Identify Bad Links from Unnatural Link Notice in Webmaster Tools
Google have been extremely aggressive lately with trying to tackle the issue of quality links. They have shut down blog networks that exchange links and de-valued hundreds of other linking network sites. This has led to a surge of unnatural link notices being sent through Webmaster Tools to sites that participated in this kind of link building.
We do not and have never built links in this manner, which is why we were extremely surprised to see that one of our clients was served with an unnatural links notice from Google. Immediately, panic occurred as this can be extremely serious for a business that relies on traffic from Google – we had to fix this, and fast!
Identifying Unnatural Links
Immediately, we checked to see what kind of links we had been building for our client. It turned out, that with this particular client, a link campaign hadn’t started yet. In fact, we were still optimising and working developing the site, which meant that these links must already have been established.
At this point, we decided to run the site through some link analysis tools, including SEO Spyglass, Majestic and Open Site Explorer. All three turned up a slightly different set of results, which was also different to the links reported in Webmaster Tools.
We started by looking through our link analysis tools and seeing what kind of back links were reported. We didn’t notice anything strange. All the links seemed to be from fairly legitimate sites and directories which are typical of a small business site’s link profile.
So, where were the unnatural links coming from?
It was at this point we decided to cross check our link tools with the links that Webmaster Tools reported. On comparison, the two lists looked very, very different. It turns out that Webmaster Tools was reporting on lots of links that were missed by our other analysis.
Could it be that Google had identified – and placed value on – a wider range of links? Well, no. After checking the domains thoroughly we found no trace of links to our client’s site. So, why was Google reporting these as linking to our client’s site?
It’s almost guaranteed that at some point these sites did link to our client – most likely built from their previous SEO company. It’s our suspicion that this was a link strategy used by them and when our client changed SEO providers, the links were removed.
Were these unnatural links?
On the surface, these additional links from Webmaster Tools didn’t look too suspicious. They were from a wide range of different domains that covered different subjects. However, some digging around on these sites revealed that:
- They were all blogs
- They were all updated fairly regularly
- Every post contained keyword targeted links to other sites
- No comments or evidence of user participation
- Content looked auto generated or cheaply produced
A picture was starting to form. However, we still weren’t 100% sure that these sites were the cause; although they definitely weren’t valuable sites so are not helping.
We did some additional checks:
- Checked the owners of the domains. They were all owned by the same company, which just so happened to provide SEO services.
- All these sites were not indexed in Google. No history or evidence of these sites could be found in Google, suggesting a total purge of each of these domains.
It was clear now that these are the infringing sites. It would be fairly trivial for Google to identify that these sites are similar in nature and that the outbound links are purely for SEO purposes. They then removed all these sites from their index, eliminating any link value and then probably sent all out bound linked sites unnatural link notices.
What’s the next step?
There was still the problem of our client’s site being identified for unnatural links. We checked all the domains and pages that we identified above, but not a single one was linking to our site at this point. Somehow, Google either thinks these sites are still linking to us, or (more likely) the client site has been targeted because at some point these bad sites did.
This was last week and we have still not seen any penalty for our site in the SERPs. On the contrary, our organic traffic has only continued to increase:
So where do we go from here? We’ve decided to wait it out, rather than apply for a reconsolidation request. Our strategy will be to build some good, beneficial links into the site and wait and see what happens.
We confident that Google won’t penalise the site and that eventually these links will be removed from Webmaster Tools and replaced by the more stable, better quality links we’re building now.
Our tips for indentifying unnatural links:
- Build up a profile of your back links from multiple tools to get a good idea of what’s going on. Using multiple tools will give you more data none of these have a complete grasp of your entire back link profile.
- Compare this with what Webmaster Tools counts for your links. While they won’t give you all the links, you can start looking through each list to identify discrepancies. Looking for sites that only appear on one list is a good start.
- Look for common themes between sites and see if you can spot patterns. This is how we identified the blog networks above.
- Once you have a list of suspect sites; check their domains on Who.Is, check whether or not they’re indexed and see what sort of patterns you find.
This will vary for every site. If you know you’ve been building links in this manner, then the above won’t apply – you just need to get rid of the bad links and get some good ones! Otherwise, if you’re like us and there is no obvious bad links, this is a good method to begin with and worked for us.
If you’ve been served with a notice of unnatural links, then contact us today on 0800 081 1688. We can you identify which links are causing problems and help get your site back on track.
Posted by: Spiderscope on April 25th, 2012 @ 2:58 PM