How to Recover From Any Google Penalty

For most online businesses, search engine traffic is very important, but achieving high rankings in Google is not as easy as it used to be. Therefore, many SEOs and marketers are pushing the link-building process to the limit. As a result, many websites are being penalized for violating Google’s guidelines.

According to Matt Cutts, over 400,000 manual actions are being initiated every month by Google. That’s not all. Numerous other websites are being penalized by algorithmic updates such as Penguin and Panda. What’s interesting is that only about 20,000 webmasters are submitting a reconsideration request every month. So, this means that only 5% of the websites that have been penalized are trying to recover their rankings.

Do you own a website that has received a manual or algorithmic penalty? Don’t throw in the towel just yet because I’m going to show you how to recover your lost rankings and traffic.

Why You’ve Been Penalized

If you suddenly see a traffic drop, you’ll have to find out what caused it. There are two main penalties you can get. The first one is a manual action from Google’s spam team, and the second one is an algorithmic penalty.

1. Manual Action – To find out if your website was penalized by a manual action, go to Google Webmaster Tools and check to see if you have any new notifications. Below you can see an example of an “unnatural links” message:

Google Webmaster Tools unnatural links message

If you have no warning messages on GWT, dig deeper to find the cause of your traffic drop.

2. Algorithmic Penalty – To identify what type of algorithmic penalty your website has, you will have to correlate the time period when you lost traffic with the date when a new algorithmic update occurred. For this, you can check Google Algorithm Change History.

To stay up to date with all of the latest changes to Google’s search algorithm, do the following:

The most popular algorithmic updates are Panda, which is focused on content quality, and Penguin, which is focused on backlinks and anchor text distribution.

Backlinks That Are Bad for Your Website

Low-quality links can get your website penalized. These types of backlinks can be a potential threat to your rankings:

  • Websites that are penalized or banned from Google – If you have backlinks from websites that are violating Google’s guidelines, you will have to remove them. You can easily check if a website is de-indexed from Google by doing a simple search like: “site:mywebsite.com.”
  • Websites with duplicate content – They usually are of low quality, and you should avoid having links from such websites.
  • Websites unrelated to your niche – Google gives a lot of value to relevancy. Having links from sites that are completely unrelated to your website can raise a red flag. For instance, if you own an online baby store, it would make no sense to have links from a fishing website.
  • Spammy comments and forum profiles – Everyone hates spammers, including Google. Comments or forum posts that are left only for the purpose of placing a link will get your website penalized.
  • Websites with thin content – Backlinks from directories or social bookmarking websites are of low quality.
  • Site-wide backlinks – Avoid having links from sidebars, footers, or widgets.
  • Advertorials – Google is against sponsored content that is passing PageRank. If you want to promote your services on a blog, use a nofollow attribute for your links to keep your rankings safe.
  • Hidden text – Don’t hide text or links from users using CSS.
  • Links from adult or gambling websites.
  • Other links and methods that are violations of Google’s guidelines: cloaking, sneaky redirects, doorway pages, hacking, link schemes, automatically generated content, and irrelevant content and keywords.

Over 95% of all Google penalties are related to your website’s backlink profile. If you have too many low-quality backlinks, you will end up losing your rankings in Google.

If you have a penalized website and you want to learn more about bad backlinks, it’s crucial to read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

How to Recover Your Rankings

Whether we are talking about a manual or algorithmic penalty, you will have to analyze your website’s backlinks and identify the ones that caused your rankings to drop.

Once you identify the links, try to remove them, and disavow the ones that you cannot delete. Without any further ado, let me show you how I do all of this:

Find All of Your Backlinks

To start, go to Google Webmaster Tools and download all of the backlinks recognized by Google.

In the left menu, click on “Search Traffic” and select “Links to Your Site”:

Google Webmaster Tools links to your site

From the module “Who links the most,” click on “More” to see all of the backlinks. To export all of your backlinks, click on “Download latest links”:

Google Webmaster Tools export links

Now, you can import all of the backlinks from Google Webmaster to your favorite SEO tool, and get more insights and SEO metrics for your links. You can use any tool you like and are familiar with. However, try to avoid using tools that promise to automatically identify low-quality backlinks, because you might end up disavowing some of your best backlinks.

Identify the Bad Backlinks

My favorite tool is called Monitor Backlinks. I am going to show you how I use it to identify the bad backlinks on my websites. After connecting with my Google Analytics account and importing my links from Google Webmaster Tools, I can see all of the backlinks on my website.

