SEO Panic: Unnatural Link Warnings, Traffic and Rank Drops

By On November 19, 2013 • SEO Comments (4)

Today, we are all blessed to learn how our eight guest experts react on unnatural link warnings from Google. Penalties that often lead to traffic drops and falling ranks in search.

This is the 7th and second to last release of the Get Optimized second series in our website. If you recall, we asked eight of the best industry experts in the Philippines to join a round table discussion and share their thoughts on eight of the hottest industry topics that every people need to know.

get optimized

Here are the questions that we already shared to our readers:

1. Meet The Experts: Share your link building strategy that doesn’t need a content.
2. Share your link building strategy where you used content as bait.
3. The future of guest blogging
4. The Penguin 2.0 – Tips & Tricks
5. SMB Challenge: 300$ marketing budget for a coffee business
6. Google analytics secrets

Today’s question:

How do you react on unnatural link warnings or obvious penalty inflictions like traffic and ranking drops? Share your tips.

The answers:


The main thing that has to be done for unnatural link warnings is to do a link profile clean up. Most of it is reaching out to website owners; requesting to remove links and everything should be documented properly. It is important to do this before submitting a link disavow form to Google since they also want to see that you exerted the effort to manually remove links.


As for other obvious penalties where we observed large ranking drops and decreases in organic traffic, we have to determine the main cause of the drop. Once identified, that is the only time we could decide what actions to take. Most penalties these days are either Panda or Penguin related and you do not always received warnings from Google.

Detecting Penguin issues require analyzing back link profiles and detecting Panda issues require analyzing the content. There are tools out there that can scale this process such as LinkResearchTools’ Link Detox or MajesticSEO’s citation and trust flow metrics to find bad links .

link detox

Inside Link Detox – Risk Management Tool

Tools like Copyscape can be used to find cases of duplicate content. Your web analytics could be used to check a page’s bounce rates and time onsite to evaluate the quality of the content.

sheila dela pena

Ranking drops and traffic declines are main signals that the website and general online marketing implementation need some attention. I’ve seen a lot of situations where the SEO, E-commerce Team or Web Admin knew exactly what to do with the penalties and traffic or ranking drops. But the real challenge is in knowing when the traffic or ranking is already declining. So in terms of the penalty inflictions, establishing an “alerts” system and having a reference of the previous activities done or implemented is really helpful. Below are three basic things any SEO, Online Marketing Professional or Site Manager can do:

  • Create a log of all the activities, strategies and campaigns. This will serve as a record of historical activities. A timeline of activities is handy when backtracking.
  • Establish a version control of the website, with corresponding release notes of enhancements and improvements done to the website. This is helpful should you need to revert to the previous version of the website.
  • Utilize the intelligence alerts and email notifications in Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Both are really helpful when the website traffic suddenly drops by x% or when Google sees some issues in the website.

See example:

sean si

Climb up the roof and do a cartwheel.

Seriously, unnatural link warnings have never happened with my clients under contract with us. However, hypothetically speaking, if it did happen with us, the first thing I’d do is go and check out the link naturality of the client through our backlink checking tool/s. Any unnatural links I find there, I’ll manually re-check.

After that, I’ll simply disavow it using Google’s Disavow tool. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. You’d have to prove to Google that you’re now rank-worthy so you should continue building value through your content and backlinks to keep the cleanup rolling.

jon edward

To be honest I haven’t experienced it on any of my current projects, but what I do first – and would suggest that anyone who is currently experiencing these issues do too ¬– is to check if it impacts the bottom-line. If it affects either the conversion or sales of the channel then identify how bad the penalty is, where it comes from and which are the pages affected. If it is only a few pages that are affected I would assign a disallow to those pages before it affects the whole website. I would then clean it up, remove the unwanted links, remove the disallow attribute, and then file a reconsideration request.

Also to note:

I don’t recommend disavow links as a first way to remove unwanted links. This could trigger more like you are policing your own site from SEO perspective.

I would suggest that this would be the last option that you will be do, specially if you are aggressively promoting your website through SEO



Rankings and traffic are very vulnerable, these two mainly depends on the link building or branding efforts. So, first thing you need to check is your link building or branding efforts. Below are the things that you need to check when you notice penalty inflictions:

First, don’t panic! Check if you are losing a lot of links. Also, check if the referring domains are experiencing the same thing. Track the health fluctuation of your site using analysis site or tracking DA and PA changes (It’s tedious, yes! But it will give you answer to this question).

If you believe that none of your marketing/SEO efforts will cause you any trouble, just observe and keep track of the referring pages that were lost so that you can veer away from them in the future. Then, continue your marketing efforts. It’s just the way it is! The image below is a sample of a campaign that was affected by penalty and has nothing to do with unethical and/or ad hoc marketing.


On the other hand, if your actions are somewhere in the middle of black and white (or you don’t have any clue), performing manual link profiling and link cleansing is necessary. The fastest way (technically) to recover from any penalty is through Google Disavow Tool. But since review from Google Web Spam Team may take a while and you don’t have a clue if it is going to be lifted or not, compose yourself and be prepared to be tanned as it is going to be a long shot in a sunny day fixing your link profile, manually!

The best content that I’ve seen in this case is the epic blog written by Gary Viray, A True Story: From A Triple Whammy Google Penalty To $60K/month Revenue. Check it out and thank Gary (I mean, Gary Viray, not me)!

Triple Whammy Image

If you’re an in-house SEO and your CEO keeps punching you in the throat and saying, “Find out which among our efforts triggered the penalty”. I assume there are 10 or more marketing efforts an SEO company or practitioners have, so identifying and removing the rotten tomatoes from a basket full of red and juicy fruit, will make it seamless when your CEO offers it to his/her next client.

