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How to Avoid an Unnatural Links Penalty

How to Avoid an Unnatural Links Penalty

Google is constantly adjusting its search engine algorithm in an attempt to serve up the best websites and most relevant results to searchers.  Theyre at it again, and this time its a doozy.

Whats being called the Unnatural Links update is rocking the SEO world.  In March 2012 people started receiving warnings from Google about unnatural links and then many of those sites rankings in search results have taken a nosedive.  Some sites have been de-indexed, which means their sites pages no longer show up in Google at all.

The scary part?  Unlike other Google algorithm changes, you can’t respond to this one by changing things on your site. This time, it’s about links to your site from other websites (commonly called backlinks) that you most likely don’t have control over including sites you may never have asked to link to you.

Wait! I thought backlinks were good.

The number and quality of backlinks to sites has always been one of the most important search engine optimization (SEO) factors determining how high a web page will rank in search engine results pages (SERPs).

A paid link ;-) (Photo by Kristina Weis)With the Unnatural Links update, Google has made it clear that backlink quality is of paramount importance. The Google algorithm has been modified to detect and devalue low-quality links, or links that are determined to be spammy or paid for.

In other words, Google is trying to distinguish “natural” links the kind that people make to other sites because they think the content of the linked site is relevant to their own visitors from links created solely to boost a site’s rankings.

Many SEO experts believe Google is going one step further and actually penalizing sites with links that are determined to be “unnatural,” because some sites appear to be ranking lower than they would if they had no backlinks at all. (source)

So, how can you avoid a penalty and make sure your links dont look unnatural?

  • Pay attention for an Unnatural Links notice in your Google Webmaster Tools.  *tweet this*   If you get one, your rankings are doomed to slip if you dont do get those unnatural links to your site removed.  Its important to note, though, that you may not get a notice before your site takes a dive (or you may not get a warning at all), so dont assume youll be fine if you havent received a notice.
  • Make sure you dont have any paid links.  Buying links or selling links that pass PageRank (meaning they arent NoFollow) is against Googles webmaster guidelines. If you are found to be paying for links, or if it appears you’re paying for links, your site’s rankings will suffer. To be safe rather than sorry, you should ask for any paid links to be removed or made NoFollow. Contact the linking site’s webmaster or customer service department and hope theyre listening.
  • Make sure you dont have links from blog networks. Google has cracked down on blog networks (like BuildMyRank), which are typically basic-looking WordPress blogs with low-quality content and keyword-infused links to other sites. For more information about blog networks and Google’s update, read this article.
  • Sites with lots of links with keyword-rich anchor text look suspicious.  *tweet this*   If the vast majority of the links to your site just happen to use one of a few keyword phrases as the anchor text, they arent going to look very natural to a person, nor to Google’s algorithm.  What are the odds someone would choose one of your top keyword phrases when linking to you?  Odds are, most people will use something like your business name, the title of your blog post, your business name, or click here as the anchor text when linking to you.  Make sure that the anchor text in your backlinks looks diverse and not like you asked or paid people to give you links with SEO-perfect anchor text.
  • Try to have a balance of high-quality and lower-quality links.  Many sites will have a few low quality links that they never asked for, but it becomes a problem when the majority of your backlinks look iffy. Look at the root domains (like that are linking to you: What is their PageRank? Do they have a decent social media following, or are many people sharing their content in social networks? If most or all of the websites that link to you seem low quality, you may be in trouble.  It’s time to build up some quality backlinks and/or try to get rid of some of the low quality links.
  • Avoid site-wide links.  These dont look too natural, and many sites that sell links will put the links on all their sites pages.  See the keyword-y links on the middle right of this site, for example.  Theres even an add your link here link right by them that goes to a page where you can pay DoFollow links costs 20% more than NoFollow links, of course ;-)

How can you see and analyze your backlinks?

  • On your sites page on we have a free lookup that will show you how many backlinks Google and think you have, and then that number will link to a list of the web pages they note as linking to your site.  To use this, go to, search for your domain name (like in, and then click Web Presence on the left-hand side of the page.  Click Refresh the numbers to get numbers as of today.  Note that Google should only list backlinks from sites that it does value so you probably dont need to worry about those backlinks.
  • Open Site Explorer is a free tool from SEOmoz that shows you the backlinks theyve detected, along with the links anchor text and their estimate of the linking sites authority.
  • Google Webmaster Tools has a Links to your site section that shows you which sites link to your site and how often, which pages on your site have the most links, and what anchor text people tend to use to link to you (they call this How your data is linked).

The lesson here is that Google is constantly refining its algorithm, and before you employ a new SEO tactic you should give it a sniff test.  Does every aspect of it result in better content for searchers and the Web? Or is it just a self-serving tactic for making your site rank higher?

A better use of your time is building good content on your site, and cascading it to your social network. This is unlikely to make you rich overnight, but truly useful, well-written content will produce a more secure and sustainable ranking that improves over time.  Plus, more people will want to link to excellent content in natural ways ;-)

For tips on getting quality backlinks, check out this article.


Kristina Weis


This article was written by Kristina Weis of AboutUs. 

Kristina is customer service and social media lead for AboutUs.  She helps website owners who are trying to promote their businesses online.  Her personal blog is at and she tweets at @KristinaWeis.

  1. If you want to make sure Google doesnt miss a site thats buying or selling links, they have a place you can report it:

    • I hate to mention this and its an exteme option. If you have any problem with any website not stopping identifiable unwarranted backlinks contact and file an official complaint. If you go to this site you will become totally aware as to why you need good details.

  2. Big companies like Agros, John Lewis and Amazon purchase site wide text links on lots of different blogs. Will these big brands get penalised? Or can they get away with it as they are big brands?

    • @William Big brands could certainly get hit and see a dip in rankings. Remember the JCPenney incident? However, I think its harder for a big brand to fall since they will have so many legitimate links from so may decent sites. Its easier for a smaller site to see a dip in rankings because their ratio of paid/unnatural links to natural links may be higher.

      • Great article as usual Kristina. I have a company Im doing some work for that got the dreaded message. Not from anything myself or company didI actually discovered the message while working on overhauling their website and developing their social media network. It was a situation where the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing within my clients company.

