This past weekend, I received the dreaded email from Google – a manual action was taken against my site. Say what? I had no clue what was going on. For those who do not know, I run this blog with my own funds and because it is fun for me. I do not accept paid advertising, nor do I participate in any shady SEO practices. Literally, I am just a mom with a blog. Imagine my surprise, when I opened up my email and found this note from Google…
Google detected a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links on pages on this site. This may be the result of selling links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes
I had no clue what that meant! Yes, I have gone to blogging conferences where they talked about this but I honestly thought since I do not sell advertising or allow anything crazy (like link bait) on my blog I didn’t need to pay attention. I seriously thought it didn’t affect me.
Well, guess what? It does.
I did a Google search (of course) on what this email meant. I knew I didn’t participate in link schemes or purchase/get paid for links. But, somehow, Google decided that my mommy blog was “spammy” and could be misleading. I found out that a lot of things go on behind the scenes that I was unaware of…
So, here’s the deal. You remember that company you did a post for? The one that sent you free product? Remember them asking you to use certain anchor texts and link to? How many times do you accept free product or a sponsored post and just slap it on your blog and call it a day? No more.
Keep an eye out for:
- Anchor text links (i.e. buy this product – with “buy” being a link to a website)
- Adverts or sponsored content (guest posts from companies or individuals working for companies that want to write on your blog – these sometimes contain spammy links)
- Some fishy-sounding blog networks (we aren’t talking BlogLovin’ or anything legitimate!)
- Footer links
- Press releases with links
- Widget links
Now, if you are like me, I was almost in tears at this point. I have done some of these things and have been blogging since 2009 – I didn’t even know where to begin. Never fear though… I figured it out and now I am going to help you!
There are two ways you can “fix” this unnatural outbound link problem. Both involve adding “nofollow” to the links. However, depending on how many links you have, this might be time consuming, if not impossible. But, I have a “fix” for that too.
First though, what is a no follow link? A no follow link is a special “rel” tag that is used in a link to indicate Google (and other search engines) should not follow the link associated with the tag. I guess you could think of it as a stop sign to keep the search engine from transferring page rank or “juice” to that link. (This is where the spam comes in… some people do this to GAIN page rank and juice by planting these links in your website that pushes the stats to their website…)
Manually Adding No Follow Links
If you add a link in the Visual tab of a new post (in WordPress), you just highlight and click the add link and type in your link, right? But, if you flip into the text tab, you will see the link written like:
<a href="www.minivandreams.com">Mini Van Dreams</a>
So, how do you make this a no follow link? You need to add rel=”nofollow” to the link verbiage as follows:
<a href="www.minivandreams" rel="nofollow">Mini Van Dreams</a>
Easy, right? I have found the best way to target specific links and make them no follow is to add the link in the visual tab, then flip over to the text tab and add the necessary tag. You can also add these no follow tags to your widget links by adding the tag to the coding, as well.
But, what if you have a bunch of links, like I did? How do you fix it? Keep reading…
Adding No Follow Links Using a Plugin
I am not endorsing any plugin over another, however the one I chose to use, after research is Rel nofollow in the WordPress plugin store. That being said, whatever plugin you choose, you will need to make sure it is legitimate and that it works with your version of WordPress, or you risk “breaking” your site. You also need to make sure that it goes “back” through your website and makes ALL previous links no follow. The best plugin will also allow you to exclude certain domains (for example, your own domain) and exclude entire posts, if needed. You will need to read the documentation for the specific plugin you choose to set it up correctly. Also, do some research on the plugin you are considering to see what others have said about it.
While using a plugin to “attack” previous links and make them no follow, you need to take into consideration that while this is not the most optimal solution, it is a starting point. At some point you need to “fish or cut bait.” For me, it didn’t matter if my previous links were all set to no follow. The posts that I get the most hits do not have links on them at all, so I was unconcerned with this blanket approach. You need to determine if specific posts might need to be updated to be “do” follow links. That is a decision that will be based on your situation.
Removing the Manual Action in Google Webmaster Tools
If there is a positive in this experience, it is that Google allows you to request a review after you have made the necessary changes to your site. All you have to do is logon to your webmaster tools and go to your search console, and then click manual actions. Right below is a big red button that says “request a review.” Just click it – after you’ve made your changes. But, be prepared to explain what you have changed or updated to ensure you are no longer in violation of the webmaster guidelines.
Playing by the rules from now on…
This has been an eye-opener for me and my website. As a mommy blogger, I thought I just flew under the radar and didn’t need to be worried about things like this, but I was wrong. It is very sad that places and individuals that seem to be reputable are basically using innocent bloggers to provide them with link juice by providing guest posts and/or sponsored content. I do know, in the future, I will be very careful about who or what companies I let guest post on my blog and what links I use in sponsored and other posts. Those posts will ALWAYS be no follow. You can never be too careful.