Tutorial: How to Recover from an Unnatural link Penalty

6 August, 2013

Here I will cover how to discover if your website has been penalised by Google and is under an unnatural link penalty. I will also explain how to remove this penalty and avoid it in the future. During the tutorial I will refer to a client (MAF Properties) who came to us after they had been hit with an unnatural link penalty. Through our team's hard work they have had their penalty removed and are now ranking well again.

Is your website under penalty?

If you have experienced a sudden drop in traffic to your website then you may have been hit by an unnatural links penalty. The easiest way to confirm this is to check for a message in your Google Webmaster Tools profile. The message will state that you have been affected by ‘Unnatural inbound links’. If you haven’t got a message and you still believe your website is been affected by a Google penalty, you can send a reconsideration request to Google. Google will then respond in a few days with either a ‘Reconsideration request’ or a ‘No manual spam action found’ email. If you receive the ‘Reconsideration request’ response unfortunately your website has been penalised.

Identify the spammy links

It’s time to get lethal, and start removing all those bad links you or your bad SEO company built. To start with you need to create a spreadsheet of all the links which are pointing to your website, we'll use this to identify the links we wish to remove. You can do this using several websites, I’d personally recommend using, moz.com’s Open Site Explorer to find and download a spreadsheet containing all of the links to your website. Once downloaded you want to arrange the spreadsheet so you have, the URLs of the websites the links are coming from, the linking websites page authority and finally if the link is a ‘no follow’ or ‘follow’ link.

Once you have the data formatted correctly you want to work through the spreadsheet highlighting links that you wish to remove from your website. There is no set bad or good link, but I recommend removing any links which are ‘no follow’ as these don’t pass any authority to your website. If these websites aren’t associated with what your company offers it is most likely going too be seen as spam or irrelevant in Google’s eyes. Do be careful you don’t remove any high profile ‘no follow’ links, it could be possible that local authorities, magazines or newspapers may have you listed on their website somewhere. Even though these are ‘no follow’ links Google knows that this well known website has you listed and Google will see that as a sign that your website is trustworthy and will place you higher in Google search engine results due to this.

Next it’s time to filter through the ‘follow’ links, pay particular attention to any blogs or article websites that may appear here as this will be the most likely cause of the unnatural links penalty. When checking MAF Properties links we found that a previous SEO company had used 'black hat' techniques to build backlinks to the MAF Properties website. There were a large number of blog spam and article spinning backlinks which had been created, these had been detected by Google’s Penguin 2.0 algorithm updated on the 22nd of May 2013.

Work through the list of links and highlight any link you believe will been seen as spam in Google’s eyes. Once you feel you have found and highlighted all the links which need to be removed, you’ll need to copy just the URL to be removed to a new spreadsheet document, so you can show Google all the hard work you've put in to remove unnatural links.

Request Link Removal

Now you’ve got a list of the links you need to remove you need to start contacting each webmaster and request the links to be removed. This can be a tiresome process but is well worth doing as Google with appreciate the extra work you’ve gone to naturally remove spammy links to your website.

The best method is to create a generic email which can be sent to every webmaster. When you visit each website to find the email address to request the link to be removed have a look at the content and make a swift decision if the site is still active or not. You’ll find a lot of websites have been left dormant and don’t have anyone managing them anymore. Save time and ignore these websites and target only the websites you know are still active.

Once you’ve emailed each webmaster, give them roughly a two weeks to respond and remove the links. You don’t want to be waiting months for links to be removed as your website is likely to suffering a loss of traffic and it’s in your best interest to remove the links as quickly as possible.

Once you’re happy you’ve removed as many links as you can naturally, it’s time to use Google Disavow tool and remove them with force!

Use Google’s Disavow Links Tool

Google released the disavow tool in October 2012 and it has been a constant talking point for SEOers. There is debate in the industry as to whether the tool is effective or actually causes more harm than good. From my own personal experience I’ve never had a negative result using the disavow tool and would recommend using it to anyone suffering from one of Google’s link penalties. The tool works by telling Google to explicitly ignore any links from the URLs uploaded.

For some unknown reason there is no link to the disavow tool from Google’s Webmaster Tools. If any one does know where the link can be found please leave a comment in the description! So instead do a Google search for ‘disavow link tool’ and it’s the first link. Once on the website you’ll have to select the website you want to remove the links from and then click the ‘Disavow Links’ button. You’ll then be greeted by a daunting caution message, warning you of the dangers in using the tool, once you're happy click the ‘Disavow Links’ button to the final part of the process.