        After spending two days reviewing things under a microscope, I determined it was as a result of work done by an SEO company they had started working with in Jan. The company was writing articles/building links for my customer starting soon after..

        The content was real, unique, and being published manually. I was less than impressed with the quality of the content but such things are viewed in the eye of the beholder I supposeanyhow it was not spun, duplicate, or auto published across a blogging network. BUT by publishing it at an extremely Rapid Pace (which isnt natural) AND using the same Exact Match Anchor Text for all links (which isnt natural) they created an unnatural link pattern that Im sure stuck out like a sore thumb to Google Bot

        Ridiculous Spike in External Inbound Links + Exact Match Anchor Text + Short Period of Time = message from Google in ones Webmaster Tools.

        I swung into action, put a plan in place and thankfully my client appears to be on the other side of this issue. After speaking with a variety of trusted marketing minds that had dealt with/were dealing with the situation in its various extremes, I believe my customer was lucky for a variety of reasons and know his situation represented a reasonable easy situation to fix.

        The simple lesson is if you build links fast in an unnatural way you run the risk of creating a pattern that can result in Google flagging a website. Furthermore, all those resources, the time and effort if managed appropriately could have been used to create a powerful long standing boost to a websites rankings/link profile/internet footprint. AND build links with diverse anchor textespecially using partial match phrasesaside from creating a more natural link pattern they will provide better value over the long term.

        Ironically the seo company that caused all this sold its internet marketing services (still is) as if they were the answer to this exact problem. They presented their services in a way that would seemingly eliminate questions/concerns one might ask before hiring them looking for red flags or wanting to hear best practice type stuffespecially an average small business owner. When I presented my findings and recommendations to my client and they then presented them to the company in question half a day or more was spent with the Marketing Company claiming to be a solution to the Google message. Which is sad as eluded too above for the less than savvy website owner they could easily seem like a great solutioncheap, fast results that did work, probably still are for others, at face value link building in a way that could be interpreted as appropriate.on some levels I guess.

  3. Went thought the whole article I should say , everyone should look carefully at their paid links they purchase from crap ad sites.

    • Some of the problems I see are, those who have bought into some legitamate quote unquote brokers who yes do have some great backlinks true enough BUT, they have many not so good as well. You link in to the chain and the next thing you know you have thousands of SPAMMER fed backlinks. There is the beginning to the headaches. There should be a buyers beware and a google warning to the brokerage and the consumer. However, for years they, the brokers, have gone on with their practice and SEO firms have also. The webmasters also know or should know that this is a bad practice. BUT because this has gone unchecked it has become a faulty dirty practice. Now here we are and who is truthfully in the right. We want and need our sites found and we are on their engine. We may not like it but we need to address the problem as it is and those who see their sites penalize should say with all honesty their part of the responsibility and do what is right for themselves and help others to do the right thing. Thats my opinion.

  4. Thanks for the specific link Kristina! Some of my competitor websites purchase link to boost their rank.

  5. This is very helpful for me as seo in Germany. I try this with webmaster tools. abolustly good tip

  6. In most cases we dont have control about the links. If anyone were using BuildMyRank or any similar service there is no chance to remove links and the same thing applies to other link sources as well.
    So if someone gets the notice then its about it and you can basically start from scratch as Google doesnt accept mistakes and reconsideration requests are declined in 99% of cases.
    Thanks Kristina for tips!

    • @Steven Youre right this is tough thing because you cant just remove links to your site, but I definitely think its worth trying.

      I actually talked with someone the other day who took a huge rankings dive, submitted a reconsideration request a few days ago, and then saw their rankings recover just yesterday. That makes me optimistic.

  7. Fantastically detailed and informative article! Thank you, Kristina.

  8. Thanks Kristina! A question though: How does Google treat all those web directories that work on paid listings? Are these verboden?

    • @Will Paid directory listings are a bit tricky, because the directory would probably argue that people are paying for the human review process or anything besides the backlink. But it may be the backlink that makes people want to pay them. There are some big name directories that seem to be doing okay, like Yahoos directory.

      I dont think paying for a directory listing is usually a good idea, unless youre getting something like a professional writer to create it for you or the directorys really specific to your industry and gets a lot of eyeballs.

      Shameless plug :-) Our other site,, is the worlds largest directory and its free and easy to create a nice custom page. And well gladly make its links to your site DoFollow when youre done.

  9. What is a paid link? In the past, Google has considered sites like Yahoo, Best of the Web and others to be quality backlinks despite the fact that they are paid. Many of us have believed that paid directories were acceptable to Google so long as they were human-edited. Is this changing?

    Thanks. Your info and comments are much appreciated !

    • @J A Prufrock First of all, great name! Im a T.S. Eliot fan, myself. (And not Cats, either.)

      Your point about paid directories being human-edited is a good one. As Kristina said in one of her previous comments, the directory would probably argue that what people are paying for is the human review. However, its still a paid listing, and for big, very general directories, its most likely that the person buying the listing just wants the link. (How likely are you to go to Yahoo Directory to find a plumber in your city?) If you want to be in a big, general paid directory, youre probably safest choosing a directory that makes the links no-follow.

      So why bother with a directory at all? Because if you choose the right targeted directory, it can be a great way to get found by potential clients. For example, national professional associations often list their members on a state-by-state basis, so people can find professional services they need in their own location. Since firms usually pay to belong to these associations, a link in an association could be seen as a paid link but its probably a good one to have. And its not an unnatural link at all if youre a member of the association, you should be listed.

      Another example of a paid link that makes sense is when you are a sponsor of a local charity. These groups almost always list sponsors, and usually link to the sponsors websites. While youve paid for the link, its not an unnatural link.

      You might want to read our article about getting good local links. Many of the ideas in this article can easily be adapted if youre a company that isnt concerned about local customers.

      Im going to echo Kristinas shameless plug and remind you that (which we own) is the worlds largest editable directory of websites. You can say what you want about your website, link to internal pages, and as long as youre offering good information about a good website, well turn the links from no-follow to DoFollow. And we dont charge a dime.

  10. Link Building is a critical component to any SEO strategy. In a post-Panda world, most serious SEO consultants adhere to common sense model • quality links with diversity and deployed in a natural manner will prevent a site from getting a scary Webmaster Tools warning. Anchor text comments are very much OK, so long as the submission is done properly • would you agree Kristina?

