A Roadmap to Recovery and Link Removal After Penguin and Penalties
[box type=”warning”] Dear site owner or webmaster of http://website.com/,
Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links to http://website.com/
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank.
Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes. We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines.
Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results. If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.
If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team[/box]
If you’ve received this email from Google, you’ve had a penalty applied to your website, along with roughly a million other websites. This means that a team member at Google manually reviewed your site and hand selected it for a penalty, due to unnatural and artificial links pointing to your website. These penalties veritably drop you off the face of Google, starving your domain of search traffic.
If you haven’t received this email, but your website has still dropped in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), than the algorithm change Penguin itself has devalued your backlinks, resulting in a loss of authority and trust.
If either of these describes you, do not despair. You are not alone in this mad scramble to recover after Penguin, and the new era of Google. Keep reading for an explanation of Penguin and penalties, and a roadmap to recovery.
Penguin Algorithm Change
Google’s latest algorithm update—code named Penguin—has caused a precipitous drop in search engine result pages for thousands of websites, including highly ranked, top-of-their-industry blogs and websites.
The Penguin algorithm was designed in part to specifically target any bad quality backlinks. This includes spam, black blogs, paid links, overuse of specific anchor text, links from websites with no relevancy to your own, and, in general, unnatural and artificial links.
The Difference between Penguin (an Algorithm Change) and a Penalty
When Google changes their algorithm, they fundamentally change the processes the search engine employs when looking for a result in response to a searcher’s query. This means that the process doesn’t target a singular website for exclusion from the SERPs, as it would with a specific penalty. Rather, the search method of the engine itself simply places less authority and trust in websites with bad backlinks, due to new parameters put in place by the most recent update to its algorithm.
On the other hand, when Google penalizes a site, it is a manual action, taken by a Google employee, which is actually what they refer to penalties as at Google. This means that the search engine purposely discounts a particular website, due to a manual action of a Google employee.
How to Know the Difference….read more
Up until just recently, it was extremely hard to determine the difference between a manual penalty and an algorithm change. Thankfully, on June 5th, at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) in Seattle, during what Google calls their You&A With Matt Cutts, Google put the debate to rest.
Matt Cutts stated in no uncertain terms that if you’ve received a Google Webmaster Tools notification or message, you’ve also received a manual penalty from Google. Furthermore, 99% of those who receive penalties are now receiving these notifications. So, unless you’re extremely unlucky, you should know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether you’ve received a penalty or not.
So, if you’ve experienced a SERP drop, but haven’t received a message or notice from Google, odds are it’s due to Penguin itself. Which is, unfortunately, still bad news, because Google is extremely unlikely to ever roll back an algorithm change. By which I mean essentially they never ever will.
Penguin SERPs Drop
If your SERPs have plummeted due to Penguin, you’re in an unenviable situation. While not a penalty per se, it still means that you’ve lost rankings and are unlikely to gain them back without considerable effort.
The reason Penguin has dropped your website in rankings is more than likely due to unnatural, spammy, irrelevant or artificial links. Many companies have fallen into this trap due to the promise of quick results, the desire to compete, and a possible lack of knowledge. Some so called SEO companies also promise hundreds if not thousands of backlinks a month, which is frankly impossible to do organically and naturally, and thus stands out as a red flag to Google. As a link building firm, we’re continually advising clients against this type of link building activity, and helping them recover from such previous tactics.
Google’s Penguin update specifically targeted what they consider bad backlinks. A large portion of Google’s algorithm, commonly estimated around 70%, is based upon the idea that any site that links to yours is granting a vote of confidence. Therefore, obtaining links is crucial for a website’s success in SERPs. This made black blogging and link spamming a big business in order to steroid website’s backlink profile. Now Google, in an effort to increase the quality of their search results, has specifically targeted these spammers and irrelevant artificial link builders, applying penalties and devaluing low quality links as a whole.
What are Bad Backlinks?
Simply put, it’s more important than ever to stay within Google’s Webmaster guidelines. For a comprehensive understanding, read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Below is a quick list of what makes up 99% of bad backlinks.
