Jonathan Leger – SEO And Internet Marketing Blog Internet Marketing Blog

10Apr/12Off

Have you been penalized by Google?

With the exception of my own, I don't spend a lot of time posting on forums these days. I'm too busy for that. But I do make it a point to scan the popular SEO and Marketing forums periodically to see what the trends are. I sometimes jump in and post, but not very often.

One trend that I'm seeing a lot of since Google deindexed some well known blog networks is people who think their sites have been penalized by Google for getting links from these "bad" places. It may sound reasonable to believe that getting links from link farms, blog networks or other sites Google doesn't approve of would cause Google to penalize your ranking in the search engine results. But that almost never happens.

Why not?

Think about it: if it was possible for the links coming into your site to cause a penalty and decrease your ranking, then the web would be little more than a never-ending war being waged by webmasters getting spammy links aimed at their competition. Google is far from a perfect search engine, but the people who engineer it aren't stupid, either. So Google's algorithm works by rewarding you for what they consider "quality" links and just ignoring the links that fall outside of that.

So what qualifies as a "quality" link? That's the magic question, isn't it? I can tell you from my own analysis of the search results that Google sets the quality bar on links really low. I see sites ranked on the power of obvious link manipulation, link farms, mass directory submissions, mass article submissions, blog network links, profile links, social bookmarking, you name it. Links that are easily gained through software automation.

Does that mean that Google doesn't reward you more for higher quality links? Not at all! The more links you can get from pages that are related to the content being linked to, pages that themselves also have a solid link profile, the better. Google will reward you with better rankings from better links. But they count the low quality stuff, too.

If what I'm saying is true, then why are there so many webmasters who got links from these now-deindexed networks claiming that their sites have been penalized by Google? Most of the time this is the story:

1. A webmaster got links from a blog network to his site, and his site was ranking well because of those links.

2. Google manually deindexed the blog network, meaning that all of the links the webmaster's site had from that network are no longer counted.

3. Having fewer links being counted, the webmaster's site naturally loses its rankings.

In the eyes of a paranoid webmaster who fears Google's every move, the site has been "penalized." But it hasn't, it's just lost the "link juice" from those pages that are now deindexed, and thereby lost its ranking.

There is a caveat here, though. Some webmasters' own sites got deindexed (or genuinely penalized) in the aftermath of the deindexing of the blog networks. But that doesn't happen because they got links from those networks. That could happen if their site got reviewed because it was getting links from a now-deindexed blog network, and the site was either of low-quality or was using deceptive or spammy search engine optimization tactics on the site itself.

You see, Google won't penalize you for the links that come into your site, but it very well might penalize you for using any shifty on-page SEO or for low quality content. It's the price of fame. When your site rises in the rankings it's much more likely to be reviewed by a human being who might penalize you for bad practices.

What's happening is people are confusing causalities. A webmaster sees their site rankings fall, or the site gets penalized or even deindexed, and they immediately attribute it to the link network they were getting links from. But although the link network may have been what brought the site to Google's attention, it isn't the links themselves that cause the negative action to be taken. As I said before, if that was the case then the web would quickly degenerate into little more than a giant spam-link war between competing site owners.

I've seen this happen with the blog networks that got deindexed, but I've also heard it from my own customers who use my link networks to rank their sites. The link networks do their job and get them good rankings, and next thing you know their site is penalized or deindexed! But again, it wasn't the links or the network that caused the penalty. Every time I've looked into a customer's site who made that claim, inevitably the site either has low-quality content or is using some spammy or deceptive on-page SEO. That means the site got manually reviewed and didn't pass the test.

That's why I advocate using high quality content on your site, and using only squeaky-clean on-page optimization practices. Once that's in place, then get lots and lots of links. Because yes, it's still all about the links.

[ADDED]
Some people are posting comments saying they disagree because they've gotten this message from Google in their Webmaster Tools account:

Subject: Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links to (Removed for Privacy)

Dear site owner or webmaster of (website)

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.

Sincerely,

Google Search Quality Team

Does this mean that Google will actually penalize you for your links? No. It means they suspect you have links they don't like and hope you'll do something about it. Notice the vague language of the message. Your site's pages may be doing something they don't like.

Read this forum post to show that action is not taken directly based on this message.

I'll emphasize this one more time: if Google actually started taking action based on the links coming into your site, they would be starting a spam-link war. They know better than to do that.

[/ADDED]

Please post your thoughts and questions in a comment below.

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Comments (159) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Jon,

    Have you read this:
    http://trafficplanet.com/topic/2369-case-study-negative-seo-results/

    do still think negative SEO isn’t going to be a problem.

    I hope not, but if this is true we might be in for a nasty ride.

    love to hear your thoughts on it.

  2. Google have put the fear into people alright. Content has come to fore and that is a good thing. But there is only so much that google can boss. Too many factors that they can’t control (For now) Create good content, have good backlinks and and take you chance

  3. Google IS penalizing sites beause of ALN or BMR links! ALN takes longer to detect for google and they deindexed just partial yet.

    But clearly the process is ongoing. So wait before you say you are not affected!

    And a drop to > 300 is a penalty and NOT just loosing linkjuice. Examples are everywhere! sites with JUST some ALN backlinks and 3k other links getting penalized! Clearly penalties – longtale traffic is still there! which is typical for penalites.

    Then there is another NEW anchor spam penalty since the January update.. so most mix this TWO different things!

  4. The rules are constantly changing. I don’t think that it is so bad to deindexed private blog networks using just for rank boosting. Anyway when someone loses links and rank, someone else gains. Google changes are dynamic process and without them you would probably have same search results all this years.

  5. Google recently said that links will never penalize “targets”. They can be positive or neutral, not negative. If receiving low quality links could penalize a site, every spammer would volountary massive-link all their competitors..

  6. SEO professionals used to be able to rank sites high with techniques that would now get them penalized or even banished. Since no search engine publishes the techniques that work best, the only way to discover what works and what gets penalized in Google is to do the research. By that I mean experimenting with live sites, not reading the forums.

  7. I can see this happening…

    As I said before, if that was the case then the web would quickly degenerate into little more than a giant spam-link war between competing site owners.

    Wouldn’t that be fun?!?!

  8. So, what it boils down to is votes (links), and something worthwhile (content, design, seo) to vote about.

  9. Like the stock market, nobody really knows whats going on.

  10. Wish I knew how to get the links I need for my site.

  11. Sabotaging a competitor with inbound links is so rarely done because:

    1. It’s expensive.
    2. It’s time consuming.

    You can’t just sink them with a few days of spammy links…it takes months.

    And that’s why Google finally reversed its policy on link spam: sabotage is truly very very rare.

  12. from reading all the posts and forums all over , and then jumping to this post — i think sites with poor content — or — copied content — or sites that are not updated —- but those sites are focusing purely on links to push the ranks up the search engines are getting hit.

    I had experienced the notice on one of my site. i put 3 of my sites to same seo company using same campaign for over 2 months. Out of 3 one of the site got the notice , (5 year old site– with not good content, not updated since 2 years — and just pushing up with links), where as 2 of my other sites just 6 months old — but updated with posts every alternate day — got a jump.

    from what i can make it — if you are adding quality content regularly and also building links — then those sites will survive. Where as if you are focusing on just pushing your sites up with links, ignoring the content and up dations, you are bound to hit.

  13. I’d love to know if you agree that as some are saying that it is not wise to use Google’s webmaster tools and analytics or whether you consider them useful?

  14. Wow lots of useull comments. I believe Google only penalize new sites with spammy links.

  15. Quote:

    “Does this mean that Google will actually penalize you for your links? No. It means they suspect you have links they don’t like and hope you’ll do something about it. Notice the vague language of the message. Your site’s pages may be doing something they don’t like.”

    I don’t think you should presume to know what Google is or is not saying.

    They have been known to be very vague to protect their algorithm integrity – but the fact is they are sending this message to a lot of webmasters. The same webmasters who have been getting their sites penalized a few hours to weeks later. I have yet to see a case where someone got this message and did not get penalized. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, but in the end the site will drop =)

    • I link to an example in the post where the site actually improved it’s ranking.

      • Right, like I said – it can take a few weeks to kick in. Check out many other SEO forums of individuals that got this message and “thought everything was fine.” They call come back a few days to a few weeks later saying their site was indeed hit.

        I made an earlier comment (still in moderation it looks like) that talked about a website I personally did SEO on that got the penalty. We got the message around December 11th, and the site did not get hit until January 6th. But it got hit, and hit VERY hard.

        It doesn’t look like that individual has posted back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he already got hit.

        The longest I’ve personally seen is 6 weeks, but the site did eventually get hit.

