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August 21, 2013

How to Rehabilitate Your Site After a Google Link Penalty

There may be few things more gratifying in the world of SEO than an incoming link from an authority site with stellar page rank and domain authority. Hopefully, all of your site’s incoming links are beyond reproach. But, as Google becomes more adept at spotting what it considers to be unnatural incoming links, you may be the recipient of an unnatural links message from Google.

If Google has taken a manual or automated spam action against you based on incoming unnatural links to your site, what, if anything, can you do?

First, ask yourself what you may have done to trigger this action. Google will not send you a complete list of the links it deems unnatural, but it will give you an example of your unnatural links via your Google webmaster console when they detect evidence of paid links, link exchanging and other unnatural linking schemes you may not even be aware of. Basically, anything that goes against Google’s quality guidelines is up for scrutiny. Google engineer and prolific blogger Matt Cutts suggests:

“One great place to start looking for bad links is the ‘Links to Your Site’ feature in Webmaster Tools. From the homepage, select the site you want, navigate to Traffic > Links to Your Site > Who Links the Most > More, then click one of the download buttons. This file lists pages that link to your site. If you click ‘Download Latest Links,’ you’ll see dates as well. This can be a great place to start your investigation, but be sure you don’t upload the entire list of links to your site — you don’t want to disavow all your links!”

Steps to Deal with a Google Link Penalty

If Google believes your site has been engaging in link spam over a period of time, they may consider it a severe case and will reduce the trust of your entire site. If specific links are a problem, Google may let you know about that as well. If this is the case, rather than taking trust away from your entire site, Google may just penalize those specific links. Your ranking may not fall, but you may be barred from ranking on some phrases.

There are actions you can take to get your site back into Google’s good graces, but you need to take a methodical approach.

  1. Try to get the links taken down on your own. Attempt to contact the linking site and ask for the links to be taken down. You may have some luck here, but if you’ve been on a big linking campaign, there may be others you can’t get taken down.
  2. Use Google’s disavow links tool to show which links you weren’t able to get taken down. Wait for the disavowed links to get into the system. You can’t just disavow the links without trying to get them down on your own, however. Google can compare which links were up when they took manual action, and which links are still up when you engage the disavow tool. If there’s no difference between the initial action and the disavow request, Google can tell you haven’t tried taking down any yourself. If you really want to get back into good graces with Google, you need to get as many links taken down as possible on your own before you try to have them disavowed.
  3. Allow at least a day to pass and submit a reconsideration request. As Matt Cutts explained to Search Engine Land, “We want to reiterate that if you have a manual action on your site (if you got a message in Webmaster Tools for example), and you decide to disavow links, you do still need to do a reconsideration request.”

How Long Can it Take for Your Site to Recover?

Once you’ve followed these steps, the Google manual team will check your site to see if it now adheres to Google guidelines. They may then remove the manual actions penalty from your site, but there are no guarantees, and it could take several weeks or longer to see an improvement in your site rankings once you’ve followed the steps above.

“It can definitely take some time, and potentially months. There’s a time delay for data to be baked into the index. Then there can also be the time delay after that for data to be refreshed in various algorithms,” Cutts writes.

Kristin Marino writes about SEO marketing and educational technology. She is a contributor to several sites including

23 Responses to “How to Rehabilitate Your Site After a Google Link Penalty

    avatar capitalstars says:

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    avatar max says:

    Google is sometimes really strange, first they put a high weight on link stuff and after they say oh, this is not good and blaming the site. But it is the same as if you put the cart before the horse. Why? every time people do something others can make money with all kind of scams are invented to this. There is link buying, unnatural etc. Google is the one who created this mess not the user. Now how to get this stuff nice and easy, first get much less weight on links, they are quite useless anyway under the current situation and the whole problem is immediately and automatically fixed. But! why to make something easy when you can make it the complicated Google style? They have people sitting (most straight from the school) around who get paid so they must invent something to show that they are working etc. A second suggestion to offset this is value content!! The content of a site has the least value in Googles chain of parameter, that leads to the notorious “authority” stuff which is implemented at Google in a totally useless and counterproductive way etc. it’s really boring to analyse Google since in search they operate pure by Murphy’s law. Yes they earn billions with it, but only because they monopolized this stuff not because they do a good job.

    avatar Patrice says:

    Note that there are also “hidden penalties” that are like a “forever red flag”, if you see that your domain is not coming back, it’s time to start a new site with a fresh domain, google doesn’t want people to know about these hidden penalties, but they do exist for real.

    avatar max says:

    and what is that good for? kids playing hide and seek?

