Free Report ➝

OUR BLOG

19 Aug 2014
google penalty removal

Regain your Rankings with our Blueprint for Google Penalty Removals

Getting a Google manual penalty removed can seem as impossible as travelling to Pluto; at the very least, it’s an incredibly complex, difficult process that only few know how to approach. Many claim to be experts in penalty removals… but do they have proof to back this up?
At Gryffin Media, we do:

google penalty removal

As a company, we were very pleased with how quickly this manual penalty was removed, yet not surprised.

Our methodical Google Penalty Removal Process has yielded fabulous successes.  Here are a few examples:

google penalty removal

In this guide, we will detail the exact steps taken to help sites recover their rankings, and traffic, in Google.  We will demystify the process of link audits and removals and teach you a powerful methodology to get out of Google jail and back into Google’s good graces.

 

Google Penalty Removal

 

Step 1: What Kind Of Penalty Is It?

The type of penalty will greatly impact how you approach your link audit.

The most common Google penalties are:

  • Manual
  • Penguin Algorithmic
  • Panda

google penalty removal

In this eBook we will only address manual and algorithmic Penguin penalties, as Panda is a whole other animal.

Manual Penalties

When you have a manual penalty, it means that somebody at Google has reviewed your site’s backlink profile and determined that the links were spammy, thus giving you a manual penalty.

You can check if you have a manual penalty by going to Webmaster tools:

google penalty removal

If your site DOES have a manual action, you’ll see it in the notifications.  If your site has no penalty, the Manual Actions section will look like this:

google penalty removal

If your site does have a penalty, there will be a notification:

 

google penalty removal

This is also the place where you’ll go to submit your reconsideration request when you are ready.

Algorithmic Penalties

When Google’s automated filters detected unnatural patterns, your site may receive an algorithmic penalty. This type of penalty cannot be lifted by contacting Google and is generally only removed when Google refreshes this filter.

Typical Penguin algorithmic penalties occur when Google detects unnatural backlink patterns, such as too many money keywords in anchor text, when anchor density for specific money terms is too high, or if you have too many links from directory, forum, or article marketing sites, etc.

Typically, the way webmasters know they have a Penguin penalty is by noticing a 30 – 80% decrease in their organic traffic.  You see a large drop that looks like this:

 

google penalty removal

If you correlate the date of the organic drop with a known Penalty refresh, you can have guaranteed knowledge that your site was hit by an algorithmic penalty.

Step 2:  Create An “All Links” File

Now that you know that you have a penalty, it’s time to start the work necessary to remove it.  For the next several steps, the process for algorithmic and manual penalties is the same.

In order to identify the unnatural pattern that has caused your penalty, you first need to gather all of your backlink data from all over the web.  Some people say it’s enough to just use data from Webmaster Tools. Our experience with link audits is that you need to pull data from as many sources as you can.

When performing link audits, the team at Gryffin Media uses Webmaster Tools, LinkResearchTools, Ahrefs, MajesticSEO, Moz, Bing, Scrapebox, and more.

google penalty removal

 

With these tools, we can easily export all of the link data and compile them into one comprehensive list of links.  Where possible, we keep the “date found” information as this is helpful for analysis.

To make the list even more comprehensive, we also use Footprint Searching via scrapebox.

We start by picking out some of the most terrible links, and looking for potential patterns.  For example, does the site have profile spam? If so, are there any commonalities in the profile names used?  Are there any keywords that they frequently used in the anchor text?  Are there similar strings of text?

When you identify a few patterns, you can add those to Scrapebox to uncover even more links that were hidden from the other tools.

We add the new “footprint” links to the tool, thus creating a highly complete and comprehensive set of backlinks.

When we’ve had reconsideration requests denied, it’s almost always due to links that we hadn’t discovered and included in our edit. The best way to avoid wasting time in failed reconsideration requests is to DIG DEEP from the very beginning and include as many links as you can find.

Step 3: Audit Your Backlinks

This is the most difficult, time consuming part of any audit.  To do this effectively, you need to examine EACH AND EVERY ONE of your backlinks, and classify them as Toxic or Healthy.  It takes a significant amount of SEO knowledge to understand what makes a good or a bad link.

Most importantly, you need to understand the link profile as a WHOLE.  How you classify a link is heavily biased by other links in your backlink profile, and the densities for all.

To start, we run a competitive link profile using LinkResearchTools.com to help us establish baselines.   To run the report, we choose the top 10 competitors for the site we are auditing, and we identify what’s “average” for other sites in this space.

Here you can see an example of the backlink data:

google penalty removal

google penalty removal

google penalty removal

These reports show you how they site you’re working on stacks up against the other top 10 sites.

Knowing this data, it helps when making decisions about whether links should be kept or disavowed.

For example, if we were doing a link audit on the site in the image above, we would be less willing to keep toxic deep links, since we seem to have too many of those.

Having established baselines, the next step is to look for footprints.  This is the area where most people fall flat due to the lack of available tools.

When analyzing backlinks, you need to look for footprints such as:

  • Money vs Brand Anchor Text
  • Keywords in Anchor Text with Density above 5%
  • Too many links from the same IP
  • Too many links from the same registrant
  • Too many links from the same class C
  • Too many links with the same DNS
  • Domain not indexed in Google
  • No Pagerank
  • Possible Link Network
  • No SEMrush rankings
  • Low Quality Link Directory links
  • Low Quality Article Directory links
  • Low Quality Guest Post Links
  • Suspicious Link placement

A link may seem perfectly healthy upon inspection, but if you then look at backlinks by C class, you may find that there are 50 other similar sites, hosted on the same class C, linking back to the domain.  This is a footprint which would then cause you to disavow the site.

Here are a few examples:

google penalty removal

In the image above, you can see that there are 36 domains using the name of our founder, “Marcela De Vivo” as anchor text to link to Gryffin, with a percentage of 8%.  By viewing the links in this context, we can analyze all of the links with the same anchor text at the same time, and decide which links to keep and which links to disavow.google penalty removal

In this image, you can see there are 32 domains with the word “Article” in the URL, which need to be reviewed in case they are spammy or low quality article directories.   If there were only one or two domains, we would be inclined not to disavow them, but if there are too many of them, it’s best to disavow any potentially problematic links.

google penalty removal

Here you can see domains discovered within the same month.  You can look for large increases of links, which either indicate an unnatural link building campaign or that something went viral.  Analyze the links to figure out which are legitimate, and which aren’t.

google penalty removal

Here you can see domains discovered within the same month.  You can look for large increases of links, which either indicate an unnatural link building campaign or that something went viral.  Analyze the links to figure out which are legitimate, and which aren’t.

google penalty removal

In this situation you can see that there are 10 blogs hosted on the same IP address, however, these are wordpress hosted blogs and again, can be left alone.

Every single website has a very unique link profile, and to perform the analysis correctly, you need to look for the footprints that genuinely reveal the story. 

Generally within a couple of hours of working on a link audit, we start seeing trends evolving and can identify a website’s SEO strategy.  We’ll notice that they hired an SEO firm to do tons of article directories, or they have a million low quality guest posts, or many sites on the same C class or with the same DNS.  Once we identify the patterns, we proceed to disavow most of the links belonging to that pattern, as generally those are the links causing problems with Google.

Whether the penalty is manual or algorithmic will also change how you perform the audit. With algorithmic penalties, you have to view the links from the point of view of a robot. Focus on the statistics, as this is what the algorithm sees.  For example, if you look at a site and it appears to be very low quality, an obvious basic wordpress template with no customization, but it has good page rank, inbound links, domain authority, etc…we would leave it.  Maybe it was a repurposed expired domain.  If the penalty was manual, however, we would disavow that site, as a human could easily notice something unnatural.

As we look at the sites and evaluate them within the context of their patterns, we immediately click on the checkboxes to mark them as toxic and ready to be disavowed.

Step 4.  Create and Submit your Disavow File

Our link audit tool allows us to export all of the toxic links that were checkmarked, making the creation of a disavow file a breeze.

The key is to remember that Google prefers wants you to be heavy-handed in your disavows: use a machete, not a scalpel. When you disavow a link, you should disavow at the domain, not page, level.  All of our disavows contain 98% domains, and only a few page specific disavows.

This is what a disavow file looks like:

google penalty removal

You do NOT need to add the commentary; in fact, Google has publicly stated that the disavow files are algorithmically processed and never seen by a human being.  So the comments are helpful for internal purposes, but not necessary in the disavow file.

Once your file is complete, you can submit it here: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main

If you performed the link audit by hand, then just make sure you take ALL of your toxic links and paste them to a plain .txt file using the domain:badsite.com format mentioned above.

Step 5.  Link Removal Emails

The next stage is to get as many links removed as you possibly can.  Here are a few steps to start with:

  1. 1. Are any of the links on forums? If so, do you have access to the username and passwords so you can manually delete your profiles or comments?
  2. 2. Are any of the links on article directories? If so, do you have access so you can manually delete your articles?
  3. 3. Are there any paid links that you can personally ask the webmaster to remove?

Once you take down the easy ones, it’s time to move on to the more complicated step—everyone else.

When doing a link removal campaign, there are 2 options:

  1. 1. Use an email address from the domain you are working on
  2. 2. Use a free email account, like gmail

We prefer to use free gmail accounts as we can then upload all of our link removal efforts directly to that account, to be seen by Google during the Reconsideration process.

Using that email address, we start looking for contact information on the potential sites by searching on the site, social media, WHO IS or contact forms.  We use any means of communications possible to request them to remove our links.

To prove to Google the amount of work performed, we copy the source code of emails submitted and paste them on a Google spreadsheet.

If you used contact forms, then use a Chrome extension such as Imgur or Awesome Screenshot to capture the filled-out submission form, and paste it on the tracking spreadsheet.

At the end, you should have a document with all communications sent, with proof via a screenshot or the source code of the emails.

You’ll also want to track any responses and mark down when people let you know they took out your link.

After about a week, run a spider on all of the backlinks of the site to identify links removed. Some people may not have responded, but already took down your links.  Screamingfrog is a great tool to use to spider sites and look for whether the link was found.   You then update your audit to mark the links that were removed.

After 7 days, you should send out another round of link removals, and the third, final round a week after that.

By the end of this stage, you’ll have documented all of your link removal efforts, including links that were removed as a result.

 

Step 6: If The Penalty Is Manual, File For Reconsideration

We have discovered some elements that drastically change our success rate when writing reconsideration letters to Google:

  1. 1. Write the letter FROM the CEO or Marketing Director.  Google wants to see that someone high above is informed and taking responsibility.
  2. 2. Include as many details about what went wrong. What company did you hire to build unnatural links? Where did these links come from? Feed them the scoop!
  3. 3. Summarize ALL of your efforts. Include your audits, link removal emails, and links that you were able to remove by logging in.
  4. 4. Include link removal attempts for sites listed in previous failed reconsideration letters. Often when you fail a reconsideration, Google will list examples.  Include those examples and any attempts to remove them, and make SURE they are in your disavow file.
  5. 5. Mention all of the sources used for your audit. Be sure to details how and where all of your links were found.
  6. 6. Tell Google that you reviewed EVERY LINK by hand. This shows that you’ve taken the effort to be thorough and identify everything that was unnatural.
  7. 7. Add links to relevant documents. These should all be on Google Drive, and shared with “public” so that anyone at Google can see:
    • Audit file
    • Link Removal emails/contact forms
    • Past link removal attempts
    • List of removed links
  8. 8. Apologize and promise to never do this again.  You need to convince Google that you’ve learned your lesson and won’t be engaging in unnatural link building in the future.
  9. 9. Mention your online marketing strategy for the future. If you’ve gone through so much effort it’s obvious that you’re not going to stop marketing online.  Tell Google how you plan to continue advertising your site – in most cases, the best approach is content marketing.

There’s a character limit so you can’t write a 50 page essay…but you do want to be as comprehensive and thorough as possible.

Here’s an example of a successful reconsideration letter:

Dear Google Team,

Thank you for taking the time to review this reconsideration letter.

It has been several months since we received a notification of unnatural links in our backlink profile.  My first step was to hire consultants to understand what Google’s guidelines were and how we had broken them.

Several years back my brother (name) was helping with our marketing and was told by one of his friends about hiring link building freelancers on Odesk.  I was focused on business development for our company, and allowed my brother to focus on what I thought was legitimate marketing practices.

