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May 11, 2012

How to Remove Link Spam for Google Penguin Recovery

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The patient is crashing! Triage needed STAT! Is there a doctor in the house?

No more Mr. Nice Penguin
Yesterday the search engine optimization industry got fresh info from Matt Cutts on the Penguin situation. It’s been about two weeks since the bird first landed, enough time for SEOs to assess any damage and become familiar with the foul consequences of the update.

For those suffering under Penguin’s iron wing, a plan of action is needed to identify and remedy the causes of penalties and devaluations.

SEO experts have weighed in. Here are the steps for SEOs and webmasters to take to clean-up the link spam Penguin’s after.

Penguin Plan of Attack

1. Diagnosis

How do you know if you were hit by Penguin? Days after the update, Danny Sullivan explained a simple method for detecting Penguin‘s finprints on your site. Review your site’s search traffic immediately after April 24, the day Penguin went live. If your search traffic dropped, you probably got slapped by Penguin. On the flip side, your search traffic may have gone up, in which case you might have benefited at your competitors’ expense. Or perhaps you saw no change at all, in which case good on you.

2. Link Pruning

This is the area where the literature is currently lacking. Our SEO team began engaging in link pruning projects more than six months ago when a client came to us after being hit by the ugly consequences of having purchased 65,000 links. The site was nearly burned to death, but over the course of months of heads-down link pruning the site slowly but surely climbed in rankings. The link pruning process will be outlined in detail in next week’s SEO Newsletter (subscribe to our monthly SEO Newsletter), however this is a basic outline of the steps to take to prune rotten backlinks:

  1. Identify: You need to gather a comprehensive backlink profile for the site in question. There are several tools available that would accomplish this, including Google Webmaster Tools Backlinks Report, Majestic SEO Site Explorer and SEOmoz Open Site Explorer.
  2. Investigate: Go down the list of backlinks to find the rotten ones. It’s a time intensive step that requires you navigate to each link to evaluate its quality. After a while you may start to get a sense of what’s bad by the URL of the linking page alone. If you opt for using Majestic SEO, you have the benefit of their proprietary ACRank, a quality score that you can use to judge link value.
  3. Send Requests: Create a template email requesting link removal that you’ll send to the webmasters in charge of the links identified as low quality. The template should candidly explain that you are an SEO or site owner trying to recover from a Google penalty and would he or she please remove the following links. List the URLs where the links can be found, the URL on your site they point to, the anchor text ─ all the info needed to easily find the link you’re requesting removed. To send the request, you may find contact info on the site, you may need to do a whois search, and you may need to do some sleuthing to get names and email addresses.
  4. Follow Up and Repeat: Expect to receive four types of responses to your requests:

    ● Remove link and tell you.
    ● Remove link and not tell you.
    ● Not reply or do anything.
    ● Will remove the link if you pay them.

    In the case of the first, verify by going to the page where the link was and if the link was removed, check it off the list. If you haven’t gotten any response back from a contact in 2 weeks, check to see if the link has been removed. It may or may not. If it’s been removed, cross it off the list. If it hasn’t been removed, send a follow-up request.The process of link pruning requires multiple cycles. Each successive cycle will see more links removed. If you run across a webmaster requesting payment for link removal, let’s just say there’s a search engine who will be very interested to hear about this.

  5. Communicate with Google: Throughout this process you must keep detailed records of your actions. A spreadsheet with columns for the linking URL, the contact name, the contact email, the date a request was sent, and responses or actions taken by the linking site. In the end you will not be able to extract all dubious links from the site but you will want to be able to show you’ve done everything in your power to extract manipulative links from your backlink profile.

In an interview with Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting, Bruce shares some stories of link pruning projects we’ve undertaken.

2 Alternative. Reporting False Positives

If you saw a downturn in rankings or traffic around the time Penguin launched and you believe you were inappropriately affected, there is a form for reporting false positives.

3. Waiting…

Once you’re confident you’ve cleaned up your link profile, all that’s left to do is wait. Penguin is an algorithm update so it doesn’t fall under the auspice of manual intervention and related reconsideration requests. See Matt’s explanation of the difference between handling spam based on manual action versus algorithm detection.

Today’s report from Danny held a frightening possibility:

“Again, recovery means cleaning up the spam. If you’ve cleaned and still don’t recover, ultimately, you might need to start all over with a fresh site, Cutts said.”

But before you worry if that’s the boat you’re in, swab the deck and wait until the next refresh of Penguin. Penguin, like Panda, is a filter that Google will tweak and push out again. Since the original launch, Google’s spam team has taken all the info they’ve received from webmasters, analyzed the damage from the first blast and made improvements to the Penguin spam filter which we’ll see next time it gets pushed. If your link pruning was effective, you’ll see it reflected in your search traffic and rankings.





