Google Sends Out New Batch Of Unnatural Link Notifications

Jul 20, 2012 • 8:44 am | comments (44) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google WebmasterUpdated at 4:45pm Google's Matt Cutts posted on Google+ that the reason so many people are seeing these notifications is because they decided to also send them out when a penalty will NOT follow. Google is notifying webmasters of unnatural links pointing to their site even if the links will not hurt them. Shouldn't Google's message be clear about that distinction? Yes, but it is not and thus webmasters and SEOs are a bit concerned.

Here is what he wrote:

If you received a message yesterday about unnatural links to your site, don't panic. In the past, these messages were sent when we took action on a site as a whole. Yesterday, we took another step towards more transparency and began sending messages when we distrust some individual links to a site. While it's possible for this to indicate potential spammy activity by the site, it can also have innocent reasons. For example, we may take this kind of targeted action to distrust hacked links pointing to an innocent site. The innocent site will get the message as we move towards more transparency, but it's not necessarily something that you automatically need to worry about.

If we've taken more severe action on your site, you'll likely notice a drop in search traffic, which you can see in the "Search queries" feature Webmaster Tools for example. As always, if you believe you have been affected by a manual spam action and your site no longer violates the Webmaster Guidelines, go ahead and file a reconsideration request. It'll take some time for us to process the request, but you will receive a followup message confirming when we've processed it.

My big issue with this is that Google told us these manual messages are penalties and now they are no longer penalties. It is confusing in so many ways for webmasters.

Here is the remainder of the story I wrote this morning:

In July 2011, just about a year ago, Google first started sending out notifications of unnatural links pointing to your web site. Then in March of this year, Google ramped up this notifications and tons of webmasters received them.

It has been pretty quiet recently on this front, with only a few complaints per day in the forums about these notifications. But that all changed yesterday when tons of webmasters began receiving these notifications.

We have threads in most of the forums but here are some select threads at Google Webmaster Help, Google+ and WebmasterWorld.

Almost all of them plead innocence but the fact of the matter is, they received this notification and they most likely will see a downgrade in ranking within the week. This is a manual penalty that likely lasts 6 months or so and requires a reconsideration request to be removed before the penalty expiration window. Note, if you do nothing, the penalty will probably happen again.

Did you get a notification in the past day or so?

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help, Google+ and WebmasterWorld.

Previous story: SEOs: Google Penguin Leads To 42% Increase In Paid Clicks


Keith Fraley

07/20/2012 01:02 pm

Use a bit of caution before diving head first into getting links removed. I have heard a couple of people saying that a good number of the messages sent out yesterday were sent in error. Of course being vigilant in getting questionable links removed is always a good idea.

Nick Kringas

07/20/2012 02:10 pm

Has it ever crossed your mind that this could be a phishing attempt by Google or is Google above that? How many people do you think responded to these emails telling Google exactly where they get links from? IMO these messages were automatically sent out randomly to gwt users

Tom Johnson

07/20/2012 03:27 pm

Well its obvious isn't it?! They only got a 42% uplift in revenues from Penguin so they are shaking the tree again.... build a business that does not rely on Google.

Miguel Salcido

07/20/2012 03:41 pm

Barry, I've not heard that these messages correlate with a loss in rankings. In some cases they do but in the large majority of cases if webmasters do nothing in response to unnatural links messages then nothing has happened. Its only when people freak out and start removing links that they actually see a loss in rankings. So I was very surprised to see you state that its a penalty and that the only way out is to wait 6 months and submit a re-inclusion request. Isn't that potentially misinformation? What makes you say that people should see a downgrade in rankings within a week? Excuse me if I missed some information that backs all of that up.

Shari Maxwell McConahay

07/20/2012 03:45 pm

I received notification emails yesterday for two of my sites. I have managed these sites for 17 years, first under my dad's company and now the company is mine. I NEVER bought or traded links. I never even did any link building at all. Each of the sites that I was notified about don't even have a lot of inbound links and I am unsure of what is causing the problem according to Google. Our business is costumes, so if indeed this is a 6 month penalty, it will likely be over for us. We had a botched redesign last year that really messed us up and we needed this season for recovery. I don't completely rely on Google for our visitors, but now that they took away Google Base too, I have no budget for other paid channels.

