Don’t Panic, Moderate Link Exchanges Are OK

by Danielle Haley FSE Online Ltd
Danielle Haley

What Does Google’s Latest Manual Action Penalty Mean For Your Site?

Google has issued manual action penalties to sites that are selling backlinks or receiving freebies in exchange for promotion.

In March, Google published a warning on their webmaster blog that sites who promote companies in return for payment or freebies need to follow some best practice guidelines in order to avoid being penalised with the search engine. Google had noticed that sites were writing articles which linked to suppliers and were receiving free products as an incentive for publishing such reviews. The search engine noted that in order to stay out of trouble, sites that were engaging in this sort of promotion needed to ‘no follow’ links back to the product site, merchant pages or social media account that they were mentioning. In addition they should label their content as being ‘sponsored’ in order to provide transparency for readers.

Who Is Google Targeting?

The search engine is initiating a crackdown on webmasters who choose to sell backlinks or receive freebies at an excessive level. Those that link out too much are now under scrutiny as to the motivation behind their activities. However, some bloggers, advertisers and also forums which are home to many backlinks may also receive a notification to act.

Manual Action Penalties

Historically, when Google provides best practice advice regarding the use of the ‘No Follow’ tag, this step is usually followed with a Manual Action Penalty for sites in the SERPs and this occasion was no exception.

A few weeks on and some offending sites have noticed a drop in rankings due to a manual action penalty being applied. Site owners who regularly check their Google Search Console account would have received a message from the search engine warning them that a pattern of unnatural or low quality outbound links has been detected at either a ‘site-wide’ or ‘partial match’ level.

Those that ignored the message will have now experienced a drop in ranking. Google issues around 400,000 of these penalties per month and those that are repeat offenders tend to experience stiffer punishments of a longer duration. If you are affected, follow our advice on removal of manual penalties.

Concerns Over Guest Blogging

This news may concern thousands of site owners who include guest blogs on their platform. However, it is important not to panic. Google understands the importance of mutual content promotion and is only attempting to penalise unnatural linking perhaps between two sites of ill-matching genres. It is perfectly natural that a supplier and a buyer would want to swap links and that an audience would benefit from this exchange. Google itself recognises that many promotional articles contain extremely useful information that users would find to be valuable.

The advice here is not to remove the articles, but simply to follow the rules. John Mueller of Google recently commented in a forum discussion that

“It’s fine to keep these kinds of posts up, sometimes there’s a lot of useful information in them! However, the links in those posts specifically need to be modified so that they don’t pass PageRank.”

Those that haven’t received a warning in their Google Search Console account should be assured that the latest development probably won’t affect them. However, to keep in favour with the search engine, it is vital to follow the guidelines. Site owners should still be able to participate in moderate link exchanges but the focus should always be on providing unique and compelling content that adds value to your users and to the web.

If you are concerned that your site may be targeted by this update, carry out a link audit to identify which links into and out of your website may be causing problems.



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