Google recently sent out a new batch of the unnatural links notices. The blogosphere went nuts as usual with very little information. On Friday, Matt Cutts posted on Google+ to try to satiate some of the madness. Here is what he said:
Of course this did not satisfy most SEOs.
People are now freaking out and wondering what to do. People are blaming Matt for not being helpful, though he is not saying that this is actually a step towards Google being more transparent with webmasters.
@mdsimmonds to get to the next stage of releasing more data to webmasters, this was the next stage of info to start sending.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) July 21, 2012
What To Do If You Received A Message in GWT
When the last batch of these messages happened some months ago, people who saw a drop in organic traffic saw it happen anywhere from 14 to 21 days after the message appeared. That’s two to three weeks.
With Matt’s new statements, you can’t be sure that you will see a drop. My advice, though, is to go about your work now as if you knew that you were going to get a drop in two to three weeks.
Here are the steps I would take:
Find the links that Google probably thinks are bad
I wrote a post about this on SEOmoz about Penguin Strategies to find bad links. An in-depth dive like this may be necessary to find old sitewide links that may be or are becoming a liability, but sometimes all you need to do is look at a backlink report and see your most-optimized anchors. Use the Anchor Text report in OpenSiteExplorer and you might see something like this (this is SEOmoz’s with a bunch of crap links pointed at it by spammers):
Contact webmasters and try to get these bad links removed
Next thing to do is try to get these links removed. Even though some webmasters are now charging to have them removed (according to this report by Barry Schwartz), it might be worth your time to get the most egregious links removed. Not only are you guarding yourself against potential unnatural links penalties and building a case for reinclusion should it come to that, but you are also proofing yourself against further algorithm updates meant to target tactics that may have worked in the past.
Another tool to use to find email addresses was put together by Rob Ousbey using Rapportive.
And finally, Linksy’s Email Guesser tool is a nifty tool that Rand showed me. It uses Gravatar, then uses Rob’s methodology and is very accurate.
As you email webmasters to get links removed, document everything. List out the links you know about, the webmaster’s email address, and the status of the relationship. Also have a column for if the link was removed. This way, should you need to submit a reinclusion request, you have all of your efforts documented.
If you don’t want to build out a sheet yourself, I have made a simple one for you. Simply make a copy of the sheet and you have your own version.
Be prepared to submit a reinclusion request.
Finally, you need to prepare yourself for the possibility of submitting a reinclusion request if your traffic does indeed drop. This is something that all SEOs should have to do at least once in their career, I think. You must be completely transparent with Google and show them exactly all that you know.
I have heard that Google is getting a lot tougher on unpenalizing sites that manual action has been taken on. So be prepared for the possibility that the first one may not work.
I do not think that you should submit a reinclusion request before you know if you are going to see a drop in traffic. I especially think this after Matt’s statements about this is increased transparency and not necessarily preemptive notice of a drop. But better safe and prepared than sorry.
I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I cannot help but feel that this is a fishing expedition by Google. I don’t necessarily think you need to tell Google about all the bad SEO that has been done on your site in the past, but if you are still doing it you should realize that your reckoning may have come and you will need to come clean to them.
Also, Google is no longer just asking for a show of good faith in reinclusion requests. They actually want the links gone. So if you have not removed any links, but submitted a reinclusion request, all you are doing is asking Google to look deeper at your site, at the crap links that are pointing to it. If this is the case, and I think it is, you may be bringing more trouble upon yourself.
I’m open to what others think.
Oh, and by the way, don’t listen to people who say that reinclusion requests never work: