Few things can put a devastating dent in your traffic like a Google penalty. Any website owner dreads seeing the unnatural links message in webmaster tools:
“Google has detected a pattern of artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site.” (Or from your site, of course, but it’s the “to your site” message that is the biggest problem for webmasters.)
Sometimes it’s your fault: the result of bought links, autogenerated links, or any other number of surefire ways to fail at SEO. But often it’s not your fault at all, because you can get that same message when someone else backlinks to your site in spammy ways.
Either way, you need to understand how to fix it, which tools are out there and how to use them. This is my big list of SEO link penalty recovery tools.
Understand the problem
If you use spammy SEO techniques—or if a competitor uses them to backlink to your site—the Google algorithm isn’t going to be fooled for long. Once Google decides that you have a spammy backlink problem on your site, it will place your site on manual action. In other words, your page will be either demoted or removed from search results.
There are two common types of penalty categories Google issues for bad backlinks: manual penalties caused by unnatural links and Penguin penalties which are determined via algorithms. Either kind of these bad links can be created by you or a competitor using negative SEO against you. For a full list of penalties, go here.
Penguin penalties are primarily related to the diversity, quality and velocity of your links. The good news is that these penalties affects only the particular pages on your site that have backlinks the algorithms identifies as bad. This means that you won’t experience as dramatic a drop in traffic if the backlinks are on a less important page on your site.
The bad news about Penguin penalties is that it’s not so easy to see what exactly is being penalized. All you can do is match the dates of your drops in traffic to the dates of Penguin updates. Each update typically runs for several weeks so you’d be safe to focus on the three to four-week window following the update.
The worse news about Penguin penalties is that your corrective actions won’t be taken into account until the next update is released—maybe even months later.
As far as manual penalties go, they can affect your entire site or just a portion of it. Although they hurt just as much as Penguin penalties, they are at least easier to find. Here are some of the most common ways to rack up manual penalties.
Google considers many kinds of links to be “unnatural.” (And remember, we can expect another Penguin update soon, so it’s a great time to audit your site for bad links.) You should know what links fall into this category, because the fewer bad links you create, the less you have to fix.
Paying or trading for links (or content that includes links) is usually a sign of unnaturalness. Automatically generated links based on targeted keywords in forums, comments sections and similar places are also big offenders. Google has also begun to target widget links. What do these kinds of links have in common? They’re not built by you in an organic way as part of your content.
You already know I’m a big fan of guest posting—but not for spammy links! If you’re guest posting, do it right or you’ll lose the chance to guest post anywhere and hurt your traffic in the process. And never stuff links with commercial keywords, in a guest posting, comment section or anywhere else.
There are some more technical sources of unnatural links to stay away from, too. For example, it’s okay to use one or two site-wide links, but more than that will land your page in the unnatural links category. In addition, Google says a fair mix of nofollow and do-follow links make up a natural backlink profile; too many do-follow links will be seen as unnatural. And remember, over-optimization is never a good way to try and build traffic and will get you penalized.
Finally, make sure all of your links are justified and make sense in context. Links that are contextually or geographically irrelevant are unnatural in Google’s eyes, and they have an easy time picking them out. The bottom line here is that Google can potentially find any links to be manipulative, so focus on things like creating useful, interesting content rather than generating meaningless links.
To appeal a manual penalty, correct the problem and only then file a reconsideration request. Your initial recovery may only take a few months, but to get entirely back on the good side of the Google algorithms can take time.
How to deal with link penalties
First of all, know how Google deals with unnatural links. This issue keeps them tremendously busy: each month Google’s webspam team takes more than 400,000 manual actions against websites. And it doesn’t end there, because Google also gets 20,000 reconsideration requests each month from webmasters trying to plead their cases.
Expect the process to be long and difficult. It will be around four weeks until Google responds at all to your query, so take action as soon as you get penalized. And for every 20 penalties Google generates, it processes even less than 1 reconsideration request. The good news is that around 95% of webmasters never respond or attempt recovery after they’re penalized, so your chances are a little better.
