Before Penguin, to rank well required building large quantity of inbound links. If you analyzed the backlink of sites ranking in the top 10 in any semi-competitive or competitive industry, you would find thousands of low quality, irrelevant links. So everyone did what they had to do to rank.
People were buying links, joining link networks, and reaping the benefits by ranking incredibly well.
Instead of paying thousands of dollars advertising on adwords, they paid a few hundred or thousand in advertising for paid links or blog networks, ranked beautifully in organic results, and limited their spending on adwords.
Typically these were people with commercial products, as generally people will not pay for advertising unless there is a return on investment.
So this was the status quo for many years, particularly the last 7 or so years.
Then in 2011, Google launched Google+, a system which enabled them to jump into the “social shares” game. Until then, they had limited ability to utilize Facebook and Twitter to read social signals, but with Google+ and Analytics, they now have incredible access to social engagement. They have Othar Hanssson, one of their top engineers, working on the Authorship project at Google. With a couple of their top engineers working on this project, they now have the ability to turn up the dial on social shares as a ranking signal.
Simultaneously, March 2012, Google announces they are tracking social shares in analytics:
The framework is set. They’ve got enough traction with Google+ and the Authorship program. They’re actively tracking social shares and have enough data through Google+ and Analytics.
Now, let’s go after those people that are spending money on paying for links, blog networks, and other forms of link manipulation. Why let them reap the rewards without benefit to Google themselves. There are millions and millions of dollars going to the SEO & link building industry that is not going into Google’s pocket. How can they maintain the free workforce of SEO’s who are focusing on making their content relevant and easy for Google to find, index, and rank, while improving their bottom line and making more money for their own advertising product?
Enter the Rank Modifying Spam Filter patent.
The stage is set. Rank #1 is already assigned. They turn up the “social dial”. This determines rank #2. Then they use ” the plurality of transition ranks” to assign a transition rank to the pages, where they will either go up or down, irrelevant of changes in ranking factors. They now have a mechanism in place to turn the “paid links” and “blog networks” links industry upside down.
Enter the stage, the Infamous Unnatural Links Warning letters announcing they’ve detected problems in a site’s backlink profile. In other words, they went fishing, in an effort of “transparency”:
Now, they wait and see. Who goes out running to take down their links? Who responds to Google and asks for a reconsideration request? Who changes all of their anchor text?
These changes by the webmaster indicate “rank manipulation”.
So then the system creates rank #3:
“…reducing, by the processor, the rank of the document at a third time that is subsequent to the first time and the second time, based on the indication of rank-manipulation.”
Once again, Google set the stage so webmasters will reveal themselves as “rank manipulators”, and those rank manipulators end up ranking lower in the search results.
So what are those rank manipulators to do, to make up for the loss of organic rankings? Buy Google Adwords, of course, according to Google.
Should you Respond to Unnatural Link Warnings?
Only if you want Google to know that you are a rank manipulator. I would say that instead of rushing out to announce yourself to Google, or taking down hundreds of your links, focus on continuing your link building and SEO efforts slowly and steadily.
Encourage social shares of your content, create excellent graphics and images, and don’t react to temporary decreases or increases in your rankings.
Does buying links or joining blog networks still work?
Absolutely. It just has to be done in a way that appears natural if reviewed by Google’s spam review team. I believe a large portion of sites that were downgraded were done so as a result of a manual review:
If you make the links appear natural and valid, so they pass the manual inspection by their human raters, then link buying still works. And I can prove it by showing you backlinks from thousands of sites still ranking well in competitive industries. Just go for varied anchor text, realistic link velocity rate, and contextual high quality links.