How to Recover from an Unnatural Link Penalty

by Jonathan Goodman on April 22, 2014

Jonathan Edward Goodman

Hi everyone. This is Jonathan Goodman. Welcome to another episode of The World of Internet Marketing. Today we are going to focus on how to recover from an unnatural link penalty. I’ve got a presentation to show you and then we will talk about different areas. Let’s switch over now.

Slide 1: Site Violations

What if you woke up one morning like I did and received an email like this and it said:

Slide 2: Unnatural Outbound Links

Google has detected a pattern of artificial or unnatural links on this site. Selling links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate page rank is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. As a result of unnatural links from your site, Google has applied a manual spam action to and they would then insert the website name. There may be other actions on your site or parts of your site. Recommended action: Identify paid or otherwise inorganic links by using the rel = “nofollow” or redirect to an intermediate page that is blocked by robots.txt. Remove any problematic links from your site. When you’re satisfied that your site follows Goggle’s Webmaster Guidelines, submit a reconsideration request for an updated list of manual actions currently applied to your site. Visit the manual actions page. If no manual actions are listed, there is no longer a need to file a reconsideration request. If we determine your site is no longer in violation of our guidelines, we’ll revoke the manual action. If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please visit the Webmaster Help Forums.

So let’s find out. A lot of you did actually receive this. If you don’t have Goggle Webmaster Tools and you’re running a website, you’re doing yourself a disservice there. You really need to find out how to enable Goggle Webmaster Tools and start working with it. If you do have Google Webmaster Tools and you received an email and you just aren’t sure what to do, we’re actually going to step through the process to get this resolved on your site.

Slide 3: History of Guest Blogging Through the Eyes of Goggle

So let’s look at the history of guest blogging through the eyes of Google because a lot of people just got this notification. It centered around Google’s decision to penalize a website called MyBlogGuest run by Ann Smarty. I’ve met Ann. She’s very nice, but there were issues with the site that Google felt she needed to correct. She didn’t want to correct them. And we’ll get into all of that. When you’re dealing with a 500-pound gorilla in the room, you sometimes have to bend what you want your site to be to what they want your site to be. And unfortunately, Goggle is that 500-pound gorilla in the room right now. Because I’ve been in the Internet marketing industry long enough to know that in the beginning, everybody was excited if they knew somebody who worked for AOL. Then they were very excited if they knew somebody who worked for Yahoo. Now they happen to be excited about people who they know that work for Goggle. That’s the big buzzword. They’re dominant in the industry right now. It definitely doesn’t mean in 10 years that they will be. But since they are, they are dictating the rules to play by.

Slide 4: Matt Cutts – 10/9/2012

It really all started when back in October 9th of 2012, Matt Cutts answered a Webmaster Tool’s video called: What is Google’s View on Guest Blogging for Links? I’ve put the URL in there so that you have an opportunity to listen to the whole entire thing if you want to. You’ll see also in the presentation I’ve stolen the Homeland Security Advisory system and modified it, not even modified it, just left it the way that it was. And pointed to where I think according to when all of this happened how severe the penalty was. So with this first video, it was very general. He just wanted to kind of say, hey, here’s things to be looking out for. Sometimes it gets taken to extremes. This was in regards to guest blogging. There are low-quality article banks out there. We all know what those are. Be mindful that it absolutely can be taken to the extreme. Then he says, when you’re just doing it as a way to sort of turn the crank to get a massive number of links, that’s something where we’re less likely to want to count these links. Of course, all of this revolves around backlinks. Because unfortunately right now the only way that Google can rank things is according to backlinks. And a backlink when let’s say you’ve written an article and The Huffington Post also quotes that article. They put a link in pointing back to your site. So that’s very important, right?

