The End of ‘Easy SEO’

You may or may not have seen this message in your webmaster tools account recently, what is it for? What are you planning to do about it? Are you going to get a penalty?

webmaster tools unnatural links

The truth is no one knows 100% what the sudden increase in messages relates to, however there are plenty of conversations happening online discussing theories and actions you should take.

Even though there is plenty of commentary on this subject, I still want to put my own personal feelings out there, and try to give some advice based on experience and some conversations I’ve had recently.

What Do they Relate to?

Well, all the fingers seem to be pointing at the de-indexing of large link networks, designed to generate keyword rich in content anchor text, these sites have been running, and working, for years but it looks like those days are finally coming to a close.

However, I have personally spoken to webmasters over the last week that have never been involved in any of these networks, yet have had the message pop up in their webmaster tools.

If you have one of these messages you need to ask yourself the following questions:

> Have you been involved in any artificial link networks, either now or in the past? (Some sites received the message for links that were built in 2009)

> Do you submit spun content to low quality blogs and article directories?

> Have you paid for one off ‘link blasts’ on large networks?

> Do you syndicate masses of low quality content to press hubs and article directories just to get links?

> Do you have a large amount of site wide links, all with rich anchor text?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, then you need to take action, and if your site has dropped rankings, as well as getting the message, then nothing short of removing the links will help you out.

What to Do?

If you’ve received this message, you really need to find a way to remove the links and then send in a reconsideration request to Google. Even if your rankings haven’t been hit, I would still go down this route.


The bad news is if you do have a penalty, it’s highly unlikely to be a manual one.

A lot of these networks and low quality websites have been de-indexed, so your site is not receiving the benefit of these links anymore. Removing them and sending in a re-consideration is not going to get your rankings back.

Having said that, we have seen some websites broadly improve their rankings after the removal of these low quality links, however the majority of ranking drops tend to only be on keywords that have been targeted aggressively with these networks.

In order to get your rankings back you’re going to have to do things the hard way, by rebuilding the links you have lost in a natural way. This is going to take a significant investment, don’t take any more short cuts, the road to rankings is no longer an easy one.


I have never been one to fully submit to Google’s rules and guidelines, for the last 7 – 8 years of being involved in this industry I have seen Google make algorithm shifts, seen websites filtered out of the results or outright penalised. To be honest, all updates gone before have done very little to address content spinning, low quality blogs and link networks, however this one is for real.

You may feel this treatment is a little unfair, especially when you consider that comment spam, forum profiles and paid links still seem to be holding their weight, but try and trust me when I say “quick & easy link building is over”. If sites haven’t been hit yet for using other, possibly more aggressive link building techniques, they will in the future.

We have all syndicated content, spun articles and possibly used these paid networks, but it’s time for a change of perspective, you can no longer achieve rankings by building hundreds of low quality links every month, it’s time to start doing it right and looking for quality over quantity.


Tim Grice is the CEO of Branded3, a search marketing agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

Latest posts by Tim (see all)

40 Replies to “The End of ‘Easy SEO’”

  1. Time to do things right or time to begin your negative SEO campaigns to hurt your competitors. A little of both I guess.

  2. I’m not sure negative SEO would work, all I am really seeing at the minute is the devaluing of anchor text links from these networks. If you’re competitor is top 3, building a load of spammy links isn’t gong to affect them, as they are ranking there already.

    However, if you’re link profile is fully supported by these type of links then you could be in trouble.

    Having said that, building these types of links to competitors may well generate the message in WMT and ruffle a few feathers, however I wouldn’t personally recommend it, or putting any effort into it.

  3. Hey Tim,

    Have you heard of anyone receiving the message AND have lost rankings? I know of plenty that have gotten the message, have participated in the now deindexed blog networks, but none have seen their rankings drop.

    A bit strange if you ask me…


  4. Well Said Tim,

    – I would say Google is “growing up”

    My site rankings have been increasing steadily over the last year, so I would say that I am doing something right πŸ™‚

  5. Hi Mikael,

    Yes we have seen some ranking drops, however this looks to be directly related to the de-indexation of the websites in question rather than a manual penalty.

    It all looks to be automated, however with Google’s ‘over optimisation’ algo looming, I would always advise to remove them.

  6. Hello Tim,

    It will be interesting to see if any of the programming aces out there can write a small script to run through backlinks from seomajestic or OSI and highlight links which have become deindexed.
    So you might end up with the
    number of incoming links
    number of domains
    associated anchor text
    for any competitor which you look at.

    I know which competitors seem to be engaged in link networks but it would be a huge job to manually check all their link domains to see if they are deindexed.


  7. Superb stuff from Google =) I have noticed many of my keywords suddenly came in top10 in last week.Let me share some experiences of mine:
    One of my website(in high competition niche) got disappeared as i heavily used BMR for its link building along with few other linking methods.
    Rest of the sites have gained good rankings.
    As you said few other grey hat methods still seem to work like blog commenting and profiles, my opinion here is that such types of websites have high authority as compared to those low quality paid blog networks so Google might not consider them as bad links.