  11. Hey Kristina,

    Great post and I totally agree that its good content people would want to share that eventually ranks well and misses out on being affected by these Panda updates etc. (lol didnt even know about a Florida and Vince update)

    My only thought is I dont believe Google would penalize a site for having too many backlinks as competition could send bad backlinks to your website to make it rank lower?

    Maybe where this is true is where there are no other signals of natural backlinks at all?



  12. Looks like google is making it easy for people to do google bowling.

    Our competitor just might buy a few low cost links to us. And then report us to google for buying links.

    Place links to us from blog networks.

    Make sure we get keyword-rich anchor text in the links he places to us

    How do we protect ourself from this?

    • @Randall That is a possibility, and a scary one. Its also possible that your competitors would just end up boosting your rankings until Google does something, if they ever do. I definitely dont think buying links for your competitors is a smart way for companies to spend their time or money, though, so hopefully they wont. And if they do, it would be a sort of compliment because you must be a stronger business than theirs if they have to stoop to such desperate and black hat measures.

      Shameless plug :-) If a company wants an unfair advantage online, they should check out our services instead.

      To be safe, its a good idea to check your backlinks every so often so you can notice any weird ones and decide what to do about them.

  13. My gut told me this was coming from the Google GodsI wonder how this factors into the Pinterest Boom? Is Pinterest A good link back or a bad link back?

  14. Thousands have purchased backlinks, thinking it was the thing to do, they were told by those that sold these links that it was ok that everyone was doing it, but sadly, many have found out that it was not ok, its clear that now if you do not play by the rules you cannot compete online, in fact you may not be able to compete with other websites that can spend more money than you can. Its a catch 22 situation.

  15. • Make sure you don’t have links from blog networks.
    This is the part I have a problem with. I think its bs made to attempt to bring googles blog network to the top. I quit paying attention to google a long time ago. Their search results have been terrible for a long time. I have been using ixquick mainly. Their search results are better and much more accurate and you can actually find current information, not something wrote in 2006!

    I really have no use for google. The last thing I was using them for was analytics, but in this day and age that is even obsolete. With options like piwik, who needs google analytics? If you know how to use ftp on your own hosting and how to setup a database and do file permissions, you can have your own analytics setup on your own server, using you own scripts and tracking codes in 10 minutes, and the results are in real time, no day lag time.

  16. Great read, I am scared to get any links at all now lol.
    Is it still ok to post your website to directorys? I assume links like that are acceptable?

    Also, would a link in a comment be acceptable, for instance in my name for this comment I have linked to my website. If I ever see a website field I always put my website in and now I am wondering if this is going to cause me more harm than good!

    • @Kevin Dont be afraid :-)

      Unpaid, human-edited directories should be fine you may just want to be cautious about the anchor text you use if the links from that directory arent NoFollow.

      On most blogs, links in the comments are NoFollow, so theres no need to worry about those because Google only cares about links that pass PageRank. Plus, I dont think your name would be seen as unnatural or keyword-spammy anchor text.

      • Sorry totally forgot I left a comment here. I have since learnt a lot more since asking this but just wanted to say thank you for your reply :)

  17. So, SEOLinkVine.bad? good?

    • @MaryLouise I dont know, but SEOLinkVine has always felt gray or black hat to me. The one person I know that used it also paid for tons of backlinks from other sites. SEOLinkVine also offers automated content, and that does not make me think theyre about quality or making the Web a better place.

  18. Does this include paid for banners? And other ads like adwords on other search engines?

  19. Its all about being part of a community. You shouldnt be chasing numbers, you should just be reacting to what people say within your community, whether that is writing content that they need or commenting on the latest development.

  20. There just is no way to know if the company made the links or if a competitor did it to hope you incur a penalty. So you can sign up for these massive link spamming services, which are generally legal, for a few bucks and nail your competitors.

    Its not something I would do, but I know there are many many people who would happily do this to their competitors, especially in competitive industries.

    I dont see how this can work out well for anyone. The honest, ethical people will continue to refuse to be involved in spammie tactics, and the other less ethical people will now just spam links for the sites they want to penalize.

  21. Big article with not much sense Im sorry Buying or selling links is a big no-no with Google, and buying links or selling links is against webmaster guidelines. where in guidelines you found it?

    Of course, your link should be natural not because its forbidden, because its better this way.

  22. I am so glad I signed up for email alerts and news from This news is priceless and I thank you for the info. Although I get very tired of Googles changes I think in the long run this will be better for everyone.

  23. So I can now blast my competitors with spammy links and Google will penalize it!! Methinks not. I am not buying this. Post me a link to Googles original statement regarding unnatural so I can take a look for myself.

  24. I am really looking forward how big G plans to roll this out. This would potentially make it easier for competitors to get your site penalized. Instead of blasting 100k+ bogus links, a competitor could now buy way less low value links. I am really curious about this one.

  25. As an SEO consult myself, I know how easy it is to decide to purchase backlinks BUT I know better. I know how fast I could excel to page 1 BUT I know better. Companies suggesting that they can put anyone on page 1 guaranteed, more than likely are, though they know better. There are plenty of free backlink generators out and auto backlink operations and directory backlink services, as well as, link exchange networks. Though they take longer they are free HOWEVER, if your backlinks come to fast then SEs have the right to question and to purse corrective means. If I woke up some morning with say 50 to 100 new backlinks no biggie BUT if I saw 500 to 1000 I would want to know what happenned. I as an SEO consult, like a Search Engine, would speculate that someone bought backlinks. It takes time and patience to build Good BackLinks with businesses.

  26. @Steven you can remove your links from BMR, they give you the option.

    I used BMR heavily and saw a rankings drop after sites in their network got de-indexed. This is not a penalty, its just that links that were created on blogs that are de-indexed do not count. So, you wind up ranking where you would without those links.

    The reason BMR was found out is probably because they made their link locations public. Very easy for Google to get an account and start de-indexing sites where their links were placed.

    Any link network that does this is easy prey to see a high number of sites get de-indexed.

    There are other blog networks out there linkauthority, for one, that do not publish link locations, making it harder (but not impossible) for Google to find the links and de-index sites. I am using it in place of BMR.

