It’s often difficult to determine what is considered good link building practices and what will get you into trouble with Google. After all, just the act of trying to go out there and get links is a form of search engine manipulation, isn’t it?
There’s a difference between letting a related website know about your website and asking for a link and many of the other practices that some webmasters have undertaken in their efforts to climb the search engine rankings.
Additionally, people are often confused by what is good optimization and what is too much optimization on their website pages. They don’t know how much content is needed on a page and what constitutes a good page versus a thin or spammy one.
Today, Google announced a new section in Webmaster Tools called “Manual Actions.” It can be found in the Search Traffic tab. If you have had a manual penalty assessed to your website, you’ll find it here.
The “manual action” will be labeled as either “site-wide” (meaning your whole website will be affected) or it will be labeled a “partial” action (meaning only some pages will have their rankings lowered). Google will list up to 1,000 affected URLs if there is a partial manual action.
If you have had a manual action (a.k.a. “penalty”) assessed against your website and have cleaned up the problem, there is now also a “Request a Review” button in the Manual Actions section that will open a pop-up window, where you can tell Google about the steps you have taken to fix the problem.
Yesterday, Google’s head of the webspam team, Matt Cutts, published seven different videos that spell out what Google considers to be manipulative link building as well as things that you may be doing on-site that could cause your website to receive a manual penalty.
All of the videos show excellent examples of what Google considers to be bad and and they provide answers for what you need to do to fix the problem.
Here are the videos …
What an “Unnatural Links” Warning in your Webmaster Tools Account Means
In this video, Matt Cutts explains what it means if you get a message in your Google Webmaster Tools Account that says they have taken “targeted action” due to unnatural links.
Targeted action means that they have only penalized a portion of your website and that other pages of your website are not affected by the penalty.
Google’s algorithm is pretty good at detecting bad linking patterns but it doesn’t catch everything. If you get a message about unnatural links in your Webmaster Tools account, it means that a human has reviewed your website and penalized portions of the website or the site as a whole.
Anything that shows up in the Notifications area of your Webmaster Tools account is a manual penalty and not algorithmic.
The only way to get a manual penalty removed is to fix the problem and submit a reconsideration report. Since the algorithm didn’t penalize you, just fixing the problem won’t move you back up in the rankings.
As Matt points out, Google wants you to try to get any bad links removed and you should document your efforts at trying to get the bad links removed.
If that doesn’t work, use Google’s Disavow Links tool. In your reconsideration request to Google, include all efforts you have made to get links removed (including dates) and that you used the disavow tool when you were unsuccessful. Also, explain why the problem existed in the first place and assure them that it will not happen again.
What Thin Content Is
In this video, Matt Cutts explains various types of content that Google considers to be thin. He explains what “doorway pages” are, what a “thin affiliate” website is and what Google considers to be “thin syndication.”
The bottom line is, you need to have utterly unique content on your website that adds value to the web.
If it is exactly the same content that appears elsewhere on the internet (even if that duplicate content is on your own website) or if it has practically no content at all and just links to other websites, Google does not want to rank the site.
Your Forum or Blog Could Be Killing Your Website!
Blogs and forums can be great ways of generating new, unique content. Not only are the original posts and threads providing fresh, unique content, but the comments on blogs or the responses to forum threads create even more unique, new content.
Unfortunately, there are still far too many people out there that think they can give their websites a boost by spamming your blog or forum.
If Google sees a lot of spam links in your blog or forum, they will penalize your blog or forum, meaning that your blog or forum will no longer be providing the intended benefit to your website.
One thing to note is that Google even considers a keyword rich name in a blog comment that links to a website to be spam. You know, the person who signs their blog posts as “Online Gambling” instead of using their real name or a bona fide nickname.
If you have a blog or forum, stay on top of it and make sure no spam of any kind is appearing on it.
This does not mean you need to remove legitimate links in blog comments or forum posts that provide value to people who read it. Use your discretion. I’m sure you know spam when you see it!
