Yesterday, we reported that a significant number of websites had been hit with Google penalties over the weekend for “unnatural outbound links.” Since then, Google has clarified that the manual penalties issued this weekend were specifically related to bloggers giving links to websites in exchange for free products or services.

Google had issued a warning a few weeks ago urging bloggers to disclose free product reviews and nofollow links in their blog posts related to these products. Now, they’ve taken action against sites who ignored the warning.

In the warning, Google told bloggers to “nofollow the link, if you decide to link to the company’s site, the company’s social media accounts, an online merchant’s page that sells the product, a review service’s page featuring reviews of the product or the company’s mobile app in an app store.”

As Barry Schwartz reports, John Mueller from Google explained the penalties in several threads on the Google support forums, telling people to look at the warning Google published recently named Best practices for bloggers reviewing free products they receive from companies. In one comment, Mueller went on to say:

In particular, if a post was made because of a free product (or free service, or just paid, etc.), then any links placed there because of that need to have a rel=nofollow attached to them. This includes links to the product itself, any sales pages (such as on Amazon), affiliate links, social media profiles, etc. that are associated with that post. Additionally, I imagine your readers would also appreciate it if those posts were labeled appropriately. It’s fine to keep these kinds of posts up, sometimes there’s a lot of useful information in them! However, the links in those posts specifically need to be modified so that they don’t pass PageRank (by using the rel=nofollow).

Once these links are cleaned up appropriately, feel free to submit a reconsideration request, so that the webspam team can double-check and remove the manual action.

If you are a blogger or company who has participated in an agreement to give free products to reviews, be sure to check your Google Search Console messages to see if you’ve been hit by the latest round of manual penalties.

Receiving an email from Google saying that they have noticed unnatural links associated with your website is never a good thing. The best outcome still involves losing organic search traffic from Google for at least some time, plus the email means you have work to do really quickly.

Search Engine Watch writer Chuck Price has seen webmasters respond to manual penalties and many of them actually make their problems worse, especially when they panic. Webmasters who panic when they receive a manual penalty website tend to fly into manic states running around doing the first thing they can think of to try to get the penalty fixed; thoughts like filing reconsideration requests before actually fixing the problem.

If you’ve received an email about unnatural links or manual penalties, take a minute to breath. There is no reason to panic. You have to do some work to identify the issues and fix your site’s linking problems, but panicking isn’t going to get that done any faster, and might blow your one chance to get your links reconsidered by Google in the near future.

Once you’re calm, it is time to get to work. Price has suggestions for how to get your page back in order no matter how many bad links you have. However, if you have been actively building thousands of unnatural links, you will have to make huge efforts to make up for the spamming.