27 responses to “How to Remove Link Spam for Google Penguin Recovery”

  1. Peter Brian writes:

    You are missing a big point. Many people posted actual content on good article sites. For our site we posted about 60 original content articles from 2005 to 2008. After 2009 there was an explosion of blogs, article sites whose whole purpose in life was to collect content from the web and then to add Google Adwords to their site. Maybe we need your tools but after five days of manual research this past week, we have found 300 million pages have copied our content. We only scratched the surface of what people did to make money. From our manual checks 60% of the pages we found currently have active Google Adwords on them and about 65% still maintain our links from where they stole the content.

    I really don’t see you experts seeing Adwords driving this behavior. I would say that in many of the million sites affected by Google WebSpam Penguin update are a direct cause of other site owners reposting without any permission article content and maintaining the links. This gives them content to drive Google Adwords and make money for both Google and themselves. So I would suggest Google Adwords and site owners’ greed are a major factor. There seems to be little or no quality standards needed to put Google Adwords on a site. We have seen people simply clone site after site and put our articles on their site to drive Google Adwords for our expensive keywords. Perhaps people are not aware that site owners have been actually buying keyword profiles with a list of expensive PPC keywords. Then they make sites by stealing or slightly modifying content to get those expensive PPC adwords to come up.

    So who is to blame. Our site only lost ranking in the keywords used in those 60 articles we posted five to seven years ago.

    How many letters can I send out. Can you give me a quote for 1,000,000 sites to follow your suggested approach?

  2. Joseph T Peterka writes:

    Virginia,
    Great article. Our website took a dramatic hit as a result of Google’s new cure. The patient is now very sick. We are in the six sigma training/deployment business and our keywords rate top dollar. Back in 2006-8 we published ~60 quality articles, for legitimate traffic. We used to rank within the top 5 with most of our keywords for the past several years. Now in many cases we have fallen completely off the page. I have done several searches to determine the extent of the proliferation of our material. In one search for an exact quote of our material the results indicated over 330,000,000 citations!

    The point of this note is to find a top quality back-link checker which can help me get some type of manageable listing of garbage sites to begin the process of clean-up. The task seems overwhelming. My greatest fear is lack of response from all these garbage sites, and Google’s apathy toward reducing their revenue stream.

    I would like to hear of some suggestions you might have for an effective software to deal with this problem. My actual position with the company is Google adWords manager and this is out of my comfort zone.

    Keep up the good work!

    Joseph

  3. Igor writes:

    Thank you for sharing your inbound links cleaning process. Wondering if Google might add a new feature to webmsater to remove/report the questionable inbound links. I’ve seen situation when inbound links from very questionable sites were added and contacting a webmaster of these sites were not successful at all.

  4. Nick Stamoulis writes:

    It can take a long time to go through all of your links, find the bad ones, and try and get them removed. But it’s well worth the effort. Google continues to try and improve its search results and if your site is associated with spammy link networks you will never improve your presence in the search engines.

  5. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Peter and Joseph of 6Sigma, thanks for your comments. Until now I haven’t talked to an organization dealing with the consequences of Penguin, so hearing your specific story is revealing. If it’s true that you had simply distributed 60 quality articles for traffic in the mid to late aughts, it’s a scary lesson in how one day’s acceptable tactic is tomorrow’s penalty. I’m afraid this is a case where no amount of link pruning can be expected to make a dent.

  6. ACommenter writes:

    “If you run across a webmaster requesting payment for link removal, let’s just say there’s a search engine who will be very interested to hear about this.”

    What exactly are you implying here? If “they” (the people affected by unnatural links) engaged in shady SEO practices (and admitted it), why should I, as a webmaster, spend my personal time to remove their spammy comments without compensation?

    I did everything in my power to stop spam (captcha’s & akismet), but if they engaged in bad SEO practices to have someone to get around my anti-spam measures, then its karma in my opinion. Put up with it, or pay me for my time to remove your spam.

  7. babaseo writes:

    Thanks for sharing.One of my website got peanalized. as u said we are removing unnatural links by sending them a mails. we never bought any links. and our website also not over optimized. now what is the best way to do link building. i think google will not follow “nofollow” links. when u do any link building, u just check ur linkbuilding page, it will indicate as nofollow page only. then how it will impact on link juice.
    thanks

  8. Virginia Nussey writes:

    @ACommenter: The thing about Penguin is it works both ways. It’s in the best interests of both sides of a low-quality link for the link to be removed. Penalties can be leveraged for spam links pointing to my site but the sites that are doing the spam linking are also culpable. Most sites we send emails to have 1-10 links, and we send specific URLs where those links can be found. It doesn’t take long to remove them.

