Google Admits To Penalizing The BBC, But Only Granularly

Mar 18, 2013 • 8:37 am | comments (52) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

BBC LogoFriday we broke the story that the BBC received a Google link notification of unnatural links.

This was a big deal - a huge news organization received a Google notification about bad things happening to their web site. I mean, if you can't trust the BBC from a link quality point of view, who can you trust? (Fox News folks, relax)

So what happened? Google's John Mueller dug into the details and discovered this was a "granular" penalty. John said in the Google Webmaster Help thread:

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.

So one page on the BBC had unnatural links. Because of that, Google took action on that one individual article. Google did not take action against the rest of the BBC web site.

The thing is, John did not tell Nick which page. So there is a manual penalty on a specific article page and Nick has no clue which page it is. Shouldn't Google tell him which page so he can fix it some how?

Anyway, this is an interesting case of Google penalizing the largest news organization in the world but only one specific page.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Previous story: Google Stops Indexing Craigslist; Matt Cutts Fixes


Jamie Knop

03/18/2013 12:44 pm

Yes they should let them know. Matt Cutts did say soon they will be including further details in the unnatural link warning messages, this is a must...

Aqueous SEO

03/18/2013 01:00 pm

Barry, this is a nonsense move from Google and just goes to highlight how insane their current policy of penalties actually is. With Majestic counting almost a billion links to BBC it really is a needle in a haystack operation to do anything about this. We've recently been openly critical of Google's current 'big stick' approach to penalising bad quality links and this case highlights why. Unless BBC have been deliberately trying to manipulate the rankings (highly unlikely) then this is someone, somewhere in the world, linking unnaturally to their site. How are they supposed to prevent that? How are any of us? We need to start flipping this on its head and asking why Google doesn't just count the 'good' links and ignore the bad?

Luke Glassford

03/18/2013 01:17 pm

If the BBC aren't immune to 'negative SEO' then what chance do the rest of us have!?


03/18/2013 01:18 pm

Interesting choice of logo to use there - they haven't used that one since 1997!

Barry Schwartz

03/18/2013 01:19 pm

Figured the logo was more Googely than the others. ;-)


03/18/2013 02:17 pm

So google has now openly admitted that it no longer serves the most relevant results regardless. Well done google. It was Brave of you to admit that at last.

Tom J

03/18/2013 02:55 pm

BBC should just block googlebot.


03/18/2013 03:18 pm

how do we know it's negative SEO? Could this be a case where the author of the article was actually doing bad things? I've seen it happen with large companies in the past. If so, why should they be immune. I think we need to hold off judgement until we have the details.

Gerry White

03/18/2013 04:01 pm

can't - short version is that in the UK the UK license fee payer should be able to find it, and they generally find things via the search engines like Google!

Blood Type Dating

03/18/2013 04:05 pm

This sounds like a scare tactic to me. It works, too. :)

Gerry White

03/18/2013 04:07 pm

It is crazy to think the whole world, or even the whole of the BBC (I know some parts do, they have invested into ensuring onsite SEO ticks most boxes and content is optimised) thinks about SEO beyond the select few who 'must'. Most people who have even considered SEO wouldn't consider linking to another site as being potentially bad - for example if I saw a news story about my widget company on the BBC being favourable, or even talking about the industry - I might be tempted to take out advertorials linking to it, being a PR person working at a widget company do I have any idea what negative SEO is ? There is a lot of bad SEO spam out there, but oddly most of it is unknown to the website owners (they paid someone, who paid someone else ... its not a crime to be stupid more a hinderance), or it was done by someone in an organisation who has long gone! Google definently need to clear up communications, and somehow figure out how to communicate with everyone else who has never heard of Matt Cutts (maybe they should just run a campaign solely targetted at IE6/7/8 users?)

Douglas Karr

03/18/2013 04:24 pm

Of course SEO professionals say that Google is dumb and they should let them know. :) You folks crack me up. I love ya, but you crack me up. In other words, "Please Google - please let me know when you catch me cheating so I can adjust my blackhat strategy to circumvent your terms of service some more and try to get my client to rank better without supporting authority or content". It's pretty simple... STOP BACKLINKING!