Keep in mind that a successful recovery from a penalty isn’t getting back where you were. Some of your original organic traffic will be gone. A success story is a website who gets 60 to 70 percent of their traffic back. Also, remember that you need to do more than remove bad links. Replace them with high-quality, authoritative backlinks. That being said, we have certainly worked with clients who saw major increases after recovery as well.
Big list of SEO link penalty recovery tools
Obviously, getting too many of these penalties can destroy everything you work hard to create with your web traffic. Use this big list of SEO link penalty recovery tools to make sure you fix the problems that caused the penalty, and to make sure you never face the same problem again.
This tool is designed to provide you with critical intelligence about your traffic. It also routinely audits your links and analyzes links used by your competitors.
To use it, simply plug in your website’s URL. Choose either the fresh or historic index option and run your search. The fresh index uses data from the past 90 days and is updated every day, so it’s very accurate. However, you should definitely also use the historic option as you audit your website because historic data can also be the basis for Google penalties.
The Majestic tool gives you a wealth of information to work with. You can see a summary of information about your site on the summary page tab. You can also use the backlink history chart that the tool can generate. Check your anchor text distribution with the charts in this tool, and look at the breakdown of the frames, images, redirects and text links that comprise your backlink composition.
And if you’re not sure where to go, use the page-level analysis which includes backlinks and data from referring domains on your busiest pages. This way you get the overall view, and if you see a specific metric that you need to know more about you can go to that section.
Majestic uses two metrics to discern link quality: trust flow and citation flow. Trust flow is based on how authoritative and trustworthy link sources are. Citation flow is based on traffic. So the tool determines link quality by assessing the trust ratio: trust flow over citation flow. This means that a website with great, authoritative links will be near or above 1.0, while a site with low authority loses credibility as its traffic undercuts quality and produces a smaller number.
This means that Majestic can help you discover spammy links to your site, and can also help you find anchor text over-optimization problems. It can help you see where spammy links are originating, and this means you can target the true source of the problem. Most importantly, it means you can accurately fix the issues that are leading to penalties to improve your chances of recovery.
Yes, although Google will penalize you, it also provides you with some great tools for recovering from those penalties.
Google Search Console is a free tool that facilitates communication between you (and other webmasters) and Google. It is your best chance for insight into the exact view that Google has of your website. Verify your ownership of your site when you sign up and then get started like this.
When you login, you will see your dashboard. In “Site Messages” you will find notifications from Google about your site’s security vulnerabilities, and spam actions and website errors that impact your site. You can also set up notifications for manual penalties and malicious activity on your site, or a daily digest of your messages.
Check your overall search visibility and see a summary of your site’s traffic driving keywords on the search traffic tab. Check “Manual Actions” for information on both partial match and site-wide penalties that hit your site. Audit and download backlinks to your website with the “Links to your site” option, but realize that they might not be completely up-to-date. Finally, use the “Fetch as Google” feature to see how Google sees and crawls your site.
Google’s “Disavow Backlinks” tool is also essential to your site’s recovery, but it’s not your first step. When you detect a spammy backlink, first go to that site’s webmaster and request that they remove the link. Be polite, and put all requests into one communication like this:
Recently I got a notification from Google which says that my website [website URL] has unnatural links pointing towards it. I am trying to fix these problems and improve my site’s rankings on Google which have suffered.
I see the following links from your site are pointing to my website:
[complete list of links]
I realize this is inconvenient and I apologize for that. And while it’s no reflection on your site, I would appreciate it if you could remove the links.
I look forward to hearing from you.
If you try several times and get no results, you can use the disavow tool. To use the disavow tool, first download all of your site’s backlinks. Then, create a text file and place all of the links in it. For each link, indicate the webmaster you’ve contacted, and when and how you contacted them. Be sure to say you got no response each time (or what response you got). For an example of how this should look, see this guide.