The very first things to look for are the backlinks that are dofollow. These are the links that are passing PageRank, and Matt Cutts has clearly said that they ignore the backlinks with a nofollow attribute.

From the right side of Monitor Backlinks, click on the thumbs up icon to view all of your dofollow backlinks:

links considered by Google

I’ll concentrate on the 199 backlinks that are dofollow and influence my rankings in Google. To identify the low-quality ones, I first will look at the links that have over 100 external backlinks per page. For this, you have to click on “Filters” and select “External”:

external backlinks

In the last column, you can see the exact number of external links each page has:

high external backlinks

Now, you have to manually verify each or these backlinks, and identify the bad ones. Most of the time, such backlinks are coming from blog comments. Let me show you some real examples of low-quality backlinks with a high number of external links.

One of the links pointing to my website looks like this:

example website with lots of backlinks

This is followed by a comments module with hundreds of spam links:

example of spammy backlinks

This website has all the ingredients of a low-quality website that I don’t want to be associated with because:

  • It’s unrelated to my website.
  • It has very thin content.
  • It has hundreds of external backlinks coming from auto-approved blog comments.

Here’s another example of a website that has no value:

example of another website that has no value

This website is just a list with thousands of dofollow backlinks. It provides no value to the user, and it makes no sense to have a link to my website here. I should try to remove or disavow this link.

So, this is what you can find when you sort your links by the number of external backlinks. To find other bad links, you can verify all of your backlinks that have a domain PageRank of zero. To see these links, from Monitor Backlinks, click on “Filters,” then select “PageRank,” and then select “Domain – 0”:

wesbites with pagerank 0

Once again, verify these backlinks manually and decide which ones are not related to your website and might hurt your rankings.

After analyzing these websites, you can set a new filter, and check your backlinks by their website’s domain extension. Why? Because relevancy is the key. For instance, if you have a website written in German, most of your backlinks should come from websites with the extension .de. Think logically, why would a German website have backlinks from websites written in Korean, Chinese, or Russian? To view your backlinks by their domain extension, click on “Filters” and then on “ccTLD”:

filter by ccTLD

If your website has suffered from a Google Penguin update, you will have to look at your anchor text distribution. This update penalizes websites that have over-optimized their money keywords. There is no secret percentage to keep your website safe, but try to make it as natural as possible.

If anyone is going to link to you, most of the time, they will use your website’s name or URL. So, if you have hundreds of backlinks using your money keywords as anchor texts, you can either contact the webmasters to request that they change your anchor text or remove your links.

Request Removal of the Bad Links

When you are certain that a link is hurting your Google rankings, try to remove it. Here’s how you can do this in four easy steps:

1. Create an email with your request to remove a link.

To increase your chances of having your link removed, all of the requests should follow these basic rules:

  • Be polite and don’t threaten the webmaster.
  • Use your company’s email address instead of a free email provider. For instance, you should use felix@mywebsite.com instead of felix@gmail.com. This is how you prove to the webmaster that you own the website.
  • Don’t use silly words like “Dear webmaster” or “Dear business owner.” Find the website owner’s name, and personalize each request you send.
  • Be as specific as possible. You are requesting someone’s time to help you with something. Make it easy for them to understand where your link is located.
  • Don’t spam the site owner with emails. You might end up having your email reported as spam. One request is enough.

This is an example of how a correct request should look:

letter to site owner

2. Keep track of your email requests.

As I said above, all requests must be sent from your website’s email address. It’s important to keep track of your requests and see who has opened your emails. For this, you can use Signals by HubSpot. But before you do this, you must forward all of your company’s emails to Gmail. Here’s how to do this:

Go to your Cpanel or web hosting control panel, and from the “Mail” section, click on “Forwarders”:

cpanel forwarders

On the next page, click on “Add forwarder.” Select your company’s email address and your Gmail account where you want to forward all of your emails:

add forwarder in gmail

Now, all of the emails that will be sent to your company’s name also will be sent to your Gmail account. To send emails from Gmail using your website’s email address, go to Gmail Settings and click on “Accounts and Import.” From this page, click on “Add another email address you own”:

add new email

You will be requested to enter your website’s email address and also your name. Click on “Next step,” and check the code you received via email. Enter the code, and click Finish. You will be able to send emails using your website’s address, right from Gmail.

The next step is to install the Signals Chrome extension. This plugin will give you a notification each time someone opens one of your emails. Here’s how to activate it and send an email.