    {Manipulating Googles search results|Marketing your content} is getting more challenging. Myself and an associate in Chicago are testing out anchor text %s now to see how our sites react. I see a lot of theories on the % of exact match vs. partial match vs. throwaway anchors. It will be nice to have some data in a few months, so we can get back to ranking highly again.

  27. Very nice article Kristina being an SEO I personnaly experienced a profitable organic increase with a balance as you said between high quality BL (meaning high PR as well as RELEVANCY) , and low PR and more generic sites.
    One thing however regarding the rel-nofollow attribute Im not sure this attribute works and does not transfer any juice in every case. you ?

    • @RFPs Thanks! In theory, rel=nofollow links dont pass any PageRank or SEO value, although there is some debate about this. However, Google makes it clear here that youll be fine if paid links are NoFollow.

      • As a travel agency / mortgage company / advertising agency / SEO company / and more I am curious how this will play out ??? We do not pay for nor do we buy links BUT WE DO GET LINK TOs and we do LINKBACKS We are always updating various keywords and adding new services. We are active in B2B link exchanging. As the owner / publisher, I am also an affiliate to well over 2000 companies just in the USA, not including 37 other countries.

  28. This is going to completely screw up everyone that offers a paid SEO service in terms of link building, articles for blogs, pyramid linking, blog posting etc. The whole crux of SEO was keywords and, most importantly, consistent anchor text for links using those keywords. Now Google has blown that all away. Those who have spent money building their rank by paying SEO professionals to get their sites on page 1 have wasted their money. Surely this is just going to cost site owners dearly and play in to the hands of SEO providers by saying The old SEO methods no longer apply so we need to charge you a whole load more money to undo everything we did up to this point and then begin a campaign that befits the new algorithm. If people want to pay for a service, they shouldnt be penalised for it. Either that or there shouldnt be a service they can pay for in the first place. The black hat cheating of old has been eradicated. When are Google going to leave well enough alone and let things take their course. Google can kiss my ****

  29. Personally, for the time being I have stopped building backlinks until a few things are clarified. What have I done instead? I have listened to Google and from what I understand is that they want high quality original and interesting content on websites, and I have tried to deliver their request and now Im looking for them to send me more customers.
    Lets see what happens.

    • @Wolfgang, I think you shouldnt wait, think the competition on the web is too fierce, you should take some risks, if you want to get visitors

      • My suggestion is simple, stay away from link brokers. Build good quality backlinks within your service industry. Secondly there are plenty of companies actually looking for you to link with them and willing to link back. Thirdly dont try to be an over achiever, show what you have and dont say something that you may regret later. Build your company with pro- fessionalism Building backlinks takes time.

  30. Nice theme, nice post! SEO is becoming more challenging, more interesting last two years. I dont use paid and reciprocal links. But very often I use websites that analyze mine and get a backlink from them (example: websiteanalyzer). Is there risks for penalties from Google (now or in the future?)

  31. Agree with webpall. You gotta experiment and try different things.

  32. I had a small wordpress blog to share information about my products. Had a few links on there, nothing out of the ordinary. i just killed the links, and placed the blog on a noindex rule. Like everyone else, I am scared of getting mixed up in this mess.

    I still have links on my site to the blog, such as for more information on this product click here, however on the page where the link takes you, I got rid of every single link on there. On the blog I have always stated that the blog is part of my site, and the blog is about products that i sell, this way there is no confusion as to who owns it and why it is there. I hate spam, so I have always been very open about my links and contributions.

    Should I get rid of the blog all together even though it has no links back to my site? I have it on WordPress. The links I have point to the blog, but nothing on the blog is now pointing back to my website. Just curious. Seems everyone on here is more versed in this than I am! All feed back sincerely appreciated.

    I dont have paid links anywhere, used to have a few banners back a few years ago, but due to very poor performance, I stopped doing that about 5 years ago!

    • @Lou I dont actually think you need to worry. Google is trying to detect and not count backlinks that seem like they were paid for. Links from your site to your blog or vice versa shouldnt seem suspicious to Google, and if they do, Google is really lost its marbles. I dont think you need to noindex your blog, just maybe be mindful or using anchor text thats good, but not too good.

  33. So whats a web designer to do?!

    How many in the industry have spent the last decade adding anchor text to ALL of the websites theyve built, such as website design *location* or similar. Theyll all be sitewide links too!

    For a good while that was the recommended* way forward! Now suddenly its spam?
    (I use the term recommended loosely, byw, but pretty sure it wasnt so frowned upon!)

    • @Gareth Thats a good point! I would hope that Google is good about telling the difference between non-paid site-wide links like web design by [company] and ones that probably are paid. If you hear of any web designers that got or get an unnatural links notice in Google Webmaster Tools, wed love to know.

  34. I got the warning a month ago. Three weeks later many of our important keywords dropped by 5-10 places. Some completely vanished. Some didnt move, and two less important ones actually improved. I found out later an SEO firm we trusted used ALN to get links without our knowledge. The SEO company have ignored all our requests for removal of those links. I cant even contact most of the blogs. Our rankings are now worse than they were before the dodgy links were built. Seems kind of like that movie Bangkok Hilton, where an innocent woman was charged with trafficking after someone else , who she trusted, planted the stuff in her bag without her knowledge. Anyway, is there anything that can actually be done in this case? Ive read elsewhere that re-inclusion requests are completely pointless and can even make matters worse unless all or most of the unnatural links are removed. If this is the case, then how long with this crazy penalty last?

    • @James Thanks for sharing! And Im sorry that happened to you :(

      I have heard that reconsideration requests can produce positive results quickly, but only if youve done everything you can to follow Googles guidelines first. I would do what you can to get the unnatural backlinks removed, and then let Google know. Its hard to say how long the penalty may last, but if you get the links removed and do the reconsideration request I think it could be pretty quick (Ive heard Google responds pretty quickly). Im sure everyone would love to hear how it goes, and I wish you the best of luck!

  35. @webpall I dont actually see links to from or . And on the link doesnt really take you to the site it goes to If they did link, though, I dont think sites like that would be too bad to have links from, since they would probably link to hundreds of thousands (or more) of other sites too.

  36. hello !!! when i initially got my website somebody told me you can boost up your SEO by getting backinks from get free backlinks type sites. They provide free backlinks as they say. Now i came to know that those backlinks are not any relevant. As you said they are actually harmful so i want to remove those but i dont know how to do that. Please tell me how to remove those backlinks??

