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If you have experienced a huge drop in rankings over the last few weeks it will be worth checking your Google Webmaster Tools account. If you have received a message about unnatural links (see below) then the chances are you will need to submit a reconsideration request to Google.
There are numerous reasons you could need to submit a Google Reconsideration Request. If you recently purchased a domain that may have violated the Webmaster Guidelines in the past, you can use the reconsideration form to let Google know it is under new ownership and now adheres to the guidelines.
Either way if you do have to submit a request you have lots of hard work to do.
Phase 1: Assess Your Links
Google’s Webmaster Tools notice gives huge hints that your links look unnatural. If you have participated in link schemes you can get to the route of the problem immediately. If you haven’t participated in link schemes but have over optimised anchor text or link sources you need to assess the good the bad and the ugly (links).
Building links on the net is a fairly easy process. Clearing up your link building activity is a lot more complicated. If you have bought links or participated in anything slightly grey hat investigate straight away. If not, I would jump straight into tools like Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO and start digging. So, what are you looking for?
Phase 2: Site Wide Links
An unnatural link profile could be anything from stupidly high PageRank links to excessive interlinking. One source which always stands out as an unnatural link source is site wide links. If you sort by the amount of links a domain has pointing to your site you can quickly uncover any site wide issues.
Site wide links can be common on premium directory listings or sponsored blog listings. Anything from 50 to 5,000 can be deemed suspicious. Assess the damage and remove.
Phase 3: Anchor Text
Over optimised anchor text can look extremely unnatural to a search engine. Since Google’s ‘penguin’ algorithm update I would focus on an anchor text sweet spot of 70% brand name, 15% variations, and 15% natural links.
I would have no more than 10% on exact match the rest should include:
If you spot a particular link source with excessive ‘exact’ anchor text I would make every effort to remove this source.
Phase 4: Links on the Same IP
A large amount of links coming from sites on the same IP address can look extremely suspicious to search engines. The chances are a cluster of links from a similar IP address could be a blog network or link scheme designed to manipulate PageRank. If there is a list of similar looking IP addresses I would investigate and look to remove.
Phase 5: High PR Links
The Google warning specifically says unnatural link building is schemes looking to pass PageRank. To investigate this simply sort by link strength i.e. .AC Rank and identify anything that looks suspicious. This could be anything form spammy blog comments to bought blogroll links. Anything that looks too good to be true should be removed.
Phase 6: Reciprocal Linking / Interlinking
If you have another domain that interlinks site-wide this could look unnatural to search engines. Specifically if the domains are targeting the same keyword. A swimsuit domain can link to a suncream domain (they are different businesses) but a PPI Claim website cannot link to another PPI Claim site if it’s the same business.
If you have participated in reciprocal links schemes / farms in the past I would remove this source ASAP.
Phase 7: Anything Irrelevant
Unnatural means irrelevant i.e. too good to be true. If you own an online bike shop and have 100 links from a finance blog it’s going to look extremely irrelevant. As you go through your list of links I would try and identify anything off topic. If it wouldn’t refer useful traffic should it be there?
Phase 8: Removing the Links
Identifying the links is the easy bit, removing them is where it becomes a little more difficult. I would list all the potentially damaging link sources in a spreadsheet and categorise them (as above). If the site has contact details create a column of who to contact. If it doesn’t then see if you can find some details in the WhoIs data.
Once you have a list of the links and who to contact you can start sending emails and making phone calls. Keep a record of who has removed the links and who hasn’t. You won’t be able to remove every potentially bad link but the effort will often get rewarded.
Phase 9: Evidence
A successful Google Reconsideration request will need to heavily depend on strong evidence. Turn your spreadsheet into a Google doc and share the document with the Google Search Quality Team. Have a column showing who has removed the links and who hasn’t.
If you can’t remove a link source I would still document your efforts. If you screenshot sent emails requesting the link removal in a separate Google doc you can highlight your intent to remove links out of your control.
Phase 10: The Cover Letter
Be honest. If you have participated in a link scheme own up. If you have recently acquired the domain explain why. Refer to the Google docs and explain you have removed links but some are out of your control. If you have worked in a partnership with another company, give details.
Don’t submit multiple requests. This will not speed up the response time and will only confuse the Quality Team. However, if you do have fresh evidence it is worth resubmitting. Most importantly don’t try and fool the Quality Team with false evidence.
Phase 11: Be Proactive
Once you have submitted your request. It’s time to show Google you are adhering to their Guidelines. Carry out ethical link building. If you have been removed from the SERPs then publish a press release explaining your actions and that the issue is now out of your control.
Create new pages and build good quality links to these pages. The fact that you have fresh content which has good quality backlinks shows that your approach has no bad neighbourhoods attached to the domain.
Phase 12: Speed Up the Process
If you have had a large amount of links removed you can highlight this to Google. Bookmark blogs and webpages where you used to have links. This will highlight to Google that you no longer have this property as a link source.
Phase 13: Be Patient
Be patient. A successful reconsideration request can take anything from three weeks to three months. If you have made every effort to remove unnatural links sources (and documented the evidence) you have every reason to be optimistic. The process can be very time consuming but if you submit a comprehensive report there is every chance you will be rewarded for your efforts.
Search engine technology is evolving, and so is the digital marketing industry. The more experienced professionals amongst you may remember the days of gleefully stuffing keywords into your copy to boost your rankings, blindly spamming strangers to join your email lists and easily securing media coverage for your thinly veiled advertisements.
Site speed is an important area of website optimisation that people working in the world of Search Engine Optimisation are becoming increasingly concerned about.