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Can't Find Unnatural Links - Help Requested for a site that plants 100's of thousands of trees

JamieMktgMgr Jul 5, 2013 12:15 PM
Posted in group: Webmaster Central Help Forum

Categories: Crawling, indexing & ranking :

I have studied the Help Center, read the FAQs and searched for similar questions.

Super Quick History: Got two unnatural link notices with the most recent one saying there's a manual penalty. We made mistakes and tried to correct them. Tried for months (detailed below). Can't figure out source of penalty.

Our Questions (lots of details below)

1) We are part of two affiliate networks LinkShare and ShareASale, but both redirect all paid links through their servers. In reading the forums, and given that these are two leading affiliate programs, we're pretty sure that is NOT the source of the penalty. Does anyone disagree? Otherwise, we don't run any other affiliate programs.

2) We submitted our most recent disavow list only 1 day prior to our reconsideration request. We told google that we had done this. Only today, I realized that some people recommend waiting for that to take effect. However, since we told Google that we had updated our list, I assume they would have reviewed that prior to denying our reconsideration request. Do you think this would be the cause of the reconsideration rejection?

3) Anyone who has refused to remove the links or who has demanded payment to remove the links, we have added to our disavow list. Should we instead be paying people to remove the links? It seems that Google would not encourage this practice either.

4) We assume neither #1 or #2 is the cause of the rejection. However, now we're at a lost. Does anyone have an idea of what might be causing the penalty?

Who We Are (not relevant, but just for background to understand who you might be helping)

We're a design e-commerce company that creates personalized cards and wall art. We're known for delivering modern design through eco friendly products. We plant a tree with every order and have 100's of thousands so far. We are fortunate to have been featured in Real Simple, Martha Stewart, People, In Style, The Today Show, The Talk and the Wall Street Journal to name a few (meaning, we're not some fly by night site).

... and most importantly, we thank you for any help on this matter.

July 23, 2012: Unnatural inbound links (warning) Unnatural inbound links
July 23, 2012

We've detected that some of the links pointing to your site are using techniques outside Google'sWebmaster Guidelines.

We don't want to put any trust in links that are artificial or unnatural. We recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links are outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action on the unnatural links instead of your site as a whole. If you are able to remove any of the links, please submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took.

If you have any questions, please visit our Webmaster Help Forum.

11/27/2012: Reconsideration request rejected

6/26/2013: Unnatural inbound links (manual penalty) Unnatural inbound links
June 26, 2013

Google has detected a pattern of artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site. Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank are violations of Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

As a result, Google has applied a manual spam action to There may be other actions on your site or parts of your site.

Recommended action

  • Use the Links to Your Site feature in Webmaster Tools to download a list of links to your site.
  • Ensure that unnatural links pointing to your site are removed.
  • When these changes are made, and you are satisfied that links to your site follow Google's Webmaster Guidelines, submit a reconsideration request. If you're unable to remove links pointing to your site, please provide as much detail as possible in your reconsideration request.

If we determine your site is no longer in violation of our guidelines, we'll revoke the manual action.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please visit the Webmaster Help Forum.

7/4/2013: Reconsideration request rejected. Note: we submitted a reconsideration request quickly because we had already been working on our expanded disavow and link removal list for 6 months prior. 

What We've Done

- From the first notice, we understood and took responsibility for hiring an SEO firm that created poor quality links. This was from the period of about 3/2011 to early 2012. Even today, from our backlink profile, you can see that these links abruptly stopped around early 2012. We culled our list, emailed the websites to ask for link removal, added the worst offenders to the disavow list. We then submitted a reconsideration request. This was rejected.

- Since it was rejected in late 2012, we'd been working on an ongoing to be more aggressive with the link removal with the hypothesis being that we missed some of the links that were built. We downloaded all of our links from Google Webmaster and used a paid service called Link Detox to help identify bad links. We reviewed every link manually. As a result, here is what we did differently than the first time:

* More Aggressive Link Disavow and Link Removal Request: Mostly added almost ALL directory sites, and some gray area links that were topical, but of low quality. I've shared a google doc of the disavow list here:

* Eliminated 301 redirects: while we do not believe this was the issue, we do own about 30 other domains that we simply 301 redirected to our site. Because of the time urgency, we just eliminated these redirects after receiving the penalty as we never purchased them to redirect PageRank, but rather to use as future potential businesses so we weren't concerned about the loss.

* We identified a small set of article site submissions that were inconsistent with any content we would have written and asked for them to be removed and added them to our disavow list:

However, after these actions, we're still being assessed the manual penalty.

Thanks again for your help,