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ONE Outbound Link Caused Sitewide Google Penalty?

Post image for ONE Outbound Link Caused Sitewide Google Penalty?

by PotPieGirl on March 25, 2014 · 18 comments

Do you think it’s possible that ONE outbound link on your site could cause a SITEWIDE Google penalty?  I never really thought so until I started following a situation that is being talked about a lot online.  Let me fill you in…

This conversation seemed to have all started with an open letter to Matt Cutts et al 1  written by Doc Sheldon 2 over at TheMeld.co.uk which in short explains how Doc received a notification on March 20, 2014 from Google that his site 3 received a SITEwide penalty due to “unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative OUTBOUND links…”

Yes, you read that right – what he linked TO (and/or HOW he linked) supposedly caused a sitewide penalty.

That in itself is not that far-fetched, right?  But wait for it, it gets better.

That open letter led to a response from Matt Cutts4:

What Matt Said


Matt was pointing out ONE page on Doc’s site 5 that has a guest post (and not from MyBlogGuest that I talked about in this post) and that guest post has an author ‘bio box’ that has two links in it – one to the authors LinkedIn page and the other (drum roll please….) an optimized anchor text link to a page on the guest authors site: So then….
@DocSheldon Said...


and needless to say, all hell broke loose from there.

brand-be-with-youYou can read all the comments and conversation on Twitter6 or read more on-going conversation in the thread on Inbound.org7

If it’s true, and ONE do-follow link with optimized anchor text is enough to cause a manual (?) SITE WIDE penalty, well, that’s pretty crazy.

Whether its Fact or part of the FUD Initiative, I don’t know….I’ll be paying attention to see if any clarity (dare I say “transparency”) of the situation comes out as this all progresses.

To Doc Sheldon…. to you I send this wish – I sure hope you’re “Brand-Enough” to get that lifted quickly.

 That All Brings Me To This:

A big part of the discussion around this situation is about anchor text of links – now we shouldn’t use it?  Perhaps just straight url links and NEVER EVER any descriptive words about the page we are linking to?

But wait…. doesn’t Google tell us to USE descriptive words as anchor text to “define” what you’re linking to?

Why yes they DO tell us that – and not just “us” as in the SEO-type community, but they tell that to anyone who wants to know how to put a site together to please Google.

Your Honor, may I present Exhibit A – This official video from Google titles “SEO for startups in under 10 minutes”8.

At about 6 minutes in the advice in regards to links on a page (both internal AND external) is:

“…And then, of course, descriptive anchor text for every link whether you’re linking internally or externally to another site…”

(emphasis mine)

And then she goes on with an example of how ‘click here’ is not good as a descriptive anchor text phrase…

Here’s the whole video if you’d like to see how it’s presented in its entirety.

So anchor text for links yes?  no?  sometimes?  only if it’s no-followed?  only if it’s editorial?  only if the intention behind the link is perceived by Google to be editorial?


We all turn our sites into Wikipedia clones?

Anyone pay attention to how I handled the majority of external links in this post?

Is that what we’re coming to?



Show 8 footnotes

  1. http://themeld.co.uk/open-letter-cutts-schmidt-page-brin/
  2. https://twitter.com/DocSheldon
  3. http://docsheldon.com/
  4. https://twitter.com/mattcutts
  5. http://docsheldon.com/practices-hispanic-social-networking/
  6. https://twitter.com/mattcutts/status/447992375160225792
  7. http://inbound.org/discussion/view/this-is-insane-period-matt-cutts-on-why-doc-sheldon-s-penalty-was-valid
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=El3IZFGERbM


rashmi singh March 26, 2014 at 6:29 am

Backlinks and anchor text have always been tricky, this post is highlight alot about them but, more research is needed. thanks a ton

Riki March 26, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Everyone will be safe if they no-follow link with anchor text. You can also do-follow link and be safe if it is some kind of generic keyword like click here or similar. The way things are going , we’ll soon have no-follow links only or else…

Kris March 26, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Bottom line…Google sucks! But seriously, don’t they realize that their search engine is not just their own site that they can do whatever they want. They are the face of search, and if they don’t follow their own best practices, then they are just creating their own monster.

I sure wish another search engine would grab market share & give them competition to get them off their bully pulpit.

Chris March 26, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Hopefully duckduckgo will :)

Steve March 27, 2014 at 3:19 am

I totally agree with you @Kris, Google should even thank us because we are the ones giving the infomations needed on their results. Giving penalty for only just 1 link is outrageous!