We understand now that this was an unacceptable way of promoting our business, and have since ceased all link building activities.   We’ve contracted all of the original link builders to remove ALL the work that they did.  Some were available and helped us remove the links, but unfortunately others were unresponsive.  Instead we decided to take matters into our own hands.

In the past 8 months, we’ve spent countless hours trying to clean up our backlinks.  We have worked incredibly hard to remove as many of the unnatural links as possible.

Here is a record of our process and attempts:

November 2013

In November of 2013, we performed a link audit and categorized the links as healthy or toxic.  We spent 2 months auditing and removing links, and filed for reconsideration on January 10th.  This was denied with the following 2 examples:

  • (URL 1)  (emailed several times, no answer, added to disavow file)
  • (URL 2)  (did not respond to emails, added to disavow file)

Based on these examples, we understood that there were still too many forum links that we hadn’t removed.  In our disavow file, we had included as many forums as we found, but decided to perform more extensive research to identify new links that didn’t appear in Webmaster Tools.

January, 2014

After having our previous reconsideration request rejected, we started over from scratch.  This time with a lot more guidance and experience in recognizing links that went against  Google’s guidelines, and outside help with tools to help aid our process.  Unlike our first attempt, we now understand how to better identify natural links from the forum postings and profile links built by Odesk freelancers.

The steps in our latest venture:

1) Finding New Links from Odesk Vendors.

This time we wanted to expand the number of links included in our evaluation.  We assigned one person the full time task of tracking each and every Odesk link builder that my brother hired over the course of several years.   You can see all of the links that we came up with in this file:

(Here you would include the link to file on Google Drive)

There are several worksheets, with the name of each link builder.

We have spent close to 2 months going through ALL of these links, removing the ones where we successfully retrieved the password (if the Odesk vendors saved them and handed them to us), and emailing people directly where we had no passwords.

In this sheet you can see our efforts to remove these links:

(Link to file on Google Drive)

In each worksheet, you’ll see a column with the status – if the link was still up or down.  You’ll also see “removal status” where we detail if the request was sent leading to having the link removed.

As a result, we were able to remove 6269 of these links.

You can see a list of all of the links that we were able to remove here:

(Link to file on Google Drive)

2)  Added More Links from Other Sources.

Next we aggregated all other link sources to build a new file to audit.  We added all inbound links from WMT, ahrefs, linkresearchtools, and majesticseo, with a total of 88,804 backlinks:

(Link to file on Google Drive)

We manually extracted one link from each of the domains in order to obtain contact details from each site.  We then emailed each of those sites directly to request for the links to be removed (item 4).

3) Looked for Patterns.

Taking all the backlinks gathered, we reviewed every one of the links by hand to identify bad links.   This step was set in place as the final precaution to make sure that we did not miss any links that violated Google’s policies.

4) Email Removal Requests.

For every domain marked for removal, we tried to contact them to have the link removed.  We manually went to every single site to look for contact information.  We contacted via email, contact form, or if none was found, through searching the WHOIS info for the sites.  We  contacted every possible website that had contact info or social profiles, asking for the link to be removed or nofollowed.

People contacted via emails, with source codes included:

(Link to file on Google Drive)

People contacted via contact forms, with screen shots of submitted forms:

(Link to file on Google Drive)

Please note that these removals and outreach were based on links that were NOT found in any of the Odesk files.  We’ve done our best to contact the source of EVERY bad link in our profile with removal requests.  In effect, we had 2 separate removal campaigns – Odesk and Non-Odesk links.

5) Disavow Links

On Friday, May 23rd 2014, we uploaded a disavow file successfully:

Results for the submission on May 23, 2014 4:05:39 PM UTC-7

You successfully uploaded a disavow links file

We are really making an effort to successfully rebuild our site and have included all the links from non compliant sites into our disavow as a way to gain a clean slate.

SUMMARY

I sincerely apologize for the actions we have undertaken.  I am doing everything possible to make things right.

Our once thriving business has been crippled by this penalty.  We’ve had to lay off many people and cut costs just to stay afloat …In short, it’s been a disaster. This is more than enough incentive for me to ensure that it never happens again.   I am personally overseeing our marketing efforts and will NEVER go down a path outside of Google’s guidelines.