Shari Maxwell McConahay

07/20/2012 04:16 pm

I don't really have links to remove. I did notice one of the inbound links was some strange error page back to my site caused by our magento platform, so I removed the page it was linking to by changing the url of that product. I have links from on both the sites, but I read that Google ignores (I never signed up to have links from that site.) And other than those, there was really nothing else that looked suspicious. Should I have not changed anything?

Shari Maxwell McConahay

07/20/2012 04:38 pm

Keith, this gives me some hope. I am hoping that is the case for me. I know so many people claim innocence, but I really don't have a lot of links!

Codex Meridian

07/20/2012 05:46 pm

Therefore you are a victim of negative SEO.


07/20/2012 06:25 pm

Checkyour backlinks in GWT, try to remove the suspicious ones and then file a reinclusion request


07/20/2012 06:44 pm

Actually this isn't true at all. Have you ever had an unnatural link warning? Do you not spend time on many of the SEO forums? I find it surprising that you are passing this off as fact, especially so long after the first round of unnatural link warnings were rolled out. If you receive an unnatural link warning, and DON'T do anything about it your sites rankings will plummet in two-three weeks. It's really that simple. Avoiding it doesn't work, turning a blind eye is the worst advice you can give. At this point you need to start cleaning up your bad backlinks, and get yourself ready for a reinclusion request. The links that you need to remove are the clearly paid, and artificially created backlinks. Begin documenting everything. We've been able to pull a site out of an unnatural link warning penalty, but it was a lot of hard work and documenting. You can read about similar processes over on SEOmoz. There are some new services out there, and we're trying it out for a new client. Two that we just started with were and DeleteBacklinks appears to be only for directory links, while linkdelete does everything while documenting the process. Either way though, start somewhere and don't wait around expecting nothing bad to happen.

Chris Rempel

07/20/2012 08:25 pm

All the cases I've ever seen personally, or heard of from colleagues/customers - have resulted in eventual ranking loss or in some cases even total elimination/deindexing. If you have had a WMT warning with no effect, then you are truly blessed. -Chris

Joe Youngblood

07/20/2012 09:13 pm

I have a client that as a few dozen hacked websites (that i can find) linking to them with gibberish anchors within gibberish text using templates stolen from University websites. We've been working on the clean up already, good news that we're not too late to get these removed.


07/20/2012 09:23 pm

I've worked with over 125 websites on SEO. I've seen precisely 11 unnatural link warnings and have kept full documentation. 5 of the sites that received this warning did nothing and were not negatively impacted in the rankings - some going on to more than double organic traffic through continued SEO efforts (I'm not talking about rinky-dink sites either, these are sites with 100k+ organic visits a month). 3 sites did nothing and saw pretty significant ranking drops. 2 sites removed an extensive amount of links, submitted a documented reconsideration request, and tanked shortly thereafter. 1 site saw a successful reconsideration - rankings were not impacted to any significant degree either for the positive or negative. The choice is yours - but no method is a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination. Anyone that tells you otherwise is blindly making recommendations based upon Google's vague statements / things they've read about online. I've seen/documented what goes on in reality, and frankly it's a crap-shoot.

Shari Maxwell McConahay

07/21/2012 03:21 am

I am so glad I reloaded this story this evening. I am very relieved and hope that since our search traffic referrals have not gone down since I received the email yesterday that we are one of the sites that was just "warned" but not penalized. *Keeping fingers crossed!*


07/21/2012 04:55 am

When is there going to be the book of Google when I open the dresser in my next hotel room? (Matt Cutt is salivating with the thought) Audit the Fed, ehhem. I think its just really ironic when Google acts like they're the shining moral compass on the hill. The truth will come out.

