Manual Link Penalties Revoked! (It’s Not Just Unicorns and Rainbows)
The sun is shining, the birds are singing … and your site just got a second chance because you received this:
That letter from Google telling you that your manual link penalty has been revoked is likely the culmination of blood, sweat and tears; but it proves that lifted penalties is not an elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Manual link penalties can be revoked if you put in the work and pay your dues.
Not too long ago, Virginia wrote about how to disavow links in Google and Bing. And while the link disavow option was a factor in the success stories I’m about to share with you, they were the last step in an arduous process.
So today, I’ll share with you three clients who recently had their manual link penalties revoked as a result of the hard work between our SEO analysts and our clients, together.
What Got the Clients into Trouble?
Sometimes sites get messed up with the wrong crowd. Sometimes site owners don’t foresee the trouble they’re getting into. We’re not here to point fingers, but we do want to share with you some of the scenarios that caused these manual link penalties to occur.
Client 1: Launched a new site and wanted to get rankings in a hurry, so they decided to buy some links to get on the fast-track to visibility. No question there on why the penalty occurred.
Client 2: Had a content-rich site with useful information including podcasts and a thriving blog. But this site had been around for so long that it developed “baggage” over the years. The inbound/outbound link profile needed to be cleaned up.
Client 3: This site had a few things working against it, like purchased links, article spinning and participating in link farms. This became the trifecta that triggered the penalty.
As you can see, the reasons behind penalties vary. But one thing these clients all had in common was that they didn’t know the repercussions of their link profile until their rankings dropped and organic traffic disappeared.
How Did We Help Lift the Penalty?
No matter how a client ends up in “no man’s penalty land,” the process that the SEO analysts go through is typically the same:
- Have “the talk” with the client.
- Evaluate the inbound links.
- Blood, sweat, tears, etc.
- After bleeding, disavow.
Let’s look at those a little more closely …
1. Have “the talk” with the client. Sometimes the client knows they’ve done something to compromise their site, but they’re afraid to tell us. Sometimes we have to wait to see that fateful letter from Google before they are willing to fess up – or sometimes we discover the penalty on our own and work backwards from there. After we do some digging in analytics and run rankings reports, we usually have enough info to approach the client for “the talk.”
“Sometimes the client doesn’t want to tell us upfront about any online marketing schemes they may have participated in. Other times, they aren’t even aware that there is a penalty problem. But once we start digging into their site, we notice red flags,” says Ty Carson, senior SEO analyst. “When we present them with the backlink data, they usually start talking about the history of their site in a bit more detail, and everything begins to unfold.”
In any case, “the talk,” as uncomfortable as it can be needs to happen, because it’s crucial to know the history of a site upfront. Remember, your SEO team is not here to judge; we’re here to help you solve problems and move forward.
2. Evaluate the inbound links. Here at BCI, we use Google Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO and internal tools to help evaluate the website’s backlinks. In addition to using scores from Majestic SEO’s “advanced backlink” report, we also go through a manual rating process.
You may remember SEO analyst Bob Meinke’s link assessment flowchart – a visual that documents the process he and the team go through to evaluate links, which includes loading the pages in question and going through a series of questions:
But we also look at things like exact-match anchor text to see if anything looks fishy. “PivotTables in Excel are great for helping you discover too many exact-match keyword links,” says Bob. “Upload all the links and anchor text associated with them in the spreadsheet, and then create a PivotTable from the data to identify any suspicious activity.”
You can learn more about creating PivotTables here.
3. Blood, sweat, tears, etc. What comes next requires that you are somewhat comfortable being a stalker. See, we find the contact information for all webmasters for every link we deem not worthy. Then we contact them, one by one, through email so it’s documented, and ask them to remedy the link.
Here’s a generic email request for link removal:
I’m [Name] with ThisIsMyDomainName.com, and I wanted to thank you for linking to our site from [page URL].
However, it has come to our attention that this link may have been acquired against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
It is important for us to bring our site into compliance. Would you please add a rel=”nofollow” attribute or remove our link from this page and any other page on your site?
Do they always comply? No. Do they sometimes come up with asinine reasons why they can’t remove the links? Yes, like this one:
“A few times I got a response like, ‘I’m sorry but I’m not sure how to remove the links. However, if you need search engine optimization for your site, I can get you 100 links on PR5 sites for the low price of $9.99’,” says Bob.
“One funny and unusual email response we got was from a directory site,” says Ty. “They claimed that since their client pays them to place multiple links in their directory, removing the paid directory links would only hurt their own site.”
So what do we do in those cases? Yep, you guessed it: contact them again, with a different form of the letter above specific to the email response, documenting everything. We usually contact the site owner three times before we deem the link non-removable and worthy of disavow.
4. After bleeding, disavow. Once we’ve put in our due diligence and tried to get those pesky links remedied to no avail, then we typically turn to the disavow tool. This is a last resort, but if you’ve tried your darndest and documented everything, you can go through the disavow process. Check out Google’s instructions on the disavow links process here.
After disavow, we apply the client for reconsideration. We make sure our reconsideration requests are thorough enough to show evidence of our detailed efforts. Learn more about reconsideration from Google here.
So the Penalty is Lifted. Now What?
Can you expect your traffic and rankings to return to the same state pre-penalty? Not usually — at least not right away. Bob explains, “The visibility the site experienced prior was inflated due to spammy practices. So it’s not likely it will return quickly and without a lot of good work. But a site’s organic rankings and traffic should slowly rise over the two weeks following the penalty being lifted.”
He adds, “And best case scenario, while you are working to have your penalty removed, you are also working on building nicer links through good practices, which will help you recover.”
Ty adds, “There are lots of opportunities for a site after the penalty is revoked, including the fact that keywords that were once penalized now have the chance to help it rank again, so new traffic can be achieved.”
Do you have a link penalty story you want to share? Please chime in below in the comments section!