Matt Cutts and his Google webspam team have been very busy recently. High profile companies such as Halifax, Irwin Mitchell and Music Magpie all appear to have felt full wrath of a Google manual links penalty and will, no doubt, be in the arduous process of cleansing their links and filing a reconsideration request to Google.
Towards the end of 2013 we were approached by a company who had suffered a severe drop in website traffic as a result of a manual penalty from Google for “unnatural links”. The penalty had caused even their brand term to disappear from the SERPs and understandably, they were keen to have the penalty removed as soon as possible.
This post outlines the process we followed to identify and remove any problematic links, ensure that the clients site was back in compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and have the penalty lifted within two weeks!
Take Your Time
First things first do not rush a reconsideration request. Fight the impulse to file a reconsideration request within a couple hours or a day of receiving the penalty. Google wants to see that you have been thorough and made every attempt possible to remove the unnatural links. If you rush your reconsideration request you get a notice like the below:
The Link Audit - Be Meticulous
The link audit is the foundation from which your reconsideration request is built and as such it is critically important to be as meticulous and thorough as possible. To give us the broadest view of the link profile we downloaded all the links from Google Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer and Majestic.
We then used Link Research Tools to remove any duplicate links and filter out site wide links. This left us with a list of 2,103 links to manually assess.
The manual assessment process followed a pretty simple criteria, if it looks like rubbish it probably is. Links from low quality directories, article directories, press release sites and low quality guest blogs were all flagged for removal. This gave us 1,731 toxic links that were added to a Google Doc Spreadsheet with the following information:
- Link From URL
- Site Owner Email
- Site Contact Form URL
- Whois Email Address
- First Contact With Site
- Second Contact With Site
- Link Status
- Disavow Status
Link Removal – Document Everything
We split the list of 1,731 toxic links into four categories; sites our client had log in details for, sites with contact email addresses, sites with contact forms and sites we had no contact details for.
For the article and press release sites our client still had log in details for we were able to log in and remove the links or completely delete the article. We took screenshots of any links we removed or articles we deleted and added them to a folder in the Google Docs drive. We also recorded that we had manually removed the links using log in details in the Google Spreadsheet.
For the domains we had a contact email address for we set up a unique Gmail account and started sending out emails requesting the removal of links. We got a very good response using the email template below.
Again we documented when we emailed the webmaster, what response we got and if the link was removed. If we didn’t receive a response from the webmaster after 3 days we sent a follow up request and noted this in the Google Spreadsheet. We again waited three days for a response and if no response was forthcoming or they refused to remove the link we added the site to the disavow file and made another note in the Google Spreadsheet. We also added the source code of all email correspondence with webmasters to a folder in the Google Docs drive as evidence.
For the domains that had a contact form we sent a similar request to the one above and took a screenshot of the completed contact form which was added to the screenshot folder in the Google Docs drive. Again we waited three days for a response before sending a follow up and adding any sites that didn’t respond or refused to remove the link to the disavow file.
Finally, for the sites we couldn’t find any contact details for, we noted in the Google Spreadsheet that we couldn’t contact the site and we were therefore adding them to the disavow file.
The Disavow File
Any sites who didn’t respond, refused to remove the links or requested payment for link removal were added to a disavow file and submitted this using the disavow tool.
We used # comments to let Google know the various reasons why we were using the disavow tool on these sites.
Remember, always double and triple check that your disavow file contains all of the domains and URLs that you want to disavow before submitting it.
The Reconsideration Request
After the disavow file was submitted, it was time to prepare a reconsideration request letter. In this we detailed the various types of links we had found to be in breach of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and the steps we had taken to remove them.
We included a link to our Google Spreadsheet that documented all our efforts plus links to the folders containing the screenshots of contact form completions and the source code of all email correspondence we had with webmasters. We also informed Google that we had submitted a disavow for any links that we could not remove.
We also reiterated that our client was now fully committed to following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Response from Google
Seven days after submitting the reconsideration request to Google we received the following message in Webmaster Tools.
Soon after keyword rankings started to return and traffic to the site began to increase towards previous levels.
So there you have it, how we removed a site from a manual links penalty within two weeks.
If you have felt the full force of Google’s webspam team and have a manual penalty applied please get in touch to find out how we can help you!
Post written by Graham Urquhart, Digital Marketing Manager at OnlyWeb. Please share your thoughts and comments below.