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Unnatural Link Penalty. How to find and fix?

While optimizing a website for Search Engines, Link Building is the first thing that comes into people’s minds. In the rush of getting their website rank on Google as soon as possible people start searching for ways to get backlinks to their web pages. In the process, they often end up getting their website penalized by Google for disobeying the Unnatural Link guidelines.

Getting backlinks on your webpages is good as long as the links are not irrelevant or unnatural. In this guide, we’ll take a look at How to use link building without violating Google’s Unnatural Link guidelines.

So first, What are Unnatural Links?

Unnatural links are irrelevant links that people include on their website either to boost their own website’s rankings or someone else’s.

According to Google, any link which is placed on a webpage with an intention to manipulate PageRank of either appearing or targeted website will be considered as an unnatural link.

These includes:

  • Buying or selling dofollow links.
  • Excessive Link Exchanges.
  • Using automated softwares to get dofollow links.
  • Text advertisements that include dofollow links.
link schemes

Types of Unnatural Links:

Unnatural links can be of any type: Internal, External or Inbound.

Internal Unnatural Links:

Link building works both ways: Internally and Externally.

To boost a webpage’s SERP rank you don’t need to have backlinks from external websites only, sometimes linking a webpage to another one in the same website also results in a SERP boost.

For example: If there’s a page on your website which is not getting enough traffic then you can link that page to another high authority page on your website to pass PageRank or SEO benefits. You can do that by placing an internal link on your high authority page – which points to the weak page on your website.

But many webmasters abuse this SEO technique, they start adding irrelevant irrelevant links on their website to increase the SERP rank. Such links are considered as Internal Unnatural Links.

External Unnatural Links:

When you include an external irrelevant link on your website then it’s considered as External Unnatural Link.

Many famous websites offer dofollow links in exchange for money, such practices are considered as a violation of Google’s guidelines and can cause SEO penalty.

Inbound Unnatural Links:

Inbound/Incoming Unnatural links are the irrelevant backlinks which you get from other websites.

Google has a strict policy against those websites who buy links to manipulate their SERP rankings.

Most common way of getting Inbound unnatural links are paid links which you buy from other websites in exchange for money. But there are other ways too that some webmasters, these include:

  • Excessive Link Exchange: This is the most common practice webmasters use to get a lot of do-follow links. In this practice, two webmasters include outgoing links on their webpage which points to each other’s websites (link to me, and I’ll link to you). Such links are also known as Reciprocal Links. These links doesn’t have to be irrelevant to get you penalized. If Google’s Algorithm noticed frequent link exchanges between 2 websites, then it’ll be considered as an unnatural link, irrespective of how useful the link is.
  • Guest Post Campaigns: Everyone knows that Guest Posting is the most legitimate way of getting quality backlinks, but that also has its limitations. If you’re an Advertisement agency or a Marketer who publish Guest Post in bulk on the same website just for the sake of getting backlinks, then this can result in dropping your SERP ranking significantly.
  • Using Automated Softwares for backlinks: Most webmasters use automated softwares to generate a lot of backlinks to a particular website. These software use black hat SEO practices (like comment spamming, link exchange, PBN networks, etc.) to give you a lot of backlinks, but none of these links are legitimate, these links are from spammy websites and are considered as irrelevant links which can get your website penalized in many ways.
  • Text advertisements with do-follow backlink: If you buy or sell advertisement space on the website, make sure to mark all the links appearing in text-advertisements as “rel=nofollow” or “rel=sponsored”. Google specifically said in its Guidelines that text-advertisements should not pass PageRank.
  • Comment Spamming: Many newbie webmasters find the cheapest way of getting backlinks: Comment Spamming, they start commenting on every other website in their niche and leave a link to their webpage hidden in the anchor text. “I find your articles very useful. I also post <a href=”https://www.example.com>articles</a> about WordPress on my website.” Now, most of the websites have all the links appearing in the comments area marked as nofollow, but there are maybe still some websites that are badly coded and doesn’t have Nofollow attribute attached in its comment section links. These links can hurt SERP rankings of both the websites, the one where the link is appearing, and the targeted website.
  • Spammy web directories: Submitting your website to online directories is a good practice, but there are some directories that are spammy and are already penalized by Google. Submitting your website to those directories can get your website penalized too. Google has penalized many web submission directories in the past, and also the websites that were appearing on them.

How to find if your website is Penalized?

Many times a website gets penalized without even your noticing (especially the new websites). There are two types of penalties that can hit your website:

  • Algorithmic Penalty
  • Manual Actions

Algorithmic Penalty:

To find out if your website is affected by an Algorithmic Penalty, the first thing you should do is check if there’s a sudden drop in your website traffic or SERP rankings.

To do that, go to Google Analytics > Acquisition > All traffic >Source/Medium. Here you can track your visitors, organic traffic etc.

google analytics

If you notice any drop in your website’s traffic and SERP’s over the past few weeks/months, then it’s likely that you’ve been hit by a penalty.

Manual Actions:

This penalty occurs when Google’s webspam team takes some action against your website manually. Manual Actions are much easier to find.

Go to Google Search Console > Security an Manual Actions > Manual Actions.

manual action report

Here you can see if Google has taken any manual action against your website.

How to fix Unnatural Links penalty?

Now, once you find out that your website is hit by an Unnatural Links penalty, it’s time to fix it.

Fix Internal Unnatural Links:

Start by removing all Internal Unnatural Links on your website Go through each page on your website and remove all the links that are irrelevant and were included just to pass PageRank.

Fix External Unnatural Links:

Find all the irrelevant external links on your website which you’ve place either in exchange for money or by mistake and add “nofollow” attribute to each one of them.

Fix Inbound/Incoming Unnatural Links:

If you’ve followed any one of the above mentioned bad SEO practices to get dofollow backlinks, there are high chances that your website is penalized for that.

To find all irrelevant Inbound links on your website, first Go to SEMrush > Backlink audit.

semrush backlink audit
disavow link

Here you can find all the backlinks to your website along with their toxicity level. Higher the toxicity level is, the spammy the link can be.

Make a list of all the backlinks that you think are irrelevant, place all the links in a single file, and upload that file on Google Disavow tool. Disavow tool works similar as “dofollow”, it tells search engines that a particular link is unintended and should be deindexed.

Unnatural Links are the most common way to get a website penalized. Sometimes these links are intentional and sometimes by mistake. If you think your website is getting low traffic than usual, then you can follow above steps and check if your website falls under Unnatural Link usage penalty.

For any queries, feel free to ask in the comment area.

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