Unnatural links can be quite a problem for your website if you’re aiming to rank high in search engine result pages. Google is keen on identifying these links and making sure that users only find results that are useful to them.
So how do you identify unnatural links and what do you do when you find them?
What are Unnatural Links?
The main idea of unnatural links is that they are links that aim to manipulate a page’s ranking. This is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Google began focusing on finding these links starting when the Penguin update rolled out in Mid-April of 2012. Since then, websites that have violated this have been penalized.
When this update first came out, it caused a lot of problems for webmasters and bloggers in SEO. They reported that the new updates were vague and hard to work around.
For example, sending a product to a blogger and having them review it is counted as an unnatural link. Google saw this as a link that was not naturally earned and that was produced by offering an incentive. As a result, these links were to be penalized.
So if you want to make sure that your web pages don’t get penalized for unnatural links, you need to have a good understanding of them.
What is a Google Penalty?
A Google penalty is a result of violating the guidelines of Google with spammy techniques that are outlined in Google’s Spam Policies for Google Web Search.
Google penalties usually come in the form of demoting the rankings of web pages. If the violations are even more severe, these web pages are removed altogether from search engine result pages.
Google does this because it is their primary goal to enhance user experience. They want to make sure that users find what they need as fast as they can. That’s why if they’re directed to pages that don’t bring value, these pages are penalized.
Common Examples of Unnatural Links
Some unnatural links are easy to spot because Google gave clear descriptions as to what they are. But some unnatural links are a bit harder to discern because some of Google’s definitions are a bit vague and general.
Here are the common examples of unnatural links that you need to be familiar with. Knowing these will help you avoid them on your web pages.
1. Paying for Links
This unnatural link is pretty easy to spot. As long as you pay for a link to be placed on another website, it’s considered an unnatural link. This is pretty plain and simple.
But what if it’s a donation?
There are websites that offer to place your link on a reputable page if you “donate” money. Obviously, this is a paid link that is disguised as a donation.
But what if it’s an honest donation and a website wishes to thank you and mentioned your link to acknowledge your website? This is okay if the motivation behind it is only to thank you.
What doesn’t make this okay is if it’s being treated as a link-building strategy. If you start donating to websites that you know are going to thank you right after with a link, then it becomes a violation of the guidelines.
2. Exchanging Links for Goods or Services
This is one of the kinds of unnatural links that are a bit hard to identify. As with our example in the discussion about what unnatural links are, links that are obtained in exchange for goods or services are considered unnatural.
Google sees this as an effort to manipulate PageRank. To solve this problem, you can request the bloggers that will review your goods and services to mark their links as nofollow. These are links with a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag applied to them. This tells search engines to ignore that link.
Nofollow links do not pass PageRank so as a result, they don’t affect search engine rankings.
3. Spamming Blog Posts or Guestpost
This is one of the more recent updates to the guidelines. Google noticed that there are more and more blog posts that spam links to websites. It becomes a link building strategy that doesn’t benefit users so Google addressed this.
Google stated that links that are inserted into articles with little coherence are considered unnatural links. It’s important to take into consideration the words that Google used. They mentioned “articles” and didn’t specify “low-quality articles”. This means that it includes all guest posts.
This has caused alarm in the SEO community. Does that mean that guest posting isn’t a good strategy anymore because it’s against the quality guidelines?
This was addressed in an interview with Matt Cutts, the head of webspam at Google.
“The problem is that if we look at the overall volume of guest posting we see a large number of people who are offering guest blogs or guest blog articles where they are writing the same article and producing multiple copies of it and emailing out of the blue and they will create the same low-quality types of articles that people used to put on an article directory or article bank sites.”
Does that mean as long as you ensure links are inserted in high-quality guest posts, you’re good to go? Actually, the guidelines don’t specify between high-quality and low-quality guest posting. What they do specify is that links created by large-scale guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor texts can be identified as unnatural.
As long as links aren’t created on a large scale, you should be okay.
4. Link Trading
The main idea here is “link to me and I’ll link to you.” An example of this can be seen in websites that connect people through resource pages. These pages are usually dedicated to providing links that visitors can follow to find the people they need.
Since you’re linking to these people, there’s a high chance that you’ll also have links on their websites.
Just like the previous discussion, this becomes a link building strategy when it’s done in bulk. If it’s done too much, it becomes spammy and will be considered unnatural links. A good rule of thumb to follow is to make sure that the links are still relevant to your website. Also, only link to websites that you would still want to mention even if they didn’t link back to you.
How to Deal with Unnatural Links
Now that you’re able to identify what unnatural links are, it’s time to learn how to take care of them. It’s important that we take action against unnatural links as soon as possible to avoid getting penalties from Google.
1. Identify Low-Quality Links
The first step is to identify if you have low-quality links that you receive from other websites. Here are some important things you need to look for:
- Links that are coming from link farms and link directories.
- Links that are generated by automated software or an automatic backlink service.
- Links that you had to pay for.
These are usually the easiest unnatural links to identify. To do so, here are some of the popular tools that you can use:
- SE Ranking
These are tools for tracking backlinks. You’ll be able to check the domain ratings of the sites that link back to your webpage and view the traffic it generates. You can go check out the website to see if it’s a possible unnatural link.
2. Email the Website to Take Down the Link
The second course of action is to email the website and request for them to take down the link. Include a list of all the links to be removed from their website.
Make sure that you are both friendly and polite in your letter. You won’t strike a good impression if you come off as rude and start to threaten them, and you won’t get what you’re asking for.
3. Submit a Disavow File to Google Search Console
If webmasters don’t respond to your email, it’s time to submit a disavow file to Google.
What this does is it tells Google to ignore certain links that go back to your website. Most of the tools we previously mentioned allow you to create a disavow file that you can upload to Google.
Simply select all the potentially unnatural links that you’ve found and you’ll be able to see an option to disavow these domains. Once you click this option, you’ll be able to download them as a text file.
You can then head on to Google Search Console and upload your disavow file there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Taking Charge of Unnatural Links
Unnatural links can greatly harm your website. Google will penalize your webpage by lowering your page rank and possibly even removing it from search engine result pages. This can be extremely frustrating especially if you work hard on your content.
To help mitigate this problem, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what unnatural links are. You can then take preventative measures to make sure you don’t get any. For example, you won’t pay for any links and actively refuse offers to get links in exchange for goods or services.
You can also actively look for low-quality web pages that link back to your website. Once you’ve identified these potentially unnatural links, you can take the necessary steps to remove them.