    THanks for this very relevent article . We have definitly been penalised we have folowed all the steps since the end of june completed the whole process by the 1st of Jully . We have recoverd a bit but not totaly yet . How can we make sure we have done everything in our power to improve ? How can we make sure our internal links also does not disadvantage us ?
    regards Benje

    avatar RobertP says:

    I own several domains that bing and google will not consider listing even though the content is totally different from the previous owner. Because google will not identify offending links, offending site owners simply try to remove any links, say below PR4 or PR5 and hope that shows they were trying before using the disavow tool. Google should also check if the requests were made through a throwaway account like gmail because legitimate sites will not entertain removal requests from sites other then the domain in question due to negative seo.

    avatar OneBrokeGuy says:

    I am constantly scared of this. I have only really just begun as a blogger and I am obviously in the process of building great content (all personally written) on my site as well as building my audience. But I’m forever concerned about backlinking.

    Personally, i would never use any kind of paid backlinking service and I am hoping to build my backlinks naturally. but, how or what does Google consider as unnatural? This is a real concern as it seems like such a hazy hit-and-miss concept!

    Really comprehensive.

    Its kinda good to know all this kind of stuff.

    Kristin Marino thanks for adding more to my knowledge.

    We had this issue with google and had done nothing wrong to begin with. It is most likely that a sneaky competitor of ours put some spammy links pointing to our site and google fell for it.

    Even after disavowing the links and months of patient work the ranking never recovered – just another reason not to pay any attention to optimising your site to please the google idiots.

    avatar SEO Tips says:

    Google do not care about spam, Link Penalty is great idea for Google only: they can drop any site because of that. What does “unnatural link” mean? It can be any link! Most people will buy adwords to keep some traffic after being dropped and this is what Google want! This is real true of all of this. Do not believe in all that bullsh.t they say! AdWords and more $ is what they really want!

    I trade links with alot of websites and so far have not been penalized. I thought backlinks were important for your site to get a high ranking. Google has some strange policies.

    avatar John says:

    I have to agree, you can come back from a Google slap. I had a client that I worked with on that over did SEO and had bad backlinks. It can be done but is a lot of work. I found that changing titles and keywords sped up the process.

    Thanks for the article

    avatar SEO Specialist says:

    The main question is how to avoid getting a link penalty now and in the future. The simple answer is to make sure your links are coming in naturally or at least appear that way. Quality links from high authority domains will always be regarded well, so making sure the PR of the page you are linking to is at least a 2 and above is good. In the long run these links will last much longer than links from sites which have no authority what so ever. Great article.

    avatar SH says:

    Google is really confusing with their campaign for quality content because for one of my target keywords, the site in number 1, ranking a site that has basically nothing in it. No backlinks. Just a hello word post. The only connection it has is that the target keyword is the domain itself. Does this mean that domain name plays a very big role nowadays? I mean drastically big?

    avatar Kevin Ashwe says:

    Google is working really hard to keep the trust their advertisers have for them,but that effort from Google is on the other hand harming alot of us webmasters and bloggers. But not withstanding we must find a way out. Thanks for showing us a way out. Nice post.

    avatar Shiloh says:

    Google has become a joke and their search results are crap now. Use Bing and take away Googles power or they will continue to think they can dictate to you what you can put on your own web site or suffer their penalty.
    Hey Google and Cutts…. SHOVE IT!

    avatar Satyam Singh says:

    Very good information recently i have seen this thing in webmaster and i did not recognize it. Know i knew about manual spam action.

    avatar jossef says:

    Just be careful. Some webmasters have lost their ranking and then they went through those steps and got their website panned. Be sure you are not running any affiliate site or blog, be sure you have unique, original content and good design.

    When the Google team manually checks your website, they can see what the search algorithm does not see.

    avatar Don Jones says:

    I am at the point now that I don’t know if Google will approve the links I get or not. Sometimes they want a “nofollow” tag and assume it is a paid link when it actually is not. I do not like giving nofollow tags when it is going to a site that I personally like. It is almost as if Google wants to take control away from the webmasters. I need the Google ads and I would be lost without them so I try to conform my pages to Google standards.

    avatar Francis says:

    Thank you for yet another excellent article.

    I was aware of most of the items discussed, although wasn’t aware that by actually downloading the links to your website into a file, it actually gave the dates as well. A very useful feature I must say, as it highlights all my 922 inbound links stretching back to 2004.

    Just goes to show, that no matter how much you know, there’s always something new to learn.

    It is always advisable to build links naturally rather than other to avoid any kind of penalty from Google

    avatar Mark says:

    I cannot even get past the website owner verification step. I have tried this a few times and nothing works. I am not an idiot so it would be nice if they could make it possible for a layperson to use their tools.

    avatar Jennifer says:

    I have read through an article that Google has flag a Dmoz link as unnatural link by mistake. It is just one case but there might be more than that. What about those websites which has completely legitimate and natural linking but has got the penalty. It Might be something wrong with the Algorithm.

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