A 2015 Process to Removing a Google Link Penalty

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A 2015 Process To Removing a Google Link Penalty | SEJ

If at one point you’ve bought links, hired an SEO agency, or received a sudden decrease in website traffic, then this blog post is for you. Even if you don’t have a penalty at this time, you’ll want to review the inbound links coming into your site. It’s always better to be proactive because by the time you realize you have a penalty it’s too late. This is the 2015 process for removing a penalty and analyzing potentially hazardous links.

Tools Needed:

Step 1: Gather Information

Start by pulling the freshest download of your sites total links from Google Webmaster Tools. Click on Search Traffic > Links to Your Site > Who links the most – More > Download Latest Links > Export to Google Docs

Google Webmaster Tools links to your site

Once the links are exported into a Google doc I recommend pairing this data with a third-party tool such as Chris Cemper’s Link Research Tools (LRT). Depending on the number of links, this tool will give you more bandwidth to tackle the brunt of the spammiest links first by identifying the “most toxic” or suspicious links.

Next, you’ll want to take that initial excel sheet and format it into the following columns below. The first four columns will be pulled from GWT and LRT, and the rest of the columns will be new that we’ll be adding data to:

  • Domain (From GWT)
  • From URL (From LRT)
  • To URL (From LRT)
  • Priority (From LRT)
  • Type
  • Suspicious
  • Indexed
  • DA over 20/30
  • Contact Form
  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Action
  • Contact Effort #1
  • Screenshot
  • Effort #2
  • Screenshot
  • Effort #3
  • Screenshot
  • Result

Bonus: Template to start with: http://goo.gl/TfuIFl

Step 2: Conduct Backlink Audit

Great, so now you have a big glob of rows and columns of links in an excel sheet. Don’t freak out yet, that comes later. Now is the time to comb through and filter out these links. This can be quite time-intensive so buckle in for several hours or days (depending on the number of links) as we guide you through this process.

When you’re at this stage it’s best to have two computer monitors. One screen shows the Excel spreadsheet and the other displays the suspicious link. For every domain listed in the far left column you’ll want to follow this sequence:

  1. Start with the highest priority links or the most toxic
  2. Visit the “From URL” link
  3. Eyeball the site and determine the “Type” of site.
    1. Bad Links – If yes for any of the answers below, move to #6
      1. Duplicate sites or blog network – link farm, link exchange, duplicate content, or etc.
      2. Forum/blog comments – your link is in a blog/form that is spammy looking
      3. Unable to display – Expired Domain, sites down/maintenance mode, 400 or 500 error, or some other reason the page cannot be displayed
      4. Foreign site – Site that looks spammy when translated or cannot be translated by Google.
      5. Directory/Article submission – Low quality directories or articles submissions sites. Unsure? Look at social shares and links back to the website or content. If it has little/none of either one then it’s a junk site.
      6. Spam – Doesn’t fall into a specific category but resembles some sort of spam (pop ups, automatic link acceptation, and anything else that screams “SEO”)
    2. Unsure Links – If yes, move to #4
      1. 50/50 links – Not sure if it’s a good link or a bad link?
    3. Ok Links – If yes, move to #4
      1. Looks like a real website that people would go to
  4. Is the site indexed by Google?
    1. If no, skip to #6.
    2. If yes, move to #5
  5. Does the site have a domain authority greater than 20-30?
    1. If no, move to #6.
    2. If yes, move to #10
  6. Record the Contact form URL (if possible) – move to #7
  7. Record Email (if possible, otherwise we can get this later) – move to #8
  8. Record Twitter/Facebook handle (if possible, otherwise we can get this later) – move to #9
  9. Action: Remove
  10. Action: Keep

Here’s how your spreadsheet should begin to look:

Link Removal Spreadsheet

Step 3: Collecting Outreach Information

Now that you have a nice list of sites that need to be removed let’s find out how to capture email address and social media handles using URLprofiler (I am not affiliated with them; it is just an awesome, cheap tool). It allows you to dump in a bunch of links in return for tons of domain & URL level data. Once you’ve downloaded (there’s a trial version) and started the URLprofiler tool, you’ll want to add all of the URLs that have the row “Remove” and proceed by checking the following boxes when you run the application:

URLprofiler

Once the URLprofiler completes its analysis, you’ll want to import the email, Twitter, and Facebook information into the Excel sheet columns. Move on toward the outreach portion.

