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Source: Robert Scoble / Flickr

Source: Robert Scoble / Flickr

Were you punished by Google’s Penguin algorithm? If you have, there is a good chance you’ve been waiting a year or longer to recover after taking all the necessary steps to have your site reconsidered.

Thankfully, as part of the latest update to Penguin, you won’t have to wait much longer to see if you’ve bounced back. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed, via Twitter, that Penguin recoveries have already begun rolling out and will be finished within the coming days.

This means that sites that were penalized should start to show improvements within the next week. What it doesn’t mean, however, is that you can expect to return to your same former glory in the search engines.

Removing the penalty still leaves you without the bad links likely driving much of your high ranking, so you can’t expect them to help boost you back up to high spots in the search results. On the other hand, if you’ve taken the time while you’ve been penalized to build new, better links and further optimize your site, you may come out ahead once all the recoveries are finished rolling out.

 google-alerts1

Over the weekend, Google sent out a new wave of penalties, this time smacking down sites for “unnatural outbound links.” The majority of websites are safe from the latest round of manual penalties, but you may be in trouble if you’ve been attempting to manipulate the Google search results.

As Barry Schwartz has noted, this specific penalty appears to be taking the shape of Google deciding not to trust any links on the entire site.

Webmasters who received these penalties were sent emails which read:

If you see this message on the Manual Actions page, it means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links. Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

As a result, Google has applied a manual spam action to the affected portions of your site. Actions that affect your whole site are listed under Site-wide matches. Actions that affect only part of your site and/or some incoming links to your site are listed under Partial matches.

Below, you can also see a copy of the message webmasters are receiving in Google Search Console about these penalties:

google-unnatural-links-outbound-1460374556

To make sure your site is safe, be sure to log into your Google Search Console account and check your all messages box. If you see this notification about an outbound link penalty, you can find out how to fix it and submit a reconsideration request here.

Recently Rap Genius, a popular lyric website focused on hip-hop music, became the talk of the internet as they basically disappeared from Google’s search results. They were hit with a penalty for link schemes, and the event may have been one of the most talked about SEO stories in recent history.

Now, 10 days after they were essentially removed from the search results, Rap Genius is ranking when searching for it on Google by name. It should be noted, the site was never completely removed from Google, but their content was showing up six and seven pages back in the results, which is pretty much just as bad.

Rap Genius

Source: Search Engine Land

We know the site lost a huge amount of traffic when they were penalized, but it is unclear how they are faring now that they are back. Most likely, Rap Genius will still struggle to regain their former foothold, at least temporarily. When searching by name, the actual website for Rap Genius is still listed below several news stories about their SEO troubles.

The site is also not ranking as well for many lyric searches they previously would have been listed for. Some lyric searches show Rap Genius, but Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land shows they are still stuck on page seven for several searches.

Rap Genius is definitely the most publicly discussed SEO penalty so far. It has been reported on by Rolling Stone, NBC News, Huffington Post, and several other major news outlets. It is also the perfect case study for why you should never attempt to game the search engines for better rankings.

Rap Genius has been consistently transparent about the issues that occurred and what they have done to fix them, as well as what they can do in the future. You can read their initial apology here, as well as their more detailed blog post here. The blog post also concludes with an apology:

To Google and our fans: we’re sorry for being such morons. We regret our foray into irrelevant unnatural linking. We’re focused on building the best site in the world for understanding lyrics, poetry, and prose and watching it naturally rise to the top of the search results.

Rap Genius is seeing a relatively quick return to the search results, thanks to their dutiful efforts to fix the problems and their transparency. However, it will still be a long time before they reach their former status. It just shows that illegal SEO may get you results in the short-term, but you will eventually get caught.

Recently, Google updated the link schemes web page that gives examples of what Google considers to be spammy backlinks. The additions are pretty notable as article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword rich anchor text have been included. Advertorials with paid links and links with optimized anchor text in press releases or articles were also added.

With all the new additions, it can be hard to keep up to date with what Google is labeling spammy backlinks or backlink schemes. But, Free-SEO-News’ recent newsletter simply and efficiently lays out the 11 things that Google doesn’t like to see in backlink campaigns.

  1. Paid Links – Buying or selling links that pass PageRank has been frowned upon for a long time. This includes exchanging money for links or posts that contain links, sending ‘free’ products in exchange for favors or links, or direct exchange of services for links. It is pretty simple, buying links in any way will get you in trouble.
  2. Excessive Link Exchanges – While exchanging links with relevant other websites in your industry is absolutely normal for websites, over-using those links or cross-linking to irrelevant topics is a big sign of unnatural linking. Simple common sense will keep you from getting in trouble, just don’t try to trick the system.
  3. Large-Scale Article Marketing or Guest Posting Campaigns – Similar to the last scheme, posting your articles and guest posts on other websites it perfectly normal. However, doing it in bulk or posting the same articles to numerous websites will appear to be blogspam to Google. Also, if you do guest posts just to get keyword rich backlinks, you will see similar penalties. Only publish on other websites when it makes sense and offers value.
  4. Automated Programs or Services to Create Backlinks – There are tons of ads for tools and services that promise hundreds or thousands of backlinks for a low price and very little work. While they may do what they say, Google also easily spots these tools and won’t hesitate to ban a site using them.
  5. Text Ads That Pass PageRank – If you’re running a text ad on another website, you have to make sure to use the rel=nofollow attribute, otherwise it appears to be a manipulative backlink.
  6. Advertorials That Include Links That Pass PageRank – If you pay for an article or ad, always use the rel=nofollow attribute. Simply put, if you paid for an ad or article, it won’t do you any good and can bring a lot of damage if you don’t use the attribute.
  7. Links with Optimized Anchor Text in Articles or Press Releases – Stuffing articles and press releases with optimized anchor text has been a strategy for a long time, but Google has shut it down recently. If your page has a link every four to five words, you’re probably looking at some penalties.
  8. Links From Low Quality Directories or Bookmark Sites – Submitting your site to hundreds of internet directories is an utter waste of time. Most links won’t ever get you a single visitor and won’t help your rankings. Instead, only focus on directories that realistically could get you visitors.
  9. Widely Distributed Links in the Footers of Various Websites – Another older trick that Google has put the squash on was to put tons of keyword rich links to other websites in the footer. These links are always paid links and are an obvious sign of link schemes.
  10. Links Embedded in Widgets – It isn’t uncommon for widget developers to offer free widgets that contain links to other sites. It also isn’t uncommon for these developers to reach out to site owners and offer to advertise through these widgets. However, Google hates these links and considers them a scheme. I’d suggest against it, but if you do advertise through these widgets, use the nofollow attribute.
  11. Forum Comments With Optimized Links in the Post – It is very easy to get a tool that automatically posts to forums and include links to websites. It is a pretty blatant form of spam which won’t get any actual visibility on the forums and the links are more likely to get you banned than draw a single visitor.

There’s a pretty obvious underlying trend in all of these tactics that Google fights. They all attempt to create artificial links, usually in bulk. Google can tell the quality of a link and all of these schemes are easily identifiable. Instead, focus on building legitimate quality links, and use respected tools such as SEOprofiler. It will take longer, but you’re site will do much better.