07/21/2012 08:30 am

Google scare everybody to invite them to swap seo to adwords. Just see how much adwords grow in the last month ;)


07/21/2012 09:57 am

We run a link auditing service called , from what I have seen so far from talking to about 5 clients who recieved these warnings yesterday is that all of them are already suffering with the penalties , Im not sure we will see the same drop after 3 weeks like the last lot, I suspect Google found all these companies months ago but were proberbly too busy already managing the reinclusion requests from the first major wave, this is them now proberbly hitting all those who were lower down the threshold of guilt who they took some action against on specific keywords but could not manage them at the same time all doing reinclusion requests given the numbers involved. Google have to manage this in a way which is realistic given their resources and time. It's logical they have waited until they cleared some backlog and gotten experience in mass email notifications. I am seeing that penalties which have been applied are recently being automatically removed, once the sites stop violating, I suspect that google have automated much more of this process now with penalties and reinclusion requests being largely controlled by bots and automated actions.

Uri Lederman

07/21/2012 11:40 am

Absolutely, this is a great way (and smart) for Google to build a list of sites, footprints and data of what actual people believe to be BAD links....


07/21/2012 01:52 pm

Its a google kindergarten.


07/21/2012 04:18 pm

Bob, my experience is a mirror of your own. I'll add that five of the sites I work received NO unnatural link warnings whatsoever, yet with each Penguin, lost traffic. They start to recover, then are slammed by the next Penguin. BTW, no unnatural links can be identified in any of these sites. Even if Google gets the disavow link tool in place it's still going to be difficult knowing which links to ignore as that too will impact ranking. Given the financial loss potentials, it's only right that they tag the links that are damaging. Obviously, they have that information readily available because they are using it to penalize. And IMHO, they are penalizing a lot of innocent sites. Better yet, they have the ability to discount them without creating unnecessary work on the site owner's side. Do the right thing, Google. Quit being evil.


07/21/2012 04:43 pm

And now they tell us to ignore these messages...Google has completely lost the plot and has no consideration for the hard working SEOs. They hate us and their conflicting messages and lack of clarity only proves that, they are mocking us yet we continue to suck up to them at conferences...I have been an SEO for 10 years and I have never witnessed this level of contempt before, I'm really beginning to despise Google and Matt Cutts which is such a shame because I'm sure at one point I highly respected both

Kenneth von Rauch

07/21/2012 06:27 pm

I believe it would make more sense if they also specify what links should be removed/fixed or whatever.


07/21/2012 08:46 pm

What did you expect ? SEOs did a lot of troubles to the industry. Just imagine how many resources Google has to waste to catch all link spammers (aka link builders) for example. It's much cheaper to cut you of. Nothing personal, just business. Totally agree with Google.


07/21/2012 08:57 pm

It's ironic when people are looking for the friendship with Google, but on their own rules.


07/21/2012 10:47 pm

What a Gawd-Forsaken WASTE of human energy, creativity, and time! Stop it all of you. Ya might as well be cleaning the toilets at Google HQ. Is this the kind of life you want for yourselves? Solving Google's business problem for them? Ah, but some people feel the NEED to step into Confessional Booths and pray for absolution. Well, good luck with that.

Webstats Art

07/22/2012 03:46 pm

Unfortunately SEO has become an enormous time consumer and people are literally cleaning google toilets on the web every day . If Google had a cleverer system, then people ought not to worry about these things but unfortunately it is still base intelligence i.e. whatever you put into the machine, stays in the machine. Google is not artificial intelligence - not yet anyway!

Nitesh Ahir

07/23/2012 05:23 am

Hello Barry, i did intentional on my blog to see the notification, i got noticed before 25 days still my blog is on the rank. i have my website it's related to design & development (penguin & panda affected to my site, still on rank so i don't understand what the hell panic is? My website is been affected by the panda more than penguin. your website has copy content like what Matt Cutts said, even though your site is not penalized. so we have to learn from you post... right??? Barry :)


07/23/2012 07:26 am

great article - we have stayed away from un-natural link building to our website


07/23/2012 09:28 am

I have received this message from Google a day ago for my site but there is no fall in my traffic. So I think this message is just a warning right now.


