See update here - More Insights on the Disavow and Recovery
It seems like the only thing I have posted about this year is penalties, link removals and reconsideration requests!! Well at long last I can finally put a post together that is a little more positive; in short I have some good news! But I still want to discuss the above.
If you have been negatively affected by unnatural links, penguins or any other type of link spam penalty, there is a solution, you can get out of it and in a reasonable amount of time.
The Disavow Tool
Yes, you will all be aware Google launched this on the 16th October, and there has been mixed opinion on whether or not the tool works, why Google have launched it, and what impact it might have on search results in general.
Well, just so we’re all clear, it does work. If you have been hit by a penalty, following a few simple rules and using this tool is all you need to recover your rankings.
However, before I dive into the evidence I thought it might be useful to go over some of the reasons people were against or dubious of the disavow tool, and then I can talk you through how to sort this mess out.
First of all let’s be clear, in my experience negative SEO has never really been an issue, I’m yet to see a plausible study that shows negative SEO really works. Yes since penguin hit there have been forum threads and the odd post about negative SEO attacks, however I have seen nothing convincing (feel free to prove me wrong in the comments). We even had a client that was hit with around 10,000 Xrumer links as part of an attack, the impact on rankings?? Nothing! In fact we saw improvements.
So, to say Google have brought out the disavow tool to defend negative link attacks holds no weight in my opinion.
Google should just ignore bad links
I am 100% sure that if Google could ‘just ignore bad links’, we would not have seen the unnatural links message or Penguin. The reason why Penguin rolled out, the disavow tool launched and unnatural links messages were sent, is because Google cannot algorithmically tackle link spam. They may be able to identify certain types, and devalue certain anchor text signals, but ultimately they are fighting a losing battle. This is the reason we have the disavow tool and all the penalties, Google wants us to clean up the web for them; “hey we’ve identified some bad links, we believe you are trying to manipulate our results, go clean it up or consider yourself penalised.”
Now you may feel this crowd sourcing from Google is wrong and a way of trapping SEO’s, that’s’ fine, but don’t be naive enough to believe that Google could just ignore bad links.
Yes, Google may have said in the past “Hey don’t worry about bad links, we can detect them and stop them passing value”, but come on, they’re not going to say, “Hey we’re really struggling with this link spam”. We’d all have a field day!
Good sites might get hurt
I have heard people saying “Good websites may be wrongly reported and stopped from passing value”, honestly; I don’t think this will be the case. If you have been hit by a penalty the last thing you’re going to do is disavow your better links. Plus if links are on good sites, its straightforward enough just to email and ask them to remove or change the link. It’s the spam sites with no contact details, no maintenance, it’s these sites that will get reported, and if reported enough may get de-indexed.
Basically, if your link profile is made up of bad links, expect to lose rankings soon.
None of the above reasons should stop you using the tool!
Anyone who completely disregards the tool based on some moral stance against Google obviously isn’t or hasn’t made any money from natural search. Any agency who advises against link removals, link disavowing or sending in a reconsideration request is naive and doesn’t fully understand the updates that have rolled out this year.
If used correctly the tool works, and here are some examples to prove it:
Example 1 – Manual Link Penalty
- removed 95% of link spam by August
- Unnatural links message in July 2012
- Reconsideration rejected
- Used link disavow for remaining links
- Filed reconsideration
- Rankings came back within 10 days
Example 2 – Manual Link Spam Penalty
- Unnatural links message received back in March
- 80% of links pulled down within 3 months
- Multiple reconsideration rejections
- Disavow tool used
- Filed reconsideration
- Message received advising manual spam penalty removed
- Rankings back within 7 days
Example 3 – Algorithmic Anchor Text Filter
- Unnatural links message received in March
- 60% of bad links removed
- Multiple reconsiderations rejected
- Disavow tool used
- Filed reconsideration
- Message received advising there were no manual penalties
- Rankings algorithmically recovered 3 weeks later
The above charts are from searchmetrics and give a visibility score based on rankings and potential traffic on those rankings, it is just a trending tool, but perfect for spotting penalties.
So if you have been hit with any kind of links penalty you’re going to want to know how to deal with it, and there are a few pieces of advice I would recommend you follow:
Make sure you undergo a thorough link audit. Combine Opensiteexplorer, Majestic SEO and Webmaster Tools links to ensure you have the biggest sample possible. You will then need to work through them and classify your links; I would split them into 3 groups:
> Good link
> Good site, aggressive anchor text
> Low quality website and link
Obviously leave the good links alone, contact the sites with aggressive anchor text and request removal, and add all spam links into a text file ready for the disavow tool.
You MUST do a link audit before using the tool, the last thing you want to do is disavow a link that is genuine and passing value. On the other hand you need to make sure you get as many of the bad links as possible.
If you do the audit and find you have very few or no good links then don’t expect your rankings to return, at best you’ll have a clean sheet to start working from again.
Disavow + Reconsideration
As well as disavowing the links you should also send in a reconsideration request, this is the only way a manual penalty can be removed and until you get a response you don’t know which one you have.
Remember there are 2 penalties at play!
The link penalties handed out in the last 18 months are made up of 2 types:
1 – Manual penalty for unnatural links
2 – Algorithmic anchor text based penalties
The problem is you may have them both. If you follow the advice from above you will receive a response from Google advising which you have, this advice comes in the form of 2 messages:
If you get a response like above, happy days! You will recover within 10 days.
You may get 1 of 2 messages:
If you get this back it means your issue is algorithmic, and adding the suspect links into the disavow tool will help you overcome it, or you may be suffering with a Panda penalty which will need to be investigated.
Again this message means there were no manual actions and the issue is algorithmic, if it’s down to links, disavowing them will alleviate the issues.
Remember you may have an algorithmic penalty and a manual action! You have to take care of both and send a reconsideration request.
So there you have it, the tool does work, and it will help you sort issues with penalties.
It amazes me when I see people advising against the use of the tool, some businesses are losing millions in revenue because of these updates, to not use a tool that kills links that are hurting that revenue is just ridiculous.
Before I finish up, let me add a couple of warnings:
> Building good links and doing lots of social/content/viral marketing, is not going to sort out your penalty
However, on the other hand:
> If all your links are low quality, then Google isn’t going to reward you for removing them, you need good links in the first place
1 – Carry out a link audit and classify links
2 – Manually remove aggressive anchor text
3 – Add spam links to a text file
4 – Disavow spam links
5 – File reconsideration
6 – Await response
7 – Recover rankings
Throughout all this, you should build great links through REAL outreach and marketing.
If you are struggling with this penalty or have any questions about using the disavow tool, please let me know. At Branded3 we’re continually advising businesses how to deal with these penalties and seeing lots of successes.Line Break
Author: Tim (296 Articles)
Tim Grice is the owner and editor of SEO wizz and has been involved in the search engine marketing industry for over 9 years. He has worked with multiple businesses across many verticals, creating and implementing search marketing strategies for companies in the UK, US and across Europe. Tim is also the Director of Search at Branded3, a Digital Marketing & SEO Agency based in the UK.