Step 4: Outreach

Gmail limits you to 500 or so emails a day. If you have more than 500 I would probably look into the route of using a third party email application to send bulk emails, but the traditional method of 1-1 email is best and recommended for this instance. Once you’ve crafted your outreach email asking the website to politely remove the link, send it out to all of the websites that you marked for removal. Be prepared for the following types of responses:

  • No Response – Link not removed
    • Action: Try following up with another email. If to no avail after the third attempt, then add to disavow document
  • No Response – Link removed
    • Action: Success / you are done
  • Response – Link not removed
    • Action: Try following up with another email. If to no avail after the third attempt then add to disavow document
  • Response – They ask for something in exchange for the link removal (i.e. money, guest post, social media shout out, or etc.)
    • Action: Add to disavow document
  • Response – Link removed
    • Action: Success / you are done

A good rule of thumb is to reach out three times if the webmaster isn’t responsive. This shows Google you have done your due diligence in cleaning up your past mistakes. Here are some tips for each round of emails:

1st effort: Be nice in! This bad link was probably you or an SEO company’s wrongdoing, not the websites fault. Play nice and politely ask them to remove your link. Below is a “Nice” email that had success.

link outreach email

Once you’ve sent out all of your emails, let’s set expectations. If you come back the next morning hoping for a slew of respondents, don’t get depressed and give up hope when no one responds. It’s all part of the process. You are showing Google that you are remorseful and earnest in your link removal efforts. If you’re really having a difficult time you can try different variations of email body and title copy to see what works best. Remember to take a screenshots of each email and document your outreach efforts in the Google doc as well.

Wait about a 4-7 days after you sent out the first round of emails before trying the second effort.

2nd effort: Send another round of emails to those who didn’t respond. If you have their SM handles from the URLprofiler now would be the time to try these as well.

3rd effort: Send another round of emails and social outreach. If this fails to garner a response or link removal then move to the last column labeled “Results” and mark a “Disavow” in the row

I can’t urge enough the screenshots and annotation for each effort. Yes, it’s tedious, but it pays off in the end.

After the third effort (about 3-4 weeks in total) you’ll want to download the latest GWT backlink report to see if any of the efforts completed thus far are reflected in the latest report. If you removed the link but it’s still appearing in GWT then that is fine, you can move on to the next step since Google’s index is still catching up.

Step 5: Create Disavow Document

Not let’s take all of those websites that have “Disavow” in the “Results” column. Open up in notepad and list out each domain that you see. Google wants to know your efforts behind these disavowed links so comment out each category of unnatural links that you identified and segment them based on the “Type” column like this:

Google Disavow Document

Tips:

  • One link per line
  • An opening “domain:” will indicate a link you want to disavow
  • Make sure to structure each link exactly like this “domain:example.com” (don’t include www and take note of spacing)
  • An opening “#” will indicate your comments
  • Don’t bother cutting out specific pages, go after the domain as a whole.

After you’ve completed the file you’ll want to submit it for Google to review. It will take some time for Google to process the information you’ve provided so in the meantime let’s get you started on writing your first reconsideration request if you have a manual penalty.

Step 6: Reconsideration Request (If Manual Penalty, Otherwise Skip)

If you’ve been notified of unnatural links in Google Webmaster Tools then you have a manual penalty, versus being slapped by Penguin. For a manual unnatural link penalty, you’ll need a reconsideration request. Typically the reconsideration requests that I’ve had success with are between 800-1,200 words.

I recommended structuring the request into three parts:

Part 1 – Explain Your SEO History

Time to be honest. Transparency is key here so spill the beans and tell Google everything that you’ve done in the past that might have garnered this penalty. If you hired an SEO agency, let them know who and what their link building efforts were. Explain the tactics that were used; buying links or link exchanges (you should have a good understanding by reviewing the link audit “Type” section). Again, fess up even if you weren’t directly responsible for the penalty.

Part 2 – Explain Your Process of Removing These Unnatural Links

Explain everything in the above steps. Use the Google docs you created as documentation (make sure they are viewable and shortened via a URL shortener) and refer to them throughout this documentation. Speak on behalf of the tools used in the cleanup process, the number of unnaturally/spammy links, and etc. Include the timeframe and how long you spent cleaning up your links.

Part 3 – Explain What You Will Do Different Moving Forward

What will you do differently? Tell Google how you changed so that you’ll abide by the Webmasters Guidelines moving forward. For example, if you’re hiring an SEO manager then explain to Google how you are going to implement an SEO training process for all team members to follow and hold each other accountable.

Once you’ve finished writing the request, go ahead and proof it to make sure all of the links work. Once you’re ready, submit the reconsideration request to Google. Remember, it can take some time before you hear back, so be patient. If you’ve done everything right then you should hear back from Google with good news.

Again, reconsideration requests can be frustrating and tedious, but if you do things the right way the first time around, then this process will be much easier. Good luck!

