Over the last few years, Google has changed its approach to ranking websites, taking a harder stance on those that carry out unethical link building tactics. Some of the SEO techniques that may have worked well for you in the past may now be classed as high risk. These high risk techniques can cause you to lose your site ranking on Google, which will ultimately lead to a loss in traffic and have a detrimental effect on your profits.
In February 2011, Google introduced its Panda algorithm in an attempt to weed out low quality sites from its search results. This was followed up with a release of the Penguin algorithm in April 2012, which aimed to target websites practicing unethical and unnatural back-linking. Since then, many sites have been hit with link penalty warnings, due to the fact they have unnatural links pointing to their website. Although receiving a penalty is something that all web masters dread, at least it means you now have a reason for your loss in traffic and can act upon it.
The problem is that many web masters have little knowledge of their SEO practices, as it is something which is commonly outsourced to third party companies. Whilst many SEO agencies are reputable, unfortunately there are still some out there that practice unethical link building. Those clueless about their sites SEO are often left panicking over why they have received a penalty and how they can go about amending the issue. In this article we aim to explain the reasons why you may receive a penalty link and the ways you can remove it.
Links that point towards your website pass page rank and count towards your sites SEO. Image source
What are unnatural links?
It is fair to say that an unnatural link may be classed as a number of different things. For example it could be a spam link that has been left in a comment on a blog post. If you have a number of spammy links in blog posts pointing back to your website, it may result in you receiving a link penalty. This may also be the case if you have over optimised keyword rich links, for example if you have left a link on numerous sites linking the words ‘Digital Marketing Shropshire’ back to your website, it may be classed as a spam link.
Paid links are also classed as unnatural links. If you have paid a number of web masters and bloggers to link to your site in their content and have not requested for them to be marked as ‘rel=nofollow’ then they may be picked up by Google and you may be penalised. Paid links go against Google’s SEO guidelines as they obscure natural search results, making websites rank higher when they haven’t earn their place honestly.
Another reason a link may be classed as unnatural is if it has been placed on a poor quality website. This may be a fake website, a website with low quality content or a website that is simply irrelevant to your site.
Since the Google penguin penalty came about, the majority of web masters and SEO companies have changed their approach to link building in order to keep on the right site of Google. However, even if you are practicing white hat SEO techniques now, if you used paid link schemes in the past, you may still face a link penalty as more often than not, historical links are the cause of ranking problems.
How do you know if you have unnatural links to your site?
Most webmasters find out that they have unnatural links pointing to their site when Google hands them their penalty. If you find that you have a message in your Google Webmaster Tools that is titled ‘notice of detected unnatural links to’ and then your site name, you have been caught out by Google. The message will explain that Google believes you have spam or poor quality links pointing to your website.
Basically it means that Google’s whole opinion of your website has changed. The unnatural links suggest you have gone against their rules and they have consequently lost trust in your site. A lack of trust in your website will of course result in a drop in rankings, which will ultimately lead to a loss in traffic.
Why Google cares about unnatural links
If you were wondering why Google is so bothered about unnatural links, then you need to think about the purpose of a search engine. It is Google’s job to provide its users with the best links for their searches. If your site is ranking well because of unnatural links, it is more likely to be unable to offer users what they were expecting when landing on your site and you will be affecting their experience.
Google takes user experience very seriously, which is why it created Panda and Penguin to identify websites with unnatural links and punish them. By weeding out the bad from the good, Google can create a better overall user experience.
The penguin algorithm was created by Google to help tackle sites with unnatural backlinks. Image source
What is a penalty?
It is best to think of a penalty as a mark against your site. Just like you would have a mark on your credit report if you missed a repayment, affecting your ability to be accepted for future credit, a mark against your website will affect your website from being able to rank well in searches, unless action is taken.
If you receive a Google panda penalty or penguin link penalty, it is likely to have an effect on your sites organic traffic levels. The fewer people landing on your site, the less chance you have to make conversions, which if you are an e-commerce website is likely to result in a loss in profit.
