Google hates “unnatural links” — even if you don’t know what they are.

Posted on 21 Jul ’13 by Earl


The following recent experience is being shared for those who might find themselves in a similar situation with Google’s efforts to improve their link search content.

I’ve used Google’s Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics for years to track Google’s indexing of this blog and those visitors it receives.  They’ve both been useful tools allowing me to fix minor issues with this site and to understand which posts are generating the greatest interest on the internet.

It was a surprise this past May 16th, 2013, when I received the email below from the Google Search Quality Team:

Screen capture of email text from Google about "unatural links." - May 16th, 2013
Screen capture of email text from Google about “unatural links.” – May 16th, 2013

Since this is a simple blog and I don’t participate in any “linking schemes” or had not made any in-depth changes to the site in recent months my first reaction, after making  sure malware wasn’t installed on Meandering Passage,  was to proclaim my lack of knowledge, my innocence — requesting Google to reconsider and reexamine the site.

Their response follows.

Results from initial request to reconsider, Google Search Quality Team,  May 23th, 2013
Results from initial request to reconsider, Google Search Quality Team, May 23th, 2013

Notice no details of exactly what is wrong beyond it having to do with links…they leave you having to read the guidelines and trying to figure it out.

At this point I took some time (almost 2 months) to do some research and to check the help forums mentioned in the email.  What I discovered was a lot of sites get flagged with this message, some of which blatantly are taking part in some sort of scheme and many others, such as I, who have somehow been captured in the Google quality net sweep without knowingly understanding what, if anything, they did to get there.

Since I knew this issue had something to do with linking and Googles search engine indexing I took some “drastic measures” to try and eliminate it.  

  • First, I disabled the “CommentLuv” WordPress plugin since it places a link in each comment back to the commenters latest post — not sure if these were nofollow or follow links but I wasn’t taking any chances.
  • Second, I installed the WordPress “Nofollow Internal Links” plugin which adds the “nofollow” rel attribute to unimportant internal link, including: read more, tag cloud links, categories, archive links, author post_link and comments popup link.
  • Third, I installed the WordPress “SEO Nofollow External” plugin which automatically adds rel=”nofollow” and target=”_blank” to all external links.

Basically, I drastically reduced the links the Google Spider would be following on/from my site.

After completed these three steps another request for reconsideration received the following response.

Google Quality Search Team final response, July 19th, 2013.
Google Quality Search Team final response, July 19th, 2013.

You might wonder what the repercussions were once the notice was issued.  Meandering Passage’s Google Page Rank was set to zero (0) and searches which would before bring up a Meandering Passage post link on the first page were now placing it somewhere lower so it was not being view by most people.  Google search engine traffic to Meandering Passage was noticeably dropping off.

After Google revoked their “manual action” Meandering Passage’s page rank is back to normal and it’s again appearing nearer the top of relative Google searches.

I’m not sure which of the three steps may have solved the “problem,” but I’m probably going to leave things as they are for now.




What Others Are Saying

  1. Markus 21 Jul ’13 at 3:31 pm

    Strange things you are reporting, Earl. And annoying in that there’s no help or hint from google in terms of what to do and what not to do. On my blog index page, there is only one nofollow attribute in a link to the website itself, and I have none of these plugins installed but so far didn’t have trouble with my (low) page rank.

    As helpful as google is (for the moment let’s leave aside privacy and other issues), this complete intransparency can be troublesome, especially if you want to play along their rules but cannot find them.

    • Earl 28 Jul ’13 at 3:57 pm

      Markus, Some of these things I wish I wish I knew nothing of, because the more I know the less I understand! The only thing I know for sure is the “big guys” make the rules and we either follow or get run over.

  2. John - Visual Notebook 23 Jul ’13 at 9:18 am

    I’ve never used Google Analytics or any other tool to assist in rankings – but I need to. Sorry you had such a hassle, but at least you’ve given those of us who need to use Analytics something to think about, especially if we use WordPress (I do…). Thanks!

    • Earl 28 Jul ’13 at 3:59 pm

      John, the whole web search ranking and all is as much “magic” as it is science for the vast majority of people. If someone says they fully understand it, be wary.

  3. Monte Stevens 23 Jul ’13 at 12:57 pm

    There is so much going on with the internet and blogging and everything else, I’m totally out of it. It looks like the first response to your email may have been a computer generated email, which does not surprise me. I think the more popular the blog the closer they look.

    • Earl 28 Jul ’13 at 4:01 pm

      Monte, I think I was actually dealing with a Google Team. I’d hardly say Meandering Passage was a popular site but I guess to them it’s all the same. They might be even harder on smaller sites that have less clout — who knows?

  4. Mark 25 Jul ’13 at 10:07 pm

    Earl, i could probably write pages about the past several months I have spent trying to figure out what was going on with my site. While I didn’t get the notification you did from Webmaster tools, I did submit my site for reconsideration because I thought I had exhausted all possible options. Nonetheless, it was driving me nuts until I just gave up.

    Basically I had my site on page 1 search for ‘nature photography’ for the longest time. I was always near 8-10 in ranking. Then at some point in time (hard to know exactly when), my site dropped to something like page 30+ (basically nonexistent for that search term). I read about new Penguin rules and all this stuff that made my head spin. Did a bunch of tweaks about trying to avoid duplicated content, started ‘disavowing links’, banning IP’s / sites linking in that I thought may be considered “link farms,” did the no-follow stuff, and other things that may have hit me. Nothing was working. And the weird thing was, my site was ranked highly for some of my other key phrases, just that one particular term I took a big hit into search engine oblivion.

    After coming to my wits end, I went through that reconsideration request, and they replied that there were no manual actions against my site. So at that point, I just gave up. I couldn’t find any logic whatsoever to the sites that ranked highly vs. what was happening to mine.

    Well, a couple of months or so have gone by now, and for some reason my site is gaining some rank again. I am up to page 4 from the depths of 30+. The bad thing is, like you, I have absolutely no clue what were good or bad things I did. But I am leaving things be for now same as you. This stuff really can drive you crazy.

    • Earl 28 Jul ’13 at 4:06 pm

      Mark, I certainly don’t understand what drives some of the changes in search results and rankings I’ve observed. There’s people who proclaim they know all about SEO who are more then willing to take your money but I have my doubts about any of them.

      It’s like I told Markus above…”The only thing I know for sure is the “big guys” make the rules and we either follow or get run over.” We never get to be the windshield — always the bug. :-)

      Good luck in getting back to page 1.

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