  37. Yes I agree with some of the comments here, that Google is making it very easy to bring down your competitors by advertising their sites in paid and low quality link building farms. Im sure they have some sort of algorithm to hopefully prevent this.

    At the end of the day when we create sites, we never bother to do any deep linking or submission. We provide our customers with unique quality content and add it to some social media sites, optimise the site for the best possible out come for the keyword and basically Google does the rest for us. Some of our blogs are ranked high even without any directory submission or link building.

    At the end of the day doing it natural white hat is always the best way.

  38. Thanks Google! Finally the spammers and dodgy link builders are going to suffer. Unfortunately, I fear that some innocent people may be affected though.

  39. Its about time someone published an up to date and real life article on the way back links have changed in the past few months. People still dont believe that buying Back links can actually have a negative effect on their site and this is what I try to guide people about when it comes to their own sites, instead of them buying packages like 2000 PR2-PR5 Back links to your site unfortunately many people still dont take the adviceBut if their site goes down in ranking and mine goes up because of it then its their own fault and I guess I really cant complain ;-)

    Quality is King when it comes to Content on your site and the same method applies to Back Links The way it should be!

  40. Surely if bad links actually cause a site to rank lower this would allow unscrupulous operators to build bad links to their competitors sites and they could do nothing about it. Defies logic

  41. Interesting (if worrying!) article thank you.

    What Im really interested to know is, what effect will this have on article marketing?

    Lets say I write two articles a month and submit them both to 10 article directories as well as publishing them on my own blog. The author resource box in each article contains two links to my website. The first link is to my home page, the second is a deep link with appropriate anchor text. In each of the two articles, I might vary the second link and its associated anchor text.

    This creates ~40 links in the space of a month, plus whatever links are created if publishers like my article enough to use it on their website/blog (keeping the author resource box intact, which publishers are supposed to do but often dont bother!)

    Is that a high enough volume of links in a short enough period of time for it to be of concern to Google?

    I cant help but wonder whats going to happen to article directories now. Having said that, I honestly believe they (the good ones, anyway) offer a valuable service to publishers as well as to authors, and would be very sad to see the demise of (for example) Ezine Articles.

    So any thoughts?

    Thanks :)

    • @Debs I personally dont like to have other sites publish things Ive written and published on my own site because you have to really trust that Google will identify the copy published on your site as the original and rank it highest in search results. Ive had lots of other sites copy (without permission) and republish things Ive written, and Google will sometimes rank them highest so Im wary of that.

      One thing to keep in mind is that many SEOs have thought that only the anchor text in the first link on a web page is paid attention to by Google. So if the first link to your site has the anchor text of your company name, and the second one is keyword-filled, the keyworded one probably wont help or hurt you at all. Assuming that is true, it may not stay that way but thats what many people believe.

      What I would recommend for you if you want to continue submitting articles to places like Ezine Articles is to make the anchor text in the links different and not unnatural looking. Also, I would recommend re-evaluating which sites you want to submit to because some of them may not be valuable anymore. Check out the list of sites that got hit by Googles Panda/Farmer update in this article for clues and are among some of the losers.

      I dont know much about what Google thinks when a site gets many backlinks in a short amount of time. Does anyone else know about that?

      • Kris, I meant to comment on this earlier. Google, according to Howie, will look at a site who gets several backlinks in a short period as a penalty mark. They see it as boosting website property value with unnatural backlinks. 25 to 50 links they seam to let those slide. But you get to much above that and are going to question. If you have been around awhile and have slowly added them like every 3 to 4 months along with your natural links you should be alright. The weight of or ratio need to be low compared to the natural backlinks.

  42. This is an important update I will share it with my blog audience Thanks!

  43. Hello,

    Very interesting article !! Thank you for the information.
    And your website aboutus is very good. I test the web present and I have a question. You say in the article Note that Google should only list backlinks from sites that it does value – so you probably don’t need to worry about those backlinks are you sure of that ? Anymore I got only 2 backlinks in google and 110 in Alexa, its the same for Alexa ? Its only list backlinks from sites that it does value ?
    Thanks to help a novice webmaster, the only formation I have is the web and Im a webmaster since 1 month so I need advice.

    • @Clement Thanks!

      What I know is that the number of backlinks that Google lists is substantially and consistently lower than the total number of backlinks that other tools find and report. When I look at the backlinks that Google lists for sites they seem to be some of the best backlinks, so I definitely think that any links Google is ignoring (like unnatural ones) wont show up in the list of backlinks they show.

      As far as I know, Alexa and other backlink checkers will show you as many backlinks as they can find, regardless of quality or whether Google regards them as good or natural backlinks (theyd have no way to know).

      • Hi Kristina

        Thanks for the well written article.

        We recently went through this painful experience and I just wanted to point out a couple of things regarding the Webmaster Tools links. We initially disregarded this list to some extent as there were thousands of links in there and many did not actually exist or were nofollow (Google really needs a filter for this). We focused on SEOMOZ and Link Detox and we got one knock-back after another from Google. It wasnt until we manually went through all followed links from the Google list that we were finally successful it had about an extra couple of thousand links that the other tools did not find.
        Anyway just thought you might want to know. We documented it all here by the way in case it helps your readers:


  44. The whole mess has been created by Google, has not it? This is what happens when you have an audacity to determine whats worth what on the web and rely heavily on Link Popularity. People came out with wordpress and drupal blogs and started posting bullshit, of course they did. The web is plastered with meaningless posts all over. What Im wondering about is what did they expect, really?! I understand it is possible to identify algorithmic-ally extremely low content and blog networks with bullshit posts. But, once we establish that, how is it possible to write an algorithm to determine which content out of whats deemed legitimate is better? Somehow I have the feeling that after all this comes into effect, no new website or a company will ever be able to promote anything on the web Exxons and Shevrons will run the show.

    • Besides, the lingering question which no one is able to answer so far, and ever, because its humanely impossible to answer: what about someone, a competitor perhaps, posting damaging links to your site? What about that?

      • Why cannot it just be like this: anything that Google considers unnatural, just gets 100% ignored. Isnt it the only policy that would be fair?

