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March 10, 2014

3 Steps to Removing a Google Site Penalty

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Photo Credit: Carlos Luna via flickr

So you pushed the limits in terms of link building – you built links to your site that weren’t exactly squeaky clean or natural. Perhaps you used some blog networks, perhaps some low quality directory submissions, or even forum profiles. Who could blame you? Truth is, it worked for a while – but then one day you got a not-so-pleasant message from Google Webmaster Tools – the dreaded “unnatural links to your site” warning.

You cringe, perhaps feel a little guilty, and hope that the impact isn’t too bad. But as the weeks roll by you watch your rankings rapidly diminishing – those top three rankings fall off of page one. Next you start seeing the impact trickling through to your financials – it’s all headed downwards. The reality of losing your Google-derived traffic starts setting in. You realize that you have to get the penalty lifted, as a matter of business survival – but how?

In this post, we’ll look at the basic 3-step process we follow at Penalty Pros to get unnatural link-based manual penalties lifted. We’ve had the benefit of removing over 200 manual penalties, and have learned a thing or two along the way. Please keep in mind that the recommendations below are based on our observations of what works and what doesn’t, and that some of this advice may be contrary to what you read elsewhere, or even Google’s official recommendations.

Step 1: Manual Link Analysis

The first step in dealing with a link-based penalty is analyzing your incoming links to assess which are acceptable and which are problematic.

Data Sources – Which Should I Use?

There’s a fair amount of debate regarding what data sources you should use. Some say that you should use as many data sources as possible (for example Majestic, Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, etc.), while others say that the Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) Data is sufficient. In our experience, having tried all the major data sources, we’ve found that the GWT data is generally sufficient, and at worst, should be combined with one additional data source (we recommend Majestic SEO).

Less Is More – for the purposes of getting a penalty lifted, we’ve seen no value in using every possible data source. Using multiple data sources just adds to the time investment required and yields no better returns in terms of lifting a penalty. To get started, you only need to focus on the downloadable links within Google Webmaster Tools. We recommend downloading both the “Latest Links” and “More Sample Links” CSVs in GWT, combining them and removing duplicates.

To be clear, we’re only referring to the impact on getting a penalty removed – not on having a squeaky clean link profile. If you want to audit every single link in an effort to eradicate ANY questionable links, there is definitely value in using every available data source.

Defining Unnatural Links

Once you’ve downloaded, combined and de-duplicated your links list, the hard work begins. You’ll need to manually comb through each and every link to assess its “naturalness”. This is painstaking, time intensive work, but it is absolutely essential that you take a manual approach to this. Please DO NOT utilize automated link analysis tools for this job. While the likes of LinkDetox, LinkDelete, DeleteBacklink, etc. do a great job of removing links (which we will come to later), their analysis is algorithmic and automated, and will never be anywhere near as accurate as manually auditing your links. The human touch is absolutely essential here.

You do not want to end up removing good links and leaving bad links by mistake. Take the time to do manual analysis.

So the next question is, of course, how do you define/identify bad backlinks that need to be removed? While there’s no hard and fast rule for making this assessment, having performed extensive penalty removals we’ve observed that Google’s main criteria is anchor text (even more so than link source).

It seems that commercial anchor text (or unnatural anchor text ratios) is what triggers their system, and this is what the manual team is really focusing on. We’ve noticed links on otherwise perfect sites getting flagged, purely because of over-optimized anchor text. By the same logic, we’ve seen links from very questionable sites fly under the radar because their anchor text was less questionable. This is only our observation, but based on 200+ penalty removals, it does suggest that anchor text is the key focus of the manual team.

That said, you want to pay particular attention to any links derived from the following typical spam link sources:

  • Blog networks
  • Low quality, irrelevant directories
  • Article farms/directories
  • Forum profiles and signatures
  • Low quality blog comments
  • Low quality or scaled up guest posting
  • Low quality press release sites
  • Social bookmarking sites
  • Any site that has “SEO” or “links” in its URL or title

The bottom line is that Google doesn’t want you to be able to influence your incoming links, and any link that suggests it has been manually created for the purposes of manipulating their algorithms can be a problem. When assessing links, ask yourself, “is this link plausibly deniable?”. If not, it most likely has to go.

A Note About “nofollows”

Tip – while Google should ignore “nofollow” links, we’ve observed this not to be the case (i.e., nofollows have been pointed out in denied reconsideration requests). Perhaps it was incompetency on the part of the manual reviewer, but it is always wise to disavow questionable nofollow links as well.

