Foreword by Matt Diggity:

Very shortly, I’m going to be turning things over to Rick Lomas.

Rick is an expert in manual penalty removal.

I’ve been working with him for quite some time, helping folks recover from manual actions, whether they be “unnatural links”, “thin content”, etc.

Starting last year with a Christmas Day spree of manual actions going after scholarship link building, we’ve seen an uncanny amount of manual penalties being triggered by supposedly whitehat seo techniques.

This is kicked up significantly in 2018 as we’ve had 3 waves of manual penalty sprees already, compared to typically one-per-year.

Rick has kept track of all the “white hat” link types that Google themselves has pointed out problems with.

You’re about to learn all of them.

Table Of Contents

What do I know about links?

Rick Lomas, Madeira Drive, Brighton.
I confess that before 2012 I was a black hat spammer and link builder.

In those days I did not care where a link came from, as long as I had more than everybody else.

I was in the motorhome/RV rental niche generating leads for a UK based company. The money was amazing, my client was happy and all was well.

I had VAs in India building web 2.0s and I had three PCs running SENukeXcr 24/7 using spun content.

What could possibly go wrong?

On my birthday, April 7, 2012, I received a message in Google Search Console (or rather Google Webmaster Tools as it was called then). It was the dreaded message that all SEOs never want to see:

Unnatural inbound links to violate Google Webmaster Guidelines

I swear my heart stopped for a few seconds.

I checked my traffic and it was still OK, should I be worried? I carried on as if nothing had happened.

In the back of my mind, I knew there was a ticking bomb about to explode.

On April 23, 2012, the ticking bomb finally exploded and caused mass devastation.

I was left with my main money site limping along on Bing and Yahoo traffic. My income had been decimated overnight.

The reality struck completely when the boss of the motorhome company called and said, “What’s happened? You’ve been wiped off the face of Google. I’ve got three staff here staring at empty screens, shall I fire them?”.

That day I had lost my income and three people lost their jobs in an instant.

The aim of this post is to educate you to avoid the mistakes that I made.

I’m not doing this by spouting some random ideas, but showing you some sample problematic links that have been provided by Google reviewers.

I only have this evidence because I have worked on hundreds of Manual Actions since 2013.

When does Google provide examples of problematic links?

Sadly, not as often as we would like and certainly not when you ask them!

At the time of writing the most common time to see them is when you have been through this process:

  1. You have received a Partial Match Manual Action for Unnatural Inbound links
  2. You have submitted a Reconsideration Request
  3. Google has replied saying that your Reconsideration Request has been rejected

At this point, more often than not, Google will supply 1, 2 or sometimes even 3 sample links that they do not like.

Here are some examples that may surprise you…

7 “White Hat” Link Types that Will Nail You

1) Non-relevant Niche Edits

niche edit example

The idea of putting a link into an article that is already established in Google is very sound.

But in this case, it seriously backfired.

Here the link was on which has rather good metrics and good traffic.

The link was in a sentence talking about a ‘walker’ as an aid to help people walk. The article was about Alice Walker, an American writer, and activist.

Clearly, the link was completely irrelevant. So it seems that Google doesn’t like irrelevant links.

Most niche edits I see are pretty tenuous links, so be careful and definitely keep them on topic.

2) Sponsored Posts

sponsored posts

This one comes as no surprise.

Google does not want you to guest post, pay for posts, pay for links, do link exchanges or anything that violates their Google Webmaster Guidelines.

That said, this message was meaningless as this site did not have any live links that even vaguely resembled these samples.

It’s a fail for Google, but at the same time, we get the message that sponsored posts are bad.

3) Zero Traffic Sites – Site Rebuilds?

zero traffic site rebuild example

I don’t always agree that a site with no traffic doesn’t pass link juice.

If this was true 99% of PBNs would not work. But we know that they do work.

However, in this case, the Google reviewer did not like this link at all. Looking at the site itself it seems to be a site rebuild using content probably from The content is now junk and irrelevant with tons of broken images.

Google has the final word, “Your site still violates Google Webmaster Guidelines”.

4) Obvious Guest Posts

kevinmd guest post

At first glance, looks like an authority site similar to

The ‘Contribute’ page says: is the web’s leading social media health platform, with 3 million monthly page views, and over 250,000 subscribers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and RSS.

Could this be true? It’s probably somewhat exaggerated, but SEMRush does show some reasonable traffic:

KevinMD traffic (SEMRush)

The link in question was not even a money keyword anchor text link.

