What I Learnt From Revoking A Google Manual Penalty

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It’s every site owner’s worst nightmare. You wake up one morning to a Google Webmaster tool warning message notifying you of the detection of unnatural links aka. “the Google manual penalty”.


If this happens to you, you have every right to feel nervous and unsure about the future of your website. In the short term there will be some problems and it will be painful. But don’t despair; there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In this article I am going to give you my opinion and also some actionable steps to get yourself out of Google’s bad books and revoke your manual penalty. What I am about to share is the experience fixing three manual penalties, for my own site and also helping other sites get themselves back on track.

What I am about to go through is the process I used to fix these penalty’s. I also recommend your read the following articles: Branded3, Cutts Interview, disavow tool tips.

The Solution

The Analysis Stage

To recover from a bad link profile, you must first fully understand your profile and what links are causing issues. You can use link profile tools such as Google Webmaster tools, Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, or Ahrefs to get the information you need to determine what is going on with your profile. I personally used a combination of Google Webmaster tools and Majestic SEO to complete the process. I found that Webmaster tools is slow to update their data so a paid tool is required to catch missing links. This is going to take out the guess work regarding your websites links.

Deciding If It Is Manual Or Algorithmic

The simple process of determining whether you have a manual or algorithmic penalty is to check your Webmaster tool message. If you have received a “Google Webmaster Tools notice of unnatural links detected” message then you do. If you are unsure you can file for a reconsideration request to Google and they will tell you if you do or don’t.

The reason that this is important is it will define your strategy moving forward so make sure you know what type of penalty that you have.

Further Link Analysis

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to get as much information as possible when it comes to your link profile. Even after you run the initial reports with the previously mentioned tools, it is recommended that you use another third party program.

Link Detox and Link Risk (both paid resources) have been known to be very effective programs, that reports of your link profile and will even give you the percentages of your toxic, suspicious, and healthy links. You can get exact breakdowns of all the links that are causing issues and also contact information for site owners, which makes the removal process easier.


If you previously used an agency to help you with your link building and SEO, then get in contact with them and ask them directly about what type of link building they did for you and where they got their links. Check and see if they have been using link networks that eventually turned bad after the Google update. They may still have the contact details of the site owners they got links from which will be useful in the removal stage.

Remember, any links that are directed towards your website that are “no follow”, do not affect your Google rankings at all, so they shouldn’t be a high priority. If you are unhappy with those links, you can still make an effort to have them removed.

If you can, try and have a professional take a look at the reports from the tools you used, just to make sure all the information is correct. This is just something to do in case you don’t trust the reports.

A SEO professional can also help you determine what are good links and what are bad links. This can save a lot of time when filing for reconsideration as they may catch some links that you thought were good, but are actually bad.

The Removal Stage

Now the fun part, removing toxic links from your website to get everything back up and running smooth. The first thing you want to make sure and do is go down the list of bad links and contact the website owners that have the link on their site. Just politely ask them to remove the link due to the penalties that it is causing your website. Below is a template that we used for link removal:


If you run into a greedy site owner that asks for money to have the link removed. Note that down in your spreadsheet and then add that link to the disavow file.

We sent three emails in total per website to try and get a link removed. Normally on the first round we get about a 10-15% success rate. On the second round a 10% success rate and on the third a 5-8% success rate.

Disavow File

My understanding is that the Disvow tool is like a link IQ test. Google will manually review your file and see if they deem you to be a worthy SEO and reconsider your site.

The point about this is that if you stick 100% of your links in the disavow file Google is not going to reconsider your website. They want to see an effort to get bad links removed before you file for reconsideration.

Check out this guide from Google on how to construct your disvow file.


Make sure that if it is a bad root domain that you disvow the whole site. This is relevant to spammy sites, porn sites or anything that is poor quality and Google would not want in their index. To do this use the [domain:badrootdomain.com] format in your disvow file. For bad pages with a bad link just put the full URL in the disvow file [http://wwwbadrootdomain.com/bad-page/]


Once you have created your disavow file, you first want to upload the disavow file here and then you will submit a reconsideration request to Google. Your reconsideration file should run in the following format:

  • Identify what poor linking practices you participated in the past
  • Explain the process of your link removal efforts (including how many emails you sent, how many responses you got and how many links were removed)
  • Summary of the link removal efforts
  • Feedback on the barriers you came across to removing links
  • And a request to be reconsidered

The Results

If you have followed the above steps you should get an email that looks something like below. Your manual penalty will have been lifted and you should see a change in rankings anywhere from 1-6 weeks. It generally depends on where you are in the world to how quickly Google pushes through the request.



Jock Purtle

Jock Purtle

Jock Purtle is the founder of M&A Consulting firm and Brokerage Digital Exits. Contact then if you want to know what your online business is... Read Full Bio
Jock Purtle
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  • Travis Bliffen

    Awesome post Jock! Oh how we all hate to see that dreaded message from Google. Finding some of the bad links is pretty simply but as you mentioned, so other links may seem OK but are very bad for your site. I think people really should enlist the help of a back link specialist to identify the good and bad sites. It may cost a little more but it could save you from removing awesome links by mistake.

  • Nemek

    Thanks for posting your experience Jock and congrats on getting the penalty revoked. I wouldn’t say that asking for a payment for link removal “from every page on your website” is necessarily greedy though. You might be surprised by the avalanche of link removal requests some webmasters are receiving from SEOs that previously spammed their website and are now trying to “clean up”. Should they be obliged to do the removal work for all these SEOs for free?

    • jock

      Hi Nemek,

      I appreciate what you are saying and can see how people are being inundated with removal requests. The point I was trying to make is that if you choose not to pay the website for removing the link it is perfectly fine to put that link in your disvow file.


  • Deepanker

    Seriously it is the worst nightmare for a blogger.. This post will surely help many web masters 😀

  • Thomas Smith

    Is it just me that’s noticed it is a lot harder to get a reconsideration request accepted for sites in the accounting and finance sectors? I know of a couple of cases in which Google denied reconsideration requests from sites even after clearing EVERY bad link they had. Surely I’m not the only one who’s noticed?

    • jock

      Thomas I think the main reason is that it’s really hard to get solid links in those niches and those links that are developed aren’t A+ quality.

      I have a mate here in Sydney who used to work for a Virgin Money as an SEO and we always have chats about how hard it is to get links in certain niches.

      So i’m gussing people resort to not so good links.

      • Thomas Smith

        Thanks for the reply Jock,

        It’s probably not just the aforementioned sectors where there’s difficulty, gaining links is a task no matter what you’re doing really. What I was questioning in my original comment was Google’s ability to deny websites even after their backlink profile had been cleaned up, and all on-page SEO was to a tee… Google hm?

  • Fred Waters

    Since getting my manual penalty removed 2 months ago I continue to see a decline in Google traffic. So my hundred or so hours was a waste of time. Since then I have been working on disavowing links, and I believe this is another waste of time. Time to retire and not subject myself to these Google games.

  • Martin

    I used the Disavow Tool for a client here in the past to no avail. I will however try to use Link Risk or Link Detox. I also like the email template that you posted to contact website owners. Very useful information as always.



  • Andrew

    how to find out which links are bad?

  • Chad Harris

    Well- I was pretty sure I did every step correctly, I have emailed, actually been able to remove links, actually removed the urls, allow the pages to go 404 with no redirect and used WMT link removal, disavow tool and make sure my site was 100% W3C, No dup content- I got my 2nd no. Its only been 28 days-

    Any idea the average time period?