Link penalties are the dread of every webmaster. They can deliver a bit hit to your organic traffic and stop your SEO campaign in its tracks.
However, recovering from a penalty is possible. And while it can be a time-consuming process, you can speed it up by using a range of tools to help you.
So, if you’ve been slapped down by Google, here’s how to get back up and running in no time.
The Current State of Link Penalties
Before we delve into how to recover from a link penalty, let’s quickly look at the situation with these penalties right now.
There are currently two types of penalties to be aware of:
- Algorithmic Penalties
- Manual Penalties
Algorithmic Penalties are where your website’s traffic is hit by an algorithm change. Before Penguin 4.0 in September 2016, this was usually due to a Penguin update. However, Penguin 4.0 changed things slightly because bad links to your site no longer penalize the entire site and instead they are simply devalued.
If you are hit with a Manual Penalty, however, things are a bit more complex. These are where Google has detected problems and then an employee has looked into your website. If they find a problem, they send you a notice about the penalty via Search Console, and you will need to take action to fix it
As a result, most of this guide is aimed at manual penalties. However, if you have a lot of bad links, it’s still worth finding them and either getting rid of them or disavowing them (more on this later).
The Basic Process
Before we go into specifics, here is the basic process for recovering from a manual link penalty:
- Carry out a backlink audit to find out which links are causing the problem
- Contact the webmasters and ask them to delete the links
- Use the Disavow tool to disavow any links you cannot get rid of
- Send a Reconsideration Request to Google detailing everything you have done
Sounds easy, right?
But there’s quite a lot involved, especially if you have thousands of links to search through. So let’s get going.
Carry Out a Backlink Audit
You’ll need to carry out a backlink audit to find out which links are causing the problem, and this can take a while.
Start with the information Google sent you in Search Console. They will usually give you some examples of the types of links that are causing the problem, and this gives you something to go on.
Then you will want to collect all of your data on your backlinks, and this is where you can save some time using specialist tools.
As you can imagine, that can be a big job when you have thousands (or TENS of thousands!) of links.
So let’s speed things up.
Tools to Speed Up the Process
Obviously, you’re going to want to use some special tools to help you sort out your links and find out which are the bad ones. Here are some of your best options.
You can use export your links from Search Console (this guide will help), and add them to an Excel file. From here, you can search for the bad links and separate them by using URL Profiler.
This is a powerful tool that allows you to sort your links using various filters. For example, you could sort them by Domain Authority, find sites on the same IP address to identify blog networks, separate the “nofollow” links because these won’t be responsible for the penalty, and many more options.
The aim is to separate out the bad links, and URL Profiler is a good way to go about this in the way that works best for you.
Ahrefs is a powerful link analysis tool that makes auditing your links even easier. Simply plug in your URL and get a report of all your backlinks, which you can then sort using Ahrefs ranking system, anchor text, and more. You can also use the referring IPs tab to find a large number of sites from the same IP range.
Once you’ve sorted the offending links, Ahrefs also makes it easy to disavow them by using its inbuilt disavow tool. However, you don’t want to do this yet: First, you want to try and get your links removed, which we’ll cover in the next step.
Majestic is another of the big link audit tools that you can use to get lots of information about all your site’s links.
It analyzes the quality of your links based on a range of factors, and you can then see whether you want links from the sites or not. You may also find lots of websites linking to you using the same anchor text, making problem links easy to spot.
This link auditing tool takes info from Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic, and others and helps you to find out which links are causing the problems. Once it’s found them, it can even send automatic emails with requests for removals, which we’ll look at next.
If you have a manual penalty, you will need to prove to Google that you have done everything you can to get the links removed BEFORE you disavow them.
This means you should contact the webmasters who are linking to you with the bad links to request that they remove them.
A good process for this is to send an initial round of emails and wait a week. Then use a tool like URL Profiler again to find out which links have been taken down. Then send two further emails over the next few weeks using the same process until you have sent three overall.
Once you have done this, any links that have not been taken down you can then disavow.
To make this process more efficient, you could use a tool like BuzzStream. This CRM system makes it quicker to send emails using its templates, and you can use its email tracking tool to track your response rates too.
Disavow Remaining Links
Once you’ve got as many links removed as you can, it’s time to create a disavow file.
You can do this through the Search Console at this link, or you could use a tool that links up with your account like Ahrefs).
Simply copy all the links you want to disavow into a text file and then upload the file using the Disavow Tool, and you’re all done.
Send a Reconsideration Request
Finally, it’s time to create and send a Reconsideration Request to Google to show that you have put in the time and effort to sort out the problem.
In this, you will want to specify everything that you can about what you have done, including how you found the links, the dates that you contacted the webmasters to remove the offending links, and how many links you disavowed only after being unable to remove them.
Wait a couple of weeks to hear back from Google. Hopefully, they will approve it. However, if not, you might need to do some more work and then re-apply.
Get Back on Track
Getting hit with a link penalty can be a hard blow to take. But don’t sit around and do nothing—get to work immediately and sort it out as soon as you can using the tools mentioned here to save yourself some time.
And, most importantly of all, don’t make the same mistakes again.
Google is very clear on its policies, so don’t try and cheat the system. If you’ve made mistakes with your link building in the past, stick to the rules from now on by using proven and effective SEO strategies recommended by Google.
And don’t go through the stress and hassle of a link audit all over again.