If you’re a webmaster or a SEO professional, you’re probably all too familiar with Google’s various updates and their impact on the Internet. Even beyond the scope of these updates, websites are being penalized more frequently than ever, particularly for “unnatural links”. Let’s take a look at some common link penalties imposed by Google; in this article we’ll explore how to diagnose these penalties, and fix the problems that caused them in the first place.
What Is A Link Penalty?
A Google link penalty is a punishment that Google can impose on a site, if they suspect that the site is manipulating search engine results through various types of link schemes such as link networks or paid links. Unlike the algorithmic Penguin and Panda updates, these are manual penalties, imposed by an individual.
It’s not clear exactly how Google selects its targets for this particular type of penalty. If someone files a spam report against you, that action is likely to trigger a manual review by Google. There are rumours that Google targets certain niches notorious for black-hat activity, such as casino sites, and manually checks websites in that category for unnatural links. Ultimately, nobody really knows how Google checks for link penalties.
How to Tell If You Have a Link Penalty?
Unlike the penalties imposed by algorithmic updates, unnatural link penalties should be fairly easy to diagnose. If you were using Google Webmaster Tools at the time you lost your ranking, you most likely received a detailed message from Google explaining that you were being penalized for unnatural links. What if you didn’t have the Webmaster Tools set up when you were hit? Simply authorise your site in Google Webmaster Tools and the messages should appear within a few hours. Alternatively you can submit a reconsideration request to the web spam team and they will inform you if there are any manual penalties.
How to Clean Up a Link Penalty?
If you’ve received a warning about a Google link penalty, it’s best to take action as soon as you can. The first step in your action plan should be a link audit, using data obtained from multiple sources: Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, Google Webmaster Tools, and Ahrefs are all reliable sources of link data.
Once you’ve got your hands on some link data, it’s time to analyze it. Reviewing every single link is probably not even possible; instead, focus your energy on looking for over-optimized keywords. OSE provides helpful information on keywords that have been overused. You also want to direct your efforts toward site-wide links; identifying and trying to get rid of these will give you maximum bang for your buck. Ahrefs is useful for letting you know which of your links are site-wide.
Now that you’ve targeted which links you need to clean up, how do you go about getting them removed? Here are a few effective steps:
1. Remove Bad Links That You Control
If you created any sites or networks for the sake of link-building, it’s imperative to take those sites down immediately. Any links you added to online directories should also be removed, if you have control over them.
2. Remove the Linked Page Itself
If you don’t have control of the pages containing the links, why not just remove the page being linked to? Obviously, this is not a solution for your site’s homepage; however, if you have identified pages whose rankings were based entirely on unnatural links, you can have the URL return a 404.
3. Reach Out to Webmasters to Have Links Removed
For any other links pointing to your site that haven’t already been removed or handled, you’ll need to contact the webmasters of the sites where the links are found. Clearly, you can’t ensure that every webmaster will take action based on your email; however, you can increase your chances of success by providing webmasters with exact URLs of pages that contain the bad links. Anything that makes the webmasters’ job a bit easier will make it more likely that the task will be completed.
4. Links in Scraped Content
If you find that the low quality links pointing to your site are from spammy scraper websites, which have syndicated your RSS feed, then you can have the content removed from their with a DMCA request to the website hosting the site. I prefer to use whoishostingthis.com to find the host of the content concerned and file a DMCA request highlighting that I am the original source of the content. It usually takes a few days for the infringing content to be removed, but I have seen web hosts take action within a few hours.
5. Disavow Links
As a last resort, you can use the Google Disavow Links Tool. When use submit a “disavow” request using this tool, you’re basically asking Google to ignore certain links, and not use them in link counting and analysis. Although the Disavow Links Tool is useful, it should only be used in conjunction with other methods described above; Google doesn’t look kindly on reconsideration requests where the only action taken was disavowing of links. There are Paid Tools such as Link Risk which will help you identify which links are low quality and create a disavow file.
If you find yourself hit with a Google link penalty, don’t panic. Most webmasters in this situation have reported that you don’t need to track down every single unnatural link pointing to your site. If you follow the steps outlined in this article, and you can show that you made a genuine effort to remove as many bad links as possible, your reconsideration request should be accepted.[divider_1px] Author's Google+