How do I know which links to remove when I get an "unnatural links" message?

Google Webmaster Tools says I have “unnatural links,” but gives little help as to which specific links are bad. Since I have never purchased links, I don’t know which ones to have removed, and I’m scared of removing good ones, which will hurt my traffic. Suggestions?
dbizzle, Los Angeles

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46 thoughts on “How do I know which links to remove when I get an "unnatural links" message?”

  1. Why doesn’t Google just show ALL the links that are causing a problem? If they’ve decided that some links are bad (however that is determined), they must have a specific list of links they want removed – why not just display all of them? I don’t understand what the downside would be of simply pointing everything out so there’s no confusion about which ones need to be addressed (or better yet, just skip all the back and forth and let Google disavow whatever they don’t like)? Google will obviously get their way in the end, so why put such an onerous, ambiguous task on the website owner to shoot in the dark and hit an invisible target?

  2. A day after I post about my displeasure with Google and waiting for 5 weeks for reconsideration…and nothing.   I get hit with another penalty (different one) because I complained about Google.  If the site had 'thin content' then that penalty would have been applied when Google said I had 'unnatural links'.   This new penalty is in direct response to me posting a complaint here and on their forum.   You can see how Google is spiteful and how personal actions by Google employees are being made on websites.    One cannot perform 'manual actions' without personal bias.   Discrimination, market manipulation, or even political sways can be achieved as Google employees are allowed to manually demote websites on a personal level versus a computer algorithm which is fair across the board.  

    This is a perfect example of how Google employees react to webmasters who complain about anything:!category-topic/webmasters/webmaster-tools/aPdK8Pe431Q

  3. You allowed SEO service companies to expand and grow. Without knowing that all money people invested was put in a spam/links. How would a prudent buyer of these services know if SEO's were legal or spam or not.

  4. Looking forward to seeing the sample bad links. Hopefully this will help shed more light onto the mess of dealing with sites that should have never linked to us in the first place.

  5. A plausible way of getting rid of this kind of link problem is focusing on social media signals. Since it's now a rank factor and apparently where SEO is headed in the future, it makes more sense to do this now.

  6. No, Matt. Not helpful. Hey, here's an idea: why not TELL US WHAT LINKS ARE AN ISSUE?!?!?!?!?!? I have not paid for any links nor participated in any link scheme. So, WTF do I do?! Tell you to disavow all my f-ing links?! Seriously, after spending $50,000 in advertising with you over the years, you now are forcing me to spend more since you're screwing me on the organic links..

  7. Matt says that Google is doing this — but Google is not doing this. I am not seeing these sample bad links in their their emails or in Google Webmaster Tools. I wish that the reality at Google lived up to the hype.

  8. The answer is very simple. It's because Google needs you to help them build their database of bad links. Very clever: they show your 3 bad links, and you remove 100. Congratulations, you just contributed 97 bad links to Google's ever expanding spam DB.

  9. why examples? show the links which are bad and it will teach this marketer your limits.
    i.e. is a directory a bad place for a link. it's not a paid service but …. i would no longer touch a directory even it appears geniune because google may see it as a paid link.

  10. Talk about pulling the wool over everyone's eyes! Google does not want any business small business website to rank in the organic search results on page 1, why would they.

    Do a local search on Google for a common business like a plumber or an electrician etc.. all you see is the directories that are Google Adwords Partners or Google Adsense Publishers… Think about it…. If all the plumbers in your local town or city were listed on the first page organic results why would they need to do PPC.

  11. I've been actively involved in SEO since 1997 and I've never been so confused as I am right now. Google has introduced 'link apartheid'. No one knows what is a good link and what is bad. Examples are not good enough. Until Google 'names and shames' which are the bad links (and I concede some of the bad may be down to me), neither client or marketer are in a position to move forward.

  12. Not only is does removal have a low rate of success, you will only get links removed from the better sites. The spammy sites will just ignore requests to remove, and so the only links that are deleted are the better ones – the ones you should have kept. I see SEO companies who make money from getting siteowners to delete ALL links, which is stupid.

  13. Grant, it's very unlikely you'll get penalized for this, unless you are accepting 100's of spammy comments. I assume all your comment links are set to no follow? If so, that is fine and you don't need to worry about this.

  14. From previous examples of people who have gotten out of the penalty box, they had to show effort in getting links removed and often had to try multiple times. Also once you submit a disavow list doesn't guarantee your rankings will come back… often it doesn't. You'll need a pro who can do a proper audit & determine if it's even worth fixing first. Sometimes its even easier & faster to start over.

