Even though it was back in 2015 that Google Webmaster set in motion a number of warnings to Websites concerning their participation in the spammy pursuit and manipulation of unnatural links, the relevance of the counteracting algorithm is as pertinent today as it was then. At the time of its release both marketers and SEOs were exercised by what actually constituted an unnatural link. This resonated strongly with website owners who feared a potential downgrading in their position in the Search Engine Ranking pages – something which would significantly decrease their online visibility and consequently visitor footfall on their Website. On reaching a better understanding of the algorithm and Google’s threatened penalties against those breaching the guidelines, they quickly realised that unnatural links equated to artificial links and that Google was targeting every website regardless to improve customer queries and service. Google clarified that they were targeting those unnatural links which were designed to manipulate page rankings in SERPS,and they quite openly provided a list of those links for every webmaster, SEO and site owner to peruse. These unnatural links were categorised as purchased or spammer created links that invisibly latch onto your site and link it to other poor quality sites on the internet.
With the introduction of Penguin and other related algorithmic updates in the interim, sites were penalised for proven unnatural low quality links, artificially optimised anchor text and keyword stuffing. All dubious and negative SEO tactics have been targeted and still are being targeted by Google. On suspicion of a site being guilty of breaching guidelines, a manual audit is initiated resulting in a manual delisting of the site from the search results. When unnatural links notification is posted on the Webmasters Tool Site and the offending site informed, Google allows a period of six months for the site to delete spammy unnatural links. After this rest period the Website owner is requested to submit a “reconsideration request” which must be returned before the expiry date. The consequence of such a notification normally prefaces a perceptible if not dramatic fall in the Search Engine page rankings which has a knock-on negative effect on the online visibility of the site and on the resultant decrease in site visitors. This means for the online business, in reality, fewer customers and a poorer return on investment.
Neither site owners, SEOs or Marketers were happy with the umbrella idea of all sites being black balled and penalised even though they might not have had any responsibility for the few bad links to their sites. Matt Cutts from Google qualified the algorithmic application by stating that Google intended to penalise individual unnatural links and not the site as an entity. He clearly defined the whole gammit of offending links that would lead to penalties being imposed:- “ Widget bait, paid links, blog spam, guestbook spam, excessive directory submissions, excessive link exchanges and any other type of link spam”.
An “unnatural links notification” to any site constituted a huge problem – How do you redeem the site and its page rankings with as little collateral damage as possible?
The first part of the fix process is to identify the offending bad links on your site. This can be done through Webmaster Tools. By logging in you can get a breakdown of all the links that have to be deleted and you can download them on a spread sheet. Each site that links to you has to be reviewed and audited within the guidelines.
The first major step in the fix process is getting rid of the links manually and this can be done through direct access to the site or by asking the website owner to remove the link. With this process it is imperative to differentiate between what is beneficial for page rankings and what will degrade a site’s current position in the Search Engine’s page rankings.
As a consequence of Google’s disdain for most purchased links – all purchased links are deemed unnatural- they advise web developers to use a “Rel=no follow” attribute on links paid for advertising. This will identify the link as not having intent to manipulate search results in an unethical manner so it can escape the Internet bot’s all seeing eye and prevent certain web pages being sent to the Search Engine. Such links can alternatively be redirected to another page which is rendered immune from search engine crawlers by the blocking effect of a robots.txt file. Alternately,in the event of being unable to delete links, you can resort to Google’s Disavow Tool which will add those unwanted links to your disavow file – so withdrawing them from the attention of the Internet bots and preventing Google penalties.
Other methods of keeping good faith with and remaining in Google’s search results are: to hire specialist staff to delete the unnatural links or to use sites specially designed to help others in the process of link deletion. A word of warning however – be careful not to delete natural beneficial links as it could well have a negative impact on your site’s rankings should your link profile be completely destroyed.
The surest way to maintain positioning in the ranking pages is to create a balance of good links to counteract any possible likelihood of bad links attaching themselves at some point to your website. Having a regular supply of good backlinks from reputable sources will effectively balance your ranking order in the Search Engine results pages.
The best fix however is prevention in the first instance and that requires a healthy site content strategy from the outset. Your aim is to attract visitors to your site through rich authoritative content and intuitive UX. Conversion rates depend on every aspect of your website working efficiently and professionally and you certainly do not want any road barriers such as unnatural links.
Having made the corrections what is the next step to embarking on the journey of re-establishing a footing in the ranking pages?
Corrections or fixes having been completed, a “reconsideration request” can be submitted wherein you explain exactly what you had done wrong in the beginning, in a transparent and honest manner. Your correspondence will be read by real people not a computer script. You submit it in the hope that they will give your site a clean bill of health. Based on past experience we know that some people see a quick turn- around in results, in as little as seven days, whilst others unfortunately see no turn- around at all. Evidently there is a clear separation between a few links being removed as opposed to many. In the former case, bounce-back is probable but in the latter backsliding can overwhelm any possible recovery in the SERPS – until such times as further SEO is enacted. In those instances it may mean starting from scratch, which is a very sobering experience. In fact retrieving any status in the rankings might require a new website and a comprehensive, strategic SEO campaign.
The salutary lesson for everyone is not to adopt bad habits where marketing your website is concerned. For those already compromised do not return to the bad habit of building unnatural links as you did before. Pre-empt the inherent problems by building a good website with intuitive design and good UX. Write informative and authoritative content so you can climb the ranking order organically. Use only white hat SEO tactics and impress both Google and your site visitors with query response that is fast, informative, engaging and inspiring. In that way people will link naturally to your website enabling it to climb the ladder and remain in poll position in the SERPS.
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