If your business operates primarily online or relies on visitors to your website for sales, then you already know how crucial organic traffic can be.
Key in getting large numbers of visitors to your site is ranking highly in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords, though that can prove very challenging. It may be tempting to push link-building and adverts, though these techniques can end up harming you more than they help in the long run.
According to industry experts like Matt Cutts, Google is issuing over 400,000 manual penalties a month, with many more issued by their algorithms. These algorithmic penalties can seem inscrutable and harsh, but don’t give up – you can beat those penalties and recover your lost rankings by following these steps:
If you notice a sudden drop in traffic or your Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) rankings, then the most likely cause is a Google penalty against your site. In order to understand your punishment and recover from it, you need to know what caused the problem in the first place and fix it.
It’s really quite simple to detect and diagnose manual penalties – they come with descriptions and guides in the Google Search Console, after all – but not so for algorithmic penalties. If your website has been hit with an algorithmic penalty, the first sign may well be the drop in traffic or rankings, with little to explain it.
Algorithmic penalties are issued with no explanation or warning, making it very difficult to determine what the problem is. To determine the reason behind your penalty, you’ll have to cross-reference the time period when you lost traffic or rankings with the date when a new algorithm update rolled out, or when you last updated your site.
There are a variety of news sources when it comes to changes in Google’s algorithms, ranging from press releases to industry experts, so try to keep track of the latest changes in a way that’s easy for you. Regardless of how you want to monitor Google’s algorithms, the two main culprits for penalties are the Panda and Penguin algorithms which focus on content and backlinks respectively.
Bearing in mind that Google’s algorithms penalise poor content and dodgy backlinks, make sure to examine any problem areas of your site. While it is more likely that an algorithm change disagreed with your site than vice versa, ensure that your site is all above-board before looking into other reasons for the penalty.
Low-quality links, such as those linking from spammy or foreign websites will get your website penalised as Google often works on a ‘guilt by association’ basis. There are many types of backlinks that are likely to bring Google’s wrath down, including but not limited to:
Over 95% of Google penalties are related to your backlink profile, so make sure to avoid the less-than reputable sites and review your backlinks regularly.
In order to recover from an algorithmic penalty related to your backlinks – the most common cause for Google penalties – you must analyse your site’s backlinks and single out the bad apples. When you’ve identified the problematic backlinks by using a web tool or your own judgement, you need to remove them and disavow the ones you can’t get rid of.
While this is no simple errand – especially for larger sites with many backlinks – it’s essential if you want to beat the penalties and keep your ranking. So, let’s get into it with a step-by-step guide on how to delete or disavow the backlinks causing you penalties:
Firstly, you need to compile a list of your backlinks before deciding which to keep and which to delete or disavow. To do this, visit your Google Search Console page and download a list of all the backlinks recognised by Google by clicking on ‘Search Traffic’ and then ‘Links to Your Site’.
Now you should be able to import all the backlinks recognised by Google to an SEO tool to gain more metrics and insights on these links. We strongly recommend that you avoid any tools that promise to ‘automatically identify low-quality backlinks’ as your own judgement is probably better than whatever algorithm they use.
Now that you have a list of backlinks to your site, it’s time to sift through and pick out any examples that seem to be low-quality, spammy or undesirable. After connecting your Google Analytics account and importing the list of links gathered from Webmaster Tools, you should see all the backlinks on your site.
Firstly, you should ignore any backlinks with a nofollow attribute, as numerous industry experts can confirm that these links are ignored by Google. Now that you’ve narrowed your list down to dofollow backlinks, find the links with over 100 external backlinks per page, as these are most likely index pages, comments sections or spammy sites.
In short, you don’t want to be associated with sites that:
Now that you have an idea of what a bad backlink looks like, you need to manually verify each of your backlinks, identifying the low-quality ones. If you sort your links by the number of external backlinks in the linking site, you can quickly reveal sites that have a large number of irrelevant links.
One other factor to watch out for is the domain extension of the websites linking to you, because relevancy is key in ranking highly. If your site is written in English, how relevant is it going to be for users that are redirected from a Brazilian or Chinese site?
Now that you have identified the low-quality backlinks that are hurting your Google rankings, you should try and remove them by using this four-step guide:
Most websites include a ‘contact us’ page with contact details, but some smaller sites may not include these details, forcing you to search for this information yourself. A useful tool for finding the contact details of a site’s owner is WhoIs.com, which allows you to search for any domain and find details on the owner and live date, among other facts.
Visit Whois.com, type in the name of the site you want to contact, look for the ‘administrative contact email’ and reach out to the site owner to get the backlink removed. For details on how to draft a link removal request email, see the points below:
As the old saying goes; “if you don’t ask, you don’t get,” so the first (and easiest) resort of someone affected by low-quality backlinks should be to ask for their removal. Much like any professional email, your request has a higher chance of success if you:
As mentioned above, link removal request emails are best sent from an official email address, and it’s important to keep track of your emails. You can turn on read receipts in Outlook to see who has opened your emails, or try to chase up requests (every week or so – don’t spam them) that haven’t had a response yet to stay on top of things.
Now that you’ve reached out to the site owner/webmaster asking for the backlink to be removed, there are three potential outcomes:
Make sure to remove all the low-quality backlinks you can before creating a disavow report, as it’s better to get the links removed rather than trying to disavow them. When you’ve tried to remove all the low-quality backlinks you can, go to your Google Search Console, tag all the links you couldn’t remove and compile a list.
Next, you want to export all these pesky backlinks in a disavow format to Google’s Disavow Links Tool, uploading your file to the disavow tool. It usually takes 2-4 for the report to be processed (this delay is the main reason why getting the links removed is preferable), but you should see a difference in your rankings after this.
If you’re suffering from an algorithmic penalty, don’t despair: Many websites have bounced back from these penalties to become more successful and so can you! The key to dealing with an algorithmic penalty is understanding the cause which is related to bad backlinks in the majority of cases.
If you’re still unsure of why you were penalised, try re-reading Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to get a better understanding of the rules and guidelines you have violated. Otherwise, you can make an educated guess and deal with the low-quality backlinks to your site by following the guide above to get back on top of the SEO game.
For more advice and guidance, including personalised SEO reports to help optimise your site and/or businesses online presence, contact a member of our team today.