  8. Great post Tim, this is one of the most well written SEO blog on the net if you ask me. I wish you would post more often.

  9. Can I ask what references you have that make you believe there will not be a penalty & that it is just devaluing of links? Almost everyone that I have discussed this with on forums has agreed that they have either already been given a penalty or are about to hit by one (apparently takes between 2 – 6 weeks).

    Many have described being totally de-indexed (you have to call this a penalty).

    Why would Google not give a penalty to webmasters when they have as good as admitted that this is standard practice?

    See Matt Cutts video discussing penalties:

  10. I think all link spam techniques will eventually come under the hammer, I honestly think the recent WMT messages and algo shifts are game changes, end of an Era..

  11. Hi Sam,

    I’m not claiming to be an expert on this new issue, however I have dealt with around 20 sites now that have had this message in WMT, some since the new year.

    Any rankings that rely heavily on these type of links have been killed, usually within a week, some even dropped before the message. I have yet to see anybody completely de-indexed, unable to find there site even when searching for the exact URL. If somebody has been booted out it’s probably because every single link they have to their site is from these networks and/or low quality.

    If having links from these sites caused a complete wipe out of the SERP’s, everyone would be killing each other with crap links, I know this has been suggested on forums, however I just think it’s a bitter backlash from those that have been hit. It makes way more sense to de-index and stop counting these links, rather than handing out manual penalties.

    Having said that, if a site is low quality, offers a poor user experience and has masses of links from networks and spam blogs, I can’t see it staying around very long.

  12. Another top post Tim. Think I may have to hang up my grey hat, and dust off my white hat πŸ™‚ Google are definitely going to clamp down big style on many link building techniques which we have all tried, some people deny it, but we all have tried them, myself included.

    For me, all my Energy going forward is going into

    1. Guest Blog Posting
    2. Infographic Publication
    3. Niche Directories, Strong Directories
    4. Link Bait – games, free content, giveaways
    5. Content on your own website – really create some link worthy content on our own websites, client websites, to gain links from this content.

  13. That’s great Tim!

    I have heard people kicking around some pretty wild speculations over the last week, with little explanation of why they think this to be the case. Your experience in the matter (20 sites this year) fills me with at least some hope!

    Good luck everyone.

  14. I agree with you in that I believe the links are simply being devalued, so not a penalty, and the messages are simply a feather ruffler.

    One aspect of this ‘event’ that hasn’t been explored here is the way good sites have been hit by this. It’s always assumed it’s only poor sites who indulge in low hanging link fruit, but what of decent sites that undertook some blog network contributions to leapfrog poor sites that were using every “Warrior” technique out there.

    Link building is hard and Google’s algo, with it’s roots in academia, isn’t suited to the world of business and commerce. Citations are a common currency amongst PhD’s, not so with most mere mortals. Let’s face it, if your average web user saw something they liked they wouldn’t have the first idea how to link to it, assuming they know what a link is!

    It’s also a falsehood to assume the arbiters of links – those who own these allusive ‘quality’ websites – know one end of a quality article from another.

    I went into a little more detail here πŸ™‚


  15. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the comment, you make some good points.

    I think all kinds of sites indulge in link network spam, small affiliate websites all the way to big brands, and from what I have seen even the biggest sites out there are getting the same messages, I heard rumour that had one… However, that’s not to say big brands will be dealt with the same.

    For me links are still a huge factor, maybe not an ideal factor but at the minute they still rule, or should I say the right types of links rule.. The seo industry is a ‘linked’ to industry, an industry where quality links could be an indicator of a quality site. However, the sites that rank for terms like ‘SEO’ engage in networks, link buying and blatant spamming.

    Links can still be a great indicator of authority, the issue is counting the right sort of links, despite all the changes of late, Google still have a major issue with this.

    Great article on Moz by the way πŸ™‚

  16. One of my sites which i received the notice on started to lose rankings about a week ago and everyday since my traffic has been dropping – now virtually dead. It’s too early to tell if this is permanent or if I will be able to correct my link profile and recover. Of course, its also too early to tell whether my drop is due to a penalty against my site or indeed if its just a result of links that were passing juice being de-indexed.

  17. If your link profile was made up of links from link networks, it is likely they have all been devalued and achieving rankings is going to be extremely difficult going forward.

  18. Dorey,

    If your page is still showing in the index (search using there’s no penalty, which is likely. The drop in ranking is very likely to be caused by the links losing value, not the same as a penalty.


  19. Tim,

    Do you think the page/site will have a black mark against it or something? I’m not convinced and I’m split testing to see. I think the most likely outcome for a ‘cleaned up’ page/site is it could work its way back. Even sites with manual penalties for a serious infringement can and have done this.