        It sucks, alot of people have gotten these messages recently so only time will tell.

        • I think you’re missing the point. His site did the exact opposite of what you’re saying would happen: it went UP in the rankings AFTER getting the message — not down.

          And let me add this: I use link networks, blog networks, profile links, directory links, article submissions, bookmarking sites — you name it — to help rank dozens of sites. Granted I don’t use Webmaster Tools for those sites. But I guarantee you that if I did I would be getting barraged with those “unnatural link” emails. And yet my rankings are holding, and have been for a very long time.

          I just launched a new site recently and used all of those same link building methods on it. Want to know where it ranks? #5 for its primary keywords, #2 for two other keyword phrases. All with “unnatural” links.

          However, my on-page SEO is squeaky clean, and the content is very high quality. From my experience, that’s what prevents you from getting penalized, because from my experience the penalties don’t come from the links themselves.

  16. Hi all, I just found the following on another respected forum and wanted to share. There are some gems below that can benefit all of us.

    After receiving such a notification from Google NEVER do the following:

    1) submit re-consideration
    2) contact Google
    3) remove your backlinks

    1) Never submit reconsideration

    You do not want to send reconsideration to Google EVER.
    Not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow.
    When you send reconsideration to Google you simply ask them to manually check your website, backlinks and history – if you do ANY Black Hat SEO – do you really want Google guys to manually re-check your account?

    2) Contact Google

    Once again – you need to stay under the radar – dont ask Google to manually recheck your website – its suicide in most cases.

    3) Remove your backlinks

    There is only one thing Google hate more than Black Hat SEO:

    -removing content

    Removing content – including links/articles/profiles – can hurt your rankings even more than penalty.
    If you removed it before reading it – leave it as it is. But never remove any backlinks ever again unless you have experience in removing penalties.

    How to protect yourself against it:

    1) Never use the Google Webmaster Tools
    2) Stop using Google Analytics
    3) Get constant backlink source

    1) Never use the Google Webmaster Tools

    Using Webmaster Tools is like asking Google if your Black Hat backlinks are good enough.
    You cannot mix the Webmaster Tools and Black Hat in any possible way – it is asking for problems sooner or later.
    Remove it right away!

    2) Stop using Google Analytics

    Google analytics are embed in your code – they not only see number of visitors and source of them – but also bounce rate (crucial indicator post-Panda), your code, your methods and all information they need to evaluate you.
    Remove it ASAP and find other visitor counter that is free.

    3) Get constant backlink source

    Never stop your backlinking campaign, even if you are #1.
    Constant backlinks is what matters now.
    Dont run from campaign to campaign – you need constant backlink source to dilute your main backlink campaigns.

    Google since few weeks wont accept Black Hat within Webmaster Tools or Analytics anymore. After years of guiding your backlink campaigns they decided to punish all websites in the system.
    Never again add them if you do any link building – you will get in to troubles sooner or later.

    Remove Unusual Backlink Activity penalty from your website:

    Method that gives me 90% Webmaster Tools Unnatural Links penalty removal:

    1) Remove Anaytics and Webmaster Tools from your website – close the accounts.

    2) Create a bunch of quality (mostly high PR) backlinks – many quality providers over BST.

    3) 3 days afterwards of removing those accounts submit your site to Whois sites (free) or Bookmarking sites (safer) (Whois submission can be done for free using tools available on BHW – second one can be done buying $5 worth of Bookmarks).

    4) 5 days afterwards change a bit your meta description, title or keywords – any change, even small is good enough (remove or add something there).

    5) 7 days afterwards submit your site to Whois or Bookmarking sites again.

    6) After 24 hours your site will be back on its position and everything will be back to normal.

    • Pretty outdated IMO.

      It’s pretty obvious Google knows what’s going on with your site regardless if you’ve got analytics on it or not.

      Don’t really agree with most everything posted there.

      • I’d love to see some proof to the contrary. I’ve linked to proof of an SEOMoz case study that what I’m saying is true.

        • Hi Jonathan,

          I received the “Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links to …” message in December, and I just found out when I logged into Webmaster Tools.

          All of my keywords for have dropped from page 1 to page 10 to not ranking at all since mid December. Should I submit the reconsideration request or not?

          Please help.

  17. Jon,

    I would have agreed with you 2-3 months ago, but right now what you are saying it’s just simply not the case anymore. Google IS penalizing sites merely for their link profiles, regardless of how good their website is.

    Case in point: I helped on the SEO efforts for a very high quality site in an extremely competitive market. Over $1,000,000 (yes, million) was spent on professional design, content, and user friendly site architecture. All of the articles were written by highly paid writers and journalists. The site was a major authority in it’s market, we were ranked for some pretty crazy phrases.

    Before I came on to the scene, this website had hired another SEO company that did some pretty crazy things like tons of scrapebox comments, forum profiles, and mass blog network links.

    With that said, the site also had a large plethora of super high quality editorial links from major websites and we also had a huge guest blogging campaign on the site.

    A few months ago the site was penalized for the “unnatural” link thing. We got the message in webmaster tools, and shortly after most of our highly sought after rankings were off page 1.

    Now here’s the KICKER. We sent in a reconsideration request, and the response was pretty eye opening. They actually gave us LIVE EXAMPLES of what links were CAUSING THE PENALTY. They were the spammy scrapebox and forum profile links that previous SEO company had built. Even if these links were devalued (which I’m sure they were), our high quality links should have been more than enough to keep us ranked highly on several terms that were now in the dumps. It’s pretty clear the site has a penalty, and Google gave us the reason: spammy link profile.

    I decided to try this test on one of my personal sites. The site had lots of high quality links pointing to it, good rankings and income, etc for over 12 months. I started blasting the site with ALN campaigns and 45 days later I got the unnatural link penalty. I made sure I documented the links I received from these campaigns, so I sent in all of those links with a Google doc to Google’s reconsideration request team. I explained that I had not built these links, and the request was approved and my rankings restored.

    I think anyone in my position would have come to the same conclusion: Google is now penalizing for link profiles. I’m not sure what the future holds, I will never try to kill my competitors, but I’m sure for every ethical person there are 100′s of non-ethical people. Scary stuff.

    • That’s interesting, because I’ve got sites ranking using blog networks, link networks, profile links, etc. They’ve been ranked for a very long time, and remain ranked. Some that I’ve used those links on recently are moving up rapidly in the rankings.

      However, I don’t use Webmaster Tools. I don’t use Analytics. I don’t give Google any more information on my sites than I absolutely have to.

      Perhaps that’s the difference.

      • Yea it seems to be pretty random. I’ve also got about 75 personal sites I started working on this time last year… they all use the same backlink types (lots of blog networks, article directories, guest posting, profiles, some scrapebox here and there, etc). 12 out of the 75 got hit, no rhyme or reason to it. No pattern whatsoever.

        None of them use any type of Google products (although I do have personal sites that DO use Google products, those 75 sites do not).

        I think that’s why you see a split in the forums…some people saying Google is going on a rampage, and others shrugging because nothing has happened to them.

        It’s anyone’s guess as to what they are doing. My opinion is that they have hired a 3rd party company to hit sites manually (like they do for their search quality information). If it was an algorithmic thing, you’d see any/every site that use the same backlink profile get penalized. The fact that we are seeing some sites get through means it has to be human intervention. Computers wouldn’t miss sites.

        Personally, I think they are penalties – mostly because Google is pretty much telling us they are penalties. Google sends bad letter, site loses rankings. Pretty obvious to me.

        We’ll see once the dust settles (if it settles).

  18. Jonathan, I just had three sites deindexed by google with the unnatural link comment. All three sites have been number one on google for the past 7 month’s for their respective key words. They are no longer in the running. I used manual link activity at the beginning, they ranked high and then I added links using UAW and Article Marketing Robot. I have not added links for over 3 month’s. I think they are penalizing links and they are determining if links are natural or not using their own algorithms.

    • Care to share the domain name? I’ve never seen a site deindexed if it wasn’t doing some deceptive on-page SEO.

      • Jonathan, I’ll share my personal case with you in private, not public. I know that I have not done any deceptive on-page SEO.

        In my particular case, the site has not been de-indexed, but rankings have dropped like a moon crater into the ocean – today, I dropped another two pages of Google’s SERP’s for a term I used to be about #5 or #6 on page 1, for years.

    • one of the sites is mensflaredjeans.com and another is bestcoffeemaker2011.org and onlinestrobelight.net

      Thanks for looking

      • Your sites are not deindexed.

        They probably got penalized because they are super thin sites that do not add any value to the search engine. These are the sites Google has been targeting for a couple years now. They never last long, especially once they get some decent rankings and traffic and show their ugly faces on the Google radar.