    Part of the BCI mission and company vision is to conduct ourselves ethically, and that may at times mean reporting those who would act unethically. We don’t make the rules but we do our best to follow them in the best interest of our clients. What it comes down to ultimately is whether or not people feel they have a moral/ethical obligation to work at cleaning up the internet in the simplest sense of the words.

  9. ACommenter writes:

    @Virginia Nussey: That’s fair enough, and in most cases I agree, it is in both parties interests.

    In my case, the site I run is no longer maintained (largely due to being overrun by comment spam) but has some good content so as to not want to shut it down completely. In this case, I couldn’t care less about my own site’s google ranking at all.

    But to be bombarded with people threatening me with DMCA notices if I do not remove their comment spam (what kind of moron thinks a comment spam is anything to do with DMCA?) is really really annoying and makes my blood boil. You did the crime, you do the time. Or if you really want me to remove the links, compensate me for having to spend time on a site which is no longer maintained.

  10. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Yours is a bit of a unique case and one I’m glad you shared.

  11. Mike writes:

    I charge for link removals. Hey it’s an administrative fee for my time and for removing content from my sites. The line above ‘If you run across a webmaster requesting payment for link removal, let’s just say there’s a search engine who will be very interested to hear about this.’ is just the kind of false threats that I get from stupid seo companies.

    I will remove links if people say please or ask nicely but the emails I get are like ‘remove the link or else serious action will be action’.

    Right! What serious action? There is no law preventing me from linking to anyone.

  12. chris tucker writes:

    It is best to just start all over, if you have a lot of link spam.
    Google could help us by allowing newer URL’s to have good SEO.
    This way, we can abandon the old, spammy URL’s.

  13. imran writes:

    april 28, 2012 After Google Penguin , my all website Keywords Down
    I Remove Link’s Spam and new fresh content update then I Reconsideration request google webmaster
    this is google replay, i’m so confused

    “”Reconsideration request for example.com/: No manual spam actions found
    May 7, 2012

    Dear site owner or webmaster of example.com/,

    We received a request from a site owner to reconsider example.com/ for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

    We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google. There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the webspam team.

    Of course, there may be other issues with your site that affect your site’s ranking. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users.

    If you’ve experienced a change in ranking which you suspect may be more than a simple algorithm change, there are other things you may want to investigate as possible causes, such as a major change to your site’s content, content management system, or server architecture. For example, a site may not rank well if your server stops serving pages to Googlebot, or if you’ve changed the URLs for a large portion of your site’s pages. This article has a list of other potential reasons your site may not be doing well in search.

    If you’re still unable to resolve your issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

    Sincerely,

    Google Search Quality Team””

  14. Pam Sissons writes:

    Thanks for a thoughtful article, Virginia. I just can’t help being appalled at Google’s heavy-handed approach. For the most part, large sites or sites run by skilled internet marketers or SEO’s are one thing, but it’s incredibly disturbing to hear how much this has affected the smaller businesses and websites who have done their best and have been slammed. Many people still haven’t recovered from the October ’11 Panda update, ‘fer cryin’ out loud! It’s a murky path Google is walking, in my opinion. But then again, “Google is in the business of making money.” Definitely a tiresome time for many. Maybe this will spawn a situation where the #2 search engine will continue to try harder and earn more share. Hope so.

  15. JP writes:

    Play with fire you’re gona get burned.

    There is a Google God and IT is watching.

    Prune all you want, but do you really expect to get back into places you never really belonged, in the first place?

    Tell me whats the point? Google’s furry little frozen friend for the most part NAILED IT! Bravo! What the heck took so long.

    Some people don’t get it, do they?

    And of course I am sure if there was a short cut to fix the problem the same people bit^$% would be all over it, only to find them selves out more $$$ when the Google Gods pay them a visit once again. I love it.

    Do no evil ~ Google.

