A Google Penalty can be hard to remove. In our ‘dummies’ guide to penalty removal we tackle pretty much EVERYTHING you need to know in order to remove your penalty for good.
Google penalty removal has been covered many times over already, and a standard template has emerged from these posts – contact every site you deem to be ‘dubious’, get your backlinks removed, disavow any you have trouble removing and then resubmit. However, its always easier said then done!
As helpful as all these posts are (and trust me, when approaching a penalty for the first time anything you can read about the process is immensely helpful), there doesn’t seem to be one post that covers every single outcome. The guide below is designed to help deter anyone who is on the edge of declaring “just remove all the links”!
Don’t panic. However bad it seems, the situation is salvageable. But it’s not a quick fix – the quicker you complete the process, the more suspicious Google will be that you haven’t done it properly. So take a deep breath and start on the salvage operation.
Verify both versions of your site in Webmaster Tools. Before you start doing anything, make sure that both the www. and the non www. versions of your site are verified in Webmaster Tools as Google sees these as different sites.
Download your backlinks. Within the Webmaster Tools page for your site, click ‘Search Traffic’ and then ‘Links To Your Site’. Under ‘Who links the most’ click ‘More’, then ‘Download sample links’ or ‘Download latest links’.
You can choose to download this spreadsheet as either a CSV file or file in Google docs, but choosing Google docs means that you can easily share the link with Google later in the process.
Cross reference. It is possible to get the job done using just WMT, but cross referencing your list of links with other sources is a good idea to check that nothing has escaped you. There are plenty of tools to help you collect all your links – try Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs and Majestic SEO which all offer backlink reports similar to the one you’ll get from Webmaster tools, and also allow you to quickly narrow down sitewide links, follow, nofollow etc.
Link Research Tools (LRT) offers a Link Detox report which gives a wide range of information including the ‘risk’ assigned to that particular link and the reason why. When using something like this I would always recommend individually assessing each link yourself to check you agree with the automated decision. LRT can be a handy starting point and the ‘rules’ can be really helpful for making an informed decision on a link that you might be having trouble evaluating.
Formatting your spreadsheet. Make sure your cross-referenced sheet has been de-duped, then add in the following columns to make life easier for yourself and Google:
- From URL
- Notes on the issue(s) with link
- Contact name
- Contact email/form
- Date of 1st/2nd/3rd contact
- Notes from contact
- Outcome (e.g either ‘removed’ or ‘disavow’)
This isn’t the only way of doing things – just the one that I’ve found easiest. You could also make tabs for each set of backlinks you have and import the data to each tab – Google docs will only let you copy and paste a limited number of characters so importing the data rather than copying and pasting can save your sanity!
Identifying bad links. Here comes the painful bit – identifying which links you don’t want. You need to be careful to not remove anything brilliant but not to miss anything terrible, and the ONLY way to do this is to go through each individually. A manual action means that a person inspected your backlinks, so there is no automated system to ‘scam’. The ONLY way to do this is the long way!
There are no hard and fast rules, but best practice suggests you should remove a link if:
- The site isn’t indexed in Google. Google will judge you on your ‘neighbours’. The same applies to sites with no page or domain authority.
- The site is a directory and has a URL which includes the words ‘link’ and ‘SEO’.
- The site is a directory which isn’t industry specific and has categories for just about everything.
- The site accepts links without a review process.
- The site has no relevance to your industry – odds are that it didn’t get there naturally.
- The site is part of a link network.
- The site contains malware.
- The link has been paid for and doesn’t have a rel=”nofollow” attribute.
- The link was part of a link exchange.
- The link is on a blog which you don’t feel happy being associated with your business.
- The link is on a blog where the article doesn’t make sense, has spun copy, or is stuffed with keywords.
- The link is using over optimised anchor text. This can become difficult when checking for a brand whose name is a keyword as a more natural link profile will concentrate on brand building rather than product/service related terms.
Whatever you decide for each link, make a note of it in your ‘notes’ column. This is essential so you know what you want to remove and why. It shows Google that you have been working hard – so don’t delete any that are ok, keep everything on the sheet and use notes or colour coding for clarity.
Finding contact details. Once you’ve worked out which sites you want to contact, you’ll need to find their contact details. First place to check is the site, but your best bet? Go Daddy Who Is, Who Is.net and Bulk Seo Tools. If you are looking for a lot of contact details then set aside some time for this. It takes as long as you think it will, and then a bit longer….
Contacting the sites. This is the one occasion where using a template email is an acceptable thing to do, but you still need to personalise each email with the links and the contact details of the webmaster or site you are contacting. Be polite in your emails and don’t insult Google or the site owner.
Contacting the sites. Again. Repeat the above step. And then do it again. Remember to fill in the dates you sent the emails on in the sheet so Google can see all the effort you’ve gone to. Annotate the sheet with any responses you get.
Take stock. Using your notes you should be able to easily sort your spreadsheet to show which links you will need to disavow. This column along with your notes will help you to populate your disavow file. You can find out more about the disavow file here, and writing a reinclusion request here.
And lastly, you could always just sit back and do nothing. Matt Cutts said back in 2011 that all Google penalties have an expiration date – the less severe a penalty, the less time it will hang around for. So if you fancy waiting… it is an option – however:
- You could be waiting a while. Expiration can take between a few months to a few years, and it varies for each individual penalty dished out. If your site has vanished off the face of the SERPs then every day is costing you potential revenue. Waiting takes time, and time is money after all.
- If you haven’t removed the problem then you won’t have removed the threat of being hit with another penalty. And even if you don’t get another penalty (straight away) your rankings are unlikely to entirely recover.
- During the time you’re waiting for the penalty to expire, you’ll probably not be thinking about on-going SEO work (because what’s the point of optimising a site that doesn’t rank, right?) but all your competitors with their SERP visibility intact will be working hard, leaving you behind when the penalty finally lifts.
If you’ve experienced the penalty removal process (regardless of your success) in a different way, or if you’ve waited around for your penalty to expire then let us know – we’d be interested to hear other peoples experiences on a topic that has had so much written about it but is still completely speculative.