how to prevent this in the future, but how do we find the issue we currently have in order to help us address this as quickly as possible?

A: Matt Cutts :

... , when you see a message like this, it's a good idea to check around for various forums, bulletin boards, and community areas where users can leave comments. We typically send this message when we see a lot of spam in those areas. Rather than Google removing those pages from our index, it's usually better if you can remove the pages on your side so that they don't show up in other search engines either.

I just took a quick look; try doing a Google search like [site:community.sprint.com/baw/message/ watch] to see some examples where spammers are posting a bunch of messages. I noticed that older pages with this sort of spam are mostly gone or removed--which is great. You might just look into some ways to try to catch the spam a little faster or see if there are some ways to make it a bit harder for the spammers to post a large amount of messages on the community pages. [productforums.google.com...] referred to by [seroundtable.com...]
Some similarities to links notices for granular issues and corresponding interactions with Google commenting on big brands Y/N? Anyone else got these messages in addition to link notices?

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