        • Thanks for the advice. Ugly faces is a little harsh. however, I will look into the matter further. I have been following a mentor, that is very successful with these types of sites. According to webmaster tools they have no content that is non-index able.

      • I’m afraid I have to agree with Joey (though not as harshly). A Google reviewer looking at a site like that because of a spammy link profile would probably penalize it. It offers little additional value to the visitor.

        • Thanks Jonathan

          Constructive criticism is OK, disrespect is not. a year at this is not an expert to me.

          “I’ve also got about 75 personal sites I started working on this time last year… they all use the same backlink types (lots of blog networks, article directories, guest posting, profiles, some scrapebox here and there, etc). 12 out of the 75 got hit, no rhyme or reason to it. No pattern whatsoever. ” as stated by Joey

          I do appreciate your advice and will work on adding value.

          • I think you misunderstood what I said. I started those 75 sites a year ago, I’ve been doing SEO for almost a decade. Still I’m not saying I’m an expert but I felt the need to correct you on that one =)

            I’m not sure why you think I was disrespecting you in any way. Google penalized your sites because they added no value to searchers. It happens all the time. Those thin “xfactor” MFA’s have been targeted on Google’s radar for the past 2-3 years. I’m not saying that to be harsh, I’m actually trying to help you out here. If you want a longer term sustainable income from adsense, you need to steer clear of those sites.

            In order to succeed long term (especially now) you need to build sites that help the searcher, and offer solutions. Check out sites in your niche that are ranked high and offer a lot of value. Try to emulate their efforts. It might take longer to get desired results, but you won’t live in fear of getting your sites penalized.

  19. A year ago, I would have agreed with you. However, I am not so certain anymore. There is a video in which Matt Cutts discusses the fact that Google “used to say” that backlinks would not hurt you, but that they have changed the language. He also said that it is possible in the future that a webmaster might be able to fill out a form and report what they suspect are “bad” backlinks being built to their website by a competitor for the purpose of giving one a penalty.

    I do not recall his exact words, but it was pretty obvious that he was admitting it was possible that some backlinking efforts could penalize a site.

    I have also seen a website, where Google “discovered” thousands upon thousands of “new links” drop like a rock in the SERP’s (although no warning message has been received from Google) – these are actually links in page navigation (the site has thousands of pages and has been a high quality site since 2001), where somehow Google discovered the server name as well as the IP address – so in fact, it is treating those links as external links to the site, when the reality is they are just aliases.

    The odd thing is there are no links to those aliases anywhere so how Google discovered them is really strange. But I do know this – in a one month period, the number of backlinks Google found to the site URL increased hugely – and at the same time, rankings for keywords the site used to rank very highly on, dropped considerably.. I’m talking from Page 1 to Page 5.

    That tells me there is some kind of penalty going on. The website has not suddenly become a “low quality” site. There are hundreds upon hundreds of well written content articles – with many compliments from actual humans that visit the site.

  20. This is a really great post. As an SEO company I’ve had links from sites that were once great websites and used White hat seo go to awful websites because they got greedy and started using black hat. The sites got deindexed but I never saw any declines in my positioning or PR from it.

    I think that it’s about on page content that keeps you safe when something like happens. If you keep your content fresh and consistent, then you will have nothing to worry about.

    • I think that on page content does not keep you safe completely. I got an “unnatural backlink warning” in March 2012 for a daily updated site in 5 languages, with more than 8k indexed pages. The content of the site is completely unique and safe with great on-page SEO.

      I have seen see some drop in rankings but not too bad (for instance the rank for the same keyword dropped in USA but not in UK and vice-versa) and in some other countries (such as Australia) the rank for the same keyword even improved.

      What I did – I removed the BMR links and I sent a penalty lifting request and frankly admitted to use BMR for linkbuilding.

      They said that the site still had some unnatural links and sent me various examples of those spammy links – one of them being a completely harmless comment on a content related website but the post under which my comment was was flooded with spammy automatic comment backlinks.

      I removed the other links built by a VA using Fiverr gigs and sent a new penalty removal request. Still waiting for the answer…

      I use both Analytics and Webmaster Tools and each day about 10 new pages of content are added to the site. The site is also a good Adsense earner.

      So I think that noone is safe but if you have good content it may somewhat “decrease or offset” the penalty impact.

  21. Wow very insightful article I learned a lot, still trying to get the hang of this SEO thing and this post helped.

  22. Great post and lots of great comments to read here too. Can anyone lay out a plan like Step 1, Step 2 etc. in order to get long term rankings and build a diversity of links the correct way?

  23. One argument for adding your site to Analytics at the very least is if you plan on selling your site in the future. Most website brokers / auctions like G Analytics info to assess the site.

  24. I completely understand the reasoning, but it does little to those who are the collateral damage. How about we just use BING?

  25. Jon, you’ve always instructed to vary your anchor text so you don’t throw up any red flags at Google. If using the same anchor text for every link can hurt your site, why couldn’t it hurt someone else? If Google won’t penalize me for the links coming to my site, why do i vary anchor text?

    • If you don’t vary your anchor text then the links that you built might be ignored. You don’t want those links ignored. But who cares if the spam links built by others are ignored?

  26. Hi Jon,

    Excelent article! You mentioned something that caught my attention and would like to see if you can elaborate it a bit more:

    “spammy or deceptive on-page SEO” VS “squeaky-clean on-page optimization”

    Where’s the line between these two? How do I know my onpage SEO is spammy or deceptive and when it’s squeaky-clean? It would be great if you could explain the “do’s” and “don’t do’s” regarding onpage SEO. Maybe a new post regarding this? Would be awesome!

    My onpage SEO regularly consists of the following, trying to miss a few here and there to not make my site “perfect”:

    - Keyword included in H1, H2 and H3 tags, H1 being the post title.
    - Keyword included somewhere near the beginning and end of post.
    - Trying to reach at least 1.5% keyword density.
    - Keyword included in the URL.
    - Keyword included one or two times in the description metatag.
    - I try to make the article as long as possible, minimum around 400 words, but if – I can reach 1000 to 1500, better.
    - I try to have at least one image with keyword in the ALT tag.
    - I include a few outgoing links to my own site, one with the keyword as anchor text and some others with related keywords to my other posts.
    - I include a few outgoing links to other authority sites, such as wikipedia, yahoo answers and a few to other authority sites with relevant content, at least one with keyword in anchor text, most include the no-follow but sometimes I do-follow when I think the other site is really good.

    Mainly that’s all I do for onpage SEO, always do original content and 100% readable to the human. If link density causes it to read spammy, I prefer to sacrifice keyword density.

    Is this onpage SEO practice OK? Where does it fall in your eyes? spammy or deceptive or squeaky-clean or in between?

    What do you do to optimize your onpage SEO?

    Thanks Jon!

    Checo

  27. I have heard about stories of other people on blog networks having their sites de-indexed, were basically those that are churning on lots of thinly spunned articles. Many blog network these days are spammed by inconsiderate spammers, I think that is one of the reasons google doesn’t want to count them at all.

  28. Jon,
    I was using one of the networking blog which got deindexed and several of my sites lost ranking in the eyes of Google. What do you think of using sites like Social Monkey, Linking Made Easy, IMAutomator, and paying services like Backlink Sevices to get backlinks to a site?

    Larry

  29. Thank You I totally agree. I have been saying the same thing. I think the emails were a scare tactic. If they assigned a negative value to links from a Blog Network or any links for that matter there would be Rogue SEO’s out there taking out there competition instead of competing with them.

  30. Why are we so obsessed with Google!
    Just create good sites and content and over time things should
    work out.
    The bottom line is no one really knows what the Google algo does and everything you read is speculation at best.

    From the Webmaster Tools report it seems like Google also uses their free
    tools to keep an eye on what you are doing. Their tools are great if you are not
    doing anything that THEY consider suspicious but I really don’t like that aspect of this company…you never know when they are going to do something that will affect your site rankings and most of the time it’s not your fault at all!

    Remember Google NEVER deletes data completely…they keep everything andy they can track everything you do once you are in their “matrix”!

    You are right though…don’t give Google too much information about your sites.
    maybe it’s best to use third party or open source analytical tools.

  31. Jon, Do you submit your $ sites to Google
    Webmaster tools or use G analytics. I’ve seen
    Both sides of this and interested in your
    thoughts. I do for various reasons…mainly cause I get insight
    to how G perceives my site and kw’s that are
    Low hanging fruit.

    • Nope. I don’t give Google more information than they absolutely have to have.