First thing you need to do, is to review the log of your link-building efforts. It will make it easier for you to track which of your efforts (i.e. Business listings, forum participation, content marketing) needs tweaking or needs to be removed. For you to be able to do that, review your track sheet side by side with the list of lost referring pages and identify what kind of efforts are affected most. For example, if you think that most of the sites that are whipped by an update are bookmarking sites, then stay away from bookmarking sites OR don’t overuse it. Done!

It is very important for the CEO of the companies to make everything seamless. This reduces conflicts, avoids making up for the campaigns (which takes man hours), and it also lessens the issues regarding the trust in a company.

janette toral

Most of our traffic and ranking drops were of our own doing. My site is going through continuous perpetual beta upgrade and testing since November 2012 (from creation of multi-sites, sub-domain e-learning sites, and dismantling our multi-site set-up, adding new features, among others). I had bloopers like my SEO tags was not retained or restored after upgrades, realizing it only after a week as I got too focused on site functionality testing.

Although, I will need to devote attention in the coming days – analyzing our backlinks. If you notice here, we are getting a lot of backlinks (with no grand content marketing efforts).


Source: Ahrefs –

The fixes and upgrades are ongoing. Challenge though will be allotting time. As much of my time is spent on teaching and consulting work, sometimes, you hardly have time anymore to personally monitor the fixes or things happening on your own site.

As I stabilize the E-Commerce Boot Camp and Search Influencer Boot Camp program (, I will be using that as an opportunity to share our site build-up experience, challenges, bloopers, and recovering from them.

jason acidre

Surprised? LOL. I did receive an unnatural link penalty for my blog (on late May this year). It took me 2 weeks (and 2 reconsideration request) to get the manual penalty revoked.

Well, the cause was there were few exact-match reciprocal links pointing to my blog’s homepage (it was because of a case study I wrote 2 years ago on link exchanges).

link exchange - kts

The great thing is that I’m friends with the webmasters whom I’ve requested to get reciprocal links from. So what I did is I just requested for those links to be edited (and be changed into branded ones).

Then I’ve sent the second reconsideration request, and fully disclosed why I have those links – then the request got accepted and the manual penalty was removed.

It took me twice to do the reconsideration request, because I initially thought that the reason was about the hundreds of spammy links pointing to one of my blog’s highly ranking pages (from a Negative SEO campaign) – which I’ve already disavowed (as soon as the disavow tool became available).


  • Be as honest and as comprehensive as you can with your reconsideration request’s letter.
  • Document all of your efforts on a Google Spreadsheet, and include that report on your reconsideration request.
  • Mention the great things you do for your community and industry within your request.
  • Do a monthly link audit, and disavow linking domains that you think can harm your site in the future.


1. Dig those over-optimized anchor texts via Analytics.

I am a sucker for data. I usually dig deeper into Analytics first to find out those organic keyword for traffic comparison report before and after the manual penalty was received. Why? Because it makes life easier having to look into over-optimized anchor texts which often times reveals “unnatural linking” activities. It allows me to focus on which tasks to prioritize, which then also produces faster results. The rationale behind this strategy is simple. Past link building activities were mostly centered on exact match anchor texts linking which were effective those days but when Penguin came out, a lot of these similar practices became sources of penalties.

2. Manual Link Profiling

While LinkDetox, Ahrefs, MajesticSEO and other tools are available to help speed up my link profile analysis, nothing beats manual link evaluation check-up. Have a guideline on what are considered spammy links. I’ve covered quite a number of these issues on my blog below.

3. Update: Check the Manual Actions menu under Google Webmaster Tools

We used to ask a lot from our clients if they’ve received a manual penalty notification from Google aside from mapping algorithmic updates using MOZ algorithmic change history  to their Analytics using annotations. See below.


However; the latest update on GWT made things a lot easier. Manual Penalty status is now available. Here is a screenshot of one our clients’ who came to us with a manual penalty status.

GWT penalty

NEXT (LAST PART OF THE SERIES): Our guest experts will share their influencers and influences. How their lives has changed after getting influenced by people and works.

THANK YOU to the 8 collaborators of this work. Sir Benj Arriola, Ms. Janette Toral, Sheila Dela Pena, Jason Acidre, Sean Si, Gary Viray, Jon Edward Santillan and Gary Lacanilao.

Please say thank you to our contributors by leaving your comments below :)


Jayson Bagio is the lead strategist of SEOteky. A digital marketing team from Manila, Ph who specializes in content marketing and link building. Get in touch with him using the contact form on the side or by visiting the about page. You can also follow him on twitter & google+.

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Related posts:

  1. Google Panda Panic on Content Publishing
  2. Watta F – I Don’t Rank, Super Mad SERPS

4 Responses to SEO Panic: Unnatural Link Warnings, Traffic and Rank Drops

  1. Louie Sison says:

    I’m a little bias on this but sir Jason Acidre never fails to awe me with his tricky yet practical posts.
    Louie Sison recently posted..SEO Organization Pampanga Meet and Greet

    • Jayson Bagio says:

      HAHAHA indeed. But our other guests are also amazing. Reading the post again and again and saving every important pointers from this post on our white board.

  2. It’s great to hear what 8 experts would do in this tricky situations, how they all have different backgrounds and experiences. Awesome article.
    Alexandra Petean-Nicola recently posted..5 Speedy Marketing Steps Developing opt-in Circles on Google+ episode 1

  3. [...] 1. Link building strategies that doesn’t need a content. 2. Link building + content bait. 3. The future of guest blogging 4. The Penguin 2.0 – Tips & Tricks 5. 300$ marketing budget for SMB’s 6. Google analytics secrets 7. Unnatural link warnings and penalties [...]

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