What happened when Google discovered I had “Unnatural Outbound Links”

On Sunday, August 17th I woke up and checked my e-mail. Within my inbox was the following e-mail from Google:

Google Logo

http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/: Unnatural outbound links

Google has detected a pattern of artificial or unnatural links on this site. Selling links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

As a result of unnatural links from your site, Google has applied a manual spam action to travelinlibrarian.info/. There may be other actions on your site or parts of your site.


Recommended action

  • Identify paid or otherwise inorganic links by using rel=”nofollow” or redirecting to an intermediate page that is blocked by robots.txt.
  • Remove any problematic links from your site.
  • When you’re satisfied that your site follows Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, submit a reconsideration request.
  • For an updated list of manual actions currently applied to your site, visit the Manual Actions page. If no manual actions are listed, there is no longer a need to file a reconsideration request.

If we determine your site is no longer in violation of our guidelines, we’ll revoke the manual action.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please visit the Webmaster Help Forum.


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Basically, I went into minor-freak-out mode. Read the linked docs and watched the linked video and I was still at a loss as to the logic behind this notice. The Google searching was next. The best thing I could find was someone who figured out that in their case the problem was with a large number of Amazon affiliate links. Sounds like that could apply to me too. I’ve put up a lot of Amazon affiliate links in the past eleven years. But how to solve it?
At the same time I was discussing the issue with the amazing members of the WordPress and Librarians Facebook group. WP guru JP pointed me to the Text Replace plugin. With that I was able to insert rel=”nofollow” into every Amazon link on my site past, present, and future.
Thinking the problem solved, I went back to Google and submitted my request for reconsideration explaining what I’d done and the fact that I manually scan comments and block offending comments so comment spam (another oft-mentioned problem) shouldn’t be an issue.
On August 23rd I got their response:

Google Logo

Reconsideration request for http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/: Site violates Google’s quality guidelines

Dear Webmaster of http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/,

We received a reconsideration request from a site owner for http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/.

We’ve reviewed your site and we believe that http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/ still violates our quality guidelines. In order to preserve the quality of our search engine, pages from http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/ may be subject to one or more of the following actions:

  • Removal from the search results
  • Ranking change
  • Changes to search result appearance
  • Be considered to be less trustworthy than sites that follow the quality guidelines

Recommended actions

  • Use the Manual Actions page in Webmaster Tools to view actions currently applied to your site. It may take some time before recent updates to your site’s status are reflected on the Manual Actions page and in our search results.
  • On the Manual Actions page, you may request reconsideration of your site again.
  • If you see a hacked manual action in the Manual Actions section of Webmaster Tools, we suggest reviewing Security Issues for other actions on your site.
  • If you have additional questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum.

Sincerely,
The Google Search Quality Team

A note from your reviewer:

Here is an example that exhibits this issue: “Playstation 3” at http://travelinlibrarian.info/2010/06/tron-video-game-trailer/


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Denied!
But at least this time they provided me with an example. (Don’t bother looking at the post, the offending code is gone.) Here’s what they were complaining about…
In June of 2010 I embedded a video of the game trailer for the then new Tron video game. That embedded video no longer works. However, the embed code that the site gave me to use included a link back to the source site’s page about Playstation 3 games. This is the link Google had a problem with. Easily removed but, seriously?
I removed the offending link and submitted another request for reconsideration. This time, as politely as possible, explaining the source of that link, the fact that I’d removed it, and asking how I was supposed to go back through 11 years of posts (more than 5,800) and find links like that and “fix” them.
On August 28th, I got the response I was hoping for the first time:

Google Logo

Reconsideration request for http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/: Manual spam action revoked

Dear Webmaster of http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/,

We have processed the reconsideration request from a site owner for http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/ and removed the actions previously applied to your site. Our review of your site indicates the violations of our quality guidelines have been resolved.

You can use the Manual Actions page in Webmaster Tools to view the actions currently applied to your site. It may take some time before recent updates to your site’s status are reflected on this page and in our search results.

While there are no manual actions on your site, there may be other issues that could affect your site’s ranking or how it appears in the search results. Google determines the order of search results using more than 200 different signals. Some fluctuation in ranking will happen from time to time as we make updates to present the best results to our users. Your site’s ranking could also change based on any detected security issues. We suggest checking the Security Issues page to see if we have detected hacking on your site.

If your site continues to have trouble in our search results, please see our Help Center for help with diagnosing the issue.

Thank you for helping us to maintain the quality of search results for our users.

Sincerely,
The Google Search Quality Team


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So, what’s the moral of this story. Honestly, I have no idea. I followed the little advice I could find online but that didn’t seem to help. Once they finally pointed to a single “bad” link hidden within 11 years of content I did what they asked and the problem was “solved.” I’m mostly posting this for the record than as advice. If this has happened to you, I’d love to hear how you dealt with it in the comments.
September 11th, 2014 by
xxxfullfilms