      • Thank you so much for answering that. I have been wanting to know. I have written in another post that while I don’t consider Google “evil”, I just don’t feel comfortable with them or anyone having so much information about my online life. I came to this realization that I need to start closing some Google stuff. But as Deacon pointed out, they probably still have all the stuff I have deleted. :)

        BTW, I TOTALLY agree with your post and what you are saying.

        On the other hand, some of the marketers posting here probably think there is nothing wrong with their content or site and are, therefore, confused about it.

        I just unsubscribed from a marketer who made a statement that it was okay to send out badly spun content to places that syndicate spun content because it was just link juice. And to use higher quality when posting to your site. So what he was stating is: that some bad content is okay to put out there. I TOTALLY disagree with that, so I am thinking that he really doesn’t “get it.”

        So you need to be careful of what kind of stuff is being automatically posted to YOUR site.

        Jonathan, thank you so much for being one of the few who cut through the junk out there.

  32. Hi Jonh,

    You already answers to some of my question about loosing backlinks.
    I agree that we should have best quality content (that’s why i join the thriftycontent network ) and get link from those relevant sites.

    My focus now is on the good content and pull in people with those useful article for long term success.

    This is great share,
    CEO

  33. I was deindex,remove 3way links and affiliate links , was reapproved then deindex again in few more days, resubmitted and wAs told site was full of scraped content (some what true but was the manafactors specs on items I was reselling). I did noting now I am reindexed…. They sent approval emails then turned around and sent disapproved emails. Silly stuff
    Google=goofy they are using scare tactis. if you site is iffy and it gets z manual review then it most likely will be deindex. .. but who knows for how long :)
    As I said they getting goofy

  34. Fantastic post Jonathan!! I totally agree with everything you say and I’m totally sure of that.

    As a result of this paranoia, I just find it is even easier to rank for what I consider competitive keywords; it appears that a bunch of webmasters are not using Blog Networks anymore and that makes it easier to rank for “US” that still use them.

    I’ve seem IM’s I used to trust posting about this issue and it is unfortunate for those that believe this… I use Blog Networks to rank my sites and none of my sites have been penalized… You, of course, need to diversify your links…

    DJBory

  35. Hi Jon, I appreciate your voice of reason in the midst of the Google Panda madness. What you have been saying through this post, and others, regarding back links makes perfect sense. I am seeing much of the same you are in regards to older back links that are still doing their job even though they might not be considered the best of the best. Have an awesome day!

    Rex

  36. Very good points – one of my new clients just got exactly the same email.
    Well. now I will have to help them out to over come that. – Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  37. I use this great plug-in called 1-Click WP SEO to optimize posts for on-page SEO shown at this link http://1clickwpseo.com/.

    Do you think Google would see this as deceptive on page SEO practices at all?

  38. Maybe a quick lesson on spammy and deceptive on-page SEO is in order. I think the terms need to be further defined.

  39. Yes Jonathan you are spot on.
    We dont know Googles ways
    that is why i throw a big net.
    sometimes they just lower links from a certain place
    say ezine articles after Panda
    they didnt de index. lets say lowered the link juice 45%
    so by being lowered and if you were heavy in that area you went down
    and say someone not so much went up.
    panda was ezine, this one blog net works next week pinterest…spread the net wide so you are not heavy in any one item..except google news and you tube videos..that just keeps going up in juice and authority
    Don
    Maui,HI
    ps. my sites stayed at #1 or the few went up..none down

  40. Thanks again Jon for your excellent information. I don’t really understand how Google recognises quality content. Some say if it’s relevant to your site and has the keyword recognised it will be accepted.
    I follow a system and my sites are doing OK.
    I appreciate all the info you provide.
    Janny

  41. always Google’s messages are vague. once they penalized one of my sites,,i struggled a lot to find the issue but it did not work. in the end i had to delete- it and reinstall everything from scratch.

  42. I agree with you Jon. Just because a site drops in rankings coinciding with a Google manipulation does not mean that the site itself has done anything wrong. Very often, this is due to linking sites being de-indexed, thus reducing the number of links to your page, in turn possibly creating less links than other competing sites.

    Your explanation is very valid and is to be respected. Thanks for not being backward in coming forward :-)

    Barry

  43. 1 year ago I would have agreed, but having experienced this first hand, I disagree with the article. I have had my own sites as well as a few client sites (quality sites) receive the ‘unnatural links’ message and get -50 to -150. some degradations were across the board on all keywords while others were keyword specific. I also know about 10 other seo providers that it happened to as well. Sure, deindexed links no longer counting will cause a site to drop, but I believe it is also possible that too many links being deindexed at once combined with a low number of quality links can absolutely cause a penalty, even on super high quality sites with lots of good content.

    • Hi Vinnie,

      I agree with you fully. Recently, i also have sites that got deindexed. I suspected that people who got deindexed recently, are also people who has lost their adsense account.

      No one know for sure what Google thinks. And more importantly, for those that have not being affected at the moment does not mean that they are safe, it merely just meant that Google had not caught up with you.

      I have also check quite a few niches where spammy sites are still topping the top 3 position.

      Its just a matter of time. Folks, check your site contents again, most trouble imho begin here.

  44. i write my own content also my native is not an english but i target my region and writing content for my regional visitors. But i am sure all those content written by me not meet google’s content quality guidelines. Just fearing when my site de indexed!!!

  45. Thank’s for this article Jon, a lot of people are confused about linking and content, and this article has given the answers that people need to know.

  46. Hey John,

    I do absolutely agree with your post and it really makes sense. If Google would penalize every site that has unnatural links, I would give my competitor thousands of spammy links using automated software. I also tested it on my own. I built 500 links in one day to my established website and nothing happened. My site just had to dance and I believe it will back to top ranking.

    My site is a good quality site which has unique and good content. And in my opinion, spammy links will only affect spammy websites.

    Best,
    Yudhistira

  47. That is why i always preach this, quality content always rule! This is one fact that will never change in Google algorithm. Search engine is all about quality content that searchers wanted to search on.

  48. Many webmasters who received the notification you pasted above (about bad links) saw subsequent sandboxings, or drops in rankings seemingly disproportional to the number of links they may have had devalued due to the warnings.

    SEOMoz talked a bit about the kind of penalties that people are receiving for these bad links (and how you can fix them)

    http://www.seomoz.org/blog/unnatural-link-warnings-blog-networks-advice

    As did Ryan at Linkbuildr: http://www.linkbuildr.com/detected-unnatural-links-notice-from-google/

    (Where he also states “There are still a lot of people who claim that links cannot hurt your rankings, there are also a lot of people who believe in all sorts of fairy tales. Google’s guidelines on link schemes (http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66356) clearly state that you can be kicked in the ass (loss of rankings) if you’re heavily gaming their algo.”

    Further, Dan & Marc did a great post on Google’s change in public stance as to whether other people can harm your site by building bad links: http://www.theimalliance.com/what-direction-is-google-taking

    Note their current stance: “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.”… They “work hard to prevent it”, but… but what? It still happens a lot? Interesting. http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=34449

    Finally, I’ve met guys in person who run 8 figure businesses on the back of SEO and they’ve freely admitted that link bombing their competitors with spam is an effective and consistent part of their SEO strategy.

    Personally, I don’t think there is much left to the argument that “competitors can’t harm your rankings”.

    Andrew

    • Well SEOMoz is certainly speaking out of both sides of their mouth here. Because I link to their post from late February showing actual proof that spam links work like a champ in Google. I’m more inclined to listen to that post because it actually shows evidence. The one you link to is just somebody’s opinion.

      As far as where Google is heading in terms of dealing with “overoptimization”, do you realize that they’ve been saying that for years? And yet ultra-spam-linked sites still rank all over the map. Google can make those claims as they please, but they have to seriously improve their algo’s ability to separate the wheat from the chaff before they can actually back those claims up with proof. I hope they do accomplish that some day so that webmasters will be forced to focus on quality, but so far I’m just not seeing it.

      Finally, as to the people you’ve met who say they bring down competition with link bombs, that’s again a confusing of causalities. If a site is doing something shifty, and a less scrupulous SEOer knows it, they can get Google’s attention by bombing the site with spammy links. Get the site into Google’s radar, get a large enough portion of their links deindedex, and voila! They lose their rankings.

  49. I think things have changed. What you’re saying use to be true. I’m not sure it is any more.

    After getting the “unnatural link building email” that so many others got, I’ve seen SOME of my keywords take a noise dive. One large site that got the email has seen traffic fall from 3000 visitors a day to 1000.

    There could be other factors. I think I had a lot of low engagement traffic from the Philippines. Honestly, I never wanted that traffic. :) That traffic has fallen off a lot. Google is clearly watching search results and use of the back button. Many Filipinos cannot read what I write. Many can but many cannot.