Through our process, we believe that we’ve done everything we can to remedy this situation.  We’ve invested significant time and resources into fixing everything we can.

All marketing staff will have it written into their employment contracts that not complying with the Google Terms of Service is a dismissible offence. I will provide personal training to new employees, on “what is and is not acceptable.”

We will make an effort to monitor our backlink profile quarterly so that we do not run into any violations with Google’s policies.

I sincerely hope that this honest and upfront explanation of the events to date, the extensive work undertaken to rectify them and the plan of action gives you the confidence needed to release the manual penalty.

Sincerely,

Name of CEO/Marketing Director

What’s Next?

At this stage, you have completed all of the necessary steps to have either your manual or algorithmic penalty removed.

If Your Penalty Was Manual…

You know need to wait for Google to reply to your reconsideration letter.  Responses can take as little as a few days, or as long as 4 weeks.

If the manual action was revoked, HOORAY! You’ll get a letter like this:

google penalty removal

 

Your job here is done, and now it’s time to move on to link profile monitoring and link earning.

If the request was denied, your letter will look like this:

google penalty removal

In this case, you’ll have to go back and start the process all over again.  As you see in the letter above, you have to take several weeks to redo the process, or they will not consider the request valid.  We typically wait 6 weeks to file again.

If Your Penalty Was Algorithmic….

At this point, there’s nothing to do but wait.  Google has stated that sites have to wait for the filter to be refreshed in order to see a change in their traffic and rankings.  Unfortunately there’s no way around this.

In the meantime, the site is “suppressed” by the algorithmic filter, and no amount of link building will change anything.

When the filter is applied and all of the changes are taken into consideration, that’s when you’ll see an impact and the results of your work.

Google Penalty Prevention

Once you have your manual and/or algorithmic penalties removed, that doesn’t mean your job is done. It’s important to engage in penalty prevention practices. 

Link Profile Monitoring

Having suffered once from a Google penalty, you now understand the devastating consequences of suffering from Google penalties. You can’t leave your future rankings and traffic to chance!

Even if YOU don’t engage in unnatural link building again in the future, you do not know what your competitors are doing, nor do you know if your site will get linked by link networks etc.

For this reason it’s more important than ever to continue to MONITOR YOUR LINK PROFILE on a monthly basis.  This includes doing a monthly link audit with new links found. You’ll want to go through much the same process:

  1. Gather all new links in an all links file
  2. Audit your links looking for unnatural footprints
  3. Update your disavow file
  4. Perform link removals for unnatural links

Your disavow file should stay updated so that, if/when Google runs a new Penguin filter, your site will always be protected.

How Do You Regain Your Rankings And Traffic?

It’s important to note that even after all penalties are removed, your site may still not return to its pre-penalty glory.  The primary reason is that if those unnatural links were the ones giving your site the power to rank and they’ve now been disavowed, your site no longer has the right signals in place to rank well in Google.

Now you need LINKS and SOCIAL SIGNALS to rank.

Before you start any new campaign, though, you need to conceptualize links in a different way—instead of link building, think link earning.  Link building got you in trouble and is easy for Google to detect as it almost always leaves footprints.  Link earning is much more powerful as it is reliant on creating powerful content assets which are then used as link bait.

The concept and methods for link earning are better left for another book, but in this context, it’s important to know that this is likely the missing element if your rankings don’t return.

Of course the algorithm is much more complex and there are many other elements at play, such as author rank, user experience, bounce rate, etc… yet the main signal for ranking well continues to be links.

Removing the penalties simply eliminated anything that was SUPPRESSING the site from ranking so you can return to a level playing field.  Now you need to restore the necessary signals to rank well for your keywords.

Ultimately, our final word of advice is to not give up.  There are many land-mines and pitfalls to this process, and many sites get disheartened and even abandon their domains.

We have given you a roadmap to success, now all you have to do is stay the course until you arrive at your destination: high rankings, traffic, and sales.

The following two tabs change content below.
Search engine marketing expert with 15 years of experience in the industry, working with small mom and pop shops as well as large corporate websites. I have experience with all aspects of inbound marketing, including SEO, Link Building, Social Shares, Usability, Conversions, PPC, Email Marketing, and more.