Google “Unnatural Outbound Links” hits bloggers
Many bloggers and other sites were hit this month with Google’s latest notice on “Unnatural Outbound links”.
This manual action was issued by Google to tackle sites linking to others with the intention to manipulate Google search results. Some of the following earned media techniques can be affected by Google’s Unnatural Outbound Links:
– Collaborations with bloggers through product reviews which are not labelled as collaboration or sponsored posts.
– Over use of the press release as a way to earn coverage and links.
– Excessive use of press release distribution wires.
– Voucher or other incentives given to bloggers in order to produce a piece of coverage on behalf of a brand.
This doesn’t mean link building is dead, it just means it is facing another stage in its evolution.
A look at the penalty notice
A number of bloggers received notices like the one shown below, beginning with the words “Unnatural outbound links from [domain name] violate Google Webmaster Guidelines”.
What to do if you have been hit by the Unnatural Links Penalty?
The unnatural outbound links manual action doesn’t state that you are being removed from the index, just that there is a loss of link trust from links on your site. However, you should not be complacent, there are several actions that you should take:
– Start a link audit
– Plan a link removal
– Request reconsideration from Google, outlining the actions that you have taken
If you have been hit by the unnatural links manual action, here are some steps to follow:
1 Add rel=nofollow
One of the first things you need to do is look at all the post’s you have created in collaboration with brands and add a rel=nofollow tag to some of them. If the post has the characteristics of an advert, then it would be best to remove it.
On HTML the tag will look like this:
<a href=”http://yourwebsiteurl.com” rel=”nofollow”>Your Link Text</a>
2 Plan a clean up
Gather all the blog posts you have created in collaboration with brands and look for the following on each post:
– The post looks like an advert (all about the product with no story or little relevancy).
– The post alters significantly your blogs content pattern. For example, if you normally post pictures and little text, or tutorials, or stories, and suddenly you have a blog post that is completely different to what you normally write about and in there you have a link to a brand’s homepage, then for Google’s crawlers this will be defined as an unnatural post.
– Your posts in collaboration with brands start with the following: “I was contacted by a PR…” or “I was contacted by a brand” and the post has a follow link to just one brand without disclosure, sponsorship or collaboration. This post will also be considered unnatural.
– Having posts not related to your blog. For example, if you blog about fashion, beauty, children or being a mum and suddenly you write a post about insurance or finances with a follow link to a brand, no matter how “natural” you want to make it look it will be classed as unnatural.
If you have posts with the above characteristics then it would be best to remove them.
It is likely you found out about your penalty by having received a manual action notice sent from Google Webmaster Tools. However, if you do not use Webmaster tools, get signed up (it’s free and useful).
Once you’ve conducted your clean up and added a nofollow tag to all unnatural links, use the option in your Webmaster Tools console to submit a request for reconsideration. Explain fully in your request what you did to address the problem (tip: keep a record on a spreadsheet of all the changes you made to blog posts as well as removals). It normally takes a day or two (or three) for Google to respond.
How to avoid being hit by this manual action
In the last couple of years, link earning has developed into a combination of PR and Journalism in which there should not be a difference of content treatment between journalists and bloggers. Brands and their marketing teams or agencies should be producing high quality content that is relevant, useful or entertaining for their audiences in order to earn natural coverage.
This content can result from the application and adoption of some of the following techniques (there are lots more):
– Research – this can be qualitative or quantitative and supported by surveys, interviews, observation and experimentation.
– Data focussed stories that can be presented in videos or interactive content.
– Data without a story is meaningless, data is forgettable, stories never.
– Blogger events are a great experience for brands, PRs and bloggers. Events allow brands to develop relationships with influencers and this is invaluable for future collaborations, brainstorming (together) and creating content together.
– PR stunts (carefully planned and always sticking to brand guidelines). A PR stunt is a planned event, story or campaign launched in order to attract the audience’s attention instantly. These stunts normally cause shock, surprise, or immediate mixed emotions.