It simply stated something like, “A. Doctor is an anesthesiologist who blogs at” at the end of the article. The article itself was well written and informative.

The site states that it was founded in 2004 by Kevin Pho. Kevin Pho appears to be a real physician and even has his own Wikipedia page.

So how could this be problematic? I think the answer can be found if we go back in time with and see how the site looked in 2011:

KevinMD 2011 (Archive.ORG)

It seems like Kevin has been selling guest posts for many years and Google does not like it.

If Google can clearly see that your link is paid for, its a matter of time that you’re going to get caught.

Avoid reaching out to sites that clearly state that they’re selling links in their posts, avoid guest post author box links, etc.

Or go with a vendor like Authority Builders that has already done this vetting for you.

5) Best Top Rated Links

best rated and top links example

The one thing that stands out more than anything else in Google’s Manual Actions of 2018 is keywords like: best, top rated, top 10, review of the best etc.

The link here is on and has the word ‘best’ 21 times on this particular page.

Throughout this site, the word ‘best’ is completely overused. Take a look at the homepage:

us combat sports

Although this site has some reasonable traffic, I get the impression that Google doesn’t like being told what is best!

6) Fake Social Profile Links

fake social and profile links

There are two links given here. The first one might appear to be some sort of social network, but in fact, it is just another blog selling guest posts:

The Sociable

The traffic on is reasonable, but the fact that they openly advertise the sale of sponsored posts seems to be a definite No-No in Google’s eyes.

The second example is on Although this Kenya-based website openly states ‘Advertise with us’ on its menu, the problem link is much more subtle than a blatant ad or guest post link:


At first, it appears to be a perfectly innocent profile page with a NoFollow link to the members’ website.

On closer inspection, it is evident that there is a second DoFollow link with an obvious money keyword in the anchor text.

Google didn’t like them being greedy. It’s also odd how the profile name is Cathy, but then in the description, she appears to be called Rosie. I suspect this may be some software script that set up hundreds of profiles automatically, spinning the text each time.

7) Irrelevant Redirects

redirects and spam link examples

This was the first time in five years of fixing penalties that I saw a redirect given as an example problematic link.

The really worrying thing here is that there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the domain other than it was slightly off topic.

The original domain was about a specific food festival at a town in The Republic of Ireland. This domain was redirecting to a domain about kitchenware which is aimed at a US audience.

There is a second link mentioned which Google refer to as a ‘spam link’. The site is now dead, but looking back to January 2018 on you can see that it was complete rubbish.


The opening sentence of this post says it all:

Microwave are now very popular among residence manufacturers, when time conserving tools have actually come to be necessary in the transformed lifestyles of the people.

This could not have been written by a human and no human ever needs to read this sort of nonsense.

So how do you avoid getting manual actions?

The examples that I have mentioned above may have shattered all your illusions about link building.

Links that you may have thought were white hat are being given as examples of problematic links. Even redirects and NoFollow links may not be as safe as you once thought.

So what does all this mean, are any links safe?

I think the answer is that some of the links above may be beneficial as long as they are not overdone.

As soon as you start trying to manipulate the SERPs by building links you are violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you are building links you need to make your links look natural even if they are not.

To avoid getting a Manual Action you need to analyze your competitors who are ranking on page one of Google and see what they are getting away with.

If you are ‘sticking out’ in some way you could raise a red flag and trigger a manual review or an algorithmic penalty. This might be something like having too many PBN links, not enough NoFollow links, too many links to inner pages, not enough image links etc.

After analyzing thousands of link profiles and fixing hundreds of Google Penalties, I can confidently say that the biggest cause of Manual Actions is too many ‘money keyword’ anchor text links.

You need to balance your anchors based on your niche.

Google does, of course, know what all the money keywords are.

Google built Adwords which in turn has created the World’s largest database of keywords, complete with the price that webmasters are prepared to pay for a click.

If you do indeed run into a manual penalty, contact Matt and I and we’ll be happy to get rid of it (100% success rate).


SEO is getting harder, link building is getting harder and penalties are getting more frequent and harsher.

This is great news for the more savvy SEOs.

As the amateur and untrained SEOs give up, the ninja SEOs can move in and dominate lucrative niches and charge more for their services.

Which one are you?


Rick Lomas

Article by

Rick Lomas

Rick Lomas is a veteran SEO specializing in manual penalty removal.