 

Image Credits

Featured Image: SuslO via Shutterstock
All screenshots taken January 2015

Jordan Kasteler

Jordan Kasteler

Digital Marketing Consultant at Jordan Kasteler
Jordan Kasteler is a freelance consultant, entrepreneur. Passionately innovating status quo.He has a history of entrepreneurship co-founding such companies as BlueGlass Interactive. His work experience ranges from in-house SEO at Overstock.com, marketing strategy at PETA, and to agency-level digital marketing.Jordan is also an international conference speaker, writer, and book author of A to Z: Social Media Marketing.
Jordan Kasteler
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  • kimb @ PNR Status

    Wow.. epic post! Very thorough.
    I learnt alot 🙂

  • This is an excellent step by step guide. It’s a time consuming, manual process but if your site relies on organic traffic (what site doesn’t today?) you really need to do it. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee what the result will be but it certainly won’t hurt you.

  • Hi Jordan,

    Thanks for mentioning our LinkResearchTools product here (disclaimer for all: I am the founder).

    I have two important extra tips to add to your method
    that could switch your workflow to lightspeed literaly 🙂

    1) our product already includes three tools that could help a lot

    Link Detox – it’s part of LinkResearchTools main suite also, not just standalone.

    Link Detox is fully integrated with Google Webmaster Tools, so you can connect
    and get all those links automatically.
    See also http://try.linkresearchtools.com/gwt-integration-whitepaper-en

    Then of course screening for maybe toxic links
    and going thru suspicious ones is possible and a lot faster

    Contact Finder – doesn’t just what it says and would make URLprofiler redudant for this job

    Juice Bulk URL analyzer – does everything else you would use URLprofiler for, except
    that you could do 2000, 6000 or even 10000 in one go… Expired Domain analysis e.g.?
    of course you won’t need to mess around with proxies, your local Windows (?) machine
    etc. in this case – no more blue screens in the morning and back to square one 🙂

    2) but now tackle the real problem

    – Manually inspecting thousands of websites?
    – Manually personalizing each email with backlink location and information?
    – Manually mailing thousands of webmasters?
    – Manually checking who didn’t respond and sending follow ups?

    If you don’t value your time, all the manual labor make sense. For the rest of us, we have a great integration with Pitchbox that automatically gets contact information, personalizes each email with link information, automatically emails and follows up with to those who don’t respond, and finally automates generation of the disavow file.

    We launched that last summer – here’s all the details

    http://www.linkresearchtools.com/news/pitchbox-lrt-integration/

    Basically all you have to do is mark all the links you want to outreach for,
    we send them to Pitchbox and then they do the contact finder and personalization part.

    It is semi-automated, so far away from any of those cheap “bulk mailing for outreach” products
    that you can buy for cheap. It’s actually the only product I know that supports such a multi-mail process and really STOPS mailing people if they respond – they monitor responses. Just awesome.

    Best of all – you can use it for ANY kind of outreach, not just for link removal.

    Ok – sorry for making this a bit longer.

    But since I recommend doing Link Risk Management late 2012, which is an basically an ongoing link audit that should be performed bi-monthly or weekly at best (WE do that!) to be safe, one needs to be super-efficient.

    On the other hand the extra licenses cost extra, but what’s your time worth on the other hand?

    We haven’t spoken for a whole, so if you’d like I’d go more into detail in person and show you all those extras and features to speed up your audits!

    Have a great day and thanks again for mentioning us!

    Christoph

  • Durga Prasad Kundu

    Thanx Jordan for providing such information. I am glad that you share your thought regarding how to remove Google link penalty. The techniques to remove a Google link penalty is really needed for every web masters. The two tools you mentioned above are quite good. I like the way you guide us to prepare the disavow document. Looking forward for your future posts. Cheers!!

  • Hi Jordan, great post and thanks for mentioning URL Profiler.

    Our customers tell us that our contact finder is the most accurate they’ve tried, so you’re definitely on the right track there 🙂

    I just wanted to also mention that you can use the Link Analysis feature to help with your link classification. The software will automatically identify all of the ‘footprints’ you outlined in Step 2, meaning you can do a lot of the analysis without even looking at the sites (E.g. If the link is on a forum and uses optimised anchor text, we’ll flag it as unnatural).

    With this feature we appreciate that SEOs still like to go through their links at least semi-manually, so we provide full transparency on how we classified the links, so you can make the judgement call with much more context.

    The other tip I’d add regarding Reconsideration Requests is to make sure you include lots of screenshots – of your link removal emails in your inbox, of websites you filled in contact forms etc…. – Google want to see that you’ve gone through pain(!), so make sure they can see how much work you’ve done.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks, Patrick! Great tips too especially regarding screenshots!

  • Great insights! Thanks for the article and all the excellent information you provide on your site. I will definitely try these tips.

  • We were JUST going over this this morning. Perfect timing, and bookmarked for easy reference!