- Black blogs
Black blogs are blogs maintained solely for the purpose of high density link building. They contain little to no useful material, and exist only for SEO purposes. You can see a great example of this here.
- Paid links
Google has stated time and again that paying for links not only breaks the rules of their terms and agreements, but generates extremely low quality content.
- Backlinks with little to no relevancy.
Google places so much authority on backlinks because of the idea that the main reason one website would link to another is due to the importance and quality of that site’s content. If, however, there is no logical path between the two, Google is likely to determine the link as artificial and unnatural.
- Blog networks known for spamming, poor quality content, and paid link building
Blog networks that exist principally for SEO and link building purposes run a very serious risk of being de-indexed by Google. Point in case, look at the recent news what happened to Build My Rank.
- Heavy repetition of exact anchor text links
This falls into the artificial link categories. When exact anchor text (which is simply the words containing the hyperlink) are splashed across the web, it’s a key sign to Google that someone is manufacturing those links. This clues them into the fact that rather than having content driven, natural and organic link building, a site is simply going out and spamming as many links as possible to build their backlink profile.
- Multiple directories with exact anchor text matches
Similar to heavy repetition of exact anchor text, when multiple directories are used, especially with exact anchor text matches, Google red flags them as unnatural and artificial links. Worse yet is if those directories have very little or no relevancy to the website they’re linking to.
- DoFollow blog comments
DoFollow blog comments are used in excess to build backlinks. There is commonly a dearth of relevance, content, and contribution. As such, they should be avoided.
All of these can be considered a type of spam. For a deeper in-depth look at each, check out our blog about it here.
The only way to try to recover from a Penguin drop is to attempt to clean up these bad backlinks and either wait for Google to recrawl your website and make the appropriate changes, or document a serious attempt to realign with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and apply for a reconsideration request from Google. Make no mistake, this can and likely will be a serious struggle.
During this time it is also a good idea to pursue high quality, relevant links. It is important to move forward from Penguin, and be able to aptly demonstrate your contribution to the web. Only by making an honest effort, with real links and quality content, will you be able to move forward as a relevant and valued website.
Once you’re ready to attempt link removal, this is what you need to know, and the steps you need to take.
1) Always, always, always document every step.
Unless you’ve recently acquired your bad backlinks and have an easy contact to have them removed, it’s unlikely you’ll get them all. And, since you’ve already fallen from Google’s good graces, they’re unlikely to take your word at face value. So, document every step you take for proof to Google of your efforts.
2) Build a comprehensive backlink portfolio
You can’t even begin to remove your bad backlinks until you know about every single backlink your website has. And not only do you need to know every backlink, but you must carefully examine them all. Order them from good to bad, and decide where the line is drawn, and which links have to go.
3) Contact every single website you attribute with a bad backlink
Do everything you can to get in touch with a website hosting a bad backlink, and document them all. Email whoever is in charge of the page, call a phone number if you can find one, and run a Whois and email the webmaster. Make sure you send at least three separate and spaced out emails in your attempt to contact the website. And don’t forget—webmasters gain nothing by removing the link your website, so courtesy is absolutely a must.
4) Once you’ve done everything in your power you believe possible, fill out a reconsideration request form with Google
It’s important to provide documentation with all you’ve done, and outline your problem. Every single one of these is read by a person working at Google, so make it personal and polite. And don’t forget to be detailed! Include as much possible information about what you’ve been doing and what your specific problem is. If they don’t understand, they can’t possibly help.
Make sure you’ve done everything possible, because Google is going to do a link profile on your website to determine where it lies within Google’s webmaster guidelines. They’ll know it if you’ve made half an effort and will likely be unsympathetic toward your website.
Removing bad backlinks that are hurting you in the age of Google’s Penguin update is hard, tedious, frustrating work. But, if you’ve invested enough time in your website, it is worth the effort. And doing nothing will obviously result in nothing. So if you’re website has been dropped in the SERP after the Penguin update, you need to understand you backlink portfolio and remove your bad backlinks.