Ian Lurie // Jan 17 2013
Short version of this article: If you’ve been penalized for unnatural links by Google, either manually or under Penguin, you need to cut deep or you won’t recover. Now, the long version, with examples:
Here’s a joke I learned in hebrew school, an unmentionable number of decades ago:
Three guys are walking down the sidewalk. They come upon a pile of dog poo. The first one kneels down and gives it a big sniff. He says “Oy, that smells like poo.” The next guy touches it and says, “Oy, that feels like poo.” The last guy tastes it and says, “Oy, that tastes like poo.” Then, they all say, “Wow, sure am glad we didn’t step in it!!!”
The moral here: If it looks like poo, and it smells like poo, you probably don’t need to touch or taste it.
But, for when Google penalizes us for link spam, we ignore the rule. When it comes to links, apparently, we need to not only touch and taste, we need to roll around in it for a while like a Black Lab on speed, then jump up and down in front of Google yelling “This is OK! This is OK! This is OK!”
I get it: If you’ve been penalized under Google Penguin, it’s hard to know spam links from good ones. Your justification motor kicks into high gear. The problem with justification, though, is that Google doesn’t want it. They want to get rid of the spam.
So you need to do a really good job of sussing out the spammy links. I’ve done several reinclusion requests now, and I’ve put together some examples.
If you know about Google Penguin, skip the next section. You don’t need it.
Just to catch you up: Last Spring, Google began rolling out something called “Penguin.” Google Penguin targets any website attempting to move up in the rankings through ‘unnatural’ link acquisition. When it launched, the big G sent out warnings that looked something like this:
Then, your Google traffic plunges:
And then everyone starts screaming. Primal-type screams. Screams that would chill the very soul of the most cynical, shrivel-hearted meanie on the planet.
Once the screaming stops, most folks look for a way to fix the problem. The fix: Remove all the unnatural links, then go back to Google on bended knee. Hopefully, you get the penalty lifted, and life is good again.
I’m talking about the manual penalty and reinclusion process here. The ‘real’ Penguin penalty happens algorithmically, and can be a lot harder to detect and fix. We can save that nightmare for another post, yes?
What is an unnatural link? Hmmmm. Good question. Google’s not going to tell you. You can splutter angrily about it (I did), but the truth is, Google doesn’t have too. Unnatural (spammy, aka poopy) links are usually as obvious as a gargantuan turd on the sidewalk in front of you. I collected data on a bit over 200,000 links pointing at penalized sites, and after using some really advanced computer niftiness to automatically evaluate the links, I concluded:
If a link looks like poop, it’s poopy.
If you got a link by stuffing it into a press release where it makes no sense, it’s poopy.
If you got a link by dumping it into a forum post while thinking “Well, this will help me rank higher!”, it’s poopy.
If you got a link by posting to a site with thousands of pages of barely-readable drivel on subjects ranging from STDs to outdoor patio furniture, it’s poopy.
If you got a link by adding it to a list of links on a page with tons of other completely unrelated links, it’s poopy.
If you got a link by clicking away on bookmarking sites like a fiend, it’s poopy.
If you got a huge number of links from pages that could be totally legitimate, but are all one type of page — a link page, or a forum thread, or a press release page — then even though they’re not individually poopy, they may be poopy in aggregate. Get rid of them.
If you’re under a Google manual link penalty, and a link is spammy, or even seems a teeny bit spammy, or even a teeny-tiny-itty-bitty-bit spammy, then it’s poo. REMOVE IT.
You read all of these, and they’re obvious, right? You didn’t get these links because they were good marketing. You didn’t get them because someone loved your stuff. You got them to improve your rankings. Which makes them unnatural. But you’ll still try to justify those links. I know I do. I can hear this little voice in my head saying things like:
This press release only has 2 keyword-rich links in it. That’s better than 3, so it’ll be OK.
This spammy link directory is purely focused on kevlar products. It’ll be fine!
I worked damned hard to get this #
!# link. I am not taking it down.
Whatever. Google doesn’t want them justified. Google wants them gone.
If you’re under penalty, remove all links you obtained by:
If you didn’t get a link through real, honest-to-god marketing, take it down. Yes, that’s scary. You’re going to lose authority. You’re going to lose some good links in the process. But it’s also your best bet. Cyrus Shepard has a great case study on just this subject. Read what he had to do. It worked.
Or, justify away, file your reinclusion request and see what happens. It’s only a few more months in purgatory if you get rejected. What’s the worst that can happen?
One last tip. If you’re using disavow, use the domain: command generously. This is advice directly from the Google search quality team. Otherwise, you can miss a lot of spam links on a site, no matter how thorough you are. Or, spam links can sneak back in later.
Ian Lurie is founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an internet marketing agency that has provided internet marketing, including PPC, SEO, social and analytics services, since 1995. Read More