Tom J

03/18/2013 04:49 pm

They can find it. Bing, DuckDuck Go, via their homepage or direct navigation choices. News24 doesn't tell users to go to google and search for BBC... no. BTW I'm from UK too so well aware of how the BBC wastes the license fee. If Google is costing the BBC money to jump through its BS hoops as a license fee payer I demand the stop wasting money dealing with Google.

John Doyle

03/18/2013 04:58 pm

I don't envy the guy who has the job of checking the backlinks to the BBC!

Kevin Gerding

03/18/2013 05:05 pm

Such actions clearly demonstrate that the quality of a page takes a back seat to what type of links it has. Since we can only control the pages we create, and do not have sole control over how/why links appear to the pages, it's safe to assume Google's granular actions across billions of pages are the reason why the serps are so out of whack. I think anyone that works hard to build a quality website has a bona fide reason to fear Google's policies and the damage competitors can do just by pointing some spammy links at a page. Google's recent actions are quite disappointing to say the least. Regardless, the black hatters got the proof they needed. Links can cause granular penalties.


03/18/2013 05:30 pm

google must be transparent if it want to go draconic way. All penalties, pages under penalties must be provided at google webmaster tools with details how to fix it. Otherwise google/top brands sites have benefits ONLY because hiding IMPORTANT information from us.


03/18/2013 05:32 pm

it real way. if many big brands will ban googlebot, may be google will understand what they not internet kings of the world.


03/18/2013 05:34 pm

yes, dear google. please not tell us how you rank sites, ban us for things we never know about, kill all websites at the world but we will pray you.

Comtread Corp

03/18/2013 05:51 pm

It certainly doesn't seem that Google gives us the same courtesy, their policy is to penalize first, ask questions later (if at all).


03/18/2013 07:41 pm

Last line, "largest new organization," I think you intended news with an s.

Douglas Karr

03/18/2013 07:49 pm

But they DO tell you how to rank... it's all in Webmasters and in their Webmaster blog. All you have to do is start listening and stop looking for ways to cheat.

Paul Gailey

03/18/2013 09:38 pm

if you look hard enough, you can find unnatural links on Matt Cutt's site, because of link rot dropcaught domains by spammers that were previously good, still linked in old articles. I'm sure if pressed he may confess to have received an unnatural links warning.

Dario Petkovic

03/18/2013 09:39 pm

But they are internet kings of the world - that's the whole point unfortunately

Paul Atherton

03/19/2013 01:28 am

Exactly, one webmaster had the opportunity to put a backlink and get paid. Not surprising, its the BBC not the Vatican. I've seen competitors with links from the BBC just couldn't find the right 'journalist' myself.


03/19/2013 04:31 am

Barry you made mistake here in last para... largest new organization ... it should be largest news organization

Sanket Patel

03/19/2013 05:02 am

It really very interesting to see that google penalize just one page of the news broadcast. It really very strange,If they done this before than we have never notice it.


03/19/2013 06:28 am

Google is not the internet king. we made it king and we are the one who can give this designation to others. We should focus on other sources to protect from Boastful Google.

Daniel (Butz) Sherf

03/19/2013 09:04 am

All this story is just one big joke

Elazar Gilad

03/19/2013 10:31 am

Hey, So that mean that every one can sabotage your web site by buying you unnatural links from services like fiver. :(


03/19/2013 11:24 am

May BBC News not covering Google enough...

Peter Alex Leigh

03/19/2013 11:42 am

Problem is, even when you follow all the rules, that doesn't always work. No algo can be perfect and no algo can predict human behaviour. Penguin, I'm talking about you

Peter Alex Leigh

03/19/2013 11:43 am

But it was the best one ;)


03/19/2013 11:50 am

There is speculation in SEOs that Google punish only small websites and brands. But Here I think Google want to prove that it can take action against big websites and brands too. Do Big brands really cares Google or anyone else? I don't think so


03/19/2013 02:04 pm

it just not work at all!!! google looking for ways to put only unrelated but authority sites at top10 to increase number of adwords clicks. No any decency in google actions, just clean destroying of competitors.


03/19/2013 02:07 pm

they are losing positions and I not think google search engine have future. Slowly, but it happens.


03/19/2013 02:11 pm

You can try to follow all this tips. But you not get any top10, even if you publish EXTREMELY unique and BEST content. Authority kills relevancy, links killing content relevancy. All what google doing now - creating grave for themself.