What is Pure Spam
Occasionally, something is so clearly spam, Google uses the term “pure spam” in a notification sent to you in your Webmaster Tools account.
If you get a message that includes that verbiage, you have committed a pretty serious “crime” as far as Google is concerned. Auto-generated gibberish, cloaking, content scraping.
Pure spam is something that even a novice would recognize as being created solely to manipulate the Google rankings. According to Matt, the vast majority of the websites that they take manual action against are ones that contain “pure spam.” In cases of pure spam, Google generally penalizes the entire website and not just targeted pages.
If you get a “pure spam” notification, chances are pretty slim that Google will ever trust the website enough again to give it decent rankings.
There are exceptions, like if you bought a website that had pure spam and didn’t know about it but you are really going to have your work cut for you convincing Google that the pure spam was an innocent mistake.
What are Unnatural Links to Your Site
If you get a message in your Webmaster Tools account that says that Google has detected unnatural links to your website, they are going to penalize your entire site until those bad links are cleaned up AND you make some assurances that it will not happen again.
Unnatural links could be anything from paid links, spammy links to your site on other websites’ blogs or forums, paid listings on spammy directories, an overabundance of link exchanges or article marketing where you have keyword rich anchor text links that are not no-followed.
Matt and Alex instruct you to tell other websites to either remove your links, add a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the link or to re-direct it to a URL on their site that is blocked by their robots.txt file.
And again, document everything you have tried to get the links removed, disavow the ones you could not get removed and submit a reconsideration request to Google.
In this case, Google wants an explanation of why there were so many spammy links to your website and assurances that it will not happen again. They also want to see a documented, concerted effort on your part to get those links removed.
The more effort you can show Google you have put into getting the spammy links removed and the more sincere you are in your explanation of how it happened and why it won’t happen again, the better your chances are that the manual action will be lifted. In essence, you need to convince Google that they can trust you and your website again.
What is Keyword Stuffing or Hidden Text?
In this next video, Matt Cutts is joined by Nelson to talk about hidden text and keyword stuffing. Both of these are on-site issues and are clearly things a website owner has done to manipulate search engine results.
Hidden text is where you cram a bunch of keywords onto your page but make them the same color as the background so that people don’t see them but Google’s robot crawler does.
Keyword stuffing occurs when the text on your page has lots of repeated keywords and is done in a way that makes it obvious that proper grammar has been cast aside in favor of getting your keyword on the page as often as possible.
There’s not much to be said here as far as how to fix the problem goes. If you have hidden text, remove it. If you have lots of keywords stuffed into the content of a page, rewrite the page.
This is a pretty clear-cut case of manipulation on the part of the website owner. You’ll have a tough time convincing Google that it was someone else’s fault.
Just clean it up and submit a reconsideration request. In your request, be sure to explain why it happened – even if your explanation is “I didn’t know any better and was told on a website forum that I needed to do it” – and most importantly, assure Google that it will not happen again. Because this is clearly under your control, Google needs to be convinced that it will not happen again.
What Does “Unnatural Links From Your Site” Mean?
In the final video, Matt Cutts is joined by Sandy and they discuss what the “unnatural links from your site” message means. An unnatural link is usually a link someone has paid for on your website.
A large number of reciprocal links – “I’ll link to you if you link to me” – can also be seen as unnatural – especially if the linked to sites are not relevant to your site or the editorial content on the page.
Google is not saying that you cannot sell links on your site if someone wants to pay for an advertisement and they are not saying that you can’t link to a friend’s unrelated website. What they ARE saying is that those links cannot pass any page rank to the other websites. They need to be no-followed links.
Again, you can either add the rel=”nofollow” attribute to the links or re-direct the link to another URL on your website that is blocked by your robots.txt file.
After you have cleaned up the problem, let Google know about it in your reconsideration request, state why you were doing the unnatural linking and assure Google that it will not happen again.
If it was a link network that you were a part of, “naming names” is something that Google will appreciate and will help you get a favorable reconsideration result.