    However, are you aware that Matt Cutts has stated clearly that Google is now looking at “over optimization” and he clearly said too many link exchanges would be over optimization. Now he claims that they have not rolled it out yet or at least implied that. Yes, he indicated Google was looking to introduce negative SEO. His quote can be found in the link for the post.

    If Google is doing or does this, it wont end well. Because then people will start building links to their competitors rather than their own sites.

  50. Hi, Jonathan

    I completely agree with your opinion. In fact, my site rank higher than before after the famous blog network work de-indexed – Traffic Doubled. The reason is because I not solely building links by blog network, I use web 2.0, article directory,forum profile. The links from blog network is only part of them.

    For site dropped, as you said its very possible for other reason, or simply you count blognetwork too much. The sites of blog network down or de-indexed, you links are gone. So I don’t know why google shouldn’t drop you if that’s the case.

    Also for the links penalty, I guess it would never happen. Reason is what jonathan said. If that happen, google will be more crazy than now.

    By the way, keep your content qulity is very good to protect you from penalty.

    Thanks jonathan for your clearing point.

    regards

  51. Thanks Jon for this great post.

    Maybe the next great post could be “a recommended solid backlink strategy”, would be really appreciated. Thanks.

  52. I’m between two stools here. Content is certainly a bigger factor than it used to be – but the balance between content and links – links still wins. I think it unlikely that links will ever play less than a very important part of your websites serps ranking – but content is on the rise.

    I’m pretty certain of this as I have old sites (1997 some from 1998) that have risen dramatically in the last 15 months. THey are hobby sites that I have NEVER gamed a single link to. I use TT or MS to check the links and maybe 1 or 2 have been added inthe past year..if that..but I have added content. One has gone from being on page 8 in 2010 to number 4 on page one since November 2011 and it’s still there now.

    It’s a cruddy old site, HTML coded, not updated internally at all since 2003 just content added when I had the chance since 2010 and it – and a couple of others have SURGED past established and well linked opposition for very competitive keywords without a single link being added by me. This site has a PR of 4 (probably most to do with age) but it has gone past sites with PR of 5. When I check the URL’s it’s surpassed they have one thing in common.

    VERY LITTLE CONTENT on the URL in question. Basically just a brochure page. They are nicely done, really good layouts – up to date with great photo’s and Java slideshows and all the bells and whistles – but probably less than 150 words of “copperplate” “Welcome to our site” type text. Mine has around 5,500 words on the main page and one cruddy image that’s been there 15 years.

    It’s an overtly commercial keyword it’s ranking for, so I’ve remontized it (and the 2 or 3 more that have dome similarly but not quite so well) and they are now poundung in the dollars. With not a link made by me in many years. And as I say – only 2 or 3 made by anyone else in literally years

    So content is king. Links are vital for sure. Essp for sites without the age of mine maybe (age = trust) but content rules.

    It’s always been Googles intent to rank by content. One they have paraded loudly and proudly ever sine they started. Many of us in IM were flabbergasted in 2000 when it became clear that they were “fibbing” (to put it mildly) and content was not the main ranking factor – links outweighed content 4-1 (80-20) as a SERPS factor by my maths. But they HAVE been trying to redress that balance ever since. I think it’s now 55-45. LInks still number one – but content FAR more valuable than it was – and whose to say this is the end of the rebalancing.

    Remember – you own your conent. You don’t directly own or control your links (unless you have built up your own network of individually hosted sites for linking reasons). I would much rather be measured on my content than my links -and lose by simply being “outspammed” by someone with a cruddy website and Xrumer to power them up.

    I think Google see this as a problem as well and rather than “punish” for links (which they could never effectively do – you could just spam your competitors if that worked) they just alter the balance ans say “Ok – we can’t verify the providence of every link on the web – not when people are capable of making hundreds of thousands of links a day with a 90 buck tool – so we’ll devalue them in our algorithm and take a closer look at the content instead”

  53. Maybe content is queen and links is king. Whichever way one looks at it, both are very important.

    However, no matter how fantastic the content is, Google won’t flood a site with visitors without backlinks endorsements and that does NOT stop Google from penalizing with for bad links.

    We can’t let scare tactics stop us from building links; we just have to find the ethical balance.
    Thanks for the post Jon.

  54. great insight Jon.. as always. so you were saying now quality backlinks are the king, not content.

  55. Hi Jon, firtly in my opinion your offering hard core and solid advice. Well done you as its kind of your responibilty as a role model to be confident and research your material before adding more to the SEO madness that already exists. 100% top quality advice and your followers should listen to you. I GOT BANNED two weeks ago after being #1 in Google.co.uk for over 3 YEARS for the term “google speciliast’ and sticky at #1 for over a year for ‘google seo expert’. I published some poor quality content on my site showing how i got over 200 page 1 spots with anew domain in just two weeks and made £50 amazon sales. I too had old links on SEOLxxxvine and sudenly got de-indexed. I too think that bad links got me reviewed and my ecommerce/affiliate case study to test the bar got me banned.
    Jon is right, sort out your content and then drive links.

  56. I’ve created so many quality content, but Google push out my SERP. When I try to optimize my keywords, I add some backlinks, and the results? They put me on sandbox! :(

    What must I do John?

  57. Content is The King, you are right Jon.
    Many bloggers are trying to spin their PLR but they never check whether the content has become a stacking of words without meaning or at least so many
    errors in its grammar.
    They want fast result to fulfill the demand for updating their blogs, but then they neglect to speak good language that Google like.
    That is also one or another way that Google penalize a site, because their content has been spun with just a simple spinner software without good result.
    But just ask Jon….if they want to know the secret…

  58. You said right google will never penalize for getting too many low quality links. My own website is penalized by google and I even don’t know the reason.

  59. I really disagree!
    I received the webmaster tools penalization message like a week ago on a site of my local business which I’ve never used for affiliate programs or that kind of stuff, just original good content about architectural visualization, I participated in 3 blog networks, I think that’s the reason, will send my site to reconsideration to see if I can get my rankings back

  60. Hi Jon,
    Your email really hits the spot. I have close to 30 Amazon sites penalized with manual ban by Google about 2 1/2 months ago and am now working to rebuild them up with more original contents and backlinks. Sadly though only one site managed to safely come out of their ‘bad boy’ list so far and now starts to slowly making small volume of sales.

    I totally agree with what you wrote here and this has also been my strategy to rebuild my sites thus far.

    ‘Here to your success and mine.

    p.s. – stay out of link scheme, namely something that sound like ‘the first three letters of the alphabet’.

  61. I am breathing one big sigh of relief, thanks so much for that article John, I feel much better now!

  62. Read your story, I was more enlightened. So far, I guess how Google works, and have not been able to find the answer. Some facts that I have:

    1. I have blog that is clear from paid links but I practiced the on page SEO (H1, H2, H3, set 5% keyword density, link to outside, inside links, etc) but now have been deindexed by Google.

    2. My other blog, a coupon site, I can say that 100% of its contents are affiliate posts with no more than 100 words of sentences and the rest just affiliate links. It uses both auto back link and auto posting software (I think it’s very dirty). But until now it still have a good ranking.

    3. My new blog, containing not more than 20 posts and I make it naturally. I give only ONE keyword in bold and one with underline, now it has good ranking and get more traffic from search engines.
    Do those support your analysis?

  63. Jon, Thank you for your very valuable article and leading interesting discussion. Now, I need digest them -:)

  64. Will there ever be a new form of search to topple Google from its current position? Having such a dominant provider of search across the Internet is surely not healthy?

  65. looks now need to wait and analyzed backlinks at top10 results, what is work and what is not. But current google search results is really not useful, most of big sites and everything in broad search mode now.

  66. Jonathan, This question may be off from your conversation, but I’ve noticed I cannot get into Google Blogger, Analytics, Adsense and Webmaster Tools anymore. I’ve tried to get in a few times but didn’t succeed. I got a 404 not found and sometimes it takes me to a butterfly site. Do you have any answers to these questions? This is very strange.

  67. Do you recommend signing up for Google webmaster tools? Your link above raises this matter on the thread and I wondered what your thoughts about this were.

  68. Phew it’s really a relief after reading this post. Glad to see that Google is more realistic and reasonable than I thought.

  69. Thanks for the great post Jon. I generally agree with what you are saying. However, I just read the following post yesterday and I am wondering what you are thinking of it: http://www.theimalliance.com/what-direction-is-google-taking

  70. I absolutely agree Jonathan! Google won’t penalize your because it has a link from a spammy site. It would be true I’m now creating a few spammy site and link all my competitors one by one :)

  71. Hi John,
    Awesome post!!!
    I agree with you whether you talk about quality content or back links…both have their importance to stand in Google so we can’t avoid any of these…
    One more thing one of my site was doing very great and I was adding good content to it…..but suddenly Google de-indexed it by saying site-map is not found just because my hosting was going through with some crisis…..I need your help….is there any way to re-index my site again in Google????
    Thanks!

