Have a feeling your site has been penalized? If your traffic and position in the SERPs is dwindling and you’re not sure why, it could be a penalty. To reclaim valuable web traffic and leads, the best thing to do is move forward. We’re here to help! Read on to learn all the steps you need to know to clean up your backlink profile and resume your position in Google’s good graces.

Step 1: Know Your Penalty

If your leads from organic traffic are declining, you could be suffering from either a manual or algorithmic penalty from Google. In order to better diagnose and “treat” your site’s drop in traffic, it’s important that you understand the difference between an algorithmic update and a manual penalty since your “treatment plan” may differ depending on the source. Here are the high-level differences between the two penalties.

Algorithmic vs. Manual Penalty

A manual penalty happens when manual action is taken against a website. The length of the manual penalty depends on how badly the site was breaking Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and how severe the penalty issued was. Sites that suffer from a manual penalty can file a reconsideration request after they have addressed the issue that led them to be penalized in the first place. The form doesn’t guarantee a recovery, but can help speed up the process.

If your site is not being singled-out for a violation of Google’s guidelines, then you are most likely experiencing loss of traffic due to an algorithm update. With an algorithm update, you shouldn’t submit a reconsideration request. In order to boost search results, site managers must identify what practices the algorithm update was targeting(e.g., keyword stuffing, link exchanges, cloaking, etc.) and move away from (and in some cases remedy previous uses of) those tactics.

If you’re still not sure where your site went wrong, you may need to uncover any previous black- or grey-hat SEO tactics that might have resulted in a penalty, either manual or from an algorithm update, for your site. Reviewing work previous SEO companies have done for your site in the past is a great place to start.

Step 2: Conduct a backlink audit

If you’ve received a notice in Google Webmaster Tools indicating that your manual penalty resulted from spammy link building (or you have suspicions that your backlinks may be the result of the manual action), you need to perform a comprehensive link audit. As all search marketers know, link building is the “bread and butter” of the industry, as growing the link profile of a website is critical for search ranking and traffic success. Google’s sophisticated link analysis can determine the popularity and authority of a website by looking at whether the website is getting external links from trustworthy sites or spammy sites.

To effectively get rid of toxic links, you have to conduct a thorough backlink audit to see where the toxic links are coming from. The best source to locate your backlinks is Google Webmaster Tools but there are several other tools out there that can help you track down links that are pointing to your site. Since good links can be just as beneficial to your site as bad links are detrimental, it’s critical that you only remove the troublesome links while preserving as many of the good, well-earned links to your site as possible.

Using your Google Webmaster Tools account: Select your site > Traffic > Links to Your Site > More > Download latest links > Export to .CSV or Google Docs.

To get a complete backlink profile, you may need to invest in a paid subscription for a backlink checker like Link Research Tools, Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, or ahrefs. In this example, we’ll take a look at Link Research Tools’ backlink audit process.

Step 3: Filter out links

By default, Link Research Tools will filter your website’s links into 4 categories of how dangerous the link is to your site: high, average, low, and very low. For the first round, focus on the high and average links. You can disregard the other links for now as these most likely aren’t the culprits that may be resulting in your website’s penalty.

Once you have your list of links based on high and average toxicity, you need to manually go through each individual link and classify it based on the following categories:

  • Domain (from LRT)
  • From URL (from LRT)
  • Risk (from LRT)
  • Type (directory, guest blog, forum, comment, etc.)
  • Action (Keep/Remove): SPOILER: If you still don’t know if a particular link is harmful or not, try looking at two other factors:
    • Does the site have any domain authority? If it’s Domain Authority is >2, it’s usually suitable for the chopping block, depending on how big your site is.
    • Is the referring site indexed in Google? If not, that site was probably penalized and should definitely be removed.

Step 4: Outreach

Once you’ve determined the list of links you want to remove, this is the time to reach out to the administrators of the websites hosting those links to show Google your efforts in trying to remove them. You can use URL Profiler and rmoov to help speed up collecting all of the contact information for the sites’ admins. Otherwise, you can research the link to find webmaster contact information through their site’s contact forms, about pages, or using Whois.net to look at the domain ownership records. A contact form or email address is usually sufficient for this step.

Once you’ve collected as much data as possible, we recommend that you set up an email account from your own domain  (e.g. “webmanager@domain.com”) in order to track every email sent and received so that you don’t clutter up your own inbox with responses. Here is an example of an email:

Link remove email template

Step 5: Google Disavow Tool

If you’re unable to remove the bad links pointing to your site by reaching out the websites’ administrators, you may need to utilize Google’s Disavow Tool. Before using the Google Disavow Tool, your main priority is to remove the links by requesting removal from the “offending” webmasters. If you don’t hear back from the webmasters after several attempts and your efforts prove unsuccessful, then you can go through the disavow process, following the instructions below. Many companies rely on the Google Disavow Tool to save them from manual penalties and algorithmic setbacks but you should still make the attempt to remove the links at their source before jumping into disavowing them. The Disavow Tool is a way for you to tell Google to not account for specific backlinks when assessing your site and although it may seem quicker and easier to disavow them instead of trying to remove them, you may find that it can take longer for the Disavowal to be accepted by Google if you haven’t made much of an effort to remove the links first.

To get started with your link disavowal, you much first create a disavow file that lists all of the URLs and domains that need to be removed from Google’s consideration. Within the list, you should record your removal efforts. Make sure you format your list correctly:

  • Use the proper file format (.txt)
  • Disavow the entire domain, not just the link. I.e., use a machete, not a scalpel. Instead of removing just the link (spammysite.com/bad-link-for-you), submit your disavowal for the whole domain (spammysite.com) in your consideration.
  • Don’t use “http://” or “www.” Domain removals require “domain:” at the beginning of the URL. E.g., “Domain:website.com”

Once you’ve developed your disavow file properly, it’s now time to give the list to Google. Here’s how:

  • Log in to your Google account
  • Go to the Disavow Tool
  • Select your site
  • Click “Disavow Links”
  • Locate and upload the disavow file you created
  • Click “Submit”

It will take a while for this to be processed on Google’s end so you will need to be patient at this point. The entire process can take a number of weeks and sometimes months, so don’t expect instant results. The Disavow Tool is not a cure-all solution to give you the SEO results you’re looking for, but it does serve as a great resource to clean up a toxic backlink profile when outreach isn’t cutting it.

Step 6: Submit reconsideration request

Here’s a breakdown of a successful reconsideration request:

  • Provide a brief history of your site in terms of how you acquired the backlinks in the first place. Was it an agency, friend, or SEO manager? Be honest and tell them how it happened.
  • Discuss the process you went through in removing the links: how you identified the harmful links, how you categorized them, how you reached out, and how many times you tried.Tip: Throughout the process, be sure to keep records so that you can provide relevant examples, evidence, and documentation within the letter to demonstrate all of your efforts.
  • Tell them what you will do differently to get links in the future, and how you will actively make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

If you cover all of these topics, you may encounter this wonderful (and long-awaited) result:

reconsideration email request

We have dealt with this process first hand, so we know how frustrating and tiresome it can be. Be diligent, do what needs to be done, and don’t give up. Most importantly, make sure that your future marketing efforts align with Google’s guidelines—they’re there to ensure a positive search experience for everyone, including you!

We wish you luck!

Need help with a penalty? Contact us.


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Little Blogger • 4 years ago

my domain authority is not growing i think i have toxic backlinks because i used some free backlink creator tools in past . i was searching for deleting these toxic backlinks . love your post . Thanks !
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