  16. javid writes:

    Dear sir
    My name is Javid and I launched my site about 8 months ago. (www.apam.ir)
    We started with 30 articles in a day and we have 7thousands of them by now.
    Lately (about first of December) I have read in some websites and weblogs that if you make the tags No index you will obtain much better traffic from Google, so with Robot and No index tags I removed our tags.
    It was about December 20 that there were no tags from our site in Google anymore.
    Then about 2 days later our visit and ranking fell down suddenly.
    I also took a few photos that show our decline in visiting in December 25 and December 26.
    And there were no change in this situation for about one month,
    for instance we publish an article for the first time and after some hours the other websites which copied our article get a better ranking than us and apparently all of our input is from Google images.
    We faced a great fell in word searching either.
    Now here is the question, what can I do with this?
    Is it happened because of making No index all of the tags in my site?
    Is it happen because of Google Penguin?
    We had about 10 thousands tags that were removed from Google even though it is normal to have so many tags in Persian websites.
    I have sent a revised form but it is not answered yet.
    Some weblogs says Matt cutts recommended to launch a new site
    How if I set up a new domain and take a back up from my site there?
    What is your suggestion for me?
    If you need any more information please just let me know.
    I have find your blog from Google and looking forward for your answering.
    Here is some pictures from us in Google Webmaster Tools

    I added too our site name in all of titles of the articles.
    Our content were like this before:
    Title
    But I’ve changed it to:
    Article Title- Title of Site
    And 6-7thousands a more of these changes
    my droped trafick from google is Quarter or Third

    http://www.apam.ir/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/1.png
    http://www.apam.ir/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/2.png
    http://www.apam.ir/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/3.png
    http://www.apam.ir/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/4.png

    please help me
    Yours Sincerely

    Javid
    http://www.apam.ir

  17. Kenny writes:

    I for one was slapped by Google, my site was hit so hard that my pages don’t show up for keywords they themselves made. I notice links from site I didn’t post, which means webmasters are attacking my site with Google’s
    help. One site was on the second page for keyword “Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE”. Google likes to give exact matching domain a boost in ranking as we all know, but after someone posting links to my site from bad blogs, I no longer when show up. Google should understand that they have given a black hat like method to hurting sites with all these updates. I’m now trying my best to get things under control, but it’s not easy….

    Kenny

  18. Bryant writes:

    You mention here and in your followup in the newsletter that the site owner should communicate with Google. If this is an alogorithm change, how will communicating with Google help? And how do we communicate with them? Should we use the reconsideration report?

  19. Ernie Schwarcz writes:

    Virginia – I agree with those commentators who say it’s next to impossible to get rid of all those junk links – in many cases even of a fraction.

    We are SEO Consultants in Montreal ( http://www.seotrump.com ) and were approached for help by some new clients in and out of town, who had seen their SERP ranks plummet from Page 1 or 2 right into oblivion. Analysis of their sites yielded that there were literally hundreds, in one case thousands of LLs (Lousy Links) pointing back at them (with an accusing finger, so to speak). Do you really think that approaching those sites might lead anywhere? Firstly, the sheer quantity. Secondly, many of those junk partners are probably dead by now, clobbered by Pandas and Penguins; so where would you find them? Thirdly, those LL webmasters are most likely being inundated by link removal requests. A snowball’s chance in hell that they’ll even bother looking at those messages, never mind act on them. Also, many of those articles and links have been syndicated out by now to an even wider circle, further diluting chances that they can be realistically pinpointed and reigned in.

    Yes, it’s worth a try to at least decrease the junk, see if Google at least rewards the “offender” with a small ranking upswing, and take it from there. This is the avenue I am now taking to contain, and eventually fix, the new clients’damage. (Of course, we are also looking at other factors, especially content, internal linking, etc.)

    Yes, your idea to keep track of your attempts to get rid of those damaging links and document them to Google is good. But don’t bet on results. Google is not a vis-a-vis partner; it is, or mainly operates as, a rather impersonal robot, and it won’t bother with all those individual submissions which by now must have reached tens of thousands. (At least the Government replies, and departments can be reached individually …) Sure, Matt Cutts is very friendly but they have now assumed the function of some supra-national body, seems like.

    I hope I’m not coming across as too cynical.

    So, what to do? Unappetizing as it may sound, Cutts’ remark that sites which can’t see themselves getting rid of unwanted links should start afresh is pretty cynical; but in some, admittedly extreme cases, this might be the only choice.

    My blog is http://www.rankpass.com and readers are encouraged to visit.

  20. Virginia Nussey writes:

    As you say, reconsideration reports are for manual actions, which Penguin is not. I’d use the Penguin Feedback form https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dEVxdmdRWFJRTjRoLWZVTHZkaTBQbkE6MQ&ndplr=1 to show you’ve made a solid effort in removing low-quality links.

    In the Q&A keynote with Matt Cutts at SMX Advanced, Matt answered the question, “I can’t get all the bad links removed, what do I do?”

