SEO Tips: How to Address and Overcome a Google Manual Links Penalty

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September 18, 2014

Receiving a penalty from Google can be detrimental to any business, but primarily to those who rely on online traffic as a leading source for new client acquisitions, such as e-commerce websites.

Revoking a backlinks penalty can be a long and exhausting process, especially as Google does not offer much information on the exact reasons leading it to deny a reconsideration request. Addressing such an unfortunate situation swiftly and effectively is crucial in order to minimize the negative implications of Google’s penalty on your website and your business.

To complement Seperia’s recent case study on overcoming a client’s Google manual links penalty, I would like to share a set of recommended actions to take once you realize that your website has been manually punished by Google for unnatural backlinks.

Step One: Perform a Historic Backlink Analysis

Oftentimes we are not entirely aware of the complete link building history of a domain, or of the full link acquisition activities that took place in the past or even continue to take place by a 3rd party.

Performing a thorough backlink analysis is essential for sorting out suspicious backlinks that might be harming your site. I recommend utilizing backlink analysis tools such as In addition, download the “links to your site” report from your Google Webmaster Tools account. These combined sources should provide a comprehensive backlinks profile for your analysis.

Start by sorting the backlinks into two lists: ‘Follow’ vs. ‘Nofollow’ links. ‘Nofollow’ links are viewed by Google as non-harmful, as they do not pass on PageRank or “link juice” to other web pages in order to intentionally influence Google’s algorithm.

Continue with an in-depth inspection of all the ‘Follow’ links. Check each one of them to find out whether they are violating Google’s quality guidelines on linking.

Checking for Unnatural Backlinks

Some of the things you should check during a backlinks analysis*:

  • Do multiple links have the same, keyword-optimized anchor text?
  • Do links come from bad neighborhoods? (A links farm? An adult site? A content farm?)
  • Do links appear site wide?
  • Do links appear in forum comments with an optimized anchor text?
  • Are these paid links?

*For the full list see: Link Schemes

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, you should contact the site-owner/ webmaster and request they either remove the link or tag it as a “nofollow” link.

Step Two: Approach the Site Owners

Once your backlink analysis is complete, it is time to contact webmasters or site owners of sites where questionable links were found. Approaching them one by one, you can request their cooperation with your backlinks cleanup efforts.

Articulate your request politely and as clearly as possible: Describe the circumstances which lead you to contact them; indicate the specific location of the link in their site and exactly what you need them to do; provide snippets of code or exact tags you wish to be removed or changed.

Make sure to provide additional information if requested and maintain constant communication in order to verify that your request has been fulfilled.

Lastly, follow-up on your request, as you will not always get an immediate reply.

Step Three: Document the Process

Document your actions and the data you collect (during the entire process) in Google Docs or Google spreadsheets format, which you will submit later on to Google within the reconsideration request.

I suggest creating a Google spreadsheet with the following data fields:

  • A complete list of questionable links.
  • The required action to be taken.
  • The exact dates you contacted site owners.
  • Current status of each link.

Create another spreadsheet for documenting the transcript and main details of the correspondence you had with site owners, such as: names, dates, follow ups and final result of the correspondence.

It is highly recommended to use Google Analytics annotations in order to document the occurrence of main events along the process, such as: the date the penalty was applied, the date a reconsideration request was delivered to Google, etc.

Step Four: Create a ‘Links Disavow’ File

There will likely be instances where you fail to get site owners’ cooperation; and at other times, you attempts to locate and contact them altogether are unsuccessful. To address such cases, Google has introduced a feature called “Links Disavow“. This feature enables you to share a list of specific URLs (or sometimes entire domains) with Google, which contain backlinks to your site that you’ve failed to remove and you wish for Google to ignore when assessing your site. The list has to be saved as a plain .txt file, naming a single URL per line and then uploaded via your Google webmaster tools account.

Step Five: Preparing the Reconsideration Request

According to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, the reconsideration request has two main goals:

  1. Providing Google with clear, compelling evidence that any actions which might have led to a violation of its quality guidelines have been stopped.
  2. Assurance that such violations will not happen again in the future.

Therefore, include as much information as possible within your reconsideration request. Clarify the violations you found, explain what caused them to occur and describe the efforts you have made in order to repair the situation. Google allows submitting reconsideration requests as plain text, so it is important to include hyperlinks to Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets within the request, containing further information and examples of your actions.

Step Six: Submitting the Request for Google’s Reconsideration

If you have addressed the outstanding issues which led to Google’s penalty, and you believe your site now complies with Google’s quality guidelines, you are ready to submit the request for reconsideration of your site to Google.

How it’s Done

Go to the ‘Manual Actions’ page in Google webmaster tools:
Links Penalty Manual Actions
Click on the ‘Request a Review’ button and submit your reconsideration request in the pop up window:

Links Penalty Request a Review
After submitting the reconsideration request in Google Webmaster Tools, you should receive a reply message from Google confirming that your request has been received and will be reviewed:
Webmaster Tools reconsideration request
Finally, if Google believes that your site no longer violates its guidelines you will probably (although not always) receive the following message in your Google Webmaster Tools account, indicating that your penalty has been revoked:
Links penalty revoked message

A Final Note on Overcoming a Google Links Penalty

As Seperia encourages only cautious and responsible link acquisition strategies, our SEO team always informs clients not to partake in mass or unnatural link building activities. Having followed this policy during our services for the client (as with all clients), our team was shocked upon discovery of the penalty. Following much research, it came to light that the Google links penalty received by our client was actually caused by the questionable link building activities of their parent company. This ‘penalty by association’ in fact, was not connected to nor the result of services provided by Seperia. Our team was pleasantly surprised to see our client’s Google manual links penalty revoked so quickly (exactly one month after the client was penalized), as some cases can take many months to overcome. The swift yet thorough manner in which we handled the penalty- by ensuring all communication with Google was highly detailed and transparent- aided our case towards Google, as well as our recovery efforts post-penalty, enabling the client to overcome the penalty quite rapidly.

News of a Google links penalty will come as a shock to most, but by addressing the situation immediately and methodically, you should be able to overcome it. If you are faced with this unfortunate situation, I hope you will find the above recommended tips and steps of value.

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