How to remove a penalty link
Before we go on to explain how to remove bad backlinks, we must first explain that it is a time consuming and trying process. The fact is though, that there is no other way to go about it. You need to put the work in if you expect Google to reconsider your site and stand a chance at regaining your previous rankings.
Step 1: Access the list of links in your Google Webmaster Tools and download them. Image source
The first step is to download a list of the sites linking to your website. You can access this list in Google Webmaster Tools, as well as websites like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs and Majestic SEO. It is worth noting that aside from Google Webmaster Tools, you may need a subscription to access the list on the other sites mentioned.
Whilst there are many tools which claim to help you identify and get rid of bad backlinks, the best way to go about the process is to go through them manually. Refer back to the ‘what are unnatural links’ paragraph to refresh your memory and help you identify problematic links. If you are really unsure, it is recommended that you get in touch with a reputable agency like our good selves!
After identifying the unnatural links pointing to your site, you will need to send polite requests to the webmasters asking them to remove your links. Image source
The next step is to contact the web masters of the sites which contain what you believe to be unnatural links pointing to your website. There are a number of ways to find out the contact details of a webmaster. The first is to look on their website or blog. If you cannot find the information here, you may be able to do a whois search on their websites domain name, which will bring up the information you need, unless they have paid to keep it private.
Once you have gathered the contact information, you will need to send them a polite email asking them to remove your link from their site. If it is a paid link you have bought, you can ask them to add a “rel=nofollow” attribute. Keep the email short and concise, explaining the situation and what you would like them to do. Remember, they are doing you a favour, so apologise for the inconvenience and avoid threatening them at all costs! It is equally as important not to slate Google in your emails, as you will be copying your emails into your documentation for reconsideration, which we will go on to explain later.
If you do not hear from the webmaster after a week, send them a follow up email. If you still do not receive a reply, try another method, for example contacting them privately on a social media site like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Your aim is to try and get as many links removed as possible. Try to be as polite as possible as this will hopefully deter web masters from wanting to charge you to have your links removed. Again, if at all in doubt, get in touch with a professional SEO agency.
Want Google to take your reconsideration request seriously? Provide them with a fully documented account of how you have gone about removing the unnatural links from your backlink profile. Image source
How to get reconsidered by Google
Once you believe that you have removed as many unnatural links as you possibly can, it will be time to submit your reconsideration request to Google. In order for your request to stand a chance at being successful, documentation is essential. In other words, you will need to be able to prove that you have tried to clean up your website and are sorry for your previous actions.
The best way to document your link removal actions is by creating a spreadsheet on Google Docs. We recommend creating your documentation in Google Docs as it is a Google product which the search engine will obviously trust. The spreadsheet should contain a list of your links, which you can mark whether they are natural (and therefore good links) or unnatural links which you have had removed. You may also include the contact information of the web masters you have contacted, along with the emails you have sent them. By including the emails, you can show Google that you have been proactive in having the links removed and are serious about getting your site back on track.
It is also a good idea to explain to Google what you have done in the past to cause the unnatural links and the fact that you will not be doing it again. Keep in mind that your reconsideration may be rejected a couple of times before it is accepted. Some people claim that Google does not manually review requests until they have been submitted for a third time. The more effort you make, the more likely Google is to reconsider your website.
Within your documentation explain to Google that you have removed the paid links and will not be acquiring paid follow links to your site in the future. Image source
Using the Google Disavow tool
We have left this until last, as according to Google this tool should be seen as a last resort. You must not use the Google Disavow tool unless you have already attempted to contact web masters and have links removed manually first. Google Disavow is a tool that you can submit links to in order to inform Google that you would like them to ignore the sites when ranking your website. It is important to take care when disavowing links, as you do not want to disavow links that are high quality as this will have a detrimental effect on your sites ranking too.
If you have received a link penalty from Google, as a result of a back-linking campaign conducted by yourself or on your behalf by an SEO agency, you will need to take action in order to have the penalty removed. Whilst this will take time and effort, it will be worth it, as you will stand a chance at regaining your ranking and achieving the high levels of traffic you did prior to the penalty. If at all in doubt about how to remove bad inbound links, it is highly recommended that you get in touch with a professional and reputable SEO agency, like the team here at Online Media Direct.