Step 2: Bad Link Removal, Editing And Disavow

Once you’ve manually assessed all of your incoming links and identified the problem links, you’ll need to make an effort to get problem links removed. Google wants to see some effort in this regard, and so you need to put some work into getting bad links removed. A simple spreadsheet documenting your removal efforts will do. We suggest the following process:

  1. Collect webmaster email addresses or contact form URLs for all problem links – you can find email addresses on the relevant sites, or use who.is to scrape contact details, or use a service like Rmoov to semi-automate this process.
  2. Create a generic request email and mail merge the data to send out requests. Submit the balance of contact forms manually.
  3. Send a follow up to all sites that fail to respond.
  4. Document all results in a spreadsheet for submission along with your reconsideration request.

A few things to keep in mind when contacting webmasters:

  • Your request is a corporate communication. Do not be rude to webmasters or threaten them when requesting link removal or anchor text editing. This can cause a major PR problem.
  • Check your referring data in Google Analytics before requesting link removals, because you could be killing a profitable traffic source. In such cases, ask the webmaster to edit the anchor text of the link to something more natural. If the link is still undeniably commercial, add it to your disavow list (more on this shortly).
  • The truth is most websites will not respond (why should they care?), and some will even be so cheeky as to request payment for link removal. Document all failed requests and mark them for addition to the disavow file.

Once you’ve completed the link removal outreach phase, you will need to prepare and submit a disavow file of all links that could not be removed. The disavow tool allows you to tell Google to effectively ignore certain links or domains. For more information on the tool, see Google’s official help page here. Be very careful when creating the disavow file – you don’t want to end up disavowing good links by mistake. It goes without saying, do NOT use any automated tool to prepare a disavow file – manual preparation is essential.

Once you’ve prepared the disavow file, you’ll need to submit it to Google via Google Webmaster Tools. You can find the function here. Please note that you DO NOT need to add comments to your disavow file. Google has recently stated that the disavow process is completely automatic, and they do not look at comments. Don’t waste your time.

When submitting your file, be sure to double check the data on the confirmation screen to ensure that there are no errors with the disavow file.

Step 3: Submitting the Reconsideration Request

The third and final step in removing the manual penalty is to submit a reconsideration request to Google, highlighting what you’ve done to resolve the issue, and request penalty removal. The function can be found in Google Webmaster Tools under “Search Traffic” -> “Manual Actions”.

Writing a quality, sincere reconsideration request is absolutely essential. You do not want to rush this part.

Constructing the Winning Request

While there is no golden rule for writing successful reconsideration requests, we have observed that the following are essential elements to include:

1 – Admit Guilt

It’s important to admit that the website was involved in manipulative link building (whether by your instruction or someone else’s) and state that this has now been stopped. Google wants to see that you have “come clean” and had a change of mind-set when it comes to SEO. Obviously, if you are a victim of negative SEO or an agency that promised white-hat and delivered black-hat, you need to explain this.

2 – Name & Shame

This one’s a contentious point. If your SEO or SEO agency is responsible for the problematic links, Google wants to know about it. Some speculate that the entire link removal and disavow process is a data collection exercise for Google (most likely true). Regardless, Google wants names – hand them over.

3 – Show Evidence

Now’s the time to showcase all the hard work you did to remove bad links. Share your spreadsheet on Google Drive (be sure to enable open access) and reference it in the reconsideration request. Provide as much detail about your efforts as possible. The more the better.

4 – Share Your Disavow

Even though you’ve already submitted your disavow file in GWT, it’s still wise to upload it to Google Drive and reference it in your recon request. We’ve seen many cases where the manual team ignore the disavow file (whether by human or technical error). Play it safe and include a reference in your recon request.

5 – Explain Your Future Strategy

As mentioned earlier, Google wants to see that you’ve had a change of mind-set when it comes to SEO. Briefly discuss your future plans to invest in a content marketing based strategy, or if you’ve decided to give up on SEO, mention that. Make it clear that you are not going to be a “repeat offender”.

Once you’re done, re-read your request and make sure that there are no spelling or grammar issues, and check that it flows well. You want to make it as easy as possible for the reader to give their stamp of approval. Once done, hit the submit button. It generally takes Google 2-3 weeks to respond.

It’s Unlikely You’ll Succeed First Time Round – Don’t Beat Yourself Up About It.

As a non-specialist, it’s unlikely you’ll succeed first time round. The most common reason for this lies in the analysis phase. Most webmasters are simply too conservative when it comes to identifying problem links and believe that a link is “good” when it is not. Don’t despair though – it just takes a little perseverance.