  15. What about links coming in through blog comments? I am careful approving only those that look valid, but occasionally what looked like a real comment spawns a series of new links coming into my site from sites with names I don't want to be associated with. Will Google penalize for this? Also if I don't approve a comment I don't remove it straight away, but do this in batches. These comments and links don't show on my blog. Can Google can still "see" them and will they hurt me?

  16. Our site has dropped off in so many ways and we have no idea how to fix it. Our last SEO apparently used some bad linking techniques we were unaware of and now current SEO cannot get anywhere with getting this fixed. We used the disavow tool even though we did not get a message from Google. Now we read you cannot do this alone. So what other tactics do we need to get our site back in the good graces of Google?

  17. If the tool can see that there are unnatural links, why can't it tell the user which links are unnatural? Is Google just doing this for their own precaution of causing someone to remove good links from their site? Thanks.

  18. I have never received one of these unnatural links messages. However several clients have had great websites drop off the face of the earth from page one. We asked for reconsideration to get a quick standard reply saying no spamming etc was found. Its really frustrating. I have been ranted at by one client who has now (thankfully) gone elsewhere. So Matt, thanks for this, but please be transparent about why you wipe website SERPS with no warning, and no explanation.

  19. Get us the examples sooner than later. Disavowing links is like brain surgery. You never know how deep to cut or how much to take without killing the patient.

  20. I will acknowledge that "self-serving" was not appropriate. I intended to be self-representational. I came here because Matt doesn't have an available email, the comment was too long for Twitter and he didn't comment on this video on his blog, Raising a contrary point of view is precisely the nature of dialogue. I could have come here and just said "You rock, Matt!", but that wouldn't have accomplished much, would it? Rather I pointed out that I believe Google is missing it here, and to say why.

  21. I don't believe you had any intention to be informative and constructive. The fact that you said your comment was self-serving suggests otherwise…self-serving comments are intended to serve one's own interests and no-one else's. If I "missed the point", and I don't believe I did, then you didn't make it clearly.

    If you intended to come here to get a problem solved, you went about it all wrong. Why would anyone want to help someone who's coming at them with that kind of negativity?

  22. Unless I came here to suck up, of course my comment would be self-serving. Why else would I take the time to create such a lengthy comment? I refer to you as a troll because of your constant need to be personally demeaning to those you disagree with. I'm not suggesting that your viewpoint is completely off-base. In fact, 2-3 years ago, I would have sounded much like you. My intent here was to be constructive and informative. If you found it inflammatory (gratuitously so), you missed the point.

  23. If you're going to call someone a troll, perhaps you should look at how posting an inflammatory self-serving comment on a video designed to help those who made a well-meaning but obviously silly mistake when analyzed logically might appear.

    I'd say enjoy your life, but…

  24. I would be happy to consider this conversation were there a constructive element to it. However, you smell of troll. Glad for you that you are so far above all us little people. Enjoy your life.

  25. That's a fatal flaw right there…a webmaster who "wants to compete". That means the webmaster has the CHOICE "not to compete", assuming everything else in your argument is true (which it isn't). It's also an incredibly stupid theory since, if a webmaster does what his/her competitors are doing, that webmaster is not distinguishing his/her site as something actually worth linking to.

    Vested interest is rationalization, not justification.

  26. I received an unnatural links warning for a site and after doing a reconsideration request, which was denied, the denial gave me examples of the links that Google didn't like. This has gone a long way in helping me figure out how to clean up some of the older, poor quality links. I'm still in the process, but at least it's not as much of a guessing game now.

  27. That's a cheap shot. When Google honors all links as equal (including unnatural ones that can be farmed out and built in bulk), any webmaster who wants to compete has to follow suit with their competitors. Now (years later), Google is finally cleaning up their act…but they put all the burden on us to go back and undo this so-called damage. They ought to accept some responsibility in this game as well….which they could do by making it easier for us to disavow the links that concern them.

  28. What made you do that? At what point did Google or anyone else say "you HAVE to build unnatural links?" No one made you do that. You put your hand in the cookie jar out of avarice and greed, and you got caught. Suck it up and learn how to do things properly and move on.

  29. If someone's livelihood depends on the reliability of something that no one has to pay for, then that person's livelihood clearly isn't worth very much.

  30. Chuck pretty much nailed it and I hope to see an answer to *this* soon Matt. And who gets to define unnatural!? — I was sitting with one of the top bloggers in the world and one of his guest authors got spanked by this and was asking him to remove the links. There was nothing "unnatural" abou the link. My buddy removed the link to help the guy out but that sucks. The article was great and the link looked pretty natural to me! Maybe some more info on "natural" vs "unnatural" would help as well.

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