Charles Fisher March 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm

If it is one outbound link that can get a site banned, its not a good day for any site owner. I have heard a lot really smart people, many of whom I admire called this a FUD campaign and I am starting to agree. The fact that Matt Cutts has questionable content and links on his site should raise more then just a few eyebrows.He even links to his ted talk. Sure Matt your are right and we are all wrong. He did state at Pubcon, that he needed to clean up Goolge’s image. However all the negative chattter is not helping the brand. I think the real reason Doc and MBG were punished was to scare people.

Doc Sheldon March 26, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Hi, Jennifer-
Last night I received notification that my penalty had been revoked, 4-1/2 days after I submitted the reconsideration request… pretty much in line with the response time we have typically seen in other cases. I doubt my brand has the horsepower behind it to warrant any special attention, though. ;)

I suspect that they unleashed a special algo, just to go after a “blog network” (the mbg algo? LOL)… it swept me up in its net, and when the algo flagged my site as suspect, an overzealous human reviewer okayed a manual penalty. That poorly thought out action left a little egg on Matt’s face, but he had to support the action, which I fully understand.

The real issue that we should be focused on is the whole penalization issue, both philosophy and process. I didn’t get hurt by this penalty, as all my business comes from word of mouth and referrals. But a lot of others get hit by such wide-sweeping penalties, and many of them DO get hurt. That I felt no financial impact and that my penalty has been revoked doesn’t alter the fact that many people ARE financially impacted by such arbitrary penalties.
A lot of those folks are honestly trying to comply in every regard… but when some standards are clear as mud and some changes conflict with published standards, it’s very difficult for them to stay in Google’s good graces.
By the way, I love what you did with your links! ;) A shame it might be necessary, though.

PotPieGirl March 26, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Hi Doc =) Thanks so much for stopping by!

I saw your follow up post sharing that your penalty seems to be fixed – that’s great, super glad to hear it! (that post is here if anyone wants the complete “rest of the story” from Doc).

Super sad for those that these penalties are really going to hurt. It’s tough online to begin with, but when your entire customer base is dependent on the free traffic from one online directory (ie, Google), well…things can go wrong very quickly.

Not too different from the ‘real world’ – take as an example some random brick and mortar business that has prime location and BOOMS from just the drive by traffic. They don’t feel as if they need to get out there and diversify their customer generation tactics – business is awesome. Then one day, the city comes along and changes the traffic flow and it no longer goes by their business. If they don’t already have a strong base of true fans, it hurts.

Anyway…. in this situation with MBG, I hope everyone affected comes out for the better as the dust settles.

As for my “wikipedia” links here – yeah, it might come to that and I hate it. I love linking to my helpful sources IN my content – not as some list of citations at the end.

Again, thank you so much for stopping by!


Michael Martinez March 26, 2014 at 6:49 pm

They have been penalizing Websites for single links for years. The SEO community has gone off the deep end with these hysterics.

Mike Feiman March 26, 2014 at 10:59 pm

The sad reality is that there’s no such thing as a “safe” link anymore. Any link at any time can be seen as “unnatural” whether it is or isn’t. I honestly believe most legit SEOs are more than happy to play by the rules. The problem is that the rules are extremely unclear, they constantly change and when they do, the penalties are retroactive.

These retroactive penalties are the equivalent of the police giving you a speeding ticket because you went 65 mph on a road 2 years ago and that road’s speed limit changed to 55 mph last month.

PotPieGirl March 26, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Agreed! The speeding ticket analogy is a good one!

Isobel March 27, 2014 at 12:59 pm

FYI Jen, your footnote links all lead back to your home page. The link URL is in the link title but there’s no way to access it without either a) typing it in manually or b) viewing your source code.

PotPieGirl March 27, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Hahahahahha – how funny! Didn’t notice that at all – coulda sworn I tested them, too!

Thank you for pointing that out! You’re the best!

Ryan Clark March 27, 2014 at 6:42 pm

This was a pretty scary read and I’m linking to it in a post I’ve got dropping today. We’ve got an industry site getting a lot of link removal requests lately but all the links given on this site are editorial within amazing content. The site doesn’t sell links or even allow guest blogging and is one of the largest hubs for the industry it’s involved in.

The latest link example given that made me so annoyed was in an interview with a CEO of a company. The end of that interview has a link to the website and a few of the social networks and that’s it…it was cited as a bad link in the “love” letter from Google.

iDCx March 31, 2014 at 11:40 am

Nice post, its been like this for a while though, about 5 years ago we managed to move a client from 3rd place to page 5 with one link; took the link down about 48hours later and boom back to position 5 i think i recall…

Although its annoying, it does give you something to bill for other than link building, cleaning up link profiles and adding links to the disavow all seems more and more part of a modern link building strategy, but yea, watch the anchor texts these days hay!

Thanks for sharing nice to read its not all plain sailing.


pat April 4, 2014 at 7:36 am

These back linking penalties are so stupid and google has too much control of the market.

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