Did Google Penalize BBC News For Unnatural Links?

Mar 15, 2013 • 8:34 am | comments (45) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

BBC Google LinksThe BBC News, the world's largest broadcast news organization, has just received a unnatural links notification from Google. I kid you not.

A Google Webmaster Help thread has representative of the BBC web site asking Google for help in identifying the unnatural links, so they can make sure BBC.co.uk is clear of any Google penalty.

Nick from the BBC wrote:

I am a representative of the BBC site and on Saturday we got a 'notice of detected unnatural links'.

Given the BBC site is so huge, with so many independently run sub sections, with literally thousands or agents and authors, can you give us a little clue as to where we might look for these 'unnatural links'.

The truth is, he is not saying the BBC or one of the agents who run a section of the BBC didn't do anything wrong. He is saying that he needs help finding which section has the issue.

Was the BBC penalized by Google? Hard for me to tell. They do rank for their name [bbc]. Have they lost any traffic to their site due to this link notification? Only the BBC would know for sure.

But clearly Nick is looking to rectify the situation as soon as possible.

It makes you wonder, even a site with such a huge backlink profile can have these issues. I am not sure if the issue is with incoming links or external links - but it seems to imply this is an incoming link issue.

Oh, so I guess this doesn't hurt Matt's claim that big brands do get penalized and treated equally to other brands.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Update: It turns out Google has said that they only took granular action against the BBC for this unnatural link issue. Specifically, only one article on the BBC web site.

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03/15/2013 12:43 pm

LOL why would the BBC even care what Google thinks of them? They are backed by the most profitable television station in history. If they have been penalized, it will be rectified in 11 days if not quicker.

Praveen Sharma

03/15/2013 12:45 pm

Is it possible that they received this message by mistake? May be some Google algorithm error.


03/15/2013 12:53 pm

I also thought about this. It's not interesting, that BBC got notification, because obviously Google sent it automatically. It's interesting, that they watch it and do care about it.


03/15/2013 12:59 pm

My guess is they got a few people who handle web stuff and part of one guys job description is to watch Google. If you went to the people at the top and asked thema bout it, they would probably go "Google who?"

Matt Janaway

03/15/2013 01:03 pm

Surely if there was one website on the planet which has a natural link profile then it is the BBC's website? They have thousands of experts writing amazing content daily. They have no reason to "link build". Any incoming links have been built by other webmasters recommending their content enough to link to it... You don't get more natural than that. This is either an accident or some big cock up.


03/15/2013 01:05 pm

Google mass mailing campaign again?


03/15/2013 01:16 pm

Haha, no-one's safe! ;)

Robert Deans

03/15/2013 01:17 pm

You would imagine that this would be for external links. With the amount of agents and authors they are talking about, it leaves them wide open for 'bad eggs'. There are people out there, who for the right money, can get you links on the BBC site... Like Matt says it is unlikely they have ever had to link build, and domain authority would enable them to rank naturally for most things should they want to rank for things,

SEO Consult

03/15/2013 01:26 pm

I'm sure they do have spammy looking links. In fact, I bet they have every kind of link there is. Something has just tripped the Unnatural Link Warning here I'd assume...


03/15/2013 01:39 pm

they would probably go "Google who?" LOL ))

Jelly Jim

03/15/2013 01:54 pm

I would be very surprised if the BBC were to engage in link building - particularly given the ethical implications involved.

Jamie Knop

03/15/2013 01:55 pm

I'm sure you can say the same for all sites, but you can't penalise them all. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.


03/15/2013 02:09 pm

If Google stops supplying links to quality information sources like the BBC based on internal policy; I'm heading over to Blekko or DuckDuckGo instead. This is insanity.


03/15/2013 02:13 pm

that's a tough call for a business as big as BBC! Google need to be more specific with their info on bad SEO practices for brands and small business for that matter

Sav Szymura

03/15/2013 02:17 pm

Not a news story.

Barry Schwartz

03/15/2013 02:19 pm

Yes it is.

Maggie Tattersall

03/15/2013 03:04 pm

They're not profitable; they're state funded. Like every other household in the UK I pay around $200 a year (no ifs or buts) to fund them.

Michael Martinez

03/15/2013 03:51 pm

I wonder if this could be due to camouflage links from spam networks.

Michael Martinez

03/15/2013 03:52 pm

Absolutely it is a news story.

Matt Janaway

03/15/2013 04:14 pm

Yeah. It really is. I think a pretty interesting one at that too! Imagine a world where the BBC is devalued as a domain. They have literally hundreds of thousands of external pointing links and the knock-on effect to other websites could be huge!


03/15/2013 04:30 pm

"Oh, so I guess this doesn't hurt Matt's claim that big brands do get penalized and treated equally to other brands." Ha yeah or they did it on purpose to support that statement, lots of shady stuff at Google lately with regard to SEO and Webmasters.


03/15/2013 04:32 pm

Theres no penalty quite clearly or they wouldn't rank #1 for the term 'news' , thats far too competitive a keyword to survive a penalty. Its just a warning mail because the alogorithum can see links been added to dodgy sites/in a dodgy manner. Its probably either not something the BBC are doing or something harmless/innocent that the poor dumb algorthium can't distinguish from dodgy links. Either way its a warning not a penalty, with the sheer number of links the BBC has its very very unlikely the site will get penalised for the tiny % of these links which may be spammy/dodgy. Same as any-other site would be with that many quality links to it.


