What Does It Take To Get You An Unnatural Link Penalty?

What is too much?
SIA Team
July 10, 2021

Given the amount of link penalties we as SEOs come across, which of course we try and avoid best we can, we thought we’d see if:

  1. If we can deliberately create a link penalty
  2. See what it actually takes to do it, and by “do it”, our goal is to completely sink this ship and have Google de-index our test site

Now of course, there are a lot of relative factors at play here such as:

  • Not all link sites are created equal (some are worse than others)
  • Ratio of anchor text (from natural to 100% anchor text)
  • Reputation, age, and size of the target site
  • Probably the biggest factor is that you never 100% know whether your site has a link penalty because its algorithmic, not manual

So it will be extremely difficult for us to find an exact formula for obtaining a link penalty, but we will follow this test over a period of a couple of months and hopefully, learn a thing of two.

Here is the into to what Google Webmaster Guidelines has to say about unnatural link penalties:

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site. 

The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results: 

– Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link 

– Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking 

– Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links 

– Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.

Now obviously, to avoid all these link building methods will severely limit your SEO practice. We all know that everyone is doing it, so let’s try to find that link building tipping point!

For this test, we have one page with a 400 word article and with an 8% keyword density. We created a new site for this test on a brand new domain, and created one optimized post on the home page. 

After launch, our test page is now ranking #4 for the target phrase, only losing to the New York Times and Epicurious.

Test One

We ordered 10,000 backlinks with the anchor text “green sandwich pepper monkeychair” to the homepage of the site. The fun thing was picking out a spammy link provider. There is no shortage of options on Fiverr. We went with a 10,000 links, $5 backlinks gig.


On June 17, 116 links are being indexed by Majestic. The test page is now ranking #1. We seem to be moving in the wrong direction. A few days after, on June 21st, 3042 links are now being indexed by Majestic, site is still holding its number 1 position. 

On June 22nd, we bought another round of links, this time, double the original amount of links – 20,000.

Over the next coming months, we’re going to be fire more links at the test page to see if we can deinxed it. We will be providing more updates on this test in the coming months.

Curious what happened with this test and if it ended up getting deindexed? Check out our test articles. 

Clint’s Review

Some of the tests date back to 2015. Is this result still valid? What does a leading SEO think about this test?

Link Building is gonna get you. The evil Google monster is gonna know. And all that’s gonna ruin your website. I know we’ve all heard it. That isn’t true. Test number 33. What does it take to get an unnatural link penalty? Let’s get into it.

Ever since Penguin came out quite some years ago, there’s been a lot of fear about what Google can and can’t do with backlinks, etc. And to be honest, this test is from 2016. And it’s still probably pretty applicable today.

Back then, there was a really big effort on Google’s part to issue manual penalties for link building. And those manual penalties typically came with de-indexing.

Around the time this test was done, there was a lot of talk about building PBNs and how to fix PBNs and how to get them built, etc. You had to know how to find domains that were expired, and were de-indexed or not, based off of possible penalties.

This was one of the ways to save your money a little bit.

What we wanted to do was find out how good Google is at filtering links. Is it as good as what the talking heads say, what john Mueller says, etc.

We went to Fiverr. And we actually sent 10,000 backlinks to a test page. The test page was a 400 word article with 8% keyword density, which is actually pretty decent.

And nothing happened. After Majestic found them, there was 116 links in Majestic. That’s the tool that we were using at the time. You’ll notice that Majestic, Ahrefs, and now SEMrush and Moz, are showing different links. That could even been different at that time.

But the test page was number one. And then after 3000 of those links came in, the test page was still number one. And what we ended up doing is just going back and hitting it with another 20,000 links. And the page was still number one. And these are links that they tell you not to use.

What do you do with this information?

Does that mean you can go to Fiverr and hire this out? I would highly recommend that you do not. You want to be responsible with this kind of stuff and really test.

I’d still do those kind of link building campaigns to churn and burn stuff. I use single page sites that are promoting a product or something that is seasonal just to get in there and get it done. Or product launches. This can get in there and get it done and just move on. And that’s okay.

The real risk of doing this is actually your competition. That’s how these sites get found, especially now that Google has reduced their manpower to increase their bottom line. And that the manual penalty stuff is not really coming out a lot, etc.

They are getting a little better filtering this stuff out with the algorithm. However, they still haven’t beat it.

You’re going to get reported probably before the algorithm is going to catch you. So just be cognizant of that. And you don’t really want to go in and build all these links. You don’t really need it.

There’s not very many niches out there where you need supersized links. There are some. There’s some in local. There’s definitely some international and if you’re in like adult or casino, forget about it. You have to be building these kind of links to be successful.

But you need to look at your marketing to see what your competition is doing. And see if you can find a way to take advantage of these types of links in this type of volume and be safe about it. And remember, Google’s more than likely not going to catch you.

I think I’ve only had one manual penalty. And that was because someone negative SEO’d my site way back when and I did a reconsideration request.

They gave a manual penalty for spam on to my domain after I told them that it was a negative SEO campaign. And so that’s the last time I’ve had one. I can’t remember the last link cleanup where we were dealing with manual penalties.

We always see algorithmic stuff. And usually that comes from anchor text.

And bad websites, bad neighborhood websites that you get links from. You can clean those up relatively quickly with a disavow tool and recrawl those. You can counter that power pretty fast in a week or two.

But in this case, given the amount of volume, the source of the links, everyone says they’re bad, but Google algorithm is responding to and ranking the pages number one. So test to free yourself. Be cognizant of the risks that are there and apply to your business as needed.

What do you think? do you think Google is advanced enough to really detect or care about your unnatural links?