  72. Hi Jonathan,

    I agree for exactly the same reasons – site A cannot negatively effect the rankings of site B by linking to it. It is a long silly story which I won’t go into much, but I am preparing for a court case where I have been accused of negatively effecting a company by linking to their site!!!!! Yes it is ridiculous.

  73. Absolutely agree John! I really wish people would stop the scare tactics and all. This is SEO, not politics! All one needs to do is go look at the backlink profile of a top ranked site in a competitive niche and the answers are right in front of them. But I guess that takes too much (cough) work (cough). Thanks!

    • Bill, you’re absolutely right, but if I can add my 2 cent, just to be on the safe side I’ve decided that from now on I’ll never give again my data to Google through Google analytics or webmaster tools. I’m in the process of installing Piwik, that is a free alternative to analytics, and as soon as it’s ready I will remove all of my websites from analytics. I don’t trust Google anymore, they can tell you whatever they want but nothing could stop them to use against you the data you give to them. Honestly, none of my websites has been penalized but I think that the less they know about you and the better is.

    • Bill is right! Build great link profile and combine with good content and the ranks will come!

  74. Jon,

    As usual, you are right on in this blog post!

    I can actually say that I have not been penalized, but I owe that to you! I follow your every suggestion and continue to post new content to both my affiliate sites and my writing sites, and so far have had no problem with ‘G’!

    Certain ones of my sites have link backs coming from 1-Way and 3-Way, EZarticle! This is due to a former partner well known on your forum!

    Bottom line is follow the rules, add new content on a regular basis, and the rest will be as it was or better!

    I may not be so fortunate if I was not an active member of your forum, and did not keep up with your advice~

    Thanks Jon for all the help you have given me!

    HoneyJo

  75. I totally agree with you Jon. We all need backlinks…then and now. Google can try to scare us (and yes I admit I was for a few days…) but now I am not. I have many sites and have watched to see if any would get the chop.

    I also received a couple of ‘naughty webmaster emails’ but they were on sites with hardly any backlinks!

    The ‘links/backlinks’ word has so many people terrified, but that is what keeps the world wide web alive and kicking.

    Sure, it can be used to manipulate PageRank, but not all of them are and links of any kind are just links. We can link to and from who ever we want and to have Google ask us what we are doing only proves to me that they don’t really know.

    So then they add to the fire and start de-indexing sites to ‘scare’ more webmasters. These webmasters then hit the forums and internet marketing blogs with cries for help! In turn other webmasters hear their cries and also get scared….and so the domino effect grows.

    It kind of reminds me of the bullies at school picking on the weaker kids. They sit back grinning while the little guys cry.

    Who knows where it will end…but I for one sometimes wish the masses would take control instead of succumbing to the bully.

  76. I was one of the many 1000′s ( and I heard it is now over 700K) that received the “Dear site owner or webmaster of http://yourdomain.com/,
    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.”

    2 of my sites received this message and one was our own personal eCommerce business. My eCom site rec’d the notice in Mid-Dec 2011 and the other site rec’d a notice in late Feb 2012.

    The eCommerce site is a typical product site that features products that we make. All pages are product descriptions and pictures so the content is not crap. The other site was not the best content but not actual crap.

    Both sites had some backlinks but not what I would call really excessive and had all types of links. However there were no links from the blog networks that got de-indexed.

    Both sites were my only sites with Google’s webmaster tools. As soon as I received the notices these 2 sites went from page 1 to page 8 or 9 for the main keyword so I can only believe that I was immediately penalized for what Google characterized as unnatural links. Again this happened to the sites one in Dec 2011 and one in Late Feb 2012.

    I am not so sure that these sites were penalized for the types of links because I have other sites that received links from basically the same sources and have not dropped in rankings. However what I think may have been the problem is that I did not vary the anchor text enough. This is especially true for the eCommerce site and I think 80% + of the links had the same anchor text. Yes I know, really stupid of me, but I have learned that lesson. VARY YOUR ANCHOR TEXT!!!

    I did not contact Google because I felt they were full of B.S. and I have just stopped backlinking totally to seen what would happen. I also did not change any of the content on either of the sites as I wanted to get a true test of what would happen if I need nothing.

    My eCom site has moved up in ranking from in the mid 90′s to as high as the 39. Again I stopped all backilinking and did nothing with the site’s content. My other site has moved from the mid 40′s to now ranking 15, and again with no further backlinking and no additional content. This site jumped from 29 to 15 just after I deleted it from Google Webmaster tools. Coincidence, maybe, but I am done with Google Webmaster tool!!

    That is my ranking/backlinking experience with these 2 sites. Were these 2 sites penalized for backlinking Google did not approve of – absolutely.

    I am going to wait one more month with no backlinking just to see what happens and then start backlinking slowly but with a lot more variance in the anchor text. I really need to get our eCommerce site back to page 1.

    • There is another marketer known as Chris Rempel who sent out an email last week saying exactly what you said. If your site is connected to Webmaster Tools you are inherently showing Google everything about it. Without that they cannot know anything about it.
      I had a site ranking #1 for a keyword that gets no less than 100k searches a month, and it lost all its rankings. I shall now remove Webmaster tools on that one then see what happens.

      • Hmmm. Sounds like Google is – in a sense – throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They are using Webmaster Tools and Analytics to gather the stats that will eventually make everyone drop Webmaster Tools and Analytics. Too funny.

  77. Jon

    I always read your posts with great interest and I respect your views, but agreeing with some of the other posters on here I have to disagree with your blog and especially with the piece you added at the end of your post regarding to the fact that Google will not actively penalise your site because of links.

    Some sites are not just dropping because of natural de-indexing of their links that they had in ALN or BMR, some sites HAVE been actively penalised.

    My main site selling my main business service has disappeared from the rankings after being on the first page of Google (pos 1,2, or 3) for 4 years – yes, a solid 4 years running. The site has 15000 links according to Majestic SEO, has GOOD content (all original tips and tutorials written by me), has lots of natural links back to it due to this original content. I used BMR to target some long tail keywords and the site was in webmaster tools.

    I got the warning on the 18th of March, and on the 23rd of March my site had dropped to below 50 for ALL its keywords. My main ‘money keyword’ has NOT been targeted through BMR at all, yet I am > 50 for that keyword as well.

    Google is DEFINITELY actively penalising sites, my guess is that they sent the WMT message to sites that they could identify using BMR or ALN as well as a random selection of at least one other site in your WMT. I had two sites penalised, one using BMR and the other one I submitted some articles and used 1waylinks! There were very few links built to this site and once again, good, solid on-site content.

    I have not responded to the WMT message and hope that the penalty will get lifted some time although I am making other plans in the mean time to get business leads into my business. Unfortunately I will probably have to resort to Google adwords, which of course is playing right into Google’s hands.

  78. Hi Jon,

    I totally agree with what you mentioned. 1 thing I am still trying to figure out is the lost of link juice to other sites. So far, the deindex of blog network only cause 1 of my sites drop though I have been using the same link network for all my sites. I would like to think the drop of the ranking for that particular site is because of the deindex of blog network, but that should also affect the rest of my sites, which it didn’t happen…

    Anyway, negative SEO is definitely a real concern that Google will not be able to deal with (that really is a mess for Google)!

    Cheers,
    Ming

  79. Thanks Jonathan for the refreshing post. Agree 100%. Glad to finally hear thoughts from a trusted source.

    Keep consistently backlinking and the rankings will eventually come back.

  80. Hi Jon, I like reading your blog but what I have seen contradicts what you have written. Before using link networks my site was ranking in the first /second pages. Moved up to top 5 using ALN.

    After the ALN deindexing I should be back to bottom page 1/ top page 2 right?

    My site, for all the keywords, is now on page 50.

    that doesn’t seem like a simple devaluation. Maybe after time it will correct itself, I hope, but given the information at the moment it looks more like a penalty of some type.

    I have even read on one of the popular forums of at least one person using these networks for negative SEO on their competitors – and it worked. He managed to blow him away from the top spot to page 50 too.

  81. Good to hear a calm voice in the storm, however I know someone who has had their site de-indexed. It was a fairly new site and the majority of her links were BMR links.
    I think it depends on link variety and site age as well as the length of content. I can’t really see how an algorithm can measure quality content.

    Thanks – Gail

  82. With regard to Jacks comments above about Google asking for the SEO company used and the tactics used, how does one answer?

