Starting on July 19th, 2012, Google decided to throw an additional wrench in the Post-Penguin SEO game – they mass sent messages very similar to the one below:
Dear site owner or webmaster of [site name],
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team
Obviously, this incited some widespread panic over the stern yet vague messaging that Google provided. The general buzz around the Internet is that this is more of a warning message than a reason to panic – however, as a website owner, I must have to admit the first reaction is to probably panic profusely.
If you are one of the unlucky (or deserving) webmasters who have received this message, this is what we know:
1) Matt Cutts has been quoted in a somewhat reassuring yet befuddling statement (emphasis added – here are the important bits:
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.
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.
First off, we changed the messages themselves that we’ll send out to make it clear that for a specific incident “we are taking very targeted action on the unnatural links instead of your site as a whole.” So anyone that gets a message going forward can tell what type of action has occurred.
The second change is that these messages won’t show the yellow caution sign in our webmaster console at http://google.com/webmasters/ like our other webspam notifications. This reflects the fact that these actions are much more targeted and don’t always require action by the site owner.
2) While we can’t really glean much meaning from this, this does suggest that:
- Bad links will be “corrected”
- That those that are penalized will likely see an immediate drop in traffic
- The 14-21 penalization window of the past Webmaster Tool messages may not apply
- This sounds more like a warning than a message of impending doom
- A significant algorithm update is likely to come
All this is well and good, but what if you received one of these dreaded Scarlet Letters? Here is a suggested action plan for you or your team to put into place:
- The days of the “exact match” anchor text linkbuilding are dead. Google confirmed in the latest Penguin tweak (last week of June) that these have been and will continue to be devalued.
- Re-examine your link profile with tools such as Open Site Explorer or MajesticSEO. Look out for the following link types which have been recently devalued – large amounts of these links may raise red flags to Google. I would suggest slowly removing the worst offenders – remember a rapid loss of links also looks fishy and may be an admission of guilt:
a) Private or public blog networks (also known as ALNs)
b) Any type of “sitewide” link
c) Footer or sidebar links
d) Links that are obviously paid (“Sponsored,” “Friends of,” “Blog Roll,” Partner Sites,” etc)
e) Forum links
f) Social bookmarking or directory spam
g) Links designed to trick users into linking (widget or infographic HTML blocks)
h) Links on high outbound link pages, irrelevant industries, made for AdSense or affiliate sites, or stand out due to lack of context
- New offpage guidelines in the future
a) More “naked” links (www.brand.com)
b) More contextl (ala within a readable blog post)
c) No more anchor text optimization
- Option 1: have the keyword present and next to a naked link (can be bolded)
- Option 2: multiple permutations on generic themes so it looks much more natural – i.e. no more 1,000 links all saying “keyword” – they should all be
different and varying but within the same keyword silo. Also mix destination URLs.
Good luck webmasters! Any questions or concerns – feel free to comment on this blog post!