  20. Hi Dave,

    I have seen sites completely lose trust, and no matter how many bad links you remove or good links you build they never seem to fully recover. I have seen recovery from anchor text filter by applying a thorough anchor text strategy.

    If I had a site I felt had been penalised, e.g. ranks for nothing at all. I would remove all bad links, add fresh content and send in a reconsideration. If doesn’t work it’s time to start thinking about a new domain.

  21. Yeah I’d go with that. The recent Google warning letter was generally aimed at pages on a site, not site wide – “We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages…”. I’ve seen pages drop and others that didn’t use the blog networks stay put. This suggests it’s an ‘intelligent’ warning, so to speak, after all, there are plenty of great sites that have dabbled with linking techniques πŸ™‚

  22. I’ve been doing my own SEO and my rankings have been hurt by this. To get links quickly I used a blog network and thought (perhaps naively) that as a long as I provided good quality original content this shouldn’t be a problem. I spent many hours doing this. Google should be able to distinguish between that and all the spun crap and nonsense out there that may well be within Google’s guidelines but is still not of any value to any human reader.

    I’ve removed all these links and I don’t think there is a penalty (my PR is unaffected) and while I dropped down the rankings I think that was more to do the loss of link juice from the de indexed links. My site has started to rise again naturally (even though I have yet put in any other strategy or efforts in place just yet). So rather than re submit for reconsideration my instinct to leave well alone and build a more diverse link base and let things settle to a new equilibrium .

  23. I think if you have only seen slight losses then pulling links down and rebuilding seems sensible.

    Some sites have been completely wiped out, for these a reconsideration is the only way forward in my opinion, other than rebuilding a new domain.

  24. I have several websites that I started two years ago. I paid for about 3,000 directory submissions. Over time, the sites floated to page two or three for the target keywords.

    I did no other work because my focus changed. But, the sites just sat there, with just cheap directories ranking them.

    Now, they have gone away and I have not found them for the keywords.

    It looks to me like the links were not devalued, they harmed me. I thought directory submissions were white hat?

    Previously, putting a bunch of directories submissions on a site made it go up to page two or three. Are these links now penalizing me because they are anchor text?

    The category is not competitive, it is “Chinese herbs”.

    Thanks for your help.

  25. Another question. I had a really good site on a health topic. I paid for directory submissions. I paid for and My site was on page two for the two most important terms within four months.

    I signed up for Unique Article Wizard. I wrote 6 articles and they were submitted. This happened about two months ago. That site is nowhere to be found for any keyword. It is still showing up under the site name with .com. So, I think that means it has not been deindexed. I submitted it for reconsideration and was told no manual adjustment had been made. Which means nothing to me.

    Do I just assume the site is dead and cannot be revived, or if I make some guest blog posts at, might that help it?

    I feel like I’m flailing about and don’t know what to do. After being penalized, I am afraid to do any kind of links. I’m not even sure what white hat is anymore.

    Could you make a post about what white hat is these days? I am not a spammer, I did not hire people in the Phillipines to write my articles. I make legitimate health sites and have no idea if I can ever rank them now. It seems the law of declining returns is kicking in for this endeavor.

    I appreciate any help you can give me. I am well past the point of hiring someone to do SEO for me. I paid someone for that and lost a bunch of money on that also.


  26. Directory submissions are fine if they are quality directories, relevant to the business you are trying to promote.

    Low quality directories, generated for the benefit of SEO will harm your site and will most certainly be passing zero weight in terms of rankings.

  27. Tools like UAW have been hit hard by Google, rewriting content and spinning it out across thousands of blogs/article directories has always been considered grey if not black hat SEO, as it provides no value to anyone, other than the fact you get a link.

    We’ve all used these type of methods, it’s now time to evolve, generate news, guest blog, focus on becoming an expert at your subject. Sounds a little broad, when I get time, I’ll put a post together.


  28. Thanks for responding.

    I spent two years looking at the backlinks of my competitors trying to figure out how they got those links. I finally found out how. Right after that, this option started penalizing sites.

    I look forward to your new article on how to get links these days. I’m looking at guest blogging systems.

    Thus far I’ve come up with:, and blogger linkup.

  29. After Penguin update we decided to reconsider our link building compaign as well. Even before Penguin, it was obviously that paid and low quality backlinks could hurt your rankings. But from now it seems like more than 50% links with keywords in anchor text are considered to be unnatural. Of course a lot of websites get penalized because of this. So SEO companies should definitely revise their tactics

  30. Thanks Tim for sharing this informative post with us!! I think this post would definitely be a great help for all the SEO’s. Finally time has come to put an end to the negative SEO works.

  31. At the end of the day, having several quality backlinks is still worth it compared to hundreds or thousands of low quality backlinks which are likely considered as link farms. I guess nothing can really beat the natural way of building links. πŸ™‚

Comments are closed.