There’s different ways of talking about backlinks. We can talk about backlinks from the top-tier websites like CNN, Amazon, Huffington Post, MSNBC. Really high-powered news organizations or high-powered websites. Ebay. Wikipedia. Things of that nature. When you get a backlink from a website like that, it’s a much more powerful link, but not everybody can get that. So in order to work with smaller businesses and smaller companies, a lot of SEOs do things like guest blogging where they will write an article and have a link back to their client’s website. Now this is an old practice. This is nothing new. Guest blogging was around from the time that AOL was around. People were writing articles and linking that. It’s just that unfortunately it’s been taken to an extreme only because of the desperation that SEOs, search engine optimizers, have when trying to work with clients who want to improve their ranking. Now who is really at fault here? I’ll turn back to talk about this. You don’t need to be staring at a blank screen here.

Who is really at fault here? I have to put the blame on Goggle unfortunately because the technology, the way that it is today, the Goggle algorithm that was created 10 or so years ago was really focused on prioritizing websites according to the backlinks power and numbers. So if you’re working in the Internet industry, if you’re working for a client who wants to get better ranking, the number one way to do that is to improve backlinks. One method of doing that is writing a guest blog and putting it up on a website that’s slightly or more powerful than yours with that link then being counted. You would have to do hundreds of links. But that’s really the method of optimization today. It’s a very crude form, but it’s because of the Google algorithm.

Now a lot of people go, wow, the Goggle algorithm. But the truth is that if we’re talking about backlinks, it’s a very easy-to-manipulate way of ranking websites. If I know that all I have to do is try to get one backlink from a powerhouse like CNN, yeah, sure it’s very difficult to do. But once I do it, it’s worth 10,000 little mini backlinks. Or I can work on getting hundreds of backlinks or thousands of backlinks through other methods, like submitting to directories or doing hundreds of guest blogs and then putting them up on other websites. So Google’s method of what they’ve done is try to corral the optimizers into behaving a certain way and performing a certain way in spite of them instead trying to fix their algorithm. So all we need is a smart individual from MIT to come up with a better and more succinct way of categorizing powerful websites and searches and ranking those accordingly, outside of backlinks.

Here we are today. It’s not where we were 10 years ago. It’s not where we were 20 years ago. And it’s certainly not where we’re going to be 10 years from now. This is what we’re faced with. So many optimizers, like myself, worked on guest blogs. And now Google is trying to tighten the ropes for guest blogging because they really have no control of that backlink algorithm. So instead, they’re pointing at everybody else. And I’m not faulting Google. I am, but I’m not saying this was wrong. I’ll show you that we actually took steps to move away from this process a while ago.

So anyway, let me get back into this. When we look at this video. I’m not going to play the video, but you can see that in October of 2012, there is already a guarded level of suspicion around guest blogging.

Slide 5: Matt Cutts – 11/12/2012

Now we continue and we have November of 2012 and Matt Cutts does another Webmaster Tools video. It’s called: Does Google Take Action on Spammy Guest Blogging Activities? Again, we have the URL down there so that you can go in and look at it later. And he says “If you are doing so many guest blogs that you are doing article spinning and likewise if you’re allowing so many guest bloggers that they allow things like spun blogs, where people aren’t really writing real content of their own, then that is a pretty bad indicator of quality. And if your website links to sites that we consider low quality or spammy, that can affect your site’s reputation.”

What is spinning? I always think of the Brady Bunch episode where Peter puts too much soap into the laundry and the whole laundry room goes haywire. Spinning essentially is that. It’s the washing machine or the dishwasher spinning. In this case, it’s the sentences from one article. It spins them around and reassembles them to make it look like an article. But when you actually read that article, it makes no sense and it’s very poor grammatically. It tends to ramble. So many of people in the early stages of guest blogging would take one 300-word article, spin it and get 10 more articles from that, claim it as original content and then send it out to unsuspecting blogs out there with the backlink included.

Slide 6: Matt Cutts – 10/16/2013

Then in October of 2013, Matt Cutts did another Webmaster Tools video called: How Can I Guest Blog without it Appearing as if I Paid for Links? That’s a very interesting way of phrasing the question because you’re essentially saying I would like to pay for links. Can you tell me how I can hide this from you? So sometimes the wording and the phrases used to ask a question reveal more about what you’re attempting than the answers themselves. This person was obviously trying to do paid links and not get caught, but asked Matt Cutts a question that really comes off saying, hey, you know what, I want to do paid links and I don’t want you to find out. So there again is the URL. He says… “spraying and praying, sending out invitations. I’m going to guest blog on all these different things. And sometimes they’re spinning their guest blogs. They’re not even writing unique content for each blog. And I don’t think that that’s the best way to build links to your site.” Now we’ve moved up a little bit. How we’re elevated. Now he’s saying listen, be careful. Because we’re going to watch this part of the industry and we’re going to monitor this. If we’re finding a lot of scum articles that are worthless and poorly written, we’re going to start to take action.

