An External Review of Googles Webspam Team.

An External Review of Googles Webspam Team.

25th February 2013

The past twelve months have been crazy, Content Marketing seemed to have created a fight between PR people and SEO’s with the result a new hybrid genre of “content marketing specialists”, why? Simply because all those statements Google would make about what you can’t do when link building have started to come true.

In February and March 2012 we saw the first major influx of Unnatural Links warnings this was coupled with the advent of Google’s Penguin Algorithm and we saw sites plummet, businesses close, a mad craze happened while SEO’s across the Globe tried to remove links and then Google introduced the Disavow tool.

But does anyone ever Evaluate the Google WebSpam Team?

Well Rand Fishkin mentioned some ideas back in 2010 and I’ll use his quote before I start this article.

First off, let me just say that there are a lot of people smarter and more experienced in scalably attacking web spam than I am working in the Search Quality division at Google and specifically on the Spam team.

– Rand Fishkin

This article focus’s on some of my work over the past twelve months in particular relation to SERP Penalties and Unnatural Links Warnings. it’s also very timely because of the recent uproar across the industry with Interflora being penalized.

What can you learn from Dealing with 250+ Unnatural links Warning?

I’ve been called upon a lot of the last year to pay attention to website who “violated Google’s webmaster guidelines” with specific focus on links, my favorite personal quote this year is:

You can learn far more about link building when removing them than actually building them.

– Neil Walker (Pre Disavow)

The point is I’ve looked at sites with 500,000 links to sites with 30 links that received some form of penalty. For an in-depth timeline of that information you will have to patient as I’m not talking about it in this post, what this post focuses on is what Googles Webspam team missed.

Yes you heard Right!

I’ve spoken to a lot of SEO’s this last year and one this is common, “change of strategies”. Asides from that if you’ve been down the cleanup route both pre and post disavow then among the ashes is pieces of information that’s either been missed or Google have let off.  Its easier to compare data pre disavow because post disavow if you get knocked back from reconsideration you can always disavow more links (Seemed to have worked in the major percentage of sites I have been involved with), however that is not to say there isn’t useful information still to be gained.


Just get on with the examples!

Example One

I take on a campaign for a client who has been with probably seven SEO companies before hand and before me the last agency quote “specialized in getting the penalty lifted”. After removing approximately 40% of the links from a link network, disavowing several social bookmarks and free directories I finally got the golden words “Manual Spam Revoked.” [Post Disavow].

  • A month later a get forwarded a message off the client from a website where the previous agency had paid for links. I vlookup’d against my disavow files and a couple were not present, there overall criteria was relevant but on manual inspection I think it was quiet clear the link was paid.  – The key with this link is that it was branded anchor text on a site which had reasonable relevance.
  • So why did this slip through the net, after four re-inclusions?

  • I’m not complaining but it begs the question.

Example Two

A another website approached me, they had been linked to from a network. I managed to get the links removed and submitted re-inclusion (No other link removal). I got the perfect answer first time round “Manual Spam action revoked.” However when looking over the link profile visual I carried out you can clearly see that the site had its majority of links from directories (Free) and it’s still had links from article directories.

link profile example two

Now if you have done re-inclusions pre disavow you may have experienced the need to remove directory and especially article directory links, why was this missed? Especially when they updated their Webmaster Guidelines on link Schemes to specifically say:

Low-quality directory or bookmark site links

Overall Thoughts

The trouble with changes made by Google’s web spam team is there is still many questions raised. If you have received a message or penalty for links and then look at your competitors, you will find links that are often just as toxic or even worse. See the example below for one of the sites ranking the first page of Google UK for the term “flowers”.

Just to note this was displayed on a property website – Nice!


Frustrating? I have found this, it’s even worse when you talk to a client, because they ask “can’t you report the other sites”. – That’s a different story.

I would really love to hear other people’s thoughts on the above, let me know in the comments, i think we all know Google’s stance:

Just Build Great Content and People will want to link to it.

In the meantime, see below a handy little chart on what’s hot or not in terms of link building risk factors… Do you agree?

Link Building Risk Factors


Written By
Neil Walker started working as an SEO in 2002 and rose to become Group CTO for Swedish Marketing Agency “Online Group” in 2010 he moved to consulting with agencies, in-house teams and PR companies. In 2014 he formalised this work and founded Made Notable Ltd a boutique digital consultancy based...
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