Unnatural Outbound Links Penalty: My Bad Romance with Google

I know I’ve been very inconsistent lately and I think I need to apologize. I rarely post anymore but when you’re faced with a lot of things that can literally kill your morale, it becomes almost impossible to come up with any sensible piece of writing. Also, if you’ve ever been faced with the dreaded writer’s block, you’ll understand how hard it is coming up with anything even if the ideas are right there in your smart skull. That’s a story for another day anyway.

I’ve committed a lot of SEO sins intentionally and I’ve broken a lot of rules even though I was aware of what the outcome would be.

It’s more like playing a game of Russian Roulette that involves a huge amount of cash. You can win big… and you may lose your life over it.

From black hat SEO using software programs to publishing sponsored articles that do not comply with Google Webmaster guidelines, I’ve learned a lot of lessons and I’m a bit repentant now.

I got hit by Penguin 2.0 and ever since that evil Hummingbird was released, I’ve been witnessing a steady decline in traffic. Imagine a stone dropping from the sky… that’s just how it feels. Google is trying to get smarter and in the process, lots of businesses have been affected especially those that rely on search engine traffic.

How it all started

Since the release of Penguin 2.0, I’ve been getting serious link removal requests. I’ve published a huge number of sponsored articles and guest posts on this blog, linking to other sites freely, passing PageRank and breaking Google’s rules. There was a time I was making close to $700 monthly from sponsored articles alone. An article gets submitted, you sit back, do a few editing, publish on your blog and a $100 payment makes its way into your PayPal account. Sometime, I would be asked to write the piece and I may charge a little more in such cases.

Don’t bother to berate me, I know that’s pretty sloppy. I got too lazy and way too careless, and I don’t need any bashing to know that. Thank you very much.

Anyway, I started getting those link removal request and there was a day I was surprised to be contacted by an SEO company requesting to remove a link from my comment section. The comment didn’t even look spammy, it was a real comment that contributed to the article. These guys too got hit with either a manual or algorithmic penalty and were desperately trying to clean up their backlink profile.

I went ahead to remove links from my comment section, uninstalled Commentluv and eventually switched to Disqus but that wasn’t enough. The harm done by spammy links in comments was rather negligible.

On a post where Matt Cutts explained the death of guest posting, a link was dropped by someone in the comments listing customers of GuestPostShop, a guest posting company. Matt Cutts acknowledged it and then also posted a link listing sites that received guest articles from GuestPostshop.

This blog was listed on the page Matt Cutts (head of Google Web Spam team) linked to.

Unfortunately, I didn’t receive a dime from that guest post. It was a pretty good piece of writing I was compelled to publish and it was wrong for Tim of SearchEngineLeaks  to assume that all posts published by GuestPostShop was sponsored financially.

A red letter from Google

On January 31st, I got this email from Google:

I saw the email and I was like WTF?! I was facing the writer’s block, trying to recover from Penguin, and now this? I was staring at my screen and was numb for a minute or so. I knew that wasn’t gonna help me so I got myself together and did what I was supposed to do within one hour.

What I did to revoke the penalty

The first thing I did was to identify a few dangerous links and remove them. I was thinking of scanning all my articles but then I knew it was gonna be one hell of a workload. Trying to identify potentially dangerous outbound links in over 900 published articles can’t be done by just one person. Besides I had to check over 200 author bios!

Well, thank God I use Worpress, there’s always a plugin to fix every problem.

I installed Nofollow for external link and every external link in all  articles got the nofollow tag automatically. Whew! That saved me a lot of hard labor.

That plugin only worked for posts and I still had links in author bios. I simply deactivated the author bio widgets I was using and it was all gone. No more external links.

All done one hour after I got the manual penalty.

I logged in to Google Webmaster Tools and used the appeal form. I explained the changes I made and below is the exact message I sent:

We accepted guest articles in the past and this is the root of our problem though we have addressed this now accordingly. Here are measures we’ve taken so far:

– We have removed lots of links manually from posts. We have made some effort and this include checking our recent and older posts and manually removing links we suspect got us the manual penalty.

– We have added rel=”nofollow” attribute to all external links that are suspicious. This is done site-wide.

– We no longer allow links to author’s websites in our website’s comment section since this can be a source of problem too. Comment authors sometimes can be spammy.

– Since a lot of guest authors add links to their bio, we no longer display author bio below posts anymore. It has been removed site-wide.

We hope to receive a positive response and we promise to abide by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Thanks for the reconsideration.

I was confident I was gonna get a positive response even though it might take a long time. When Google penalizes you for anything, it’s better to be honest, accept the blame and do what you’re supposed to do. I’ve received warnings  from Adsense a number of times before and I’ve realized that it’s better to be honest and abide by the rules when making a reconsideration request.

On February 16th, I logged in to Google Webmaster Tools and saw a message that was sent on 14th February that the manual penalty had been revoked:

I heaved a sigh of relief. Now, it’s back to business as usual though I’m pretty sure it’s gonna take a while to get back my ranking.

So, what’s my take on sponsored and guest posting now?

Guest posting still works if not abused and I may start receiving them later but for now, to hell with it. I ain’t receiving those sponsored articles too no more and I’m gonna be very careful with whom I link to.

The money was good, I got greedy, forgot the rules and got hammered.

I learned the hard way, I hope you don’t.

This post was last modified on December 19, 2016 9:02 PM

Don Caprio: @doncaprio Husband, superdad, ubergeek, lazy writer, serious gamer, gadget collector, amateur photographer, web designer. I'm on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

View Comments (13)

  • Woow that is a good lesson for all blogger worldwide
    so now external like on a blog are not good is better to no follow all of them right?

    • You only need to leave the natural links as they are and nofollow the rest. You don't need to nofollow trusted sites with high domain authority.

  • I can only imagine the emotional drama you must have passed through buddy. Following this post, i just added Nofollow for external link plugin asap to my blog to see the turn out. So how has the traffic been for you so far since the re-inclusion?

    • So far, there hasn't been any significant change. Just gonna keep my fingers crossed and hope things gets back to normal.

  • I always have been a fan of being natural as far as SEO is concernced. All this blue-, black-, white- and off-colour- hat tricks are good for nothing.

    The people I pity most are those who use some sort of software to build backlinks. Hmm! You better read SearchEngineLand's experience, which I think is worse than DonCaprio's before proceeding to kill your Blog with such apps.

    Anyway, I am happy your website is back on its feet after this bad experience. As far as SEO is concerned, no one is an expert. Because judges all SEO.

  • I thought as much coz i noticed some drastic changes on this blog over the past few months. Good you are back. Within the next 2 weeks you should be more balance. Is quite a huge lesson. Thanks for sharing

  • I read the news about it. So, that time I made some changes on the guidelines about guest posting. I will provide nofollow for articles and fortunately some contributors accepted it.

  • I also got a pingback about this post about guest post shop linked to an article i published for them but luckily i didn't grant them any link on the article except the one they got on the bio which is not such a bad thing, and i also use the Nofollow for external link plugin, so i responded to the article and explained that i have not done anything wrong which the author of that article agree with me, after a month or so he sent me a mail asking me if i noticed any decline in traffic which i told him no meaning that Google didn't penalize me for it, but i went ahead to delete the author and attribute the post to myself since its already hosted on my blog which has made it my property as my blogging guideline stipulates.

    I am glad to hear that you have rectified this problem, i guess i was lucky to have escaped it and i will surely enforce such measures to protecting my blog from spammers.