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Unnatural Inbound Link Notification & Penalty - How to Recover

Your Google rankings have probably dropped and you’re searching for the reason why. You have logged into Google Webmaster Tools, checked your inbox and your heart almost stops… You have received the dreaded “Unnatural inbound links” notification.

What you do next and how you react to this may ultimately decide your website's fate.

Let’s take an in-depth look at what this means, how the problem can be fixed and if fixing it will get you back to where you were in the search engine results


Why is Google doing this?

Google is comprised of algorithms that search the web, index websites and then spits out results. These results can obviously be manipulated and many individuals, or SEO companies, try to manipulate results. One main factor in the Google algorithm, although not as important as it used to be, is how many links come into a website and what the anchor text of those links are. Anchor text is the actual linked text that goes to the page of interest. If in the link building process Google’s link guidelines (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356?hl=en ) are not followed, Google will look to penalize your website for spam technique and building links solely for the purpose of manipulating search results. Google wants to give the best results possible and offer searches quality content and reputable businesses. That is their end goal.



What is this notification and how did it happen?

The notification is a manual, or partially manual, penalty. This means it may have been picked up by a tool Google created, but likely the site was “hand edited”, meaning a real person looked at it on Google’s staff. One you came up on their radar, they took a close look at your link profile to see if it looked suspicious. Links from years back by now rise to the top and can cause this penalty to be placed on your website.

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Above: Within your Webmaster Tools account you will find a message area (left hand navigation). If you have an Unnatural Inbound Links notification it will appear here.

How do I begin fixing the problem?

To begin fixing the problem you'll need to identify which links Google thinks violates their guidelines. Typically within the initial message Google will provide a few examples of sites linking to yours that are in volition. Within these sites you'll need to determine how they violate the guidelines and if they all do in the same way or you have more than one problem. Remember, just because Google may give you 1-3 sites or pages that have links back to your site in violation, it doesn't mean those are the only ones you'll need to fix. There could be 10 in violation or 10,000. To find all links to your website login to Webmaster Tools and go to “Search Traffic” > “Links to Your Site” within the left hand navigation. Once that page loads look under “Your most linked content” and click “More”. This will then bring you to a page where you can download a spreadsheet of your links. You will need to review each site that links to your by hand and determine if it within guidelines. This can take a long time and can be very tedious depending on how many links you have. You can also talk with us about our Google penalty recovery service offering.



Removing bad links

There are two main ways to remove bad links. First is physically removing the link. This can be done if you have access to the website or by asking the website owner to remove the link. This is the preferred way of removing a link that is outside of the guidelines. The second way is to use to the Google Disavow tool (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main ). This tool allows you to upload a txt file of URL’s you would like Google to not count towards your link profile. If you cannot get a link removed and you feel it is within violation, but sure to add it to your disavow file.

Once all links are removed or disavowed, you can move on to asking for forgiveness.


Submitting a Reconsideration Request

Once you feel your website is within the guidelines you can draft a reconsideration request. We do recommend learning more about that here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35843?hl=en . Within your request you'll want to explain what you had initially done wrong (be honest, they already know!) and mention what you did to fix the issue. If you have created or added to a disavow file, let Google know which sites you added. Be as honest as possible in this message. Remember, these are real people reading the message and their goal is to verify that your site is now within guidelines.


Above: The video above, provided by Google, discusses what should be included in a reconsideration request.


Will my rankings come back and how long will it take?

Lots of articles have been written and polls taken on how long it takes for rankings to get back to where they were before the unnatural inbound links penalty. Some people see results as quick as 5-7 days, while other say their site never bounces back and only continues to slide. If only a few of your links needed to be removed because they were against guidelines, chances are you will bounce back. If you had to remove almost all of your links, then your site will slide back and will probably not regain rankings until further SEO has been performed. It really comes down to what were you rankings before the penalty and what did you have to remove to get rid of it? If what made you rank and what you had to remove were the same thing, chances are your rankings will not come back like you hope. If it’s the opposite, you’re in a good position.

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Above: In the example above, comparing a Monday to the previous Monday, organic traffic increased 40% in a week after the manual action was removed.


What should I do now?

I will state the obvious. Don’t go back to building links in the same way you used to. Think about the guidelines and treat link building like any type of marketing. There should be a reason for it and that reason cannot only be for SEO purposes. Build a good website, even better content and you'll find that people will naturally link to your business and site.


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