Unnatural Link Warnings Round 2: What they mean and what to do

Jimmy McCann

Head of Digital Strategy

Technical SEO

On 19 July many webmasters worldwide discovered that Google had sent out a new batch of unnatural link warnings in webmaster tools.

Similar messages over the last few months have resulted in many of the recipient site sites experiencing a drop in rankings and traffic immediately, or seen an impact up to two or three weeks later. This time round though, Matt Cutts Google’s Head of Webspam, says that rather than preceding a penalty, these warnings are just indicators that there could be a problem. So it might not mean that they are going to penalise you. This lack of clarity has led to widespread confusion and even panic for some webmasters. Below we’ve tried to condense the information and point you to resources to learn more about this problem and what it means for you:


Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land has a great post showing the history of link warnings so far and attempts to clarify what they mean. I recommend reading both of these posts to get a firmer understanding of the issue but the main points are as follows:

1 | There are now two messages you might receive. An unnatural link warning and an unnatural link advisory.

2 | Warnings mean that Google wants you to get rid of certain links. Advisories mean that you should be aware that you have links to your site that look unnatural.

3 | Advisories don’t have the yellow warning triangle and were sent out after the warnings. You probably received both.

4 | It may be that there is a penalty for unnatural link profiles, or just that more links deemed unnatural will be discounted. So far we’ve been unable to clarify this.

It’s worth bearing in mind that some big names including SEOMoz have received these notices and don’t think that there is any reason to panic.

Is it Penguin?

The unnatural links warnings and the penguin update target different problems, but because they came so close together they often get confused. Penguin doesn’t penalise sites, but it will discount unnatural links. The last time round of “unnatural link warnings” were followed by manual penalties imposed by Google. But Matt Cutts has indicated that this time that may not happen.


I’ve got a warning! What should I do?

First of all don’t panic. Google’s warnings have been very vague and confusing. At the moment rather than spending time chasing down bad links we recommend carrying on building high quality relevant links through useful and interesting content. We are watching this issue closely and will let clients know if anything changes.