It’s this document that you upload with the disavow tool. Remember, do not include the “https://www” before domain names; just list the domain names. Also omit any specific pages of the domain unless you only want to disavow that page (and this would be unusual). Finally, each new domain should be on a new line along with the reasons you’re disavowing them—like the lack of response to your inquiries. Preface each comment you make with “#”.
Ahrefs offers you a sizable link database that is regularly updated. Get the tool’s inbound link report by entering your URL; you can sort the report by anchor texts or Ahrefs rank which is similar to authority. You can also use the Ahrefs filters to sort links from all over the website as do follow and nofollow.
Use the Ahrefs link function to determine whether or not a backlink is bad by finding all new links on the site. The tool can also track changes in traffic connected to specific keywords. You can use the “inbound links” function in Ahrefs to check referring IPs if you believe many spammy links may be coming from a network of links in a specific IP range.
These basic tools are available free of charge, but within daily limits. To get the most out of this tool, including its disavow function, you’ll need the paid version.
Link Detox is a must for anyone who has already been dinged with penalties, but it’s also useful to anyone hoping to create and maintain a trouble-free link profile. This is particularly useful to you if you are aware of negative SEO campaigns in your industry or from your competitors.
Link Detox uses 22 different sources to provide a risk score for each of your backlinks. It also classifies these risk scores as healthy, suspicious or toxic. This can give you a basis for your manual backlink investigation and also suggests the overall health of your site’s link profile.
Link Detox also allows you to use its screener function to manually check each link, and you definitely should. In some cases even a profile that appears to be acceptable overall might contain enough suspicious or toxic links to cause penalties. A final word of caution: occasionally spammy links get through this system, so check your report and use the tools carefully.
This is another tool that analyses your backlinks and decides whether they’re “OK,” “suspected,” or “unnatural.” It also classifies links by value and origin and provides simple to understand visualizations of the quality of inbound links. This tool also allows you to export your links that come back “unnatural” into a text file for disavowal.
The Google algorithm change history by Moz is a great resource, because although Google gives you a message about manual penalties, it doesn’t notify you about algorithm issues. Use this chart to diagnose algorithmic issues and prevent the penalties from ever happening. Just match the dates of your drops in traffic to dates of algorithmic updates.
Use Mozcast to see how much Google rankings have changed over the past five days; log in and see how “stormy” Google’s weather has been. The stormier and hotter the weather report, the more changes took place.
Finally, Moz has the Open Site Explorer tool which allows you to evaluate the links pointing at your site. One of the best components of this tool is the spam analysis, which groups bad links into one tab.
Barracuda’s Panguin tool
The Panguin tool is possibly one of the best tools for evaluating traffic in relation to penalties. But, if you do not diagnose the situation correctly you can really mess things up.
The Panguin tool allows you to recover from penalties more efficiently and effectively in tandem with GA by seeing where you went wrong.
The WebMeUp backing checking tool is ideal for people who want not just to see the data on the backlinks, but also get a solution connected to the data from their tool. Although the index used by WebMeUp is not as extensive as those of Majestic and Ahrefs, WebMeUp provides much more user-friendly data that’s very easy to use.
Using WebMeUp you can generate charts that break down the IPs and domains for your backlinks and shows your do follow percentage. Even if you’re not quite as technical as some webmasters, you can use these charts to see any patterns of over-optimization and see the distribution patterns in your anchor text.
If cross checking your site manually is not your thing, use Fruition’s Google Penalty Checker tool. Plug your website into the tool which is linked to your GA account. This lets you use the tool to compare your data against updates from Google so you can see whether the changes had “ positive,” “negative,” “extremely negative,” or “no impact” on your traffic. You can use the tool on two websites for free, but for more sites or detailed reports get the pay version.
Link Alerts notifies you via email when you or a competitor get a new backlink