Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of talk about “unnatural links detected” notices that are being sent to webmasters. If you have done a good job then you would have not seen the notice so here is what it looks like.

Received a notice but no change in my rankings?

The majority of sites which have received the unnatural links detected notice haven’t witnessed any major changes in their rankings, not yet anyway. In a way, it makes sense to notify webmaster beforehand to give them the chance to rectify things before their rankings/traffic drop.

Yesterday in announcement on Webmaster Central Blog, Matt Cutts stated:

In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.

In a way Google’s announcement is very timely, it is my personal view that the latest unnatural links detected notice is closely related to the upcoming algorithm update, particularly because Matt Cutts refers to violation of existing quality guidelines.  I should also point out that Matt Cutts also refers to spun content.

What kind of links lead to unnatural links detected notice?

Based on my own observation and backed by data at my disposal I think the main offender is site-wide links, particularly blogrolls. Obviously site-wide links are not the only offenders because if you accumulated a large number of links with the same signature/pattern then it would be very obvious to search engines that they are not editorial links. Furthermore, if you have acquired links through blog networks then rest assured that you will get a notice even if you have got away with it so far.

Google’s notice is very generic, it doesn’t give any information apart from saying that “examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.” Therefore it is up to you to the offending links. Chances are that you either already know what you have been up to and are in the best position to recognize the links straight away or you have inherited a site. Obviously if you have inherited a site then you have to do a bit of digging.

How to find “unnatural links” in your link profile?

If you have inherited a site then there are a few different ways to pinpoint offending links. MajesticSEO has written a really good post on this, using a few different methodologies.

First and foremost, you need to analyse your link profile and there are two things you should look out for.

  1. Anchor Text Distribution
  2. Site-wide links

Let’s assume that you are optimising www.somebrandshoes.com. It will be very unnatural and highly unlikely for a lot of people to link to your website using “women’s shoes” as an anchor text. If your back link profile indicates that “women’s shoes” makes up a large percentage of your anchor texts then it is highly plausible that the vast majority of those links are built unnaturally.

The most easiest way to find offending links is to use CognitiveSEO. CognitiveSEO’s link classification and site classification features are pretty good for this task because it can help you analyse your link profile very quickly. You can use the link classification data to figure out which links originate from blogs and then drill down to see whether those links are placed in blogroll or not. Furthermore, CognitiveSEO provides rich data on anchor text distribution, see below.

Now that you know your top anchor texts, you need to figure where the vast majorities of these links originate from. Remember, you need to look out for site-wide links, particularly in blogroll sections. Click on Inbound Link Analysis tab and then click on Inbound Link Profiles. This will give an overview of your entire link profile. You will then need to use Inbound Links Filters to lists all the links that are placed in blogrolls, to do this you need to go into Link Positioning and then select Blogroll, see screenshot.

CognitiveSEO will now give you a list of links that are placed in blogrolls. Look at your top anchor texts and check for them in blogrolls. If “women’s shoes” anchor text appears in a number of blogrolls then those are your offending links. You need to get rid of those links and then notify Google about it through a reconsideration request via Google Webmaster Tools.