        • Thats true: why cant Google just ignore those unnatural links? What are they now, on the quest of cleaning up the web? Thats their mess anyway, isnt it?

          • @Nick @Nigel

            Some people think Google is implementing a penalty (not just ignoring the links) because some sites seem to be ranked lower than they would be without the link but its hard to tell that. It may be that Google is simply devalue-ing or not counting the links they think are unnatural or paid. I hope thats what theyre just ignoring the unnatural links.

  45. @Kristina

    Yes, thats what Im hoping for too Google actually is the only corporation that I still respect and like, would be really sad if they screw it up too.

  46. Pre panda it was about less content, more backlinks. Post pands it is about more content and less links.

  47. hey Kristina please tell me how can i get rid of those backlinks??

    • Vikas you cant remove all links. This proves undeniably how possible it is for someone else to harm your site. We have a bunch of rubbish spun content links on blog networks and also about 300 on adult sites in foreign languages. No idea how they ever got there. No way to even contact half the websites. Those with contact details rarely bother to favor us with a reply.

      • @James.. thanks for the information ! but what can we do for this?? does it mean we are not having any control over unnatural backlinks then how can we save ourselves from the harm it may do to our websites??

        • Vikas, I dont think you can have them removed in most cases. Unless you know someone high up in google you cant do much. Well, submit a reconsideration request if youre game and hope for the best.

          We run a quality site, 100% original content, no css errors, 100% validation, plenty of repeat visits and a low bounce rate. Someone we dont know created heaps of links to us from foreign adult sites, and an seo company used ALN to get many links without telling us; in fact, they lied to us about it. Now its not possible to get those links removed because you cant even contact most of the sites.

          We got an unnatural links message and rankings have been falling below where they were before the links (which we had zero to do with) were created.

          Really, think about this

          Google claim its unlikely that anyone else could harm your websites rankings, yet they are apparently issuing heaps of penalties for unnatural links. How on earth can they possibly have it both ways. See my point?

          • Backlink-ing to a site, has always been an important SEO hot issue. Backlink-ing ranks higher than someone just bookmark-ing. With a backlink you are recommending others to use a particular site or service. It is a, Popularity Contest and thus, Page 1. Tom Jone`s car rentals may give fantastic services and prices BUT Enterprise or Hertz are better known thus backlink-ed to. Tom wants to compete but how? The Search Engines recognize Tom but Tom hasn`t built the history, reputation, or the backlinks, and hasn`t been spoken about in Social Medias. And we all can say he does not have the mega advertising budgets of Enterprise or Hertz. So again we ask how is Tom to compete? By the Search Engines marshalling these unNatural backlinks of years past and site-links to sites that nolonger exist they HOPE to level the playing field.

  48. See also the blogpost from Aaron Wall and the comments here:

  49. As always its all about building a great website. And always keep in mind that the big G knows e v e r y t h i n g ;)

    Thx for a great article!

  50. What if I design a web page template or a WordPress theme for others to use for free and it has a link to my site in the footer. Surely, that is a common practice and should not get you penalised by Google and be treated as a site-wide link.

  51. Thanks for your useful article!

  52. Great article, Kristina.

    You say a similar thing that I say to peopleevery time you think you are taking a short-cut, dont thats what 95% of the competition is doing

  53. O lord, sorry but most of this is BS.. use our services 1 article a week/month for $3000/month? That a joke? More propaganda for the white hat tadders to spew. Woohoo!

  54. Having no-follow links helps you look more natural and non-spammy. There should be variation in every element of your backlink profile.

    Ive actually blogged on how to build a natural link profile here:

  55. Hi,

    interesting to keep finding a slightly different take on the same topic.

    The one comment that jumped out at me though was the ranking lower than they would if they had no backlinks at all quote you gave (I checked out the source but gave up trying to find the justification going blind probably).

    Cant think how anyone could possibly know where they would rank without backlinks once they have had them to know they now rank lower. Will be interesting to see if that is justified somewhere else.

    Personally I think this is all more an effect than a penalty and blogged about it (but not going to spam you) but will be interesting to see how it all pans out over time and if G come out and offer an explanation ala the parked domains issue they had.

    • @Kevin I agree that it would be pretty hard to tell if a site is ranking lower than it would if a link simply wasnt being counted in a sites PageRank. I wanted to include that though so people knew that some people thought it could be a penalty. I also think its probably not a penalty Im guessing it just feels like a penalty to a lot of the sites that were affected by it.

      And feel free to spam away links that are helpful to readers arent spam in my book, and theyre very natural :-)

      • Kristina said:
        I’m guessing it just feels like a penalty to a lot of the sites that were affected by it

        I would defintely agree that if you are affected you would feel like it is a penalty, thats true.

        And since I posted my article I have actually added a little addendum as I can see how it COULD be possible to have it both as an effect (still my belief) and a penalty; and believe it or not, it NEARLY fits with the comment you gave that I originally replied to: ‘ranking lower than they would if they had no backlinks at all’

        Still not exactly what was originally given lower than but what if all your backlinks were devalued untill the situation was resolved to Googles satisfaction. You would rank then EXACTLY where you would with no backlinks.

        Im still not convinced myself; but at least I will admit it is now more possible that a penalty could be applied without the usual penalty signals.

        If you want to read my full (now amended) article you can at:

  56. The ever present debate about what is and is not a natural link. Are the links from Basketball Images natural? I would suggest not. No more than filling ones social profile with links to a single Website would be. I personally believe the Google looks at a number of factors in determining who will and will not be on their system. I could be wrong about that, but it certainly accounts for why I dont hang all my hopes on that one platform alone. I dont skip it either. Rather, do my best to provide excellent quality original content along with links to promote that content.

    • If you copy the tracking url link that goes to the site and not the image url you backlink to the site of origin, not the site you found it on. But if you simply backlink to the site you found it on you give credit to that site for others to follow. If I have 25 to 50 tracking urls on my site I am giving 25 to 50 backlinks to 25 to 50 other sites and none to me. Now if 25 to 50 sites link to my domain url than I have 25 to 50 sites backlinking to me. Its about those focusing on my domain url. So if I have a buddy in the adult industry and runs say 1000 sites and he places my domain url on all those I now have 1000 backlinks focused on my domain. IF I PAID HIM then I am subject to the Google penalty. I am paying for advertising is my thought but I am buying backlinks. This becomes a grey area. If I give you say $5 to advertise on one site is this legal? Yes. Contractually. If I give you the same $5 to advertise on 1000 sites is that legal? No. Advertising agencies, Marketing Firms, and others have been getting by with link brokerage, thus escalating site pagerank-ings. Now its time to correct this and get pagerank-ings back to natural. How much do you pay in backlinks and advertising $$$. There is some validity in Google penalties and I hope I touched on some. Let me know your thoughts.