Slide 7: Matt Cutts – 12/10/2013

Then we go to December of 2013. I know it seems like he’s only working in the fourth quarter of the year. He does a lot of Webmaster Tools videos. I think as they end their year, they summarize where they are and where they want to go. I think that’s a function of Google. Just the corporate entity itself and so they come back around to these topics at the end of the year. So Matt Cutts did another Webmaster Tools video called: What Should I Be Aware of if I’m Considering Guest Blogging? This is another person asking this question. We’ve got the URL there. Now we’re really heading toward a serious event. Matt has analyzed the blog guest industry and what is going on. Now he’s saying “I wouldn’t recommend that you make it your only way of gathering links. I wouldn’t recommend that you send out thousands of blast emails offering to guest blogs. I wouldn’t recommend that you guest blog with the same article on two different blogs (essentially spinning). I wouldn’t recommend that you take one article and spin it lots of times.” So he’s specifically targeting spun articles and he’s really cautioning you that if your only method of getting backlinks is writing these articles and spinning these articles and trying for the long-hanging fruit, putting an article on a minor website, you’re not going to get much benefit from that and it could even hurt you.

Slide 8: Matt Cutts – 1/20/201

Now finally January 20 of 2014. This is just a couple of months ago. He wrote an article on his website, You can see the link down there. The article is titled: The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO. Now he actually changed the title and we did this to be more specific. But around this time, it’s called The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO. And here’s his quote: “If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.” So you see the arc that we’ve had? Hey, maybe you shouldn’t do guest blogging to now listen, if you’re going to do guest blogging, you’ve got to really be careful. And then finally, hey, don’t do guest blogging. That’s out here. It’s DEFCON 5. It’s a severe penalty. And we’re going to see what happens when he actually penalizes.

Slide 9: MyBlogGuest Member

Let’s continue on. Just so that you know, obviously I run an Internet marketing company and I have clients. Yeah, we had a membership on MyBlogGuest starting in June 5, 2010. But just seeing where the tide was coming. And most of this in Internet Marketing is just seeing where the tide is going to come in and how swiftly and how fast the tide is going to come in and the current is going to rise. We knew that by the summer of 2012, we were not going to renew. And so we did not renew our membership with MyBlogGuest, but we did continue to take articles and put them up on websites until March, 2014. We stopped submitting guest posts for other bloggers to use, but we continued to take articles. Obviously, we felt that we wanted to have content on our clients’ sites in addition to the articles that we were writing and we thought at that time that it was a good method. Clearly, that’s not the case.

Slide 10: Cutts vs. Smarty

So now it really comes down to Matt Cutts from Google vs. Ann Smarty of MyBlogGuest. On March 19, he puts out a tweet and he says today we took action on a large guest blog network, a reminder about the spam risks of guest blogging. And Ann Smarty was somewhat caught off guard. Matt Cutts put this out there at 2:13 in the morning, not in the afternoon. So everyone was sleeping when he tweeted this out. Maybe he had it ready to go and just wanted everybody to wake up to it that morning. Or maybe they were making modifications to the server and the algorithm and tweeted this out late at night. Or early in the morning in this case. Ann was actually at PubCon New Orleans. I wasn’t there, but I know that she was there doing a presentation. And she, along with everybody else, was significantly caught off guard. Her official statement was “Even though MyBlogGuest has been against paying for links unlike other platforms, Matt Cutts’ team decided to penalize us.” And then she wrote an article detailing her feelings about this and she said: “MyBlogGuest is NOT going to allow nofollow links or paid guest blogging (even though Matt Cutts seems to be forcing us to for whatever reason)” Before I go any further, let me just clarify that. At no point is Matt Cutts suggesting to do paid guest blogging. In fact, that is a significant term guideline that you cannot break. But she’s really referring to the nofollow links. We’ll get into the technology end of this in a minute. What it means ‘follow’ and what it means ‘nofollow.’ So then she goes on to say, “Instead we will keep promoting the pure and authentic guest blogging concept we believe in.” You can look at that article from her at Because Matt Cutt said he’s putting a fork in the guest blogging industry.