    He explained that Google is looking for a good effort to be made. They do this by taking a sampling of the bad links they know existed checking to see what percent of them are still in place. He said that if 90% have been removed, that’s good. Another question later asked, “If I can’t get rid of the bad links, can I get rid of the page?” Matt’s response again suggested “making the case” to Google that you’ve made an effort. I don’t know exactly how to reconcile the algorithmic nature of Penguin with asking Google to judge your effort to clean your backlinks, but that’s the recommendation straight from Matt Cutts. I absolutely appreciate your point, Bryant.

  21. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Ernie, you speak the truth. Starting over with a clean domain may be the best option in some cases, as Matt again conceded at SMX Advanced this week.

  22. derspawn writes:

    google penguin is the worst mistake google ever made, well not really but it is very messed up for unpopular sites to grow

  23. Eric From France writes:

    Negative SEO is forbidden by law in France. But I think it’s difficult to catch the Bad Seo Guy !

  24. jared writes:

    Getting other sites is not easy and it takes work. One thing that I have noticed that works is giving them some sort of incentive to remove them.

  25. moxy writes:

    I’d like to offer an alternate view of this situation. I’m a small-time blogger with just a few readers. Someone left a comment on my blog 2 years ago with a company website as their domain. This comment looked legit enough, so I approved it. I just recently got a mean little cease and desist email from said company, saying “cease using our link” on your “low-quality” site, as it’s “harmful to our marketing.”

    Obviously, said company paid for links at some point, and I basically got spammed. Now I’m getting rude and insulting emails from them asking that the link be removed. I’d advise SEO managers and webmasters to take a little responsibility for these links being all over. Maybe the template you create to request removal can simply say, “your site is not a fit for our brand” which is probably true enough.

    I can tell you, my first reaction to the rude letter from the company was that I should post that letter anywhere possible. Basically, your link mess is not my problem. I removed that link, but only because I didn’t want that company to get any traffic at all, much less from my “low-quality” site. But if I get one more of these rude letters, I’m going to shout to from the interweb rooftops!

  26. John A. writes:

    Thanks for the post Virginia! What a crazy time it is for SEO right now. Really makes me question everything, which maybe that’s the reason why this has been happening?

    Came across this post when doing a search for link removal services, I’m having a tough time deciding how to move forward.

    I found a few different services, two that are spoken highly of on the net and came across a post on Seroroundtable about them too.

    http://Linkdelete.com and then http://Removem.com – both seem good, I like the idea of removem but it seems that they are really just a tool to help manage the process? I am a business owner and don’t want to be removing the links myself. I have better things to focus on.

    So that leads me to Linkdelete.com. I’m wondering if you have experience with them? It seems that they do everything for you and will work with you on deciding which links to remove.

    I hired a bad seo company, well in hindsight, that built links on a lot of low quality link networks that got deindexed. Not to mention other bad links that I haven’t a clue where they came from.

    From the looks of it they will contact the sites, manage the whole process and give me a final report that gets sent to Google.

    So again, have you worked with these guys yet?

    Thanks,
    John

  27. Virginia Nussey writes:

    John, thanks for laying out this scenario. You’re not the only one in this boat and I’m glad for the chance to think this through on paper. There are a couple things to weigh before you choose your strategy moving forward.

    1. What’s the damage? Is your site in a position to be salvaged from a suspect link profile? If there are too many links involved, the domain may be burned beyond repair. It’s painful to acknowledge that your baby website can’t be saved, but there’s no use throwing money and resources at it if you’d be doing right by your business and yourself to invest that time and money into a new site.

    I spoke to one of my SEO colleagues here and he endorsed Removeem for link removal. He explained how it can save a lot of time, especially in the research stages. I just checked it out and the “how many links do you need removed” prediction can help you perform this first step, assessing the damage. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. A link removal project we performed had 62,000 bad links from a single domain. Obviously 62,000 is a lot. But since it was one webmaster we were dealing with, getting that many links removed in one feel swoop was a giant win that essentially rescued the domain from the penalty.

    On the other hand, we recently analyzed the penalties on a site that was one of about 25 in a link wheel of sites owned by one company. In this situation, the bad links are essentially under the company’s own control, which you’d think would make it easier to remedy. However, the company’s responsibility for creating and growing a link wheel probably won’t be overlooked. Our recommendation to this site was to scrap the domain and start fresh.

    2. If you decide to go ahead with link removal (vs. a new site) and you won’t be doing the project yourself (understandably) you have to weigh your service options. You’ve learned a hard lesson that hiring the wrong agency can bring more harm than good. Now it looks like you’ve been doing your homework on what’s involved in repairing the situation since you’re looking for a company that does all the things you mention: “contact the sites, manage the whole process and give me a final report that gets sent to Google.” Do that and you’ll be in the best position possible at this point. Good luck.



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