  57. Thing of it is that under current conditions it is really easy to harm a competitors site. Just post a zillion of keyword-rich links to its pages on some wordpress or drupal blog of yours and you pretty much done. I think that Webmaster Tools should allow a website owner to report unwanted third party links, those that he/she thinks do more harm to the website than good. It still will be up to Google to decide whether the report was legit or not, but at least it will allow me to report this ridiculous site,, that links to my pages from over 300 pages and the number is growing by day. I believe that these links are being considered by Google as unnatural How about me having nothing to do with them?

    • @Bob The catch is that by linking to a competitors site a ton (even with keyword-rich anchor text) may not hurt their rankings, and is probably more likely to help their rankings unless the links are from some really sketchy site that Google already knows is a site that sells links. And also, keep in mind that the SEO community isnt certain whether there is actually a penalty involved its quite possible that the paid or unnatural links that Google detects simply dont count towards their PageRank and rank in search engines, and therefore wouldnt hurt their rank.

      I think thats a great idea about Webmaster Tools having a way to report links to your site that you dont trust or want.

  58. Ive read your comment about no site-wide links with concern. Ive never paid for links, but as a web designer I put a link to my site at the bottom of each page of each customers site.

    Ive had a fair amount of traffic to my site via these links and have also received business from people seeing a website they like and then phoning me up.

    As far as SEO goes, I sometimes use anchor text (othertimes just use my company name). So far, its helped my rankings (I believe) but is this endangering my site?

    • @Janet I would hope that Google is good about telling the difference between non-paid site-wide links like “web design by [company]” and ones that probably are paid. I wouldnt worry to much unless you received a warning in your Webmaster Tools. I think youre smart and a bit safer because your anchor text isnt the same on all of your clients websites. If you hear of any web designers who get an “unnatural links” notice in Google Webmaster Tools, we’d love to know.

      • @Janet I echo Kristinas reply, I really wouldnt worry too much about them. Especially if they have there a long time.

        If you are still concerned though then the thing to do (in fact for any link anyone is ever worried about having) is nofollow those links in future.

        If the purpose of the link is purely to get your name out, then losing any possible backlink value wouldnt be an issue anyway.

        Personally Im not advising anyone to do this for genuine work items.

        If you are only doing this here and there, as you complete work items, then I really cant see it being an issue. And if, IF, it ever does become one then with the links being on sites by people with whom you have a relationship with it should be easy to switch them over later and let Google know you have done so.

        • Many thanks to Kristina and Kevin H for replies for now, I will continue with my website designed by links.

      • The way Googles last update behaved I would not hold my breath for Google knowing any difference of whats what! Some nuts posted a zillion links to my site and that was it: Google killed its rankings. On the other hand, it increased PR of one, the most obscure page of the site that hardly has any incoming links to it. Everythings just beyond ridiculous!

  59. Yes I agree with some of the comments here, that Google is making it very easy to bring down your competitors by advertising their sites in paid and low quality link building farms. But it will still be easy to work the site up on ranking.

  60. I think NoFollow link are also taken into consideration when giving SEO values to sites. Because I know some sites having just a few DoFollow links but thousands of NoFollow links and still ranking in the first page in their search terms.

  61. Yes no follow links are impotent but not much. We could say bot given voting to your anchor text.

  62. So in this scenario, whats to stop your competitors or any disgruntled business associate deliberating setting out to ruin your rankings?

    Anybody can create backlinks to a site over which you have no control. This opens a new kind of warfare when competitors can choose to try and destroy each other rather than build their own presence on the web.

  63. Useful article and good advice! But what should I do if the competitors made unnatural bad (spam etc.) links to my site, how to avoid such situation?
    Thanks in advance :-)

    • SHORT ANSWER TO UNWANTED UNWARRANTED BACKLINKS 2 STEPS Contact the originator if known Secondly, Contact Google and or Yahoo and 3rdly know it will take time to remove them. That is an abusive tactic and spammer. Their site may be actually investigated and suspended, as well as fined.

      • dr.Robert, thanks for your advice :-) but
        Concerning first step as a rule its impossible.
        The success of the 2 step 50/50, because the competitor may place a lot of spam links from the boards, guestbooks, forums etc. :-(
        however, thank you once more for your attention to my question ;-)

        • Igwarlawar, Okay so you found spammy backlinks and you cant get the sites to remove them then lets focus on what you can do. You can file an official complaint with Google at for webmasters with google tools acct, or for those who dont have a gta, or for everyone. Also file with the National and International domain registries, FCC, the BBB, and others. As long as you do your part and show that you are doing everything possible you have may still get penalized but you have grounds to file for a reconsideration. As to spammy backlinks from forums, guestbooks, so on they can be shut down. These however, should not hurt your score but just incase cya. If you have ever used a backlink generator and click on some that ask you to come back or 404 url forbidden, chances are you just created a bogus / spammy backlink. There are other ways as well. I recently went to a forum and they disguised the backlink generator under the comment website box. Needless to say they were quietly shutdown.

          • Its been 2 weeks since our reconsideration request and still no response. How long do these reviews take and are they ever favorable for these unnatural link warning situations? Rankings havent moved. The dodgy seo provider claims theyve done all they can to remove the blog network links but plenty remain. Will never trust another seo company again.

          • SOMEONE ASKED: You just put in your reconsideration a couple weeks ago to Google and you are asking how soon you will know anything. This may take several weeks upwards to 13 to 16 weeks. Its not unlike submitting to Google for the first time. Did you also generate a free quick sitmap file, not your xml you probably already have in your site, and submit it? The reason I ask is it will help indirectly speed things along or atleast thats what I found. Now as to your last comment, not all SEO consults and firms operate the same. AboutUs is a good example and there are others. Do your homework and watch trends, we have them in the SEO industry.

