Google Penalty Removal Strategy

Getting slapped with a Google penalty is disheartening – especially when you genuinely don’t know what you’ve done wrong – and can be financially disastrous. Read our guide on how to submit a successful Google penalty removal request and avoid getting slapped with one in the first place.
Your website is on page one in Google, business is booming and everything is ticking along quite nicely. Suddenly for no apparent reason your inbox becomes a little light on the order front, so you decide to run a quick check on your website rankings. To your horror, your website appears to have done a David Blaine-style vanishing act. It’s not on page one, or two, or three…in fact, it’s not even in the first 10 pages. After what seems like an eternity searching for your website you eventually find it – on page 37. Not good.
So what has happened to your website rankings, apparently overnight? Well, it could be one of several things such as a Google algorithm update, discrepancy between Google data centres or even a temporary drop in rankings as a result of the mysterious ‘Google dance’. However, a drastic drop in rankings is more than likely to be the result of one thing: the dreaded Google penalty. So how do you go about submitting a Google penalty removal request, what do you have to do to get this penalty removed and, more importantly, how do you ensure that it doesn’t happen again? Read on and find out…
The Google penalty removal process can be a long process and unfortunately there are no shortcuts. If Google have imposed a penalty on your website they have done it for a reason (rightly or wrongly) and it is your job to convince them to remove that penalty. However, before you even think about contacting Google to request the removal of your penalty there are several tasks you need to complete yourself first. If you simply request a Google penalty removal without completing the following tasks, your request will be ignored.

Step 1: Google Penalty Removal Link Data

The first step along the road to redemption is to obtain a list of all the links pointing to the website from a various different link sources, such as Google Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs and Majestic SEO. Although Google primarily consider links identified in Webmaster Tools when deciding whether or not to issue a penalty, it is worth doing the job properly and obtaining as much information as possible from as many different sources as you can – the success of your Google penalty removal submission could depend on it. Most of the aforementioned websites will require you to have a subscription in order to access the data, but some will allow you to use their services (or a limited version of their services) free of charge.

Documenting Your Work

Once you have discovered all of the links pointing to your site, the next step in the Google penalty removal process is to create a Google Docs spreadsheet where you can track all of your work to see exactly where you are with the link removal process. Creating a Google Doc spreadsheet now will also be of enormous benefit further down the line as Google will be able to see exactly what you have done to try to resolve the issues with your link profiles. It is also worth mentioning that Google have stated that they don’t trust external links contained in sources they don’t trust. For that reason, we recommend only using a Google Spreadsheet when doccumenting your work as it’s a Google product and is trusted by them.
We usually begin our Google penalty removal spreadsheet by creating a series of tabs at the bottom – one for each link source (i.e. Google Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, etc). Separating your link data into different worksheets in this manner demonstrates to Google that you are taking the matter seriously, and also allows for more in-depth link analysis.
Once you have imported all of your link data into your Google penalty removal spreadsheet, add the following columns to the end of each of your worksheets:

  • Contact Name;
  • Contact Email Address;
  • Contact Form URL;
  • Facebook URL;
  • Twitter URL;
  • Google+ URL;
  • LinkedIn URL;
  • Date of 1st Contact;
  • Date of 2nd Contact;
  • Date of 3rd Contact;
  • Link Status; and
  • Notes.

This may seem like a lot of information to include in your Google penalty removal request, but from our own experience it is absolutely essential. As you contact webmasters in an attempt to remove negative links that point to your site, having this additional information to hand in your spreadsheet will help you to stay organised. Providing detailed website contact information in your spreadsheet will also demonstrate to Google that you have made every effort to contact each webmaster to try to get your links removed.
Although not strictly necessary, it is a good idea to include a few screenshots of the emails that you’ve sent out to the webmasters you’ve been working with. Simply create another worksheet called ‘Contact Examples’ and include your images in this spreadsheet. Remember: a Google employee will read these emails, so keep all correspondence relating to your Google penalty removal request polite and professional.
Don’t threaten webmasters by saying that Google will deindex their site if they don’t remove your links. Instead, explain that you’re trying to clear things up so that you’re fully compliant with Google’s webmaster guidelines. Apologise for the inconvenience to the webmaster and thank them for their help. That way, when Google reads them (and they will), they’ll understand you’re genuinely trying to sort things and will hopefully be a little more forgiving under the circumstances.

Spotting Low-Quality Links

This is the most important part of the entire Google penalty removal process but is also the most difficult to get right. You have to be extremely careful with what links you are trying to remove, as removing positive links will obviously have a negative effect on your rankings. Quality links take a long time and a lot of hard work to build, and if you inadvertently ask for them to be removed thinking that they are spam, all of that work may be for nothing.
From our experience of dealing with Google penalty removal requests, the only way to accurately identify those links that should be removed is to review each and every link manually. If a link is natural, mark it in your workbook so that you know not to request its removal. Whatever you do, don’t remove any links from your worksheets – even the unnatural, spammy ones – as they all provide evidence to Google that you have attempted to clean up your link profile.
So what exactly constitutes a natural link? Although hard to define, natural links are links that have been obtained from content that you have written and shared naturally (i.e. without the intention to artificially influence search engine rankings). If you have written a quality article and shared it in the right places, you should hopefully have acquired some links back to your website naturally. In short, if your content is good, people will link back to your website without you having to request a link.
Spam links are often much easier to spot. For example, if your website is listed on a web page containing 10,000 links to other websites in a list, or if you’ve commented on a blog with thousands of other comments just for the backlink, those kind of links are the ones that you need to remove. To summarise, if the link has been placed on the site purely for SEO purposes, then it’s most likely unnatural.
Some unnatural links are much harder to spot. Below is a handy checklist to make spotting spam websites and negative links a little easier.
Remove your link before submitting a Google penalty removal request if:

