Recently, we posted an article here on our blog discussing how to perform a backlink audit to avoid an “unnatural links” warning email from Google. If you haven’t received such a warning yet, that’s great – just be sure to conduct a regular backlink audit to keep your website in the clear.
But if you have already received an unnatural links warning or penalty, it’s time to take action to correct the problem and get your website back in Google’s good graces so you can regain your high rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
What triggers an unnatural links warning from Google?
It’s all about your backlinks: the links from other sites to your site. Google wants to make sure you’re not pulling Black Hat SEO tricks like using link farms or bombarding forums with hundreds of spam comments containing links to your site. Your site is judged by the quality of your backlinks, so it’s up to you to make sure they’re good ones.
So in Google’s warning, the text of the email will say that unnatural links were detected and warn you that “some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines” with regard to link schemes.
Those guidelines include some very basic rules, so they’re worth reading. For example, thou shalt not:
- Buy, sell or even offer “free” gifts in exchange for links that pass PageRank.
- Engage in excessive link exchanging with other website owners. (Although we do recommend certain White Hat SEO link building techniques, trying to take shortcuts is counterproductive and will just get you in trouble with Google.)
- Build partner websites for the sole purpose of cross-linking.
- Use automated link building programs to create links to your site.
- Post spam-packed forum comments, as mentioned above.
The way to resolve your unnatural links warning is to make sure you don’t have any of these types of bad backlinks. To resolve them, first follow the steps in our article on how to conduct a backlink audit to get a list of the links in your backlink profile.
Should you disavow bad backlinks?
Although it’s available, the new Google disavow tool is more of a last resort than a first choice. Google’s spam detection folks would rather see you make an effort to remove the links first.
So before you file that reconsideration request with Google or disavow anyone, try to distance yourself from backlinks that are obviously low quality (for instance, they advertise casinos, porn and pills), aren’t indexed by Google, or radiate virus and malware warnings when you try to visit them.
Getting bad backlinks off your permanent record
Once you have a list of the links you’d like to remove, it’s letter-writing time. First create a spreadsheet with the link, the action taken, and the status of each request. Then draft a friendly form letter to the webmasters of the sites from which you need your link to disappear. Explain the situation, tell the webmaster the exact URL of the page where the link is based and the exact link to remove, and ask very nicely to have it removed.
You may have several such emails to send out. It helps to create a dedicated email or Gmail account for your backlink removal efforts so nothing slips through the cracks.
When to disavow links
After you’ve gotten as many of the bad links removed as possible, you can use the “disavow links” tool on those links for which the webmaster didn’t respond or take action. Then you can finally request reconsideration from Google.
It may take a few weeks to go through this process, but a good faith effort may mean that your site will spend less time being penalized. So bad backlink removal is worth doing right the first time.