Slide 11: Fixing the Problem

So how do we actually fix this problem? How do you recover from an unnatural link penalty?

Slide 12: First…Don’t Panic

Well, first like Douglas Adams says Don’t Panic.

Slide 13: Do a Site Search

You want to do a site search. What that means is you do And you find out how many pages are indexed as of right now. You know how many pages you’ve actually created. If you see that in your logs, you should be able to read that. You compare that to the number that is indexed. Now if you have 10,000 pages on your website and you have 1,000 pages in that, you’ve got a big problem. If you have zero results, which unfortunately happened to MyBlogGuest (they were completely removed from the search engines), you’ve got a very significant problem. But the number of actual pages vs. the number of indexes of those pages in the search should move the meter either to the green or to the red in terms of how critical an issue this is. For us, for the website that we got hit with we might have lost maybe 500 pages out of 3,000 pages, so we still had 2,500 pages indexed and ranking well and only 500 pages were removed. You need to determine the critical rankings. Pages affected might not have ranked well anyway. So this is a key thing. I do not like this way that they manage this.

So you have to weigh everything. You have to be able to say okay, for us, we have 2,500 pages that are indexed regardless of the fact that they were moved to 500 pages. Out of these 500 pages, you have to do the analysis. How many of pages were actually being searched on, were gaining traffic from. If you wind up with a small percentage of those 500 that were actually ranking well anyway and instead the 2,500 articles are doing well, you don’t have to jump out of your seat and panic. You don’t have to immediately try to quickly resolve this and put it in resubmission. You can sit back and say, okay, what is the best method for us to do this? What should we be looking at in the long term and how can we really prove to Google that this is how we want to do this going forward? We understand the mistake that we’ve made.

Slide 14: Check Traffic

You want to also check the traffic. Did you wake up one morning and there was a rapid decline? If you did have a rapid decline, my advice to you would be to immediately start putting money into AdWords while you fix the problem. But if you had a moderate decline, you can fix the problem, well, not leisurely. You don’t want to take a year to fix this problem, but if you’re a limited staff and you’re working on different things, you don’t need to stop what you’re doing. This is a concept you should take to heart anyway. You don’t stop and refocus because of a non-emergency. If this is an emergency and you’ve been completely de-indexed then what I’m saying doesn’t mean anything because that needs to be the critical issue. You need to get re-indexed. But if you’re like I believe 80 to 90 percent of the websites are that are hit with this penalty – they were not completely removed from the search engines, they were just given slaps on the wrists – then you really analyze and look and fix the problem correctly. And you do a submission for reconsideration request when it’s done and you know that you’ve got everything going. Matt Cutts tweeted out on April 8, 2014. Jenny Hollis, who was on the show before. She actually did an interview with us. She asked a question and Matt Cutts came back and said “It depends. Not every manual action gives a rank demotion. For example, we might just distrust your outgoing links.” Well, that means is if you’re distrusting my outgoing links then I haven’t had any website pages de-indexed and all of this is just kind of automatically nofollowed anyway. So again, don’t panic.


Slide 15: Everything in One Video

This is the best video that could be created about unnatural links from your site. Regardless of what I’m saying and regardless of all the articles that are now out there, this is Matt Cutts and another Google employee walking you through what to do for unnatural links if you’ve been penalized. There’s the URL and there are three options. One, in your A HREF, which is your link, you can add rel=nofollow. What that means is if that you’re saying here’s the link. Here’s the anchor text. When somebody clicks on that link, they should go to that URL. However, when Google looks at all of my outgoing links, I don’t want Google to now follow this link to its source. It is a non-important, noncritical link.

