How do I know which links to remove when I get an “unnatural links” message?
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How do I know which links to remove when I get an “unnatural links” message?


MALE SPEAKER: Today’s question
comes from dbizzle in Los Angeles, who wants to know
“Google Webmaster Tools says I have ‘unnatural links,’ but
gives little help as to which specific links are bad. Since I have never purchased
links, I don’t know which ones to have removed, and I’m scared
of removing good ones, which will hurt my traffic. Suggestions?” Excellent question. So we’ve tried to become
more transparent. And when we were saying links
were affecting our reputation of the entire site, we would
tell people about that. More recently, we’ve been
telling people and opening up and saying, hey, we still like
your site– your site overall might be good– but maybe there’s some
individual links to your site that we don’t trust. Now, the problem is we weren’t,
at that time, giving specific examples. So one feature that we rolled
out is the ability to sort by recent discovery of links, so
you can actually get the date when we discovered a link. So if you sort that way, you can
look for the recent links. But a feature that we are
working on and that we are in the process of rolling out,
which I’m pretty excited about, is that we
will actually– will basically give
you examples. So as we’re building the
incident, whenever a webmaster analyst or something like that
is saying, OK, these are links not to trust, they’ll include
an example link. And you might get one, you might
get two, you might get three, depending. But basically, it will give you
an idea of the sorts of links that we are no
longer trusting. Now, it’s not exhaustive. It’s not comprehensive. But it should give
you a flavor. Is it a bunch of widget links? Were you doing a bunch of
keyword rich anchor text in article bank, article marketing
type stuff? Maybe you weren’t trying to do
paid links, but maybe you hired an agency and it turns out
they were doing paid links and you didn’t realize it. But I would look in the
text of the messages. Over time, we’re working very
hard on trying to include an example or two link, so that
when you get that message, you have an idea of exactly
where to look. And I hope that that’s helpful.

61 Comments

  • Mikołaj Szczepaniak

    Nice video (and great idea with the examples), but you didn't answer the original question – how to identify unnatural links now. When I receive the message now, I don't want to wait for examples in future messages to other webmasters.

  • Chuck Brown

    Matt, as much as I share your goal of pure and legit SERPs rankings, I find G's level of blindness on this matter beyond frustrating: 1) You guys created the problem in the first place by basically rewarding all links, whether or not they were natural. Not all content draws natural links, and especially not in the face of high competition (others are highly visible via G rankings, whereas we are not). Many of us HAD to build unnaturally to compete at all. [continued]

  • Chuck Brown

    2) Links were built over several years, many/most by outsourcing. It's virtually impossible to have some of them removed…and certainly not in a timely manner. 3) In your attempt to "school" us about the undesirability of unnatural links, you are poorly serving your visitors by literally burying some of the best sites in each genre (I'd be happy to provide examples…gone from Top 5 to #300-700). [continued]

  • Chuck Brown

    4) You could make this much easier by classifying the most undesirable links (without even showing us which ones they are!) and allowing us to bulk disavow them with one click…so that the playing field is somewhat leveled once again.

  • Zack Williamson

    Oh man, I'm excited!!! This seems to have great potential to give us a much deeper insight on the way Google handles Webspam and link building. Let's hope people use this insight to do the right thing and avoid link scheming instead of trying to capitalize on the loopholes. Webspam is like littering on the internet, really dirties up the place and just makes it harder for legit sites to rank!

  • thedomainers

    Matt why not just define the links, why do people need to get a flavor, this is someone's livelihood that Google continues to mess with

  • James Riter

    Matt, you guys need to change gears on this type of stuff! It should be the job of a web designer and the SEO team to build a GREAT site, make sure its easy to use and try to cover all grounds of on site and off site optimization they can. Such as making sure their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on are all up to date. Making sure content is good and get people to enjoy and share their site. Our job should not be to clear up blackhat BS other people have done to hurt our site.

  • Jonathan Guy

    Nice step forward Matt but as Chuck and James point out below, clean up is going to take a whole lot more than 'suggestions', 'ideas' and 'examples' of the links that hurt our sites. If you already know which ones you don't like then why not just discount them and tell us which ones are discounted? Help us to help you….

  • sean hennessy

    If a webmaster is able to identify the spammy links then he/she is faced with an additional and often never ending battle of removal or to disavow. Removal has a very low rate of success and takes you guys months to re-index the pages at times. disavow tool takes months for you guys to apply to the links. Why can't google take quicker action on links that a webmaster has sincerely attempted to discredit?

  • Oscar Gonzalez

    Chuck pretty much nailed it and I hope to see an answer to *this* soon Matt. And who gets to define unnatural!? — I was sitting with one of the top bloggers in the world and one of his guest authors got spanked by this and was asking him to remove the links. There was nothing "unnatural" abou the link. My buddy removed the link to help the guy out but that sucks. The article was great and the link looked pretty natural to me! Maybe some more info on "natural" vs "unnatural" would help as well.

