Today I’d like to talk to you about recovering from a manual link penalty. Now this is typically where Google has reviewed the links pointing to your site and decided that there are too many in there that look unnatural.
It typically starts with an unnatural link warning in Google Webmaster Tools. It’s not always the case, but generally if you haven’t received this warning and you still think that you may have suffered as a result of a link penalty, the chances are it’s an algorithmic penalty caused by Google Penguin. The process is generally similar, but you won’t submit a reconsideration request at the end because this is only to speak to Google regarding manual penalties.
Once you’ve received your warning, it’s time to start looking at backlink analysis, and this is an in depth and lengthy process. You start by gathering a full picture of your backlinks. To do this, you need to use as many backlink analysis tools as possible because no single tool out there will give you a complete profile. So think about using Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, Bing Webmaster Tools, Google Webmaster Tools, of course, and even Link Detox, LinkRisk, those sorts of tools, to get a complete analysis of your backlink profile or as complete as is possible.
Now you may think that if Google has told you something’s wrong, you only need to use Google Webmaster Tools to get the links from there because they’re bound to be in there. Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily the case because Google only provides you with a sample of your links, and it’s not necessarily all of the links that they’ve found. So you need to get a full picture using as many tools as possible, chuck them all into a single spreadsheet and remove duplicates so that you are looking at a complete profile of as many links as possible.
Then, unfortunately, it’s the painstaking process of manually reviewing each one. You’re looking, at this stage, for anything that could appear unnatural to Google. Think back to your unnatural link warning. What did it say? The chances are it’s given you some indication of the type of link that’s causing your problem. Is it looking at paid links or advertorials? Is it suggesting that you’re trying to manipulate page rank? Think about this when you’re looking at your backlink analysis and look for links that might fall into those categories. Anything that you paid for to be there, anything that’s there only for SEO value, you need to think about putting in the pile to remove.
Which brings me on to the next stage, link removals. Once you’ve got to this conclusive list of links that you know you want gone, the first step to getting rid of them is, of course, to try and get them removed from the site itself. Now this is equally painstaking, and the results are generally not very good. You may get a 1% removal rate. The fact is Google expects you to try and get these links removed before you go on to the next step. It wants you to make an effort to clean up your link profile. Google holds you responsible with the site owner for any links pointing to your site. Now whether you think that’s right or wrong, that’s the case, and so you need to try and clear them up yourself before you go and ask Google for help at the next stage.
Now the next stage is Disavow. This is a relatively new tool that basically tells Google, “Here’s all the links I don’t want you to take into consideration when you’re ranking my site.” You want to include on this list any links from your backlink analysis that you think are unnatural that you weren’t able to get removed. You make a conclusive list, and you disavow generally at domain level. So you’re not disavowing individual links. You’re disavowing the whole domain because the chances are if a link from a certain page of that domain is dodgy for whatever reason, then any other page on that site that may have a link to your site is probably also going to be unnatural.
However, you don’t have to do it that way. If there’s a certain page on a certain site that you think is unnatural and you want that disavowed, but there are other good links coming from the site, you can do it by individual link as well. But as a general rule of thumb, look at disavowing at domain level.
Now you might have any number of links in your disavow file, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got 10 or 10,000. This is just telling Google, “These are the links that I think you don’t want me to be judged for because they’re potentially unnatural.”
Once you’ve got all this together and you’ve put a plan together as to how to move forward, you want to look at submitting your reconsideration request. You’re telling Google, “Okay, I know that we’ve had some unnatural links. We’ve acted to get rid of as many as we can, and then we’ve disavowed what’s left.” You want to be as honest as possible in that reconsideration request. Google values honesty, especially at this stage in the process. Tell them if you’ve bought links in the past. Tell them if you’ve used SEO agencies that have done any black hat techniques in the past. Anything that you’ve participated in, be honest and tell them that you’re doing your best to clear it up.
As well as this, you want to provide proof that you’ve tried to get these links removed and that you’ve carried out detailed backlink analysis. The way to do this is to log all of your efforts in your spreadsheet and upload it as a Google Doc. Then you can share that with Google at the reconsideration request stage and say, “Look, this is the effort that we’ve done to get these links removed, and this is the Disavow document that we’ve submitted to tell you that we couldn’t get the rest of these links removed.”
Google likes to see that. Now whether it actually opens that document is under some debate, and it’s quite possible that it doesn’t look at that document, but it likes to see that you’ve made that effort. Google wants to know that you’re working hard to resolve the problem before it’s going to put you back in the index or give you a second chance.
Once you submit your reconsideration request, there’s every chance you’ll end up back here, and this could be a cycle that repeats itself several times. Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that your first reconsideration request will do the job. If you disavow everything and get all your links removed that you could find, then perhaps that will be the case, but that will leave you in a position where you’ve got a lot of work to do to climb back up through new link building.
The chances are you’re going to get rid of most of the links, some of the links, but not all of the links that Google thinks are unnatural. So you’ll get another unnatural link warning, and on you go, back around the process, trying to find more links that could be causing your problem.
Eventually, though, hopefully this will stop and at the reconsideration request you’ll get a nice email back from Google saying, “Thank you, we’ve reviewed your link profile and are happy that you’ve made enough effort, and your manual link penalty’s been revoked.”
However, this is only half the picture inasmuch as you need to know that it’s not always possible to fully recover. Even if that manual penalty is revoked, you may still be suffering as a result of an algorithmic penalty. So Penguin could still be looking at your links and devaluing them against your competitors. So you still have got a lot of work to do. You’ve got to build up the links that you’ve lost, and you may never recover completely.
But keep up the good work that you’ve started here and keep telling Google what you’re doing. Keep updating your Disavow. Keep getting unnatural links removed and build quality links to your site and eventually you should start to see some positive results.
My name’s Emma North. Thank you for watching. Please follow Koozai with any of the buttons at the end of this video, and I’ll see you next time.
Great video. Exactly the process we followed when we received a manual link penalty on one of our websites.
We also removed sites at domain level. Agree that it’s the best and safest way to do things.
Cheers – Andre
Great Video Emma, really well documented thank you.
This is a great resource if anyone had been hit with a penalty and I will forward your video to them. Couldn’t of explained it better :)
Looking forward to more of your videos.
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