From your “new message” box, at the top, select from which email address you want to send your email. At the bottom, click on the right button to activate Signals:

send mail

How will this help you with your link removal requests? You’ll know who read your email and who is ignoring your request. Allow one week for a reply.

3. Find the webmaster’s contact details.

Most websites have a “Contact us” or “About us” page where you can find the owner’s name and email address. However, there are cases when these pages are missing, and it’s more complicated to find the contact details.

If you encounter such problems, you can use Whois.com to find their email address. Simply type the website whose contact you are trying to find, and check for: “Administrative Contact Email.”

4. Send your personalized requests to remove the bad links on your website. These are some possible scenarios:

  • Your link will be removed.
  • Your email will be ignored. In this case, you will have to disavow the entire domain. I’ll show you how in just a bit.
  • The webmaster will request money to remove the link. In this case, you should not pay anything, and disavow the domain.

Disavow the Remaining Bad Links

It’s important to remove all of the backlinks you can before creating a disavow report. Then, this is how you can easily create a disavow report:

Going back to Monitor Backlinks, from the backlinks page, on each link’s row, you have a settings button on the right. Click on that button and add tags to all of the links you could not delete. You can use a simple tag like “disavow.”

To see a list with all of the backlinks you have tagged, go to Filters, click on “Tags” and select “Disavow”:

disavow

Now, you can easily create a disavow report that you can submit to Disavow Links Tool. For this, click on “With all” and select “Export (Disavow Format)”:

export disavowed links

When you are ready to submit the report, you will have to upload your file to Google Disavow:

disavow links

It usually takes 2-4 weeks for the report to be processed, and then you should start to see a difference in your rankings.

Final Words

Whether you have built some bad backlinks to your website or someone has used negative SEO against you, getting rid of a Google penalty is doable. Numerous websites have recovered from all types of penalties.

The key to removing any Google penalty is to understand what caused it. This is why it’s very important to read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Once you identify the reason for your penalty, you have to remove the backlinks that led to your rankings drop and disavow the ones you cannot remove. Download all of the backlinks from Google Webmaster Tools, and use your favorite SEO tool to get more insights about your links.

Have you ever been penalized by a manual penalty or an algorithmic update? I would love to read your comments.

About the Author: Felix is an online marketer with over 7 years of experience. Follow him on Google Plus or on Twitter, for similar articles.

  1. Great article but the title is not really accurate. You are talking here only about how to recover from penalties caused by bad backlinks. How about recovering from a Panda penalty?

    • Thanks Sorina. Yes, I have mostly talked about Penguin and manual penalties, because those are the most popular ones.

    • Link penalties are typically Penguin issues. Panda issues are content related. This has to do with duplicate content and low quality content. In this case you would want to either remove the low quality/duplicate content or fix it.

  2. First of all thanks for putting this epic article Felix, it was really useful.

    One of our client has suffered ranking drop from late last year, but they do get good number of users to site still. We registered them with top level local directories with followed links pointing to their site using both money terms & website name

    Do you think that would have affected the rankings? At the same time people do recommended to list businesses in top level directories for citation reasons.

    What do you think about this and directory links in general? should I remove those listings or change the “Anchor Text” if it has money term. Is there a source which lists the directories which does not violate Google’s guidelines. Thanks!

    • Hello Karthik,

      According to Google, any link that you build is against their Webmaster policy.

      Talking about directories, I recommend you not to use “money anchor texts”.

      Create a diversity of links, not just directories, because the last thing you would want is to leave footprints.

  3. A nice and thorough article indeed. I would submit, however, that contacting webmasters to remove links is a pure waste of time in 99% of the cases. So the request removal bit is kind of not useful.

    Alos, algorithmic penalties are by far the most prevalent type and at the same time – the hardest to judge and determine properly. This tool is a great helper, but I don’t see it mentioned: http://goo.gl/lBZhGe .

    Cheers

    • I will have to disagree with you. Google recommends webmasters to remove all the bad backlinks, and disavow the ones that they could not delete.

    • Hey Geo,
      We have restored this comment. Sorry about the deletion earlier.

    • It all depends on the type of links you have. If someone spammed your site with backlinks from auto approved blogs than yes, the respond from the webmasters having your link on their website probably is going to be very low. However when I was doing link removal for one of the sites where there was no negative SEO involved I got good rate of response. It was the website owner who created all the links (they were mostly from low quality directories) more than 50% of the webmasters who I emailed to responded by removing the link. The site gained most of its ranking in 3 months after spammy links were removed. It was tedious work but it did pay off.

