A New Wave of Unnatural Link Warnings – Don’t Panic Just Yet
In the summer of last year Google began to distribute unnatural link messages to certain webmasters via their webmaster tools accounts. If you’ve been in SEO for a little while you’ll be sure to have heard of these and the widespread panic they created, especially in March of this year when Google really stepped up their efforts and upped the amount they sent out. Basically, if you received one of these warnings you were receiving a manual penalty on account of the unnatural link profile your website has.
Once one of these dreaded messages landed in your inbox, a loss of rankings usually occurred within 10-30 days. I assume Google was leading you into a false sense of security, the belief that if you could get all those horrible, spammy links removed soon you might not endure the fate so many others have gone through. Unfortunately many soon realised that many of these links were irremovable, no matter how hard one tried; blog owners would never respond, directories didn’t care, etc.
Things seemed to have died down with regards to these messages, many believing that Google’s more complex algo updates like Penguin would penalise these sites without the need of manual action. But Thursday/Friday of last week many new messages were distributed across inboxes worldwide, and they read exactly the same as the last. So you would assume that the same procedure will follow as the last batch; 10-30 days till the inevitable fall.
Well apparently not according to Matt Cutts. In usual Google fashion, with those lovely intentionally confusing statements they seem to be so proficient at, he said;
“If you received a message yesterday about unnatural links to your site, don’t panic….. Yesterday, we took another step towards more transparency and began sending messages when we distrust some individual links to a 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.”
So basically, the new webmaster tools warning message in essence (and copy) is exactly the same. In their increased ‘transparency’ they are making webmasters aware that they have detected dubious links – those that do not conform to their quality guidelines – pointing to a website. However, unlike last time, this does not necessarily mean that your site will be hit with a penalty.
By my reckoning then, despite the message itself stating that you should act on these links and get them removed, Matt Cutts is actually saying that if you want to, you can ignore them too. Weird eh? Google’s statement of becoming more transparent has actually resulted in a further lack of transparency (isn’t that a paradox?)
So what should you do next if you’ve one of those who have received a warning message? Well, one option is wait it out. We’ve been told by Google that manual penalties have a shelf life; once you’ve served your time it will be removed. No-one seems too sure how long this is. Some say 6 months whilst others say 3. Consequently this is a bit of a risky strategy. Especially as you could just have another penalty applied, or you could still be hit by the recent Penguin algorithm update (which targets dubious backlink profiles, so it will eventually catch up with you anyhow.)
My advice is to be proactive and get cleaning up wherever you can. Base it on the severity of the back links; if you feel you have a good chance of getting all the bad links removed then go for it. Contact webmasters, send out emails, and even speak to people if you can. Be warned though, some directories are beginning to charge to have links removed (you have to appreciate the opportunistic nature here!).
If you can’t remove them all then it might be time to bite the bullet and start all over again with a clean slate. Buy a new domain and move your site over. Yes, you will have to wait a long time to get those rankings back, but at least you’re in control of your own destiny, not Google’s.