Cillian Bracken Conway
13th Apr, 2016

Google has set out a massive crackdown on unnatural outbound links over the weekend, penalising sites manually. It turns out, the manual penalty actions were related to free product reviews.

A few weeks ago, Google issued a warning for bloggers giving links in exchange for products and services, or those linking out to other sites to manipulate search results.

An email was sent to webmasters of affected websites, informing them that “Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links”. It also said that the trust in links in an affected website has been discounted.

The links in question, as indicated on the email, are anything added to a website in exchange for any type of compensation, such as reciprocal links, good or services, and even money – paid links.

The penalty was issued by the manual actions team of Google.

According to the email, it is a violation of the webmaster guidelines if a webmaster resorts to “buying links or participating in link schemes” as a means to manipulate PageRank.

Over the weekend, Google applied a manual spam action on portions of a website that are affected.

In a comment on the Google support forum, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that the mass penalties for outbound links are related to the warning issued over free product reviews that are nofollowed.

Any links placed on the post, which were made because of a free product or service, must be attached with a rel=nofollow. These links include those directed to any sales pages, to the product itself, social media profiles, affiliate links and other links associated with a post.

Mueller said it is okay to use such posts, especially if they provide useful information. But the links must be modified using rel=nofollow, so they don’t pass PageRank.

The email sent out to webmasters says that a message on the Manual Action page indicates that unnatural outbound links have been detected. It also comes with tips to fix the unnatural links on their websites.

  1. Identify unnatural links on your site
  2. Remove or use <nofollow> on these links
  3. Submit a reconsideration request

Mueller added that once the links are appropriately cleaned up, webmasters can request for a reconsideration. This will alert the webspam team to double-check a penalised website and then remove the manual action imposed, if and when the team determines that there is compliance with the Webmaster Guidelines.