Google penalizes sites for unnatural outbound linking
Check your Google Search Console message center. Google sent out outbound link penalties over the weekend.
Over the weekend, Google issued many manual actions for “unnatural outbound links.” This is a penalty issued by the Google manual actions team, specifically over sites linking out to other sites in an effort to manipulate the Google search results. In this case, it seems Google penalized the site by deciding not to trust any of the links on the website.
The email sent to these webmasters read:
If you see this message on the Manual Actions page, it means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links. Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
As a result, Google has applied a manual spam action to the affected portions of your site. Actions that affect your whole site are listed under Site-wide matches. Actions that affect only part of your site and/or some incoming links to your site are listed under Partial matches.
Here is a picture from one of the many complaints about this manual action in the Google support forums:
You should log into your Google Search Console account and check your all messages box to see if you have this notification, or any others. If you were hit by the outbound link penalties, there are instructions on how to fix them over here.
I have only seen a few inbound link notification penalties this weekend. So it is too early to tell if sites on the other end of this penalty got it. If anything, it seems Google is no longer trusting the links from these sites, which can have a negative ranking impact on the sites receiving these links. But that would not be a direct penalty for inbound links.
Google has not commented about this penalty.
Postscript: Google’s John Mueller confirmed that this was related to bloggers posting reviews in exchange for free products. For more details see our follow up story.