  • Martin

    I am looking for this kind of from last few days, Because recently my site is penalized by google. Now time to follow all these above mentioned step. I will try this & get back to you soon if i’ll get some kind of positive results. 🙂

  • Jan

    Thank you for a very actionable tutorial! I will try to conduct this analysis on a clinet’s site that recetly suffered from lower organic traffic.

  • Krzysztof Furtak

    Hi

    Ok, but outreaching isn’t needed to get out of manual penalty. The key is clean link profile, not to show google “effort”.

    • You’re right and that’s why that step was specified in the content for a manual penalty only.

  • Great post indeed!

    Recently, one of my websites flaunted a drop in the traffic and it was getting de-indexed repeatedly so I was planning to look out for bad links and fix them and this is the perfect tutorial that I was seeking for.

    Thanks for sharing such ultimate article. I truly appreciate your efforts~

    ~Nikhil

    • Hi

      First look into WMT if there’s any manual action (pure spam causes deindexing for example). If You want fast recovery within days, try orca technique. It works fine to me.

      Krzysztof

    • Glad you found it helpful, Nikhil

  • Excellent guide for removing toxic links. I wouldn’t necessarily consider it 2015 as I’ve been implementing this strategy since last year, but other than that – great post and tips.

    • Thanks, Emily! It’s 2015 because it uses newer elements of URLprofiler as that’s a more recent tool too. But ya, could be considered late 2014 as well.

  • Michael Cropper

    We found that you don’t need to bother with the emailing part, http://www.contradodigital.com/2015/01/22/what-we-learnt-from-resolving-a-large-google-unnatural-links-warning/

    Personally I couldn’t think of anything more boring than to email a lot of low quality websites. Life is too short to be doing things like that. Google’s guidelines on this are non-sense and something that I would only do as an absolute last resort if nothing else worked.

    Michael

    • Wow, Michael! Just checked out your article. That’s great that you got out of penalties without emailing. That shed’s new perspective.

  • beylikdüzü ikinci el eşya

    I just wanted to also mention that you can use the Link Analysis feature to help with your link classification. The software will automatically identify all of the ‘footprints’ you outlined in Step 2, meaning you can do a lot of the analysis without even looking at the sites (E.g. If the link is on a forum and uses optimised anchor text, we’ll flag it as unnatural)

    • Yes, I’ve been informed of that since posting. Very cool! Thanks for the tip.

  • Varun Singh

    Great Post Jordan..

    I faced this problem of Google Penalty for one of my sites… I tried hard to go to Webmaster Support Forum asking them for a favor or if there is a way to figure out the issue..

    But it didn’t work.. I hope the approach you suggested would surely resolve my issue now.. Will get back to you with updates..

    However, the issue which I got so far is, that somebody copied the pages of my site into his and Google in turn took action against my site instead of penalizing him..

    Don’t know why.. May be you could explain…

    • Hey Varun – that sounds incredibly strange. Can you share more detail on domains/URLs etc to investigate?

  • Topher Kohan

    Great Step by Step guide Sir!

    I have a question for you, in the beginning you list hiring a SEO agency in the same list as buying links as things that can you a penalty. Are you saying that just by retaining the services of one you will get penalized by Google?

    • Hey Topher – first of all…great to hear from you again! Secondly, good catch. I believe I meant to say “overseas” SEO agency. That’s a generalization but let’s be honest about statistically how much that’s caused problems. Sorry for the confusion. Will edit.

      • Topher Kohan

        Cool! and again great guide!

  • Great article Jordan, I’ve already bookmarked this and have re-read parts of it many times as I am working to remove penalties for several clients.

    • Jordan Kasteler

      Thanks, Otis! Best of luck 🙂

  • Profile Defenders

    Jordan,

    This is great and compliments to you for a well written and detailed disavow explanation. As any intelligent SEO should ask: Do you have conclusive evidence that the extra measure of showcasing the contact and outreach has improved the disavowing affect? I ask because there are too many cases in SEO of causation vs correlation and empirically observed co-variation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for causality.

    I have seen in our cases improvement of rankings with none of your suggestions but rather a good job of disavowing and others a combination of disavowing + higher quality and relevant backlinks. Of course there is no 100% conclusive evidence of this for either of our cases.

    • Hi, I have no evidence this is an actual needed step other than best practice. There’s a comment earlier about it not being needed. I’d say just do it if disavowing and good links don’t work out for you.

  • gary rockley

    just because a site does not use social media does not make it a junk site. 

    a poorly written, and condescending email, such as your example, would not be well received by me. 

    you guys need to consider standing up to google, not bending over for them.  if it wasn’t for third party links on webpages, google would have had a hard time getting started. 

    this situation, of panicking to get rid of links is ridiculous.  

    why has no one stopped to question the logic behind google’s demands in this regard?  their claims do not hold water!

    and, try asking google to remove links, see how far that gets you. 

    irregular capitalization intentional.