    Does this mean Google is looking to punish SEO firms? Let’s face it there are thousands of them who have used article marketing with blog farms to create back links for their clients.

    It is clearly not sufficient for Google to tell them you have deleted the posts that may have raised the flags, they want more!

  83. John, I own and manage an internet marketing outsourcing firm and that allows me to have a birds eye view of a lot of sites. I know where the links come from and how much and when the ranking drops – of course I see that too.

    I am going to put a slightly different twist on what you said. The reason being is that I have seen some quality sites take a hit as well. Here is my observation and I will call it by name.

    If you relied solely on BMR then of course you took a big hit. You had no links to begin with and when BMR was hit – once again you had no links. Easy math.

    If you had a strong site with plenty of links before BMR then you probably saw a minor shift on some keywords. (sometimes a shift from #3 to #5 is $1000 a day so it may not feel minor.)

    Quality content always counts on a manual review but frankly there were way to many sites to consider in terms of a quality review.

    One example site that had quality content was clearly hit with a penalty. (More than 300 positions.) This site had lots of links but on a percentage basis BMR was significant. It looks like a penalty was assigned to a site that would have survived with some loss of position and the potential algo basis was the % of links that were BMR. My guess is the penalty is manual. This particular site was worth about $5k a month and not the clients bread and butter. Our response – we continue to build links to replace what was lost and that work should show up when the penalty is lifted.

    In short – don’t panic. Keep building links and remember what made BMR strong. Hint: it was not the PR of the sites because your post did not stay on the home page very long. Remember PR is by page not site.

    • I believe that a no PR page on a high PR site is much better than no PR at anyway (assuming its being linked from the home page).

  84. Google’s onslaught against these blog networks has indeed produced a very strange set of circumstances;

    Example:

    Blogger A goes out in hot persuit of backlinks to his site & has numerous links from various blog networks & then when the Google God does it’s thing blogger A becomes one of many casualties!

    On the other hand Blogger B relies mostly in the natural formation of backlinks, by providing top quality content for his readers! Blogger B escapes Googles wrath simply by allowing backlinks to build naturally over time!

    Ultimately there are many out there that are not prepared to wait for their sites to gain popularity as they mature & because of this impatience they then find themselves on the receiving end of Google’s boot!

    Does this simple example show quite clearly that our focus as bloggers should be on the content we provide for our readers..?

  85. You said the more backlinks the better right? I use UAW and they told me to only send out 10 links a day, even though UAW can send out over 100 a day. They said I will be penalized for sending out too many links at an unusual or unrealistic “velocity”. What’s your take on that? I generally have been following A100k blueprint. The site is still very new, only 2 weeks old, but following the blueprint i’ve managed to get all my keywords in the top 3 spots on yahoo and bing. No luck with google yet though.

    • Velocity matters. If you start getting 100 links a day to a brand new site that can throw up a red flag. Start slow, build up and be sure to keep that velocity steady until you reach a solid number of links at least.

      • That’s what the blueprint says. I’m also having issues with Webmaster Tools. I still have no data after 2 weeks. Is that normal?

    • Taylor – this is for you.
      Build your site. Optimize the on page factors. Build a couple of links, create and submit an RSS feed and stop. Let it cook for 3 weeks to a month. Build yourself another site or two in the meantime. Then see how you are doing and if it is worth the investment. For some reason I find that Google likes some sites and not others. I have lots of sites sitting on page 1 that only have a single original article on the first page and content from elsewhere on the rest. (I am not recommending this) but they were built back in 2009. 70% of the time they went to the front page and in large part have stayed there with little to no real backlinks effort. (also something I am not advocating today) but 30% of the time – Mr. G. just did not show the site any love. So, build, let simmer and while you wait – build some more.

      Current practice: In October I built a well themed site with quality content. Has about 6000 backlinks now, ranks for a number of terms and the traffic uniques look like this: Oct 137 Nov 700+ Dec 1700+ Jan 3812 Feb 4548 mar 5376 traffic is down for April – so far. Hope this helps.

  86. Google just shut down my Adsense account this week with no explanation. All I could find was a snotty note on their site that I “really should read my email” which I do several times a day actually

    I have searched my email client and web mail and can find no warning messages, so I have no idea what happened, and probably never will.

    I do not think it is paranoid to assume that Google does arbitrary dreadful things to webmasters. I think it is realistic. They do.

    However, I see your points, and they make sense. Much of what is happening to people is logical. And presumably those webmasters who simply lost links due to the folding or deindexing of a link network can recover if they do the work. One can hope that they chill a little and do the work needed to recover, instead of giving up.

    Thanks for sharing your (very knowledgeable) thoughts on this topic. It does help.

    • Hi Kathleen,

      I had something similar to me.

      I had a number of Adsense sites that I made CERTAIN that I didn’t do anything against their TOS with.

      I was up to about $300 a day with all of them – and one morning I woke up to the news that my account was disabled and all unpaid commissions had been refunded to the advertisers.

      I was told I could appeal, which I did and had no reply or explanation whatsover. I not only lost my earnings over night but about $5k in unpaid (or refunded) commissions.

      Sorry to be off the point here Jonathan – but more to the point I am now really not only relying on Google as my bread and butter but making sure I get my traffic from other sources

      Pete

  87. Really good post jonathan….., i like it

  88. Lest Google tell you and you can contact them to fix problems not like rotten Adsence just dump you keep what ever money you may have made in the last year and not way to contact them about what went wrong there are crap is not a good way to run a business in my books.

  89. Some time ago I had possibility to access one of this networks, now I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t think Google is so bad I would rather say that Jonathan as always is right in his predictions :)

  90. Jon I have followed you for many years now but this time I am going to have to disagree with you…

    Here is a message I received in my webmaster account from Google relating to incoming links to my site. Actually for two sites.

    Subject: Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links to (Removed for Privacy)

    Dear site owner or webmaster of (Removed for Privacy)

    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.

    Sincerely,

    Google Search Quality Team

    —————————————

    As you can see they are clearly stating that I have artificial or unnatural links pointing to my site so from what I can see is they are not just de-indexing those sites but are also looking at the sites which have been linked to.

    As you can see it is very vague and it could really mean anything especially when they use terms like artificial or unnatural links.

    What are your thoughts Jon.

    • I’ve updated the blog post to address this directly.

    • Hi Ron, how are you? Unfortunately we got the same message and our site got a major hit. What Google are asking for is quite impossible!!! How could one determine which links are “legit” and which are not? We can only do so to some extent. Is it one link? Twenty? A hundred? Besides the link war that Jon mentioned, even if I have bought links in the past, who says I can still reach those site owners?

      I feel like Google has sent us on a wild goose chase.

  91. I was thinking the same thing when I studied all the “war on blog networks” forum exchanges and all the speculations about what it means to get the “questionable links” warning in your Google webmaster tools.
    Like you said people are confusing causes n effects.

    Goes to show becareful who you listen to. The only thing I would add is people get a wider diversity of link types from a wider variety of sources. Also, the more trusted (n higher pagerank) the backlink is, the less of them you need to rank for a particular keyword… And the higher quality your content is the more likely you are to get quality organic backlinks.

    All that to say, take some of your backlink budget and invest it in higher quality content. y

    • I’m with you Brian.
      Relaying solely on a few sources of backlinks is a bad idea. to start with you need your links to seem natural, and that is exactly the opposite. Additionally, when Google updates its algorithm, if one backlink method was effected, you still have plenty of other backlinks pointing to your site.
      Finally, you have better chances of grabing traffic from multiple traffic streams when diversifying your backlinks.
      Tobi

  92. Hi Jon

    Agree to an extent. I think that “unnatural links” put you on the radar, and it’s not just onpage SEO faux-pas that can get you in trouble.

    I’ve found that (even with completely whitehat sites, onpage), Google will outright de-index sites promoting stuff they just don’t like. Or for the simple fact that they’re affiliates. Example markets: Hotels, public records, etc.

    It’s more political than people think.

    This does beg the question though…

    If external factors truly have no possible negative effect on competitors, why the “unnatural links” warning message in WMT? Is Google really stooping so low as to use empty threats to elicit confessions, asking webmasters to cough up their link sources?

    And what about Google employees in the Google Support forums openly admitting that they’d “strongly advise not to try to wait the penalty out” ?

    Source: http://bit.ly/HM9WFD

    And also the fact that Google has re-worded it’s answer to the question in Webmaster Help, re: “Can a competitor harm my site’s rankings?”

    I’m not as convinced. I think there’s some truth to the rumors.

    However, I do moreso lean towards believing that – external factors causing damage notwithstanding – Google’s true aim with this is to simply create a “fear complex” more than anything else among webmasters.