  • blackgraper

    If Google already know the problem links, simply discount them. Why does the webmaster have to then jump through all these guessing-game hoops?

  • MrTVTL905

    If someone's livelihood depends on the reliability of something that no one has to pay for, then that person's livelihood clearly isn't worth very much.

  • MrTVTL905

    What made you do that? At what point did Google or anyone else say "you HAVE to build unnatural links?" No one made you do that. You put your hand in the cookie jar out of avarice and greed, and you got caught. Suck it up and learn how to do things properly and move on.

  • Chuck Brown

    That's a cheap shot. When Google honors all links as equal (including unnatural ones that can be farmed out and built in bulk), any webmaster who wants to compete has to follow suit with their competitors. Now (years later), Google is finally cleaning up their act…but they put all the burden on us to go back and undo this so-called damage. They ought to accept some responsibility in this game as well….which they could do by making it easier for us to disavow the links that concern them.

  • Christian Guynn

    I received an unnatural links warning for a site and after doing a reconsideration request, which was denied, the denial gave me examples of the links that Google didn't like. This has gone a long way in helping me figure out how to clean up some of the older, poor quality links. I'm still in the process, but at least it's not as much of a guessing game now.

  • MrTVTL905

    That's a fatal flaw right there…a webmaster who "wants to compete". That means the webmaster has the CHOICE "not to compete", assuming everything else in your argument is true (which it isn't). It's also an incredibly stupid theory since, if a webmaster does what his/her competitors are doing, that webmaster is not distinguishing his/her site as something actually worth linking to.

    Vested interest is rationalization, not justification.

  • Chuck Brown

    I would be happy to consider this conversation were there a constructive element to it. However, you smell of troll. Glad for you that you are so far above all us little people. Enjoy your life.

  • MrTVTL905

    If you're going to call someone a troll, perhaps you should look at how posting an inflammatory self-serving comment on a video designed to help those who made a well-meaning but obviously silly mistake when analyzed logically might appear.

    I'd say enjoy your life, but…

  • Chuck Brown

    Unless I came here to suck up, of course my comment would be self-serving. Why else would I take the time to create such a lengthy comment? I refer to you as a troll because of your constant need to be personally demeaning to those you disagree with. I'm not suggesting that your viewpoint is completely off-base. In fact, 2-3 years ago, I would have sounded much like you. My intent here was to be constructive and informative. If you found it inflammatory (gratuitously so), you missed the point.

  • MrTVTL905

    I don't believe you had any intention to be informative and constructive. The fact that you said your comment was self-serving suggests otherwise…self-serving comments are intended to serve one's own interests and no-one else's. If I "missed the point", and I don't believe I did, then you didn't make it clearly.

    If you intended to come here to get a problem solved, you went about it all wrong. Why would anyone want to help someone who's coming at them with that kind of negativity?

  • Chuck Brown

    I will acknowledge that "self-serving" was not appropriate. I intended to be self-representational. I came here because Matt doesn't have an available email, the comment was too long for Twitter and he didn't comment on this video on his blog, Raising a contrary point of view is precisely the nature of dialogue. I could have come here and just said "You rock, Matt!", but that wouldn't have accomplished much, would it? Rather I pointed out that I believe Google is missing it here, and to say why.

  • Tom Blakeley

    Get us the examples sooner than later. Disavowing links is like brain surgery. You never know how deep to cut or how much to take without killing the patient.

  • LSP White

    I have never received one of these unnatural links messages. However several clients have had great websites drop off the face of the earth from page one. We asked for reconsideration to get a quick standard reply saying no spamming etc was found. Its really frustrating. I have been ranted at by one client who has now (thankfully) gone elsewhere. So Matt, thanks for this, but please be transparent about why you wipe website SERPS with no warning, and no explanation.

  • Phillip Davis

    If the tool can see that there are unnatural links, why can't it tell the user which links are unnatural? Is Google just doing this for their own precaution of causing someone to remove good links from their site? Thanks.

  • kim gellman

    Our site has dropped off in so many ways and we have no idea how to fix it. Our last SEO apparently used some bad linking techniques we were unaware of and now current SEO cannot get anywhere with getting this fixed. We used the disavow tool even though we did not get a message from Google. Now we read you cannot do this alone. So what other tactics do we need to get our site back in the good graces of Google?

  • Grant Lucas

    What about links coming in through blog comments? I am careful approving only those that look valid, but occasionally what looked like a real comment spawns a series of new links coming into my site from sites with names I don't want to be associated with. Will Google penalize for this? Also if I don't approve a comment I don't remove it straight away, but do this in batches. These comments and links don't show on my blog. Can Google can still "see" them and will they hurt me?

  • Matthew Hunt

    From previous examples of people who have gotten out of the penalty box, they had to show effort in getting links removed and often had to try multiple times. Also once you submit a disavow list doesn't guarantee your rankings will come back… often it doesn't. You'll need a pro who can do a proper audit & determine if it's even worth fixing first. Sometimes its even easier & faster to start over.

