What Are Unnatural Outbound Link Penalties?

If you’re from the SEO or digital marketing world, you’ll know of Google’s Penguin algorithm and what it does. For those who aren’t aware of what Google Penguin is, we can briefly summarise it as a way for Google to judge the quality of a link from one website to another website. Google looks to see whether the website that provided the link has content that is relevant to the website that received the link. Google also looks at what level of authority the website that provided the link has, to judge what its authority is on what it is talking about. If Google thinks the linking website isn’t relevant to the linked one, or even worse, the linking website is a spammy site, the target website will suffer. If you get enough of these spammy backlinks, you can end up with an algorithmic penalty or you might even get a manual penalty. Google also doesn’t like paid for backlinks, where the linking website doesn’t state that the linked website has paid for that link. Once again, get enough of these backlinks where you aren’t declaring you paid for them and Google will penalise you.

So how does all of this talk about inbound backlinks relate to outbound backlinks? Google uses an algorithm, suspected to be Penguin but not confirmed, to judge the website that is providing the backlink and not only the website receiving it. So if you link to the BBC then Google will look at whether what you were linking to is relevant to the content on your page and also whether or not it thinks the BBC is an authoritative website. If you were to link to a page on a website that was not related to your content, Google will flag it up. If your site is continuously linking to other sites that have nothing to do with your site or its content, then hey presto, you look like a link farm! This will bring about a penalty pretty quickly!

Google outbound link penaltyWe also have to look at how much of your outbound link profile is do-follow links and how many are no-follow links. Do-follow backlinks are a way of passing authority from your site to another site. If you are doing this a lot without thinking about who you are passing your authority onto, you are going to start looking like you’re trying to pass authority on to as many people as possible, a.k.a. a link farm. You ideally want to have a good balance between do-follow and no-follow links. The less do-follow links you hand out the better when your outbound link profile is quite small. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t hand out do-follow links, but only hand them out when you think a site’s content is such good quality that it’s worth passing on your authority to them. If the content is good but not great, then don’t risk passing on your link juice (authority). If you hand out do-follow links like there is no tomorrow then you are sure to land yourself an algorithmic penalty. Verb had a client that was doing this and so they gained a penalty. By quickly turning the links to no-follow links we saw an immediate removal of the penalty and the rankings return very quickly.

So how do you identify if you have an outbound link penalty? Google doesn’t issue these as manual penalties, so you have to look for a big crash in your rankings or a big decrease in the number of non-branded impressions you are getting month-on-month. If this has happened to you then it means you might have got an algorithmic penalty. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s due to an outbound link penalty, as it could be any other type. However, if you know you are not doing anything else naughty such as; gaining spammy links from link farms, paying for backlinks and not declaring that the links are sponsored, copying other people’s content or not protecting your own content from content thieves, then you’ve probably incurred an outbound link penalty.

So how do you get rid of an outbound link penalty? The best thing to do is turn all of your outbound links to no-follow to get rid of the penalty and stop linking to spammy websites. Any digital marketing agency or web design and build agency will be able to do this for you. Then download all of your outbound links into an excel document and run through each one and decide which ones you think are worth passing on authority to. It might be best to get a digital marketing agency to do this as they’ll be able to best judge what merits a website worth linking to.

The best thing to do is to avoid getting a penalty in the first place by downloading all of your outbound links and reviewing all of them. You’ll be able to work out what percentage are do-follow and no-follow and if the balance is right. Prevention is always the best thing to do, instead of incurring a penalty and then acting, as penalties can often take a few months to fully recover from and even longer if you have had the penalty for a while.

A full SEO audit of your website run by an agency could be the best option. This will flag up any penalties you have incurred, be they manual or algorithmic. The SEO audit will then tell you what you need to do. You might need the digital marketing agency that did the audit to fix the problems for you if you are not very technical or don’t have an in-house team to do so. The good thing about an SEO audit is that you’ll know all of the other things that need fixing on your site and all of the areas of opportunity that exist from other issues that could be improved.

If you are suffering from any type of penalty or you would like to run an SEO audit with us, please get in contact with us. We’ve got a very experienced team who have removed every Google penalty known to man. We also love doing SEO audits, as it allows us to show you what needs fixing on your site and what could be improved to increase your traffic, drive you more leads, and increase sales and revenue.