Here on the SEO blog we commonly refer to black hat SEO tactics. One of the most common black hat tactics is poor quality link-building. We have recently been contacted by numerous site owners who have found themselves downgraded or de-indexed by Google for this, and received this dreaded message in their Google Webmasters account:
This is a result of Google becoming increasingly stringent in its reactions to unnatural or artificial links to websites: links which are generated, often on a large scale, with the sole purpose of improving a page’s ranking on Google. Last week, Google issued further warnings like the one above to warn webmasters it is aware of and punishing them for their techniques.
Google itself claims it is making its process of dealing with websites with unnatural links “more visible”, giving website owners the chance to understand (or be reminded) that they have poor quality links which the search engine recognises. This means that for website owners there is no better time to sort out your site’s backlinks.
Why does Google penalise such tactics?
Google’s Panda updates have aimed to cut down the effect of black hat SEO tactics such as link farms and blog networks. These websites work by building links to your website to boost its authority. They build links for a price rather than based on the value of content – something which Google is vehemently against.
Google wants to favour links which are recommendations for a website rather than paid-for links, so it has made “links intended to manipulate PageRank” a violation of its guidelines. Google is also constantly looking to remove the authority which link farms and networks have, thus rendering them pointless as their links become valueless in the rankings.
Many disreputable SEO agencies focus on short-sighted strategies, using poor quality links from such schemes to increase site rankings. You may see encouraging results in the SERPs as a result of SEO link-building work using these techniques, but you may find that your website has, or will, drop dramatically or be completely de-indexed once Google realises. Sometimes it is only when website owners receive a warning message on their Google Webmasters account that they realise their SEO firm has been using these undesired tactics.
A notable example of a blog network which has been knocked out by Google is BuildMyRank, which allowed thousands of users to publish blog posts with links. The difference with BuildMyRank was it actually assessed blog posts (with accompanying links) for quality, and many SEOs thought that this made it a more ethical way of building links. Google didn’t agree and de-indexed the majority of BMRs pages a few weeks ago, causing a dramatic drop in rankings for many websites using the tool.
Google is extremely serious about these kinds of black hat tactics. In January it punished its own browser Chrome for publishing paid-for adverts on other web pages which included links to the site from which the browser could be downloaded: the very paid links which website owners are punished for. Google denied authorising the campaign, which broke its own content guidelines, and embarrassingly downgraded the Chrome home page from site listings for the keyword ‘browser’ for 60 days.
What do I do if Google has penalised my site for unnatural links?
If you find that your site receives a significant drop in rankings or completely disappears from Google’s SERPs, check your Google Webmasters account for a message like the one above. If you have received a similar message don’t panic! Here’s our guide to what to do if you find a notice of unnatural links from Google:
- Don’t ignore the message but don’t panic. Google will find it very difficult to prove you were involved in the creation of these links, and is far more interested in de-indexing networks of link schemes rather than the individuals using them. This is not to say they will not take action against you, but there’s no need to make unnecessary trouble for yourself. So admit nothing about black hat tactics to Google. Remember they are understanding and have a reconsideration process to give webmasters the chance to get their site re-indexed or indexed with a fair ranking again.
- To apply for the reconsideration you will need to prove your site meets Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Your SEO agency should be able to check for unnatural links and get any they find removed, or at least install ‘do not follow’ tags to ensure they are not indexed by Google. It is important to remove any spammy links from link farms or blog networks as Google will refuse to reconsider your website’s ranking if they find them.
- Look for a new SEO agency who will use long-term white hat tactics rather than black hat link schemes. KPI are a Google Certified Partner and able to guide you through Google’s reconsideration process and ensure your website is not penalised again in the future.
Since its Panda update, the quality of a website’s backlinks has become more important in Google’s algorithms. Google’s work is going to continue to decrease the relevance of paid-for link schemes, so it continues to be important to choose an SEO firm who focus on sustainable quality rather than instant results (which can drop as quickly as they rise).
If you are worried about your SEO firm’s ethics speak to KPI to find out how we can help improve your website’s prominence in the long-term.