03/19/2013 02:15 pm

just one-two examples is required to show what they 'ranks all equally', it just to save name (politic things), but not for real.


03/19/2013 02:28 pm

We need to start publish such button on our sites, penalized by google. Unstable, ads above fold, penalties for things we never know, all actions only to destroy small business.

Dan Whitehouse

03/19/2013 03:10 pm

That is one old logo for the BBC!


03/19/2013 05:15 pm

Aqueous SEO, the worst thing about receiving a warning for unnatural links ( is exactly what you say - you are not told which links exactly are the "bad" ones. The BBC problem makes us even more concerned about our safety in the Google's SERP. Has anyone know how long it takes before the warnings take effect? I suspect a period of 2-3 weeks.


03/19/2013 05:48 pm

LOL ) If visitor lands on your site from Google, this banner is misleading at least. If visitor lands on your site from Bing/Yahoo/etc, this banner is unnecessary.

Aqueous Digital

03/19/2013 07:34 pm

Interestingly we are working with a client that came to us because their last SEO got them penalised. It's difficult to say how long after the toxic links the site was penalised as the water is muddied by both Panda and Penguin but we've spent six weeks already trying to clean up over 60,000 links. The biggest issue as you say is simply not knowing. Where do you start in 60,000 links? The answer was at the top with the most obvious and working our way down but we're now onto our third reconsideration request and still we're getting the knock back. Add to this that we don't know where Google is taking the link data from, and we're in an impossible situation. We've gone through both WMT and Opensite Explorer and got as many links as we possibly can but even now, when every toxic link has been removed from the WMT list, they still show in WMT. In fact we've just asked Google in the last request to recrawl as we're now convinced that they are working off old data. But what if the link we're looking for is only available through Majestic which has a bigger base? How is the average user with a penalty supposed to know that? This may sound like a rant, and to some extent it is, but the process here is fundamentally flawed. There is no excuse for bad black hat SEO and we wouldn't condone it but what if tomorrow Google decided that links on PR and Article sites are toxic, what then? The goalposts will have moved and perfectly legitimate businesses would be penalised. The point here is that without a process in place to explain to site owners explicitly which links Google does not like, then this seems to be an abuse of a monopoly position and clearly open to manipulation by anone with a grudge. What's stopping me now from pointing a million spammy links at your site? How will you clear up that mess? Please don't misunderstand here, we understand like everyone else that to be on Google you need to play by their rules, but that won’t stop us asking for some fair play and clarity all round.


03/19/2013 07:40 pm

News has to be interesting. Let´s face it, a search engine is probably one of the least interesting things on the planet. That´s probably why they have the bullied at school mentality.

Gareth Morgan

03/20/2013 09:49 am

The BBC appear to have been investing in link building for years. Do a search for a recipe and take a look at the links pointing at that recipe page. Half of their Food section has article posts, blog comments and even link farms propping them up on the first page of Google. Someone there realised the importance of rankings and SEO a while ago.


03/20/2013 01:05 pm

Ya true... but still we are covering everything what Google say.


03/20/2013 02:25 pm

This seems a case of Google flexing their muscles and saying "Look at us! We can tell the BBC what they should be doing!". It would be interesting to see whether Google will be able to place any of these negative comments with owners of websites and if their ranks are affected. A couple of years ago, I would've laughed at that idea... scary thought.


03/20/2013 04:29 pm

Hi again! I have tried to collect all the data I know on the Penguin penalty situations and I wrote this article today: I guess you have already tried most of the things, but still... won't hurt for you to read this. I have included some screens from both Ahrefs and Magestic SEO tools to depict the situation better. I hope this helps you with your problematic client. Write back if you need more help, will be glad to give you advice!


03/21/2013 07:01 pm

well yesterday it was a link on Digg today on BBC should we fear now micro pandas ?!


04/24/2013 05:36 am



04/24/2013 05:37 am

Dude, post a list of spam links here!

The Travel Tart

04/24/2013 11:49 am

Holy Google Policeman Batman!

Spook SEO

12/07/2013 03:14 pm

I wonder if Google could be kind enough to smaller websites and explain the details of a penalty like they did to BBC, Also i don't get how come BBC could have unnatural links? could it be that some dodgy sites are linking to them? in that case it's a prove that negative SEO can actually work even to such a huge website.

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