Google Webmaster Tools Notice of Detected Unnatural Links

by David Naylor
See Dave Speak SMX London

For years I have heard people say “buy links for your competitor and report them”, if it was really that easy and I’m guessing not illegal then we would all be doing it, wouldn’t we ?

Why it just doesn’t work that way

Sometimes I sit at home at night and pretend I’m the Head of Google’s Spam Team, only I drink wine and not Sprite ;), and what would I do with competitor bowling and buying links in general, so here is what I think I would do.

a) Assemble a crack team of Googlers ( I guessing the real head of spam did this ), and create a list of guidelines to send out to 50,000 work at home raters and look for patterns. Things like bad content, over affiliated sites or sites just hitting out of their league, (say a 3 page site ranking top 10 for insurance or loans), sites that shouldn’t be in the top 10. The metrics are truly endless when you start looking into this, you only have to find a few positive signals, is this site is buying links and a quick hand review from any expert  spam team or seo and they can tell.

So now I have a small section of sites that are seen to be are Selling links and all I need to do is collect all the sites that have out going SEO links and I have my maybe list of link buyers. Then all I need to do is find any correlation appearing on other sites (now my sellers list) and pretty soon I will find the networks.

So I have the Networks and Sites selling links, what action do I take?

Not all sites that sell links realise what they are actually doing. I have found many link placements for SEO value in sponsoring clubs and user groups or in paid offline advertising that’s going to get republished. I guess my job as an SEO was to gain some leverage. My new head of spam roll would have to work out was the site Guilty or Not. I mean it could have been a hacked site or a dodgy WP Theme so we have 2 categories ( most probably 100′s but this example is 2 )

1) Low quality sites, Content spun, or Made For Links. Mark for future removal from the index, collect buyers URLs and keep fishing

2) Decent sites, with good content. Reduce the PR as a warning. Site may be hacked or if any dodgy stuff onpage send a WMT warning to try to help get them to clean up, then revisit. If not cleaned up and SEO links still appear move into the Cat 1 list.

Now I have my quota of sites buying links and selling links. I take my spam team out for dinner and tell them to get an early night because we are going to start our “shock and awe” attack on the SEO link buying industry.

It’s simple and so easy..

1) Remove high % of the cat 1 sites and networks. We need to let webmasters know that this is big, really big

2) Send out unnatural links warnings, the selling ones, and monitor what the reaction is, best guess that any Cat 2′s will clean up and react by removing links that have been sold.

3) STOP any networks on the hit lists passing equity so they can’t be used for evil

4) Send out unnatural link warnings saying you have been buying links, but lets go crazy and send out to the 50/50′s and the ones we found years ago and wait for the reaction.

So what happened

Some link networks got burnt but there are 10′s of 1,000′s of networks, some sites picked up ranking hits, but what really happened is that 700,000 email warnings were sent. Even if only 20% ( I bet it was more) that’s  140,000 webmasters and SEO agencies starting re-inclusion requests, giving Google the biggest confirmed link buying database ever. Now you start the whole process over again. I think wave 2 has started, I’m guessing it will finish this weekend .. wave 3 in another 4 -5 weeks.

So back to why Toxic Links can’t hurt your site. I honestly believe that once a network is marked it’s done so even if you buy links on what looks like an OK network you won’t get equity but you wont get a future penalty either, the network is just done. If you add links to an already burnt network (well what fool would do that) you’re really saying that I’m buying links for my competitors, wonder how many ways Google could track you down ;)

So what can you do

Honestly that’s the million dollar question, if you have received a warning you are going have to remove everything, go overboard even, stuff you know wasn’t bought get it nofollowed or removed. Let’s face facts that link on that awesome site that covered your product  may have originally looked fine, but if they have been selling links that you didn’t know about you will never convince a Googler that you didn’t pay to place, also don’t be surprised if it’s going to cost you to get the links removed I have seen some reports of link removals costing more than the link placements.

Sometimes you are going to have to bite the bullet and face the fact it’s over, all that work you have done is gone ( 301′ing is still working for now so none branded sites have an out but that hole will be fixed and I feel the pain will be worse than what we are seeing now). Branded sites be honest with Google, pull everything you can, anything you can’t get removed have a reason for.

I have heard many rumors all unconfirmed btw

People had the WMT warning did nothing, nothing bad happened

People lost rankings but didn’t get the warning

People lost rankings, got the warning, built more links, everything good again

People got the warning nothing bad happened until re-inclusion then lost everything

But also remember that its only the owner of the WMT account that gets the warning, and even though Google has sent out a ton of warnings there are still a huge amount of people who don’t have WMT installed. All I know is that times are changing and it needed to happen to get the industry straightened out. We’re surprised at the number of companies approaching us who are asking for help getting back in which really helps understand the causes and remedies by being able to access so much data from different industry sectors.

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