  64. I hear you but its hard not to make generalizations, even if they are not helpful, when you get assurances about following googles guidelines to the letter then ending up with a penalty. Anyway I did generate a new xml sitemap coincidentally just after sending the request because of deleting some pages and adding new ones. Does anyone with these unnatural links warnings ever recover when they cant remove most of them?

    • I AM GOING TO SAY YES YOU WILL RECOVER WITH TIME. Do I absolutely know how soon, NO. Unfortunitely, I nor any SEO consult been told that info. But, as to you doing your part to clean up your property or properties, it wont go unnoticed. WHEN I find out more details I will share it. I am constantly reading and contributing in various forums.

      • Thanks Dr Robert, appreciate any info you have. I hope this penalty does have a time limit, to account for situations of unnatural links which were not intentionally created.

        • YOU ARE WELCOME for any advice I may have. I am watching Bing and Yahoo as well as many others too, as I am certain the AboutUs team is doing. By the way, I thank the AboutUs team for allowing me to contribute. BroFarOps SEO, dr. Robert

  65. Thank you very much for sharing this information. I wasnt aware that Google had made these changes until I read your article. Ill definately be seeking backlinks with more care moving on, its not always an easy task!

  66. What if I design a web page template or a WordPress theme for others to use for free and it has a link to my site in the footer. Surely, that is a common practice and should not get you penalised by Google and be treated as a site-wide link.

  67. How about articles and blog sites like, etc I mean submitting article in it will be considered over-Optimisation and having link on wordpress sites (yes relevant)? can anyone please put light on it?

  68. 6 weeks later from sending our highly detailed reconsideration request with heaps of referenced links and naming the dodgy seo provider, got the most pathetic reply imaginable: site violates quality guidelines, look for links etc etc. Such rubbish. We did all we could to remove links an seo company we paid created without our permission, and google only punish and dont help. Really lost all confidence in seo and google.

    • JAMES: I am somewhat certain that when all the smoke clears your site will be up in rankings again. I know 6 weeks has been along time thus far and you did all you can. Thx Goodness, there is more SEs. GOOGLE is as you know changing by adding GooglePlus, GooglePlaces, and so on Dont give up the boat just yet. Unfortunitely, there are plenty of shaddy SEO firms. There are plenty of good SEO firms too : BroFarOps SEO, FootnotesInc, BrickMarketing, SEOmoz, Majon, and others, try and do our absolute best to provide you TOP quality services.

  69. Thanks for a great article.
    We are talking alot about this in Denmark as well.

    Its interesting what going to happend in the next Google algo update!

  70. In most cases we don’t have control about the links. If anyone were using BuildMyRank or any similar service there is no chance to remove links and the same thing applies to other link sources as well.
    So if someone gets the notice then it’s about it and you can basically start from scratch as Google doesn’t accept mistakes and reconsideration requests are declined in 99% of cases.
    Thanks Kristina for tips!

  71. My gut told me this was coming from the Google Gods…I wonder how this factors into the Pinterest Boom? Is Pinterest A good link back or a bad link back?

    • Hi, Ara,

      Google favors relevant links from authoritative sites, but they have to be dofollow (that is, they must lack the rel=nofollow attribute) to be seen as inbound links. Pinterest links to websites are nofollow, so they dont confer that kind of SEO benefit.

      That said, Pinterest is sending a lot of visitors to websites these days I believe its the top social site for driving traffic, or at least close. The real importance of Pinterest is that it is a SOCIAL network. To make it work, youve got to get in there and be sociable. Follow people, re-pin their pins, comment on their pins.dont just post your own stuff and walk away.

  72. Thanx for this article.
    It is interesting what going to happend in the next algorithm update.

    • Kristina: and all: I thought I would send out a HEADS UP Google is going through another round of searching for UNnatural BackLinks and my understanding is there is going to be a third. This second time started 2 weeks ago. ALSO Heads Up on the death of iGoogle coming soon. I know I will miss it over the standard Google search portal.

  73. kristina, nice article. But i need to clarify somethingu mentioned in your 5th point to have a balance between high quality and low quality linksWhat if my new website has all high quality links ? Will that look unnatural to Google ? I have a balanced amount of no-follow and do-follow links though !! What do you say ?

    Waiting for your reply

  74. Without doubt, from my testing, the biggest thing to be careful of is over-optimising your link anchor text.

  75. Big companies like Agros, John Lewis and Amazon purchase site wide text links on lots of different blogs. Will these big brands get penalised? Or can they get away with it as they are ‘big brands’?

  76. My site got hit hard because of the lack of diversity in our anchor text. We focus too much on a few key words and it really killed us. We have since began using a wider variety of keywords, but once you fall in the rankings it is always a journey to climb back up. Interesting article with valuable information.

  77. Hello! I realize this is kind of off-topic however I needed to ask.
    Does operating a well-established website like yours take
    a lot of work? Im completely new to operating a blog however I do write in my diary on a daily basis. Id like to start a blog so I can share my own experience and views online.
    Please let me know if you have any suggestions or tips for new aspiring bloggers.
    Appreciate it!

  78. Hello friends, how is everything, and what you wish for
    to say about this post, in my view its genuinely
    awesome in favor of me.

  79. Thank you Kristina, sharing this valuable information here. Please tell me but is the first thing to do in the off page optimization. As we known there are number of ways to get links under off page optimization such as article submission, directory submission, social bookmarking, blogging, social media, blog commenting. Here i am confused about, but be do first to all and what is the ratio … Now i am start form blogging, word press or blog commenting and article submission. Is this sufficient or not?

  80. Remarkable things here. Im very happy to see your article. Thanks so much and Im taking a look forward to touch you.
    Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

  81. V uzemi Frýdku-Místku vyčistíme koberců.
    Provádíme jedině vodníc. Tohle cisteni je efektivní
    zejména v kancelářích.
    cisteni židlí vyčistíme jedině u zákazníka.
    Pro vyčištění používáme poslední cisticí techniku výlučne z společnosti karcher.

    U procesu Čištění dochází špinavá plocha opakovaně pročišťována
    až dojde absolutně umytá.
    Ke samotnému vyčištění užíváme nejšetrnější úklidovou chemii.

    Vytočte číslo objednejte si do kanceláře cistění sedacích souprav.

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