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 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 in 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 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.

FAQ: What are the consequences of manual link penalties for my website?

Manual link penalties imposed by search engines like Google can severely affect websites. These penalties are typically the result of violations of search engine guidelines, particularly those related to manipulative link-building practices. Understanding the repercussions of these penalties is crucial for webmasters and SEO practitioners seeking to maintain and improve their online presence.

The Impact on Search Engine Rankings

When a website incurs a manual link penalty, its search engine rankings often plummet. Search engines seek to maintain quality and relevancy within their search results by penalizing websites that engage in link schemes or spammy tactics, including link spamming. In such instances, websites could lose their desired positions on search engine result pages (SERPs). This reduces organic traffic and diminishes the visibility of your brand or content.

Erosion of User Trust

Beyond the immediate SEO repercussions, manual link penalties can erode the trust of your website’s visitors. Users have become more adept and wary regarding online activities, leading them to consider your website untrustworthy if penalized due to manipulative link practices. This loss of faith could result in decreased user engagement, reduced conversion rates, and an online reputation, which will be difficult to regain.

Recovery Strategies

Recovering from a manual link penalty is a complex process that requires diligence and adherence to search engine guidelines. Recovery requires identifying and disavowing damaging backlinks, improving or removing low-quality content, and submitting a reconsideration request with search engines. Recovery times vary greatly depending on how severe a penalty was assessed and your remediation efforts’ success in mitigating it.

Manual link penalties can profoundly affect your website, affecting its search engine rankings, user trust, and overall online performance. To mitigate these risks, it’s essential to maintain a clean and ethical approach to link-building and promptly address any issues if you do receive a penalty. Doing so can protect your website’s integrity and ensure its success in the digital landscape.

Step-by-Step Procedure: How to Address Manual Link Penalties

  1. Identify the Penalty: Begin by confirming if your website has incurred a manual link penalty. Check your Google Search Console account for notifications or messages regarding penalties.
  2. Audit Backlinks: Conduct a thorough audit of your website’s backlink profile using tools like Ahrefs or Moz to identify low-quality or spammy links.
  3. Disavow Harmful Links: Create a disavow file containing the URLs of harmful backlinks and submit it to Google through the Disavow Tool in Google Search Console.
  4. Remove Toxic Links: Reach out to webmasters of websites hosting harmful links and request removal. Document your efforts for future reference.
  5. Improve Content: Review and enhance the quality of your website’s content, ensuring it complies with search engine guidelines.
  6. Submit a Reconsideration Request: Craft a detailed reconsideration request explaining your actions to rectify the issues. Be transparent and honest in your communication.
  7. Monitor Progress: Continuously monitor your website’s performance in search results and user engagement metrics to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts.
  8. Patience and Persistence: Understand that recovery can take time. Be patient and persistent in your efforts to regain search engine trust.
  9. Avoid Future Penalties: Implement ethical link-building practices and maintain a clean backlink profile to prevent future penalties.
  10. Regular Audits: Periodically audit your backlinks and content to ensure ongoing compliance with search engine guidelines.
  11. Stay Informed: Stay updated with search engine algorithm changes and guidelines to adapt your SEO strategy accordingly.
  12. Quality Over Quantity: Prioritize high-quality content and natural link acquisition methods over shortcuts that could lead to penalties.
  13. User Trust Restoration: Rebuild user trust by consistently delivering valuable, reliable content and engaging with your audience authentically.
  14. Monitor User Feedback: Monitor user feedback and reviews to address any concerns promptly.
  15. Rebuild Brand Reputation: Use positive online reputation management to counter negative perceptions.
  16. Measure Success: Continually measure the success of your recovery efforts through SEO metrics and user feedback.
  17. Educate Your Team: Ensure your team is educated on SEO best practices and the consequences of manipulative link-building tactics.
  18. Maintain Transparency: Be transparent with stakeholders, clients, or partners about any past penalties and your recovery efforts.
  19. Seek Professional Help: Consider consulting with SEO experts or agencies if you face challenges in penalty recovery.
  20. Adapt and Evolve: Stay adaptable in your SEO strategy, as search engine algorithms and guidelines may change over time.

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.

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

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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