Yep, Manual Link Penalties Still Happen and It’s Your Job to Regulate Guest Posts

Woman face plants on keyboard.

Several years ago when the Penguin algorithm update hit to target spam links, link penalties were at the center of most conversations in the SEO community.

But then things got quiet. When Penguin rolled into the core algorithm in 2016, Google said it would devalue spam links rather than demote sites. But that didn’t mean manual penalties would go away:

Conversation on Twitter with Gary Illyes about Penguin.
Conversation on Facebook with Googler Gary Illyes

Fast-forward a few years, and we are still hearing about manual link penalties (albeit not as often). Just recently, however, the SEO community has reported manual link penalties related to guest posts.

This article on Search Engine Journal (SEJ) in February reported a manual penalty against a page that Google believed contained a link that violated its guidelines.

From what I gathered from the report, there was a link with branded anchor text within a guest post without a nofollow on it that was possibly a paid placement.

Here was the manual-action message from Google, as reported in the article at SEJ:

Unnatural outbound links manual action notice from Google.
Manual action message from Google, originally published on Search Engine Journal

In a conversation about this article on LinkedIn, someone accurately pointed out:

LinkedIn comment about SEJ article.

Also in February, Alan Bleiweiss reported a client’s manual link penalty, suggesting it had to do with guest posts as well:

To be clear, these penalties are not likely against guest posts per se. They are against the same types of links that Google has said are unacceptable for years. But that doesn’t mean website publishers can adopt a laissez-faire attitude towards guest content.

As a reminder, these are the kinds of links that Google doesn’t want you to have. And just because Penguin devalues links versus demoting sites, we are not in the clear. Manual actions still exist, and they can deeply impact a business.

The following video with former Googler Fili Wiese published in March 2020 discusses these manual actions further:

Wiese said in this video:

So the key thing with manual actions is that when you have one applied to your website, that pretty much stops the growth potential of your website … the manual action, while it is applied to your website, means you can’t grow further and your competitors potentially could.

He added that these things need to be resolved, but that once you resolve it, you may not necessarily regain your former rankings.

That leaves us again at a crossroads when accepting guest posts. For many websites, guest posts are a beneficial way to add expertise and depth to their site on a variety of topics that an audience would want to read about.

But website publishers beware: Scrutinize guest posts in the same way you would scrutinize your own quality content. That means creating guest post guidelines that meet Google Webmaster Guidelines and accepting posts that don’t diminish your website’s expertise, authority and trust.

As part of the guest posting process, submitted posts need to be carefully reviewed with both an editorial eye and SEO expertise before being published.

So what if you are hit by a manual action for guest posts or other content and links?

First, do what Google tells you to do in the message you have received from them, right away.

If you need more information, Google gives instructions on how to remedy manual actions and what to expect (with a section specifically on spammy outbound links) here. And this classic video by Matt Cutts is still helpful:

Sometimes people are confused about whether they should remove the link or add a “nofollow” attribute. It’s easy to see how this confusion can happen. In the Google manual action screenshot shared earlier, it first says to remove the links, then it says to remove or use “nofollow”.

In most cases, “nofollow” is a hint to Google. But on Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages like news, finance, health and so on (see the list in Google’s guidelines), Google may ignore “nofollow” entirely.

In other words, if you have a spam link on a YMYL website, consider yourself open to more scrutiny by Google and potential penalties.

As for paid link placements on your site, Google’s advice now is to apply rel=”sponsored” attributes.

Concerned about your website’s performance in Google Search? We can help you with that. Contact us today.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

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Comments (5)
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5 Replies to “Yep, Manual Link Penalties Still Happen and It’s Your Job to Regulate Guest Posts”

Some times, like my competition I am surprised they haven’t got a manual penalty. Not just guest post but tons of forum and spammy links

I use the disavow tool to remove the impact of bad links for the website. My principle is that if I find any site with low authority or no useful content links to my page then I would just disavow such sites. I also make use of some link auditing tools to filter out the bad links. Having said these all it is also very important to have proper clarity & ensure that we do not remove the good links which are passing the rank juice.

Thanks so much! As a newer blogger who is not making much money yet, I appreciate that type of content which help improve my blog

I suspect Google will primarily go after bad actors, however if you don’t pay attention to what’s happening on your site, you may get in trouble too.


after our site got hit with a manual penalty action, we contacted Filli Weise for help. His starting fee, is $19,200 Euro, and thats the base! We could not afford that.


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