If unsuccessful, you will need to repeat the above process with remaining links, and ensure that you have identified all problem links. Fortunately Google does provide 2-3 examples of problem links when denying a reconsideration request. Use this data to guide your efforts and identify remaining problem links.

Some points to note regarding repeat reconsideration requests:

  • Google will not process a reconsideration request for 2-3 weeks after declining the original. Use this time wisely.
  • Update your link list with the latest links to ensure that you have the full picture. Links change over the time from your first analysis to the second recon.
  • When updating the disavow, keep in mind that your latest disavow file replaces all previous versions, so make sure that you’re creating a comprehensive file. You do not want to “re-avow” old links when disavowing new ones!

Success!

If successful, you can expect to see a shift in rankings and impressions within 2 weeks post penalty removal. The extent of this improvement will be dependent on how many good links you still have. While every site is different, and there are no guarantees, we’ve seen sites skyrocket past their pre-penalty rankings and an average increase of 800% in impressions at Penalty Pros.

Wrapping Up

Removing your Google penalty is hard work – there’s no way around that – but it is well worth it. While some SEOs will argue that you should rather ignore the penalty and focus on building new links, our experience has been that even partial-match penalties still cause a substantial suppressive effect site-wide. If you’re looking to succeed in the SERPS you can’t move forward without first resolving your manual penalties.

Thanks for reading, and we wish you all the best in your penalty removal efforts. Please keep in mind that the advice in this post is based on our experience, and your experience may be different. We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.


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Derek Jansen is the Managing Director at Penalty Pros, a specialist Google penalty removal firm, boasting a 100% penalty removal success rate. Visit Penalty Pros for a free penalty assessment and quotation - http://www.PenaltyPros.com.

31 Responses to “3 Steps to Removing a Google Site Penalty

    avatar John says:

    Hi
    Great article……its nice that there is a solution to remove the site from Google penalty, though its very difficult task. Thanks.

    avatar BobP says:

    Google Penalty? How about the millions of sites G knocked down by a couple of PR points turning them into G ranked low quality sites ripe for removal requests? The G bully knocks you down, then sends their other victims to pull their links and drop their back links. Never mind you were an authority site on G and are still an authority site on Bing and Yahoo.

    Some tips on link removal. Don’t remove aged links. Don’t send requests from gmail or other throw away accounts, if you can’t send from the domain in question it is viewed as a negative seo attack. Don’t passive aggressively point to the possible use of the disavow tool, if you use it your victims will return the favor. Look at the link you want removed, visit the site, don’t ask for links from your YouTube content be removed from YouTube search sites. Don’t ask for your listing in search results to be removed from sites that offer third party G, Bing, Yahoo search results. Quality directories do not remove their links, what kind of a directory would they be if they did? Request/suggest a title and description G will love and your link be made rel=nofollow. And finally, don’t claim G gave you a list of sites they want removed, we know you are lying !!!

    avatar Rishi says:

    Really good to read all information above.. Sitepronews really doing well.. :)

    avatar Jennie says:

    We have had a manual site penalty added to our site, but when we go to the “Links to your site page” in Webmaster, which is supposed to tell us which links these are it say no data available. I have no idea where to start? Any ideas as I am a site owner not an seo expert, but have contacted my last seo company to find out if they have added links with anchor text? Really confused.

    avatar Derek Jansen says:

    Hi Jennie

    This usually happens when you have the wrong version of the site loading in Google Webmaster Tools.

    To resolve, you need to add both the www. and non-www. version to GWT. One of them should have the full link profile.

    All the best!

    avatar saad says:

    you should know the difference between white hat SEO and black hat SEO to keep away the penalty of Google…

    avatar Bob Patrick says:

    We had this problem last December, but it was one of our competitors that had paid to have the links to OUR site………

    They were placing over 25 a day, then we had the email from Google saying they had de-indexed us.

    Took has over a month before we were back (but even now not where we were)

    All we could do was what was in this article, it took a lot of time as we had to Disavow over 400 links in the end.

