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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