About a month ago I received an email from Google Search Console Team telling me that my website had received a “Manual Action Warning” from Google, and was being penalized, and thus could potentially begin to rank poorly. The warning was for having too many “unnatural outbound links” on my site. [Insert brakes screeching and everything coming to a hault!]
I’m just a little ‘ole lifestyle blogger. I’ve never done anything spammy, I don’t link out irresponsibly, and I don’t do anything to purposefully make Google mad. Talk about a wake up call! What in the world does this even mean??
What are unnatural outbound links?
Google defines “unnatural outbound links” as any links that do not come about organically in your text, as in, they appear to be sponsored, paid, purchased, or placed there in exchange for some sort of commission. Often times they can appear to be irrelevant to your overall content, deceptive, misleading, or being used to manipulate your PageRank and search rankings. Things like spammy link building, link parties, etc. can also throw the error.
How do you fix them?
Basically, in layman’s terms, any link on your site that you would not have placed there on your own accord, needs to be no-followed by search engines. If there’s any inclination that a link was somehow paid/sponsored, you must rel=”nofollow” it. Did a company send you a product to review, and then you linked back to their site? That link must be no-follow. It doesn’t matter if you were paid to review the product, or not paid, you still need to no-follow that link because it is still not a “naturally occurring” link.
So what does rel=”nofollow” mean and why is it so important?
rel=”nofollow” is a tag placed on the href attribute of a link. Without this tag, all links are followed by search engines automatically. You have to manually tell Google (we’ll just stick with Google, because really, who cares about the other SE’s) to not follow a specific link so that it does not take that link into consideration when ranking your site. You do not want untrusted or unnatural links influencing your search result rankings because this can come across as dishonest. Think of rel=”nofollow” as meaning, off limits to Google, “Google – do not read this link, skip over it, and do not let it influence how my site ranks!”
Link building is still a large part of good SEO though, and having good, quality sites linking to your site, as well as linking out to highly relevant and trusted sites, can still significantly improve your ranking. So, you do not want to go in and unfollow every single link on your site, just the links that you would not have put there without any outside force. As bloggers, we get a lot of opportunities, some paid, some not paid, and we often times link back to those brands or companies we have the pleasure of working with. However, we must be careful to remember to rel=”nofollow” these links because we do not want our site to appear to be cheating in the search engines in any way, even if you have no idea you’re even doing it.
Manual Action Warning
Because unnatural links can influence your search result rankings, they are a big no-no in the eyes of Google. Violating this “rule” can result in Google flagging your site, and sending you a manual action warning, which can significantly affect how your site performs in search results. It’s almost like Google presses pause on your site, and until you fix your links, Google can choose to prevent your site from ranking well.
How Do I Lift The Manual Action Warning?
Now, no one knows why or when they go around sending out these warnings. I’ve been blogging for 3 1/2 years, and randomly got this warning for the first time a month ago. I had no idea I was doing anything wrong – it had never even crossed my mind that all of my reviews, giveaways, ads, affiliates, etc. could somehow be penalizing me in Google.
In order to fix the problem, here are the steps I took:
- Went through my site, and tried to think of any post I’d done that contained any free product, any review, any giveaway, any post with affiliate links, or any post where I’d talked about something that wasn’t necessarily related to what I usually blog about.
- In those posts, I went through the code and added the rel=”nofollow” tag to any link I thought might be considered unnatural. (<a href=”http://sweetmiles.com” rel=”nofollow” > Sweet Miles Blog</a>
- I also went through my sidebar, and added the rel=”nofollow” to any badges containing links that needed it.
- I logged into my Google Webmaster Tools and looked at my Manual Actions, then submitted a Reconsideration Request where I detailed the links/pages I had fixed. (Google likes to see that you’re trying.)
- I went back and forth with Google about three times, being denied twice before on the third time they finally accepted my request, approved it, and lifted the warning.
You could also install a nofollow extension on your browser that will place a red box around any links that are nofollow, install a plugin that will place a box for you to check in the linking window when you want to make the link nofollow, or use a program to locate all of your outbound links and then analyze each one.
Thankfully, I never noticed a decrease in traffic during this time. Depending on how severe your warning is though, and how many links you have to fix, you very well could notice a traffic decrease the longer and longer your warning is in place.
I’m a blogger and I’ve been blogging for X amount of years and have never seen this – should I be worried?
Google is constantly crawling, checking sites, and updating their algorithms. If you’ve never gotten this warning before, have no idea what rel=”nofollow” means and don’t use them on your site, now would be a good time to start some housekeeping. Start going through old posts and update your links now while you’re in good standing, and start making it a habit to use the rel=”nofollow” tag on your links going forward.
Have you ever received this warning? Did it take you long to fix it? Do you regularly nofollow your sponsored links?