How Does A Google Unnatural Link Penalty Work

Weakest LinkWhen it comes to Google they have several different types of penalties they may hand out to those who choose not to obey the Google Webmaster Guidelines.  The most popular of these is the dreaded unnatural link penalty.

This is the penalty that Google hands out to those who have manipulated the link building process by creating links specifically to help push their site up in the rankings.

What’s worse is you can receive this penalty whether you knew about this or not, and for me I had suspicions that I was going to get hit by this penalty for some time and in August of 2013 I got my answer.

Since then I’ve learned a lot about how this penalty works and in this article I’m going to share with you how an unnatural link penalty works and how it might be affecting your site.

How The Process Works

When it comes to getting an unnatural link penalty their is a series of steps Google will use to uncover manipulative sites.  Now while I don’t know the exact process I will give you a basic outline of how I believe it works.

Google Red Flags Your Site.  The first thing that will happen is that Google uses their algorithm to pick up on any red flags that may not look natural such as creating deceptive back links to your website.  This typically happens with the overuse of to many links having an exact match anchor text, as I pointed out in my last article on natural link profiles.

Manual Check.  Once this red flag shows up Google will issue someone to manually check out the situation and assess a penalty.  This penalty could come in several different forms from a partial penalty to your entire site being banned from being indexed in Google. I will talk a little bit more about this in a minute.

Penalty Is Issued.  From here the penalty will be issued to the site owners Google Webmaster Tools account along with some recommendations.  From here it’s up to you to repair the damages and bring your site up to code.

Now this is the basics of how it works however below I decided to go a bit more in depth of how this specifically works, and on top of that I also included a video of Matt Cutts, head of the Google Web Spam Team explaining exactly how these penalties work.

Do You Have A Partial or Site-Wide Match Penalty

Google will hand out two basic types of penalties, the first being a site-wide match penalty. This type of penalty is given if a site has partaken in a large scale activity that consumes the majority of the website.

A good example of this is build deceptive back links to manipulate search engine rankings to nearly every single webpage on your site.  Doing this would cause a drop in rankings against every page on your site.  This also doesn’t necessarily mean your site would be banned from the rankings though.

The other type of penalty is a partial match penalty.  This type of penalty only affects a given page, article, or link.  This is actually the type of penalty that I have, and it only affects the links that Google thinks I’ve created that manipulate the search engines.  It does not penalize the entire site.

In order to see which type of penalty you have simply go to your Google Webmaster Tools account, click on Search Traffic, and click on Manual Actions.  This will tell you what type of penalty you have.

Below is a screen shot of what my manual actions page looks like for my blog site.


 Understanding Your Penalty

At this point you should know whether you have a partial or site-wide penalty.  Knowing this can give us an indication on how serious the penalty really is.  If it’s a site-wide penalty this could be a lot of work to clean up the links.

However if it’s only a partial link penalty it only means Google has taken action on on particular piece of your website.  In my case they have taken action against certain links.

From this point we can determine what might have cause the penalty.  In my case it was pretty obvious that I was building a lot of bad links towards my personal finance blog site in order to gain rankings using a service called Postrunner.

Now I’m not going to get into details of how this program worked but I’ll just say the links coming from that program were not of the high quality type and due to a large use to much anchor text I’m almost 100% certain this is the cause for the penalty.

 The Silver Lining In This All

In the end when it comes down to it there’s maybe a silver lining in it for you after all.  If you read over how Google impacts these links the Google Webmaster Blog, due to a partial site penalty it says that the links won’t already count toward your rankings and that you can remove these links and do a reconsideration request.

However, what’s interesting about this is that Google has already discounted the links and is not using them towards ranking your site which means since they are only targeting specific pages on your site and not your entire site you could do nothing and still be fine.

This works as long as the pages that were once ranking well were not pages that you needed to rank high in the SERP’s for your business, such as a sale letter page, or a product page.  In this case you may have to go about removing the links and doing a reconsideration request.


In the end even though I have received this penalty I am still removing these links even though it may not even be necessary because I know removing the links will look better in Google’s eyes.

Now I don’t expect my ranking to go up after I’ve completed this mostly because Google is already discounting the majority of my links but hopefully this will send a message to Google that I am serious about my website and that I am willing to do the work.

Do you have a an unnatural link penalty?  Is it a partial match or site-wide match penalty?  Share your thoughts below.