  • The site is not indexed in Google;
  • The site automatically accepts submissions without manual review;
  • The site has many spam links pointing to it;
  • The site has a large number of categories covering every imaginable topic;
  • The site is part of a link network or ‘link farm’;
  • The site contains keyword-stuffed meta tags or dozens of keywords in the footer;
  • The site is a directory of some kind;
  • You have created forum accounts for the sole purpose of getting backlinks, remove them;
  • You have submitted blog comments for the sole purpose of getting links;
  • You have submitted spammy social bookmark links;
  • It is a paid link;
  • Your site is linked to on a blog that contains poorly-written posts that have clearly been spun or automated in some way;
  • You are participating in a link exchange; or
  • The site contains malware or a virus of some kind.

Step 4: Obtain Webmaster Contact Details

Once you have identified which links need to be removed, the next step towards submitting a Google penalty removal request is to contact the webmasters. If the website in question contains a contact form, simply copy and paste the link for the contact page into your worksheet. However, as many of the sites that you will be contacting will be low-quality spam websites with no obvious means of making contact with the owner of the site, you will have to dig a little deeper to get the contact information you need.
There are a variety of ways to find out who owns a particular website. You could do this by carrying out a whois search on the website’s domain name. This will sometimes show the registrant of the domain along with other information such as an email address (and sometimes even a phone number and fax number). This approach doesn’t always work, but sometimes the information can be useful. Even if you don’t find all of the information you need, you can usually use pieces of information (such as the registrant name) and combine them in a Google search with the name of the website (i.e. John Smith, etc). Domain registrar information can also be very useful as that often yields more contact information such as their full postal address, etc.
Once you have the information you need, you can then begin to populate your spreadsheet with the webmaster contact details. When you are ready to submit your Google penalty removal request this information will play a crucial role in helping Google to determine whether or not to remove your website penalty. It is therefore extremely important that you do your research and find out as much about the website owner as possible. With the contact details of the first webmaster on your list to hand, the next stage of the Google penalty removal process is to actually reach out the webmasters.

Reaching Out to Webmasters

Your goal here is to get as many bad links as possible removed before you submit your Google penalty removal request. To help you with this, we have compiled a few tips and tricks that we have learned through our own experience:
Avoid sending multiple emails for each link you want to remove – Don’t send a new email to one webmaster every time you discover a new link on their website that you want removed. Instead, collate a list of all the URLs you want removing from each website and send one email regarding all of the links. If there are many links, put them in a Google Docs file and send them a link to the file to take a look at.
Don’t spam the webmaster – Send an initial email and, if that doesn’t work, send a follow up email. If you don’t hear from them after a few days, try another method of contact (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.). Don’t always send the exact same message, make it personal and different each time. Most important of all, make a note in your spreadsheet of everything you do – essential when you come to submit your Google penalty removal request.
Be polite – Don’t accuse the website owners of nefarious activities and try to be as helpful as possible. Simply being nice can have extremely positive results.
Try to find the webmasters name – Try to get the webmaster’s first name and send an email that’s a little more personal. You are much more likely to get a response if you address the contact directly.
Send an email from the domain that you’re trying to remove – Try to use an email address on the domain that you’re trying to get removed. You will generally see a much better response rate when doing this.
Keep it short and sweet – Try to keep your emails short and to the point. The less time a webmaster has to spend reading your correspondence, the more likely they are to help you. Don’t forget: other websites owners are probably going through the same Google penalty removal process as you, and you won’t be the only one asking for their link to be removed.

Step 6: Submitting Your Google Penalty Removal Request

The reconsideration process is the final part to a Google penalty removal request. In the request, you’re basically telling Google the following:

  • What you’ve done wrong in the past and that you’ve stopped doing it;
  • What you’ve done to fix the problems (include a link to your Google Docs file);
  • Why it won’t happen again (steps you’ve put in place, training etc.);
  • A little bit about the company (optional – see if it feels necessary); and
  • Apologising for the issues and inconvenience;

This means owning up to anything that you’ve done wrong (whether it be paid links, comment spam on blogs, forum profiles etc.). If you previously employed the services of an ‘SEO company’ that created the low-quality links, tell Google the name of the company and explain that whilst you accept you employed them in the first place, you’ve learned a lot about Google’s webmaster guidelines and are fully committed to making sure your website adheres to them. Before even considering your Google penalty removal request, they will want to know that you’ve removed the spam, you know where you went wrong and you won’t do it again.
Matt Cutts has explained what should be included in a proper Google penalty removal request here:
You should only submit a Google penalty removal request once you’re happy that you’ve done as much as you can to fix the issues associated with your website. Google have provided some good notes on their website blog, so this is worth reading through.

About MB Web

MB Web is a web design, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and digital marketing agency based in Lewes, East Sussex, and with offices in Sussex, Surrey, London and Kent.
To talk to us about your web design, SEO or Branding project, contact Jake Judd or David Park on 01273 478822 or simply send us an email instead.