Once on the final page you’ll see that Google has left another warning message to try scare you off! Take the spreadsheet of links you wish to remove and copy the links to a ‘.txt’ file and save it. Now have one final check and make sure your happy with all the links you’re going to remove, if so upload the file and then click submit, Google will then process the information and ignore all of these unnatural links.

Submit a Reconsideration Request

Google still isn’t happy with you just removing all of those unnatural links, they want an apology for your evil SEO ways by submitting a reconsideration request. There are several templates online to use as a guideline for how you should you write a reconsideration request. I tend to stick to a similar format each time which has worked for our clients and hopefully it’ll work for yours too.

How I structure all of my reconsideration requests

  • Explain that you have been working to correct your mistakes in order to abide by Google’s quality guidelines
  • Explain what changes have been made to your website. So for this example we have assessed our backlinks and have attempted to remove unnatural links.
  • This is the most important part I believe, upload the spreadsheet you made earlier containing all of the links you wished to remove to Google docs and save it in Google’s format. Add a link to this document so they can see your love of Google’s products!
  • State that you used the disavow tool to remove the unnatural links.
  • Confirm that you agree to Google’s principles for its search engine service
  • Finally add one last paragraph apologising and that your client is committed to correcting their past mistakes.

You can then submit this to Google via this URL www.google.com/webmasters/tools/reconsideration, it’ll normally take 2-3 weeks to receive a response. It can also take multiple attempts to receive a successful removal message from Google, so if you fail first time keep repeating the process until you succeed. It is highly important if your site is suffering from a penalty that you do remove it as quickly as possible in order to regain the traffic you're losing from ranking significantly lower in Google’s results.

How to avoid it

Avoiding these types of penalties is simple really, don't build or buy links simply for the purpose of ranking well in the search engines. Try to create content that people are going to want to link to, this isn’t always possible for some businesses so it’s time to get creative and go social. Try building up on audience using Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest or maybe even YouTube if you’re handy with a camera. Try to be original and make something people are going to want to share and check out. Nobody wants to watch a panorama shot of a dull warehouse. People want to see video reviews, unboxing and see people using the products they want to buy. Create these sort of videos and people are more likely to share and link to them from their own blogs and websites if they think it’s good.


16th October 2017 at 9:16am

Very good info. Lucky me I came across your site
by chance (stumbleupon). I have saved as a favorite for later!

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16th October 2017 at 9:16am

Not one to to be fussy, but they only have 4 referring domains and no links prior to 19th July. and it was only registered on the 30th June.

Now, they have a website (www.mafproperties.com) which is very keyword intense (the backlinks) which has been 301'd to http://www.studentaccommodation4sheffield.co.uk/

If MAF Properties had the penalty and you've simply 301'd it to the new domain, you're in for a lot of trouble further down the line. You're going to simply pass on the penalty to the new domain.

So either this post was created to get a few branded links pointing to their new website or you haven't actually fixed the penalty, simply switched the domain and won't be able to rank the new one because the penalty being passed on.

I think it would be great for clarification, if you shed some light on this :)

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16th October 2017 at 9:16am

Hi Jason,

We did actually succeed in removing the unnatural link penalty, from the old domain, www.mafproperties.com. We then 301 redirected each page to the most relevant page on the new domain, www.studentaccommodation4sheffield.co.uk. The redirection to the new domain was for other reasons and is not related to the article.

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16th October 2017 at 9:16am

Hi Jason,

I'm doing around 10-15 manual penalty removals a month and this phrase caught my eye:
"Through our team’s hard work they have had their penalty removed and are now ranking well again."

Thing is I'm finding most penalty removals are not resulting in rankings returning, the removal of the penalty has to also be combined with link building as the artificial links which were previously responsible for rankings are redundant.

I do everything I can to keep good links and often go through multiple reconsideration request submissions just to show the client that yes, all these links really do have to go. I also deal with a lot of clients who have been using cheaper SEO services often for years, they're rankings are built on artificial links which have worked for so long it takes time to realize there's a whole new world of link building out there which is very different from the spam they're used to.

Anyway I guess I looking for some kind of confirmation that I am doing things right, your process looks akin to my own anyway, just most clients have at least say 30% of the link profile pure keyword link spam, sometimes hitting 90% plus of nonsense links.

When you get a manual penalty removed, do rankings bounce back partially at least? And if so, how serious were their link profiles initially, how long does it take in your experience and so on. Thanks for reading,


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