03/15/2013 04:34 pm

it's not an accident, it just shows Google's got a big problem with it's algo. I can hardly imagine BBC buying links or being involved in any kind of SEO or link building. So, as you say, almost all of links are coming from webmasters which BBC cannot control at all. To me this is proof of an lousy algo which provides false positives in equal amount as it hits the bad sites. And that's just a lousy score...

Josh Zehtabchi

03/15/2013 05:54 pm

Scare others by attacking the big guys. If they big guys can F up and fail, so can the small mom and pop shop hiring SEO. I think, if this is true and valid, it's done as another big name example similar to JCP last year.


03/15/2013 06:39 pm

Agree, but since I don't have BBC shares, I don't care is it penalty or not. I see it on a wider scale. I see it as the last nail in the links model coffin. Links don't work anymore as a trustworthy algo base. Well, I knew it far ago, but this is a perfect prove. I suppose Google understood this in 2008-2010 and started Panda project, where visitors behavior should be the new algo base. Google just had no the other way, otherwise it would be totally spammed. However, this opened the Pandora box. People considered Google as an innovative stuff. Search = Discover = Explore. But behavior base doesn't really allow you to do this, because this is an average behavior of the crowd. But crowd is not innovative a priori. Furthermore, crowd doesn't like innovations. So, we have a conflict here. It can be a long discussion. Need to work. Short summary : 1. No doubt, that Google had to do, what was done ; 2. No doubt, that Google sees this conflict and doesn't like it ; 3. It seems, that Google doesn't know what to do next ; 4. No doubt, that Google is weak because of that ; 5. No doubt, that Bing can't beat Google even when Google is weak. Unstable time can be the time of opportunities or the time of disasters. Everyone is free to make own choice )


03/15/2013 07:15 pm

"I'm heading over to Blekko or DuckDuckGo instead." now that's insanity.

Mike Kalil

03/15/2013 07:23 pm

They must get a fair share of traffic from Google, like almost every other website on the planet. Why wouldn't they care?

Kevin Gerding

03/15/2013 08:25 pm

Is there anyway to really prove the person asking these questions is really from the BBC? I have serious doubts about the legitimacy of the post and it's timing in regards to big brands getting penalized. If 11 days in the hole is what big brands call a penalty, they need to try the year + that many small businesses were hit with. And who can afford to weather that storm better?

Dario Petkovic

03/15/2013 11:48 pm

Yep, one of my websites got the same message

Dario Petkovic

03/15/2013 11:49 pm

Sure is. BBC has a PR of 9 .. still!

Sanket Patel

03/16/2013 10:00 am

It's really very surprising news,Google sends unnatural link notification of BBC news.May be it effected of Google new update.


03/16/2013 11:09 am

The more interesting question is whether this warning has been a “Notice of Detected Unnatural Links” or just “Unnatural Inbound Links”. There is a significant difference as the first one means a manual link related penalty as the second one is just for webmaster's information. When the first type is received SERP positions start to decrease after 2-3 weeks, while the second type can also lead to SERP drop, but not due to a penalty, but due to lost link juice (the 2 differences are well explained here: http://tinyurl.com/dxly74p). So, if the message BBC received is for “Unnatural Inbound Links” they won't have to worry about it, it's a common thing. There can always be links that might look suspicious to Google and they know it!

Ton Heerze

03/16/2013 11:33 am

I'm sure they do have spammy looking links. But do they care? It is a non profit organisation?


03/16/2013 12:13 pm

I wonder if a competitor usurped the site by placing low-value links, in an effort to drag-down the site?


03/16/2013 02:48 pm

And what, pray tell me, does google have as a signal in place of links it's now ready to use?


03/16/2013 04:01 pm

Don't pray, read ... above )


03/16/2013 04:37 pm

Could be the case - but then Wikipedia and CNN are next


03/16/2013 04:40 pm

I see no real immediately workable alternative there

Dirk Diggler

03/17/2013 10:05 am

Sounds like someone's had a go at hitting it with negative SEO. A site like the BBC will carry a lot of authority and it would take a lot of s***ty links pointing at it before it got a love letter from Google. Probably some bored student or just someone wanting to see if negative SEO actually works (which it does.. I've tried it). Goes to show even the big boys are not immune to Google's crazy algorithm!!

Marie Haynes

03/17/2013 01:53 pm

John Mueller answered in the original thread with this: "Hi Nick Looking into the details here, what happened was that we found unnatural links to an individual article, and took a granular action based on that. This is not negatively affecting the rest of your website on a whole. Cheers John"


03/17/2013 03:15 pm

can you give me an example of unnatural outgoing links?

Jawad Latif

03/18/2013 09:45 am

God Bless BBC :). They are in radar


03/18/2013 10:26 am

This creepy, you can pay $ 10 at fiverr for gigs to put up hundreds of thousands scrapebox backlinks to competitors.


03/21/2013 07:48 pm

and whats happen with softonic.com ? the site buys a lot of links and ranks better :/

Wake up

04/04/2013 02:51 pm

Has anyone any brain left in this forum? Do you really believe that the BBC is link building? Are you all completely insane?

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