  • Matthew Hunt

    Grant, it's very unlikely you'll get penalized for this, unless you are accepting 100's of spammy comments. I assume all your comment links are set to no follow? If so, that is fine and you don't need to worry about this.

  • Pete Clark

    Not only is does removal have a low rate of success, you will only get links removed from the better sites. The spammy sites will just ignore requests to remove, and so the only links that are deleted are the better ones – the ones you should have kept. I see SEO companies who make money from getting siteowners to delete ALL links, which is stupid.

  • Don Dikaio

    @Chuck Brown I have to agree with you completely on your notion of having to build unnatural links in order to stay competitive. I've left the SEO field specifically for that reason. I was considering leaving a video response here of a screencast of the link networks I've found, reported, and months into it there was no indication that Google made any adjustments to these sites. I had assumed that it might happen after an update but even then no changes.

  • Steve Gould

    I've been actively involved in SEO since 1997 and I've never been so confused as I am right now. Google has introduced 'link apartheid'. No one knows what is a good link and what is bad. Examples are not good enough. Until Google 'names and shames' which are the bad links (and I concede some of the bad may be down to me), neither client or marketer are in a position to move forward.

  • MMB Consulting

    Talk about pulling the wool over everyone's eyes! Google does not want any business small business website to rank in the organic search results on page 1, why would they.

    Do a local search on Google for a common business like a plumber or an electrician etc.. all you see is the directories that are Google Adwords Partners or Google Adsense Publishers… Think about it…. If all the plumbers in your local town or city were listed on the first page organic results why would they need to do PPC.

  • Claus Sorensen

    why examples? show the links which are bad and it will teach this marketer your limits.
    i.e. is a directory a bad place for a link. it's not a paid service but …. i would no longer touch a directory even it appears geniune because google may see it as a paid link.

  • Intensive English

    The answer is very simple. It's because Google needs you to help them build their database of bad links. Very clever: they show your 3 bad links, and you remove 100. Congratulations, you just contributed 97 bad links to Google's ever expanding spam DB.

  • Will Spencer

    Matt says that Google is doing this — but Google is not doing this. I am not seeing these sample bad links in their their emails or in Google Webmaster Tools. I wish that the reality at Google lived up to the hype.

  • Digital Ad Agency / Adwords Consultants NYC LA San Francisco LONDON

    It IS our job to clean up any crap we threw into the web though.

  • D.C. Douglas

    No, Matt. Not helpful. Hey, here's an idea: why not TELL US WHAT LINKS ARE AN ISSUE?!?!?!?!?!? I have not paid for any links nor participated in any link scheme. So, WTF do I do?! Tell you to disavow all my f-ing links?! Seriously, after spending $50,000 in advertising with you over the years, you now are forcing me to spend more since you're screwing me on the organic links..

  • Rich Amor Indonesia

    I've never got a message from google considering an unnatural links. But my SERP is significantly decreased recently. Why?

  • Spook SEO

    A plausible way of getting rid of this kind of link problem is focusing on social media signals. Since it's now a rank factor and apparently where SEO is headed in the future, it makes more sense to do this now.

  • WSI Connect

    Looking forward to seeing the sample bad links. Hopefully this will help shed more light onto the mess of dealing with sites that should have never linked to us in the first place.

  • Fadi Kayyali

    You allowed SEO service companies to expand and grow. Without knowing that all money people invested was put in a spam/links. How would a prudent buyer of these services know if SEO's were legal or spam or not.

  • Johnathan Doeinger

    A day after I post about my displeasure with Google and waiting for 5 weeks for reconsideration…and nothing.   I get hit with another penalty (different one) because I complained about Google.  If the site had 'thin content' then that penalty would have been applied when Google said I had 'unnatural links'.   This new penalty is in direct response to me posting a complaint here and on their forum.   You can see how Google is spiteful and how personal actions by Google employees are being made on websites.    One cannot perform 'manual actions' without personal bias.   Discrimination, market manipulation, or even political sways can be achieved as Google employees are allowed to manually demote websites on a personal level versus a computer algorithm which is fair across the board.  

    This is a perfect example of how Google employees react to webmasters who complain about anything:    https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!category-topic/webmasters/webmaster-tools/aPdK8Pe431Q

  • Shenzhen Mega

    This is 2019. I received the same message about unnatural links but google didn't give me an example of which link to remove. Now I don't know what to do.

  • BealsReels

    Why doesn’t Google just show ALL the links that are causing a problem? If they’ve decided that some links are bad (however that is determined), they must have a specific list of links they want removed – why not just display all of them? I don’t understand what the downside would be of simply pointing everything out so there’s no confusion about which ones need to be addressed (or better yet, just skip all the back and forth and let Google disavow whatever they don’t like)? Google will obviously get their way in the end, so why put such an onerous, ambiguous task on the website owner to shoot in the dark and hit an invisible target?

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