  4. Yes, we have no disagreement here. Google does indeed recommend that.

    I’m just saying that if you ask pretty much everyone who attempted to do so by writing to webmasters, for their success rate, you’ll get some very empty eyes in return :-) At least that’s my experience, I’ve not attempted to do it myself.

    Here is why: webmasters who care are already fed up with the amount of such e-mail that they receieve, and, furthermore, have no insentive to remove your link if they put it there on their own. Quite the contrary is true.

    On the side, the ones who will most likely respond are those who would be looking for some “compensation” for removing your link. Google has created a whole new industry with the Pengiun update and the removal of the “not guilty” premise. Now people are doing negative SEO all around and sites try and extort business owners for removing their links (that they didn’t ask for at all).

    • Geo, I agree that it definitely is a tough balancing act. Nothing worth having comes easy though. You’ll find that once you have the process down you’ll never look back :)

      • Hi Neil,

        Kinda strange to see a reply to a non-existing comment. If you moderators decided my first comment was no worthy of staying here (although Felix did reply to it, so I guess it added some value to the discussion…), they should have removed my second one as well. Now it seems like I’m talking to myself :-)

        Aside from that – yes, it’s a balancing act, but at least for me there is no question where the plate tilts towards.

        Cheers

      • Geo, apologies the comment has been restored. Sometimes things go into spam or there is a mis-click. We value your feedback and look forward to hearing more from you :)

  5. Worthy post. It will help alotusers which have got warning from google and can’t understand that what to do. First of all I want to mention that people who don’t submit their site for overcome from penalty most of them are not very familier with SEO and this process, so when they got penalize they think that it’s over now and they left. But they should search about things that how can they get out from penalty and effective ways for backlinking and online marketing. Thanks for sharing such useful post…..:-)

  6. I think that It is an amezing post which you share with us. I am very thankful to you to give me a chance to learn “How to Recover Form Any Google Penalty.”

  7. A good solid article – but a misleading article title. Cure any illness! Beat any cancer with our special ingredient…

  8. Great post Felix – very thorough and informative. I wanted to ask, what sort of success rate do you see on average with your outreach process?

    • Thanks Derek! My success rate is very different from case to case. When I try to remove or change a link from a guest post, I get a great response rate.

      However, when I am doing the same outreach to remove a link from a web directory, the response rate is very low.

      The rule is simple. If you can’t remove a link, disavow it.

  9. Thanks for the great article and the introduced tools!
    What I don’t understand is, why is it on a link audit important to manually delete the bad backlinks? After a Google Penalty it would be much easier just using the Google Disavow tool?

    • Thanks Marc! The disavow tool must be used with cautious, especially by those that have little experience with SEO.

      Better remove the links that are hurting your rankings and reputation, before disavowing them.

    • Marc, it pinpoints what links are bad and it’s good to keep a running inventory of things (much like a business)

  10. Analyzing the backlink profile and doing an indepth content audit will help give an idea about the SEO status of the website. And most of the issues with search engines can be avoided if we maintain a good quality site and a neat backlink profile.

    Thanks for the nice tips!

  11. I was searching for this info since last week. Thank you so much felix! I love the way you have presented the article along with graphics. It made it more meaningful.

  12. Awesome post Felix. Now it’s time to get rid spammy links

  13. Dear Felix, thanks a lot for this complete tutorial on how to lift Google penalties. I will have a look on the analysis tool that you mention here. So far, I have been using Link Detox from LinkResearchTool and could achieve awesome results. However, this tool is quite expensive compared to other similar tools. As a tool for managing my backlink removal campaigns and for keeping track of my emails I would suggest rmoov. All the best, guys!

    • Joe, thanks for the suggestion. We look forward to hearing more from you :)

    • Good point Joe, Rmoov is the best tool for semi automating link removal.

      Just another quick comment, it is very rare that you can remove a Google Manual Action for Links (link penalty) just using one link source. The technique which we have developed at WMG uses multiple link sources to get the full picture. I would strongly recommend (after removing well over a 100 penalties) is to;

      Keep your link data set as big as possible
      Don’t delete any link data
      Constantly update your link data when you’re removing links & waiting for reconsideration requests
      Always review domains/link manually. Automated tools are not accurate…

  14. Chloé Hamel de Monchenault May 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Felix,

    This article is one of the best I’ve read on the subject, thanks a lot it was very helpful. However, there are a lot of articles on the web about what NOT to do, but very little about what we can ACTUALLY do to get better Page Rank and improve SEO. A few years ago it was very clear what we were supposed to do to get better ranking: backlinks, anchor text, content (any kind of content really, it wasn’t a question at the time), etc. Today, everything we used to know seems to be prohibited. For example: you say we should put a no-follow on a link coming from a blog. In that case, how do we increase page rank? I work in a start-up, and due to our young age, the webpage currently has page rank 0. Do I just have to wait it out and hope it works? Please write an article on how to improve Page Rank legally/organically, it would really help us little companies out.
    Thanks so much for everything and keep it up!