07/23/2012 02:57 pm

Barry, do these manual Unnatural Link Warnings really expire? We received ours beginning of May, and have been heads down since then removing as many links (we believe) may be considered unnatural. Today we submitted our first reconsideration request. But, if all else fails, do you think this penalty will time out after a period of time?

Barry Schwartz

07/23/2012 02:59 pm

Yes they do. Typically 30, 60, 90 days or much longer. It depends.


07/23/2012 03:13 pm

Thanks Barry, good to know these time frames also apply to manual penalties, such as the UNLW. Coming up to 60 days for us now. We have noticed such a timed 30,and 90 day penalty in the past, but for algorithm penalties.

Barry Schwartz

07/23/2012 03:18 pm

This doesn't work for algo penalties.


07/23/2012 03:36 pm

Interesting to know, thanks for that! Both times we dropped in the past from #1 to #4 ( or so ) for a very competitive term, with no message in WMT, we recovered our position exactly to the day 1 month later the first time, and exactly 60 (or was it 90) days later the second time.

Webstats Art

07/24/2012 12:24 pm

Exactly. Millions of people want to build a business that does not rely on Google. Any business that relies on google is no longer sustainable.

Thomas kane

07/24/2012 04:24 pm

I manage about 35 sites and I have seen no notice so far so that's good.


07/25/2012 06:46 am

In that case, I think its really assumed to take such actions by the Google. Of course not all the SEO's put a great deal of efforts to build a good community. In this way only they can stop the alleged use of unnatural linking methods.

Emanuel Hochstädt

07/26/2012 05:32 pm

Even if one removes all inbound unnatural links to a penalized website, and submits the website to Google's reconsideration, it still won't restore former rankings. It is a purely mathematical matter: The value of the inbound unnatural links contributed to the relevance score of the page, and determined indirectly its present ranking in Google's SERPs. When, throughout "Panda", Panguin" or whatever, this value is either reduced, or becomes 0, or becomes a negative value, removing the inbound links assigns them a 0 value, and the new relevance score is thus lower than before, and corresponds to a poorer ranking (much poorer if the main promotion technique was creating plenty of unnatural links). However, if the page has already been punished, and the punishment assigned a negative value to those links, there will be a certain increase in the relevance score of the page, after removing the links, and probably also a certain improvement of rankings, but not back to the value prior to the punishment. The same is true if one removes those links after getting a mere warning.

Emanuel Hochstädt

07/27/2012 06:34 am

I don't think Google needs us for that.

Emanuel Hochstädt

07/28/2012 07:20 pm

I think that what times out is the option to ask for reconsideration.

Emanuel Hochstädt

07/28/2012 07:27 pm

I have explaine below why removing unnatural links must result in loss of rankings. But if you do nothing after being warned you will also lose present rankings after a while.

Emanuel Hochstädt

07/29/2012 07:25 pm

I understand that you have recovered the lost rankings by extra work and not by just waiting.


07/31/2012 03:13 pm

Yeah, I'd probably guess it's negative SEO. I just had a very brief look at your website and I can hardly call your link profile natural. There are sooo many sitewide/blogroll links pointing to your site... Many of them looking dodgy so you might want to try to clean up your links (slowly and gradually).


12/06/2012 01:18 am

Just because you receive the notice does not mean you going to be downgraded in search results! Look, you know if you have been built crap links to your site, well, don't you? If you don't then you should. Don't trust anyone to build cheap links to your money sites and expect to get any more than you pay for. Come on people, wake up a little. If you have not been building numerous spam links to your sites in an attempt to better your rankings, then you probably don't have anything to worry about. How many people do you know beyond a shadow of doubt have not built any bad links to their sites, and have been targeted unfairly by Google? How many? I really doubt that you can produce many examples of unfair treatment to webmasters that are doing things the right way. You do know what the right way is, right?

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