So now we can kind of understand where Ann Smarty is coming from because she’s essentially saying, listen, when somebody takes the time to write an article and they put their Google+ link in there, if they put in links to the originating clients’ website, they’ve taken that time to write that article. We’re not talking about spun articles. We’re not talking about garbage. But legitimately good articles. To nofollow that link is an offense to the originating author. And where do you draw the line on good content and bad content? Clearly, bad content is spun articles. Or just under 300 words or not of use to anybody. But a well-written, interesting article about a subject should if it’s in my MyBlogGuest and somebody takes that article and they want to put it up on their website, it should be a followed link. This is the discrepancy. This is the discussion that is going on in the industry. And this is kind of where we are now. Why is that if Danny Dover wrote an article on the Halyard blog that links back to his website, it should be a followed link? He is a verified Internet marketer with very good credentials, so we would want Google to understand that we were excited that article is on our website. He is known in the industry, so he should have a follow link.

How does that differ from mom and pop Smith who have a grocery store in Wisconsin and they write an article about bananas that then goes up on a cooking website? Why aren’t they as important to the information as somebody verified in the industry like Danny Dover? Two completely different subjects. Danny is talking about Internet marketing. Mom and pop Smith are talking about bananas and what you can do with them or importation or pesticides or whatever. Why is that article of less value than Danny Dover’s article? Danny is a friend. He writes excellent work and we would want him to write a blog. But why am I then saying to mom and pop Smith, no, you can’t write an article and we can’t put it up on our cooking website? Or if we do, then we have to say to Google don’t follow that link. Follow Danny’s link, but don’t follow the mom and pop Smith link. Where do you draw line? I think that is where this is all coming in. Was MyBlogGuest a resource, a centrifuge, where authors met bloggers met website owners met SEO people? Yes. But that’s because it’s very difficult to make contacts now. It’s very difficult to have a one-to-one relationship and try to build credentials and try to write articles for meaningful content. So if your tasks is doing this job, I don’t see how Google can say yes to one and no to the other. But they do.

The other option is to redirect using your Robots.txt file. This is rather complicated. You would have to get an SEO involved. I know how to do it. Other SEOs know how to do it. Technicians now how to do it. IT development knows how to do it. But it’s not the kind of thing that the average person can sit down and do. So what’s the quickest solution here? It’s really to remove the link completely. And in the video, Matt Cutts actually recommends this totally. Just remove the link. In fact, you’ll see that’s what we did when we talk about what we did. We removed all links from all these articles.

Slide 16: Reconsideration Request

Then you write a letter to Google. It’s a reconsideration request. You follow rulings within Webmaster Tools and you admit to everything. You say everything that you did and that you’re not going to do it again. You explain how you fixed it. And then in good faith, why it won’t happen again.

Slide 17: What I Did

What I did is not what I would recommend, but I want to walk you through what I did so that you understand what I saw and I thought the problem was.  I wake up 5 o’clock every morning, so I wake up and I see this letter coming in from Google Webmaster Tools. I read the first page to you on this presentation. I showed you what that looked like. Now at the time, I wasn’t aware of the MyBlogGuest penalty. So what I did was I uninstalled any and all suspicious plug-ins. I’m not going to name them for you, but I will tell you that for most of the sites that I had because it was an unnatural link penalty, I knew that there were plug-ins I was using that were ify. They weren’t necessarily doing harm, but they also weren’t really great. And when you’re looking at unnatural links, these three kind of stood out to me as, okay, this could be the problem. Now realize this was before the MyBlogGuest. I didn’t really know what was going on at that time. So I immediately removed those from all websites and sent a reconsideration request.

Well, that was 5:00 in the morning. I was like, okay, I got this done. No problem. End of story. Well, then as I started to watch tweets saying that people were getting other letters like this, I started saying, well, maybe there’s something bigger. That’s when I realized that MyBlogGuest had been specifically targeted for this penalty. So knowing that the request I put in was going to fail, I went forward. I had read all the documentation that said the best way to do this was to remove all the links, so that’s exactly what I did. I went through all websites, every website. And every article that wasn’t written by me or my staff had all links removed. I removed all links to authors, which I’m sure will upset some authors. I removed. Google+ links. I removed image links. Anything was removed. Was it an extreme thing for me to do? Yes. Should I have left some things and really analyzed it? Yes. But when I’m looking at all of these articles and knowing how long it was going to take to do, I didn’t really have the time to sift through each article and say, well, this is an okay link, well, they won’t think this is a bad link, so I’ll keep this and I’ll keep that. No. I just removed all of the links. It’s a very simple process. It took my assistant about 12 hours to do. And that was it.

