BBC receives Google link warning

BBC baffled by unnatural link notification

Reports over the weekend suggest that the BBC was on the receiving end of an unnatural link warning from Google.

Many picked up on a Google Webmaster Tools forum in which someone named Nick placed a message on behalf of the organisation asking for help dealing with an unnatural link warning.

"Given the BBC site is so huge, with so many independently run sub sections, with literally thousands or agents and authors, can you give us a little clue as to where we might look for these 'unnatural links'," he asked.

Many comments subsequently expressed surprise that an organisation as large and respected as the BBC could receive such a warning, and even the BBC could not work out how or why such a problem could have occurred.

Google moves to clarify the issue

It took four days for a Googler to respond to the original query, leaving a large window for plenty of speculation on the forum. In the end, the answer proved to be rather simple.

A Google representative said: "What happened was that we found unnatural links to an individual article, and took a granular action based on that. This is not negatively affecting the rest of your website on a whole."

With the BBC being as popular as it is, a great many external sources are likely to link to it regularly, so it was always going to be difficult for them to track down the source of this issue. In any case, it is unclear whether they suffered any ranking dips anyway as a result of this warning.

The second part of Google's response will be of most interest to other webmasters, as it suggests that the BBC had a problem with one page and that Google did not penalise the site as a whole for this issue.

This could provide reassurance to webmasters, as it appears that these warnings are meant to help rather than frighten, giving sites a chance to repair the damage before any penalties come into play.

Of course, in the wake of the Interflora ranking issue, it also reinforces the message that even the biggest organisations are not immune from Google's guidelines.

Natalie Booth, head of search at theEword, said: "The fact that Google took four days to respond to this created an opportunity for others to speculate on the issue, but in the end the explanation seems relatively straightforward. It also paints unnatural link notifications in a whole new light, as it appears quick action can help to save your site from penalties."

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