Google Speaks Up About Links and Penalties: Link Building News Update

Estimated reading time:
4 minutes

In-house and agency SEOs

Top takeaways:
• Google, in line with efforts to be more communicative with webmasters, announced an algorithm change to negatively impact rankings of sites with aggressive SEO.
• Google has recently started notifying webmasters through Webmaster Tools of penalties resulting from “artificial” or “unnatural” links. These same penalties were previously issued without notification.
• A proposed solution to help Google identify malicious artificial links may or may not be implemented by Google. However, there are still many acceptable inbound linking tactics that site owners can pursue, as shared by resources listed here.

There’s been much discussion recently about safe link earning tactics in light of Google’s rising vocalization of over-optimization. This post will get you up to speed on the events unfolding and provide you with resources for link building tactics that are Google approved.

Google has made an effort in the past few months to be more communicative with webmasters. In January and February of 2012, more than 700,000 messages have been sent to webmasters via Google Webmaster Tools. This number surpasses the number of messages sent throughout all of 2010. Messages include both manual and automated communications, such as malware notifications and responses to reconsideration requests.

In March, Google web spam police chief Matt Cutts told assembled SXSW attendees at a panel about achieving better rankings that a soon-to-be-released algorithm update would penalize sites for aggressive SEO. Hear audio recording of Matt’s comments and a transcript of one critical excerpt:

“We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there is something we are working in the last few months and hope to release it in the next months or few weeks. We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on a page, or whether they exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect in a particular area. It is an active area where we have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”

Today come more reports that Google is sending out warnings about “unnatural” and “artificial” links. According to a Google spokesperson, the only notable news here is that the search engine is telling site owners about the penalty, where before penalties were silently applied.

From the discussion of Google’s approach to over-optimization comes an interesting sidebar that came up first in January and again at SES New York’s Long Live SEO panel: link bombing. Google’s crackdown on blackhat link building tactics opens a door for malicious behavior in the form of sabotaging competitors by pointing dirty links at their site. To combat such an action, Bruce suggested that Google create a new tag for webmasters and SEOs who find themselves in such a position, something along the lines of nofollow from the receiving end.

Bruce explains this proposed solution in an SEM Synergy video. Read the full transcript and watch the video for a report on the effect of paid links penalties we’ve seen with our own clients.

Long Live SEO panel at SES NY 2012
Bruce Clay and fellow presenters on the Long Live SEO panel at SES New York last month.

At SES New York last month, veteran SEOs explored the possible consequences of one potential outcome of an inbound link nofollow. From my liveblog coverage of the Long Live SEO session:

Question: Is it possible to over-optimize links?

Bruce Clay: A year ago I proposed to Matt Cutts to make modifications to Webmaster Tools to nofollow a link at receiving end. Matt said he finally got traction from Webmaster Tools team and looking to implement. I can get out from under an attack and now my competitor is sending me traffic.

Marcus Tandler: Doesn’t make sense. I could then buy all the shitty links I want and then if any work against you, claim they’re not from me and see if any stick. If they gave us the capability, I’d abuse it. It’d be Google saying oh I lost my way, help me. You don’t need anyone to tell me this is a bad link, this is a link I don’t want. They want to be able to say we’ll take care of it.

While the saga around Google’s over-optimization crackdown continues, SEOs following the unfolding events can be sure of one thing. There’s no replacement for quality inbound links. Here we round up some of our most recently published resources on link building recommendations and strategies that last.

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (8)
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8 Replies to “Google Speaks Up About Links and Penalties: Link Building News Update”

I feel that Google is pushing themselves into a corner, in some ways, by trying to over complicate things. If you look close, there is a point where penalizing black hat attempts will end up penalizing valid sites. I see it kind of like some of the politicians… they are trying to get so smart, they lose the perception of common sense. But this is just my opinion, and since Google won’t hear me, then I’ll just roll with the punches as I’ve been doing for years now.

Totally, David. In fact, Google’s facing some heat right now for overzealous fraud detection that has cost a startup $40k: We’re at their mercy in so many ways.

Google has always been straightforward about what they consider to be good links and bad links. Webmasters that have remained strictly white hat have nothing to worry about. The only people that should worry about algorithm updates are those that are doing something wrong to begin with.

You said it, Nick. Not much to reply to here other than “like.” :)


I find this to be so funny.
The new changes are a desperate attent to clean some of the general link profiles – they are lost, they know it and now they are just trying to “make” some of the webmasters to do the work for them. :)
To back this up they’ve closed one of the spammy link providers making a big noise over it – they knew about this one and other linke this one for ages. Why now ?

Will that work ? In some extent i think it will but overall the % is/will be very small.

btw, nice coverage Virginia.

Eyepaq, I don’t fault Google for this approach to cleaning the link graph, even if it is how you describe it. I think you’re right that the effect will be small, regarding Google’s recent push to make links a focus of the public SEO debate. But really, it’s about all Google can do right now.

Goodness. I believe many site owners would have received such notices and I am amaze that Google even bothers to put in resource to do this. Why would they want to do that?

I would love to hear if anyone is receiving the new Webmaster Tools “crap link” messages who haven’t participated on a private blog network. So far, I’ve only seen examples from BMR/ALN type links, links clearly identified from domains which have been de-indexed.


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