Now we’re going to write a reconsideration request again. We can already document that we removed sketchy plug-ins that were inserting links already. And we’re going to link to this video and say, okay, I completely understand what we’ve done wrong. We’ve absolutely fixed the problem. We’re not going to do it again. We’re changing our policy. We’re not accepting articles from Joe Schmo. We’ve got to really work with unique individuals. I have a method that I’m going to present to you that I think is going to solve all of this universally. So let’s move forward.

Slide 18: The Future of Links Video & Social Media

I believe the future of links is going to be video and social media. Now a couple of weeks ago, we had Danny Dover on the podcast. He laid it out. He said he is changing his business to be a video content marketing business. And I believe he’s hit the nail on the head. I believe he’s ahead of the curve and this is where I’m pushing all of my clients to and I urge you to do the same. It’s very simple. Get in front of the camera. Start talking. Talk about your product. This is what we’re working on with our clients. We’re going to be working on video podcasting for them. The transcription is going to move forward. We’re going to put it up on YouTube. All the steps that I’ve already talked about in terms of how to market video content is exactly what we’re going to provide to our clients now. Because writing an article is too questionable as to the validity of the content. But if I am sitting and interviewing one of my clients and we are having a unique and genuine conversation, then that is the best content you could ever get. It’s going to go up on YouTube. It’s going to go become a podcast. It’s going to become an article. It’s going to be transcribed and put back into YouTube, closed captioned. This is where it’s going. And it’s because YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and it is the future of ranking your website. Video content is going to be it. That’s from Danny Dover. I would recommend that you go back and listen to his interview because he really knows what he’s talking about.

Slide 19: YouTube/Twitter/Facebook Danny Dover

From my side, I’m going to add to what Danny said and I’m going to say building up your social media so you can market your videos to an audience is the other critical element. So YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Or YouTube, Twitter and Social Media. This is the way it’s going to go. This is the way that you get this done. Do I feel bad for Ann Smarty and all of the mom and pops out there that have been content driven with mediocre content? Absolutely. Look, you’re talking about the dissolution of a company that somebody built up from scratch. So I completely feel bad. Now, of course, I haven’t been a member for over two years because I kind of knew this was coming. I just didn’t know who they were going to hit and how they were going to hit them. Had I known that, I would have removed all links prior to this. Some people did. Some people read into what Matt Cutts was saying earlier than I got it. Obviously, I needed to get a penalty in order to make the change. But some people saw the curve before I did and that’s great. But I don’t think that paying people to write content about the stuff that they don’t necessarily uniquely know the answers to is the way to go anymore. We’re just not going to do it. It’s not productive. And instead, I’m pushing my clients to video content now. And that’s going to be much better. Let them build up a channel. Let them get subscribers. Let them get Facebook likes. Share that content. Promote that content. All of that. That’s the way to go.


So that’s the episode for today. I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Please do me a favor and subscribe. There should be a subscribe button on my YouTube Channel. We’re trying to get 1,000 subscribers. I’m going to do something really special. I’ve been kind of thinking of things. But I’m going to definitely sit down and figure out what fun stuff I can present to you with the 1,000 subscriber challenge.

Again, this is Jonathan Goodman and this is The World of Internet Marketing. You can follow me @HalyardConsult on Twitter. New episodes of the World of Internet Marketing can be heard every Friday. You can access the archives of my previous shows on – user name Jonathan Goodman. The podcast is also available with transcription at and one week after the episode airs. Thank you all for listening to another episode of The World of Internet Marketing. Don’t forget to pick up my book The World of Internet Marketing on Amazon, and if you like this podcast please share it with your network of friends and family. Have a great week.

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