    • Hello Chloe,

      Thanks for your kind words. I am often asked, how can I increase my website’s rankings? My answer is always simple…Check what works best for your competitors that rank on the first results in Google.

      So, if a website ranks on top 3 results, it means that they are getting the right links, Google loves. Simply replicate their strategy and you’ll rank higher.

  15. Great post indeed, I believe this is for Penguin penalty. Can you post about recovering from Panda. Thanks a lot..

  16. Thanks for your guide line. I had follow all your steps in Google webmaster until I reach the tab “links to your site”. In my google webmaster it shows “no data”. In this case how am I going to check on the total link that link to my website? Can you advice? Thanks.

  17. OMG! When this happens to your online business this can have severe repercussions. Out of the blue one of my sites crashed from position 2 page 1 Google to the back of beyond. This meant orders went from healthly to zero overnight. It took a good six months to get back on track. My advice use an experienced professional for your seo and monitor all backlinks carefully. Golden rule, do a little seo work often and not in big chunks with long gaps inbetween work.

  18. Thanks for the article. My site has suffered a little, and I think it’s been because of over optimising my anchor text. I’ve been following a similar process using scrapebox, but have had no response from emails so I’ve been using the disavow tool.

    Fingers crossed for some recovery…

    • Rob, please keep us posted on your progress. We look forward to hearing from you :)

    • Good luck with that Rob. if your website has been penalized for over optimizing your anchor texts, try to build some links using your website’s name…and removed the low quality ones that are using your money keywords.

  19. Krish, glad we could help. Thanks for reading and providing such great feedback :)

  20. About removing bad links, did anyone have a good experience with it? Seems like most webmaster simply ignore these kind of emails…

    • Hey Jim,

      It depends what type of links you are trying to remove. Yes, that’s true that most webmasters will ignore your emails, but if you manage to remove 10 links out of 100, that’s better than nothing.

      And as I said in the article, disavow the ones that you could not remove.

      Thanks

  21. Thanks for your guidelines, may came in handy sometime :-) And very, very useful informations. Thanks again!

  22. Thanks a lot. A very helpful article. Links are important but sometimes links are poisonous.

  23. Apeksha Khanna May 25, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Good Solid Article Felix. Its not easy to recover from the Penalties of Big G but thankfully there are people like you who are happy to help and guide. It improved my knowledge about Backlinks. Thanks

  24. Frank Ferguson May 30, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Thanks for the article. Very straight forward and easy to follow.

    My website was severely penalized on July 11th 2013. Previously we ranked in the top ten for main keywords for nearly ten years. When looking at the Google Algorithm Change History the only thing that really lines up is the multi-week update after the 4th of July 2013 and I can’t find any information about it. So I’m not sure exactly what the problem is. (frustrating)

    I never made any back links. Matt Cutts has suggested that Google is very good at determining spammy back links from fungus such as scraper directories and that someone who is not participating in poor back link practices has nothing to worry about. However, not knowing what my penalty is, I went through my back link profile. I found a few problems. One forum website in particular put a site wide link to us for supplies. This amounted to over 7000 back links and was a huge red flag. I contacted the website owner who was a very nice lady who took the link down immediately. I also disavowed her domain on top of that. Your article states to try and remove the links first and to disavow only the links that are not removed. I would suggest that if it is necessary to remove a back link that you did not create, disavow it as well, as a precaution. This prevents a problem arising if the website was to put the link back up. For instance, if ownership changes hands, the new owner may want to add my link not knowing the previous history.

    Your article suggest that after cleaning up your back links your ranking can improve after two to four weeks. (my organic traffic is still declining) I personally have been waiting for a penguin refresh to happen. It would seem many of the most prominent seo professionals are also awaiting a penguin refresh to see if their fixes have been effective. Seems to be bit of a gray area so I still don’t know if I have fixed the problem.

    We had some canonical and duplicate title tag issues, plus a little keyword stuffing that has all been fixed. Alas, didn’t see any change after Panda updated.

    I enjoyed your article and think its a good read, but if the key to recovery is identifying the problem. I’m still up a creek without a paddle.

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