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Partial Match Manual Penalty For Unnatural Links

What is a partial match manual penalty?

A partial match penalty is a manual action taken by Google against your website. The result of this action can be in the form of not performing as well in search results as before or not even showing up at all. Google believes that your website is in violation of Google quality guidelines. These guidelines are a set of rules detailing the best practices for creating a website that is of benefit to the user and not deceptive in trying to artificially rank higher by using spam methods or tricks.

There are two different types of manual action; the first is a site wide match and the second is a partial match. A site wide match is a penalty that affects the entire site while the partial match is a penalty that only affects a set of URLs or an individual URL which I will discuss in detail in this post.

Reasons for a partial match manual penalty

There are several reasons to why Google has imposed this penalty on your site. The Webmaster Tools support page lists the eleven main reasons for receiving a penalty. The example in the screenshot below is for “unnatural links to your site”:

 Manual Action Site Wide Match Google

Unnatural links

This means that Google has determined that some of your external backlinks, links that are linking to your site, are either bought links or deceptive i.e. links originating from link schemes. Both of these are against Google quality guidelines.

How do I find the affected pages?

A partial match penalty as discussed above is only applied on a set of pages or an individual page. To find the pages, the best place to look at is Google Analytics.

1) In Behaviour –> Site Content –> All Pages look over a 6 month period from the present backwards. Add Organic traffic and Referral Traffic as a segments along with All Sessions. This will allow you to see changes in all both.

Google Analytics 1

In the diagram above, there is a significant increase in all sessions and referrals. This shows that the increase is mainly down to the large amount of referrals.

2) Next step is to remove All Sessions and Referral Traffic as a segment and see how organic traffic has been affected around this time period. As we already know that the penalty is due to unnatural links it is safe to assume that the unusually high amount of referral traffic may be one of the culprits.

Google Analytics 2

By removing the segments and leaving only Organic Traffic we can clearly see that organic traffic has taken a sharp downturn. This is most likely when the manual penalty was introduced. Now to find the specific pages that have been targeted.

3) As we have established the time period we have to look at the change in organic traffic compared to the previous month to see which pages have been affected by the penalty. Those pages that have a significant decrease in organic traffic can be seen as the pages affected by the penalty. In the screenshot above, it shows a 68% decrease in organic traffic. The table will show how much each page has decreased by compared to the previous month, pre penalty.

Google Analytics 3

How to assess the quality of your backlinks?

1. Download all available backlinks from Webmaster Tools, be sure to download the sample links as well. Bear in mind that Webmaster Tools only gives the top 1000 links.

WMT Backlinks

2. Google’s recommended action is to check all backlinks against their guidelines on linking. They suggest firstly looking at the sites that link most to your site or created most recently. The next step recommended is to contact each site that that you want to remove ask them to remove if not possible to no follow the link. Keep a track those who remove, deny or ignore.

3. As Webmaster Tools only gives a small set of your backlinks which most likely won’t cover all risky links, next step is to use other tools to attain further backlinks. Download backlinks from MajesticSEO, here you’ll be able to get a larger set of backlinks. You can also download the backlinks from Opensite Explorer.

4. Once you have got as many backlinks as possible from various sources, merge the data together. There will be duplicates so remove them what you’re left with a more compressive list of your backlink data.

5. Analyse the quality of your backlinks. Play close attention to the anchor text if you see multiple use of the same anchor text expect your brand name then this will be suspicious to Google that these link are not natural.

6. Link Research Tools can analyse the health of your backlink profile providing you with a score of your overall health and point you to the most important links to focus on removing.

7. Now that you have a list of all the backlinks that you need to remove, now is the time to start contacting webmasters to remove the links.

Manual analysis of your backlink profile can be an extremely long process. Through the use of tools, this process can be sped up and the accuracy of your efforts can be increased.

How to find the owner of a website?

Perform a search on a whois. This will search the database for domain name registration details. Within the results you will be able to find all public information regarding the website such as admin email address.

Below is an example for a whois search for Google:


After contacting all websites submitting Disavow

Once who have contacted all websites to request them to remove links to your website, the next step is to submit a list of all the URLs that you want to be disavowed. Realistically if you have high risk links from dodgy website the likelihood that you’ll be able to remove all the links is not feasible.  This is where the Disavow tool from Google comes into play. Submitting the URLs via the disavow will tell Google to discount these links when accessing your website, they effectively make these links redundant.

Disavow tips

Read in full detail about disavow by Google.

  1. Create a .txt file
  2. Only one URL per line
  3. To make notes add a # the line with the hashtag will be discounted
  4. To ignore an entire domain write
  5. Upload the .txt file via the Google disavow tool

And that’s all! So, if you’ve been given a partial match manual penalty by Google for an unnatural link pattern, hopefully it is easier for you now to find out which pages are effected and how to remove the penalty. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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