Google Link Penalties: The Steps Towards Recovery

By December 27, 2013SEO | Inbound Marketing

Businesses everywhere are getting hammered by the sanctions that Google is handing out regarding bad inbound links. These links come in all shapes and sizes and are the bane of business owners everywhere for several months following the Penguin 2.1 update. Businesses need these penalties removed before their revenue bleeds out, but doing so can often be expensive and burdensome.  However, it is realistic and possible to recoup.  In the following case study, I will outline a few important steps towards recovery.

To get a better idea of the chances for removal, we’re going to look at an array of penalties, from small to large, that Blue Tent tackled to determine what makes one penalty more severe than another, as well as try to find the threshold in which Google loses all forgiveness.

***Please note, Google and Bing have the final say on whether penalties are lifted and results cannnot be guaranteed.

What is a manual penalty?

For anyone who is unfamiliar with a manual link penalty, they derive from an old technique called “Link Farming,” where a business would pay a link farm to spam links to their domain on tens of thousands of duplicate, low quality, and often fake websites. The number of inbound links, regardless of the quality, used to help boost a website’s organic rankings. Now, links like these go against Google’s Quality Guidelines, and the search engine’s algorithm finds these fake links and flags an employee, who places a penalty (ranging in severity) on the affected domain.

Why is a manual penalty so difficult to get removed?

Between the jury-like process of begging for reconsideration, the immense amount of work required to remove and disavow the manipulative links, and the fact that Google Search has limited support, most people remain in the dark while trying to get link penalties removed.

3 Example Clients That Came to Blue Tent for Help

For the sake of comparison, we’re going to take 3 clients that approached us with penalties and match them side by side. For privacy purposes, we will refrain from identifying the companies, so we’ll refer to them by letter. The definitions of size are based off of the number of referring domains pointing to their site:

What we typically see is that the small and medium-sized link profiles are equal in representation. However, if you have more than 2,000 domains pointing to your site, there’s a very high chance that you reaped immense amounts of destruction while scouring the earth for every link you could get. For that reason, we’re just going to lump everyone else into the “Enormous” category.

With that said, let’s meet the clients:

Now that you have an idea of who the clients are, let’s delve into their misery a bit. First, we should note that these penalties are very severe and are causing (some of) these clients a great deal of stress. Link penalties have caused tens to hundreds of thousands in lost revenue for many companies, which is a good reason that penalty removal services are popping up.

Let’s take a look at the effects these penalties are causing. To start off, all three clients got the same exact message from Webmaster Tools:

This message is slight misleading as for most businesses, these penalties leave a path of unrelenting hellfire in their wake.

So the clients came to Blue Tent for help trying to get the penalty lifted. The first thing we did was assess the penalty. Below are their keyword profiles (how many keywords they rank in the top 20 for):

I should note that Client A is engaged in a recurring monthly SEO program with Blue Tent, which possibly negated some of the effects of the penalty. Client B and Client C were not on a recurring SEO plan with Blue Tent.

Here are how those keyword ranking drops translated to their organic traffic:

As you can see, Client A wasn’t affected, while Client B randomly tanked and Client C slowly bled out. The main correlation we can really make from this is that the very small penalties, such as the one Client A had, don’t seem to affect the businesses much, if at all. But it certainly could cause issues down the road.

Client C did lose 97.5% of their keyword profile, so the remaining traffic is pretty much 100% branded (people searching their company name).

That being said, the severity of the penalty seems to directly scale with the number of “spammy” domains pointing to your site. Which makes sense.

Except that nothing Google does ever seems to make sense, so in that regard it doesn’t make sense at all.

Also, if the penalty is large enough, it seems to “tick” multiple times. We’ve seen this across several of our clients, both algorithmic and manual, as well as prospective clients that we’ve assessed. You can see this in the graphics for Client C.

So, the penalty is there. The damage is there. How do you get one of these pesky things removed?

Well, in order to avoid this case study exceeding the 100 quintillion page mark, we’ll simplify it into a beautifully crafted flow chart:

Shown Above: Proof that I’m a descendent of Michelangelo.

 

Arguably, the most crucial part of this process is gathering the links. There seems to be a link threshold that you have to meet in terms of removal. I’m sure anyone who has ever done these projects has seen this message:

If you don’t have enough links removed by webmasters or disavowed, you will get this message without a doubt. It’s hard to get a read on what the actual percentage of domains that need to be disavowed is, since our disavow lists are vastly different (we usually get paid tools after receiving a rejection notice like this). We also don’t know whether we actually got all of the links, even when the penalty gets removed.

For Client B, they ended with 1,548 Disavowed Domains. The previous Disavow (before we acquired paid tools to help), had 1,058. Assuming that we disavowed 100% of links at the end (a bold assumption), we can assume that 68% of links found is not enough to meet the threshold.

While we can’t come to any further conclusions, we would guess that the disavow threshold sits between 85-90% based on the feel of doing these repeatedly.

Regardless, gathering the links is the most important part. We have several tools including Analytics Filtered Reports and self-made excel spreadsheets to gather the links, but there are also several paid tools, the best being Link Detox from our experience.

After that, we have to visit every site and make a decision on whether we want the link removed as well as gather contact information for the webmaster. Meanwhile, we document all our efforts, submit the text-only disavow file to Google Webmaster Tools, submit the reconsideration and pray we didn’t get a virus from visiting the dark corners of the internet.

So the long process in which we were bombarded by virus-laden pages is finally over! Everyone involved has a few more gray hairs, but the reconsideration is out the window. It’s such a great reconsideration, Google HAS to accept it. Or at least read it… right?

If you suspect that your website might have been penalized, I’d be glad to conduct a free assessment for you. Just shoot an email to mckey@bluetent.com and we’ll send a quick assessment within 48 hours!

Any penalty can be removed regardless of size or severity, but it might require a lengthy process to get it right.

***Please note, Google and Bing have the final say on whether penalties are lifted and results cannnot be guaranteed.

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