    What got us was that this must be just about the best way to get a competing website taken down, and Google will do it for you, so beware……

    avatar Ferry says:

    The steps are good and need to be considered in order to avoid penalty google site

    avatar SAK says:

    How to avoid Adsense Deactivation :O

    Well, Just go through your post and its good read but just wondering, As you’re talking about manual penalty, Is google really solved this problem by humanly? :)

    avatar Steven Ransom says:

    How about those site that are reciprocal links? should that also remove URL’s and links as well? I remmove my websits form the internet and cancel my web host, but the directories I submited my website to at that time still has and/or listing the Url. I believe that most bad links are a produce of these web directory site, because that don’t remove this type of links. I think it would help if these directory sites would contact the webmasters who submitted there site and/or links. If only remove bad links (reciprocal links)from my website siteMap page. What about those web directory what are they doing?

    avatar Irwan says:

    very good suggestion and wise word

    avatar ad network says:

    Google can check your site in webmaster tool. I think you can send feed back for google at that

    Can you be penalised but Google not tell you? We have been slipping but not received any message, obviously that could just be natural but I wonder if they would penalise you without send a message?

    avatar Atul says:

    Superb article. I successfully removed a penalty when my website was hit by one of the Google updates. The task was not easy though. I hope I don’t have to face that situation again.

    avatar Derek says:

    Quite by chance I did a permanent redirect from one site penalized by Google to a another non penalized site with the same domain. The non penalized site shows my good links only.
    I should not have used grey hat software for back-links and was about to delete the old links and remove the redirect, but now I do not know what to do.

    avatar Eric says:

    Very good article. Referring to your point “2 – Name & Shame,” Is there a place to tell Google about an SEO company that uses blackhat link tactics? We didn’t receive a manual penalty, but our organic rankings tanked after they “fixed” our SEO.

    avatar Business-Matter.com says:

    Rather long but informative. But the question is, how do you get hurt when you link to other site through guest posting?

    avatar Ritesh Reet says:

    Great Article, Briefly Explained with lots of good tips.

    Keep sharing such informative article Derek :)

    avatar Ritesh Reet says:

    Great Article, Briefly Explained with lots of good tips. Keep sharing such informative article Derek.

    Derek,

    is there a way I can check if my site has received a penalty?

    A friend of mine, who is a good businessman told me about Fiverr and advised me to use it to get more social presence. I followed his advice, but now Facebook thinks my url is spam.

    I am wondering if Google would also see my site as spam now and how I could find out.

    Thanks,
    David

    avatar Martin says:

    Good job google during killing blogs, social bookmarking site, directories etc.
    After all Google only remain.

    avatar mre says:

    Thx Dereck, interresting !

    avatar Andy says:

    Thank Derek for the valuable post, I’m trying to find some unnatural links point to my blog and remove it.

    avatar Brad says:

    upload it to Google Drive and reference it in your recon request

    Can you tell us how to do this step?

    avatar Sarah Porter says:

    Your article reminds me of my old college days where the professor presented a situation; we all discussed possible solutions; and in the end, the professor presented the ‘school solution’. Well, the school solution ain’t worth nothing here. We did ALL those things; got the penalty removed after spending tens of thousands of dollars; and in the end, the site has NOT recovered on bit . . . .

    avatar Exam Planet says:

    Thank you for this great information. It is quite stressful, time consuming and energy sapping, yet needful and important.

    avatar Josh Malan says:

    Great post Derek!

    I’ve searched and searched for information on Bing penalties. Do you have any useful information for my situation? Details: I got penalized (I’m guessing) by bing on my site http://zavgo.com I suddenly didn’t have my site indexed with bing, although I rank very well in google and even yahoo. I did a bit of research and I think it was due to having some “bad/low quality” links. I really want to make sure I don’t have the same thing happen on google.

    My question is this – Would that be WISE to disavow those same links from google webmaster before/if they penalize me too, or at this point would it be better not to “wake a sleeping Giant”.

    Thanks for any suggestions.

    For new comers its always impossible to know how Google can really affect credtability. It is so easy to fall foul of some of the easy back linking software available and even now do we all truly understand current seo so it is great to find your article on how to remove Google penalties. We need more information like this so thank you Derek

    Actually, I completely suggest CommentLuv and actually, I run the Pro edition on all my sites.
    What I did say was to prevent using the KeywordLuv portion of CommentLuv which allows you to add search phrases as anchor-text returning to your website. That’s the major problem I lastly found after so many several weeks. Those search phrases will be considered by Search engines as being inorganic.

    For your last aspect, it’s challenging to say however they may well have a better back-link variation going on and you might not. That’s also not to say the may also get penalsied soon too, once they fly into the Search engines Your line of view.

    Do you have Public Discuss signals? Are you considering doing any visitor short article writing? It’s a question of growing your excellent item information and hyperlinks throughout a different viewers and system.

    is there a way I can check if my site has received a penalty?

    A friend of mine, who is a good businessman told me about Fiverr and advised me to use it to get more social presence. I followed his advice, but now Facebook thinks my url is spam.

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