This post describes a real experience of how a fellow blogger removed an unnatural links penalty violation and restored his PageRank.
In mid-August, I received a message from a blogging friend stating that he had received a notice from Google in Webmaster Tools indicating that his blog violated Google's quality quidelines. As a result, his blog may or may not appear in search results, or not place as highly in the results. In addition, Google provided him with a specific post.
This type of violation is commonly referred to as an:
"Unnatural Links Penalty".
His blog is hosted on Blogger, is 7 years old, has over 1,000 posts, and enjoyed a PageRank of 3. (Note that out of respect for his privacy, I will not list his name or blog URL).
|Google gets tough on link sellers with PageRank penalty (from venturebeat.com)|
Primarily, my friend's blog is a personal blog, consisting of a variety of stories, opinions, and observations. However, in his attempt to generate revenue, he enrolled in a few "Sponsored Pay per Review" programs and began writing sponsored posts. Thinking that these posts were causing the problem, he changed the included URL's to "nofollow" and asked for reconsideration. That did not help. Further, people told him that it appeared his site was "just selling links" and did not have a consistant theme. These comments were frustrating and disappointing to the blogger.
The first course of action that I took was to understand what steps had already been taken. After learning this, I realized that the penalty was "blog" related and not "post" specific.
So, I began looking at all the widgets and links he had on his sidebar and footings. There, I recommended that he remove all the "Sponsored Post" links and images. Next, I found a link to a gambling site that needed to be removed. Still, the penalty remained.
Finally, I followed the remaining widgets that he placed on the blog. At the bottom was a link to a "Book Review" site. When I visited that site, I saw 2 reviews. Both were reviews of individual posts on his blog with links back to the posts. I realized that this created a "circular" link from his blog, to that site, and back to his blog. Clearly, that was unnatural.
He then removed that advertising widget from his blog and he asked for reconsideration. Within days, he received a message from Google saying that the violation was removed and the penalty would be lifted. At last, the problem was discovered! By the end of the following day, the blog's page rank was restored back to 3 again and all is now well.
Lessons learned - Things to Avoid
Very often, unnatural links can be created out of ignorance. Many times, a blogger or webmaster is simply trying to take advantage of the tools available. This is particularily true for seasoned and experienced authors. However, some blogs and websites are created the with malicious intent to boost their PageRanks and earn a quick buck. While Google can distinguish between the age of the sites, it cannot always tell what the motivation is. Thus, play it safe and try to maintain a clean enviromnent.
From this experience and my previous encounters, my friend and I learned a few important lessons.
- Try to avoid penalties by refraining from violating guidelines entirely. Always err on the side of caution.
- Refrain from writing Sponsored Posts. However, if you do this, make sure that: you begin by saying that you are being paid for the content of the post; and be sure to set each link in that post as "no follow".
- Do Not place links to your blog or website on other websites or blogs. This includes comments.
- Do Not place links to gambling (i.e. those where you can actually gamble or practice gambling) or other prohibited site.
- Enroll your blog or website on Google's Webmaster Tools. By doing this, you can be alerted to violations, rather that operating in the dark.
- Do Not link sub-domains together or to your site. Sub-domains are considered to be unique URLs. When you use and reference sub-domains, you are effectively creating fake circular links.
If you do receive an unnatural links penalty notice, first read and understand Google's content guidelines. Then, follow the advice of this post. You have to think back and remember at all your actions and question everything that you have done. For example: Did you leave your links in comments just to get a backlink?, Did you write Sponsored posts and not indicate it?, Are you using sub-domains?, etc.
One exception to "circular" unnatural links are those you would list in a "Links to My Other Sites" section. These should only be links to other sites that you own, and the heading should be labeled clearly.
Whenever you question one of your links or widgets, flag them as "no follow" or remove them entirely. If you are hesitant to make these type of changes to restore your credibility, then perhaps the violation was intended rather than accidental; and thus, a penalty is warranted.