    It seems to be cheaper than actually improving their algo.

    -Chris

  93. Good points Jonathan. Unfortunately the SEO landscape is rife with rumors, hearsay and other unreliable information. So easy to get confused. It’s almost better just to ignore all the confusion discussion and focus on building high-quality sites. Time much better spent, me thinks :)

  94. Johnathan..I have been following you for a while.
    I struggle to see how many website owners cant see the falls coming..
    Worse still in my eyes are the website developers who farm out second rate sites and almost force the owners to do black hat stuff to catch up
    What do you think..
    Mate I am forever doing modifications on crappy sites just to get them into the game.

  95. This was a relief to read Jonathan Leger.So my intuition was right about not stopping with building blog network links.That’s not what makes Google deindex our websites.Puh

  96. Hi Jonathan, i received a message for unnatural links in my webmaster tools for using ALN but also other linkbuilding techniques. After a week i lost part of my ranking. Now im tryng to add new strategies but ALN was incredible.

    What do you suggest to do? is 3waylinks efective as blog networks?
    I’m scare now and i don’t want to use them anymore.

    Please advice…Thanks

  97. John your right on about what you say. There is one thing that I want to add about this…

    When you have a bunch of blog network links directly to your money site (or your main site your ranking) and those networks get de-indexed. What happens is your link velocity suddenly drops over night. A spike decrease in links is a sure cause of losing ranks.

    I have seen sites that were getting top 3 rankings for many keywords get dropped back to 50+. Many people think its a penalty but its a spike drop. Anytime you get a drop in links it raises a red flag and the algorithm drops your rankings.

    One easy way to check if you have got a penalty is to log into webmaster tools. If you get a penalty you will have a message in the Google Webmaster Tools account.

    This is why its best to build a strong group of buffer sites that have authority (page rank and high incoming link count) Then you build your links (blog networks, articles, web2.0′s, etc) to the buffer sites.

    This way if the blog networks get de-indexed it only affects your buffer sites and you will most likely not drop any rankings.

    Also when you lose rankings due to links getting de-indexed your site also has lost trust in the eyes of Google. It takes a while to get your rankings back. But the worst thing is to stop building links to the money site. If you do your link velocity keeps dropping. Anytime your site loses rankings keep building links. Its sure to come back.

    Just my two cents.

    Gary @ GGG Marketing

  98. Yea, my site dropped hard right about the time all the networks got deindexed, so I thought that might be it. Some kind of link association penalty for having too many blog network links.

    I realized, I had way less than a hundred links from blog networks, so that probably wasn’t it. Especially on a site with 50k backlinks. Looked more like panda hitting my whole site… pages slowly dripped down the serps into no traffic land.

    Well, my visitors were staying on the site less than a minute and bouncing back to the serps at a 80% rate. Not so good content and not linking enough to other interesting pages to get them to at least click on some other page on the site before they bail.

    I cleaned up my site… now visitors stay on it 6 times longer and bounce rate is under 20%.

    We will see if you can come back from these “manual reviews” or “panda” by totally transforming your site… I think I have to wait until the next google update to see if my site bounces back.

  99. another great post jonathan…a different perspective and you have a good point…

  100. A really clear and concise explanation that makes the latest actions by Google easy to understand for a larger crowd of the internet marketing community.

    A clear message that leaves no doubt as to what to do and what not to do.

    Thanks for taking time out to post this!

  101. Sounds about right to me. Is there anywhere i can submit my site to which can analyze whether there is anything that could trigger Google to penalize so I can alter before the possible penalty happens?

  102. Hey Jonathan,
    The subject of your email scared the hell out of me man. I missed the Have and read …. you been Panalized by google …. lolz .. Nice reading though.

    That’s exactly every webmaster should be doing. I think to better judge the quality of your site is to look at site as a visitor and then you will see everything clear. Websites who are making some real bucks are user concerned.

  103. In fact, I just noticed that two of my websites have been de-indexed. Then, I asked myself, why not all of my websites being de-indexed? You are right! The content quality and On-page SEO practice play the role on it. Google will not penalize the website that provides quality content.

  104. Good to hear a balanced view in the midst of all the cries of doom and gloom Jonathan. I have several dozen static sites with unique content on them that have ranked well, and then gone up and down. I think clearly if one wants ones site to perform well, fresh, quality content is now even more of a necessity than it always has been!

  105. It’s always a pleasure and sobering to read your logical take on Google. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the hysteria and paranoia surrounding big bad Google.

  106. Hi Jon, what you are saying is absolutely true about sites losing their rankings solely because the sites that were linking to them got deindexed.

    I’ve been telling people for a long time, just like you are saying here, that backlinks to your site CAN NOT hurt it for the very reason you are saying. The internet would turn into a battlefield. People would be sending spammy links to their competitors in order to get them out of the way.

    However, recently hundreds of thousands of people got this message in their Google Webmaster tools :

    “Dear site owner or webmaster of http://yourdomain.com/,
    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.
    Sincerely,
    Google Search Quality Team”

    This seems to be a clear departure from the notion that backlinks will not hurt your site.

    Further, when you click the link to “submit your site for reconsideration” they tell you this:

    “Tell us more about what happened: what actions might have led to any penalties, and what corrective actions have been taken. If you used a search engine optimization (SEO) company, please note that. Describing the SEO firm and their actions is a helpful indication of good faith that may assist in evaluation of reconsideration requests. If you recently acquired this domain and think it may have violated the guidelines before you owned it, let us know that below. In general, sites that directly profit from traffic (e.g. search engine optimizers, affiliate programs, etc.) may need to provide more evidence of good faith before a site will be reconsidered.”

    They want you to give them the name of the SEO company you’re using!

    This is bad news and I don’t see how Google can keep it up, because yes, it will turn into a battlefield.

    Jack

    • Scare tactics. They want to frighten you into telling them what you did to get the links. That means you would admit to them that you were the one that got the links, and then they are justified in penalizing your site.

      If they actually starting penalizing you, then Google would need to prepare for war.

      Here’s a funny post that shows you this is a scare tactic.

      • I got the same message from Google (as referenced in the funny post link), but my message said my traffic DECREASED. I think the person that posted that actually misread his message from Google. I don’t think it’s possible to get penalized and drop from rankings but at the same time have an increase in traffic – so much so that Google sends you a special message notifying you of such.

        “Search results clicks for http://###/ have decreased significantly.

        Details

        Message ID: (###). Please include this ID in any messages you post in our Help forum. “

    • They can’t keep it up Jack. It was a very clever scare tactic that worked pretty well for them. Now the dust is settling, everything is returning to normal once again.

      Keep linking and don’t give google any more info than they need ;-)

  107. content is the king. i agree with you John, backlinks is still important but far more important is your website contents.

    • Sorry esham, but that’s not what I’m saying. You need quality content for your visitors and to make sure your site doesn’t get penalized, but it’s the links that are king.

      • i agree with esham, google has switched off elements of the algorithym that signal link quality and increased signals based on content quality.

        Sitelinks data refresh. [launch codename "Saralee-76"] Sitelinks (the links that appear
        beneath some search results and link deeper into the respective site) are generated in
        part by an offline process that analyzes site structure and other data to determine the
        most relevant links to show users. We’ve recently updated the data through our offline
        process. These updates happen frequently (on the order of weeks).
        The above is probably fine for all of us . . .

        Better indexing of profile pages. [launch codename "Prof-2"] This change improves the
        comprehensiveness of public profile pages in our index from more than two-hundred
        social sites.
        This one actually may help us . . .

        High-quality sites algorithm data update and freshness improvements. [launch codename
        "mm", project codename "Panda"] Like many of the changes we make, aspects of our high-
        quality sites algorithm depend on processing that’s done offline and pushed on a periodic cycle.
        In the past month, we’ve pushed updated data for “Panda,” We’ve also made improvements to
        keep our database fresher overall.
        This one is going to HURT . . .

        Tweaks to handling of anchor text. [launch codename "PC"] This month we turned off a
        classifier related to anchor text (the visible text appearing in links). Our experimental data
        suggested that other methods of anchor processing had greater success, so turning off this
        component made our scoring cleaner and more robust.
        This always has ‘collateral’ damange – they mess with more sites then they planned .

      • Jon I agree with your entire post and your assessment that while content is great and much needed but, links are still the top reason Google ranks us.

        I’ve followed you for a long time on all SEO related stuff and you’ve always been extremely on-target with this. There are too many SEOs who change their tune and story so often but you’ve stayed on the same path. Google’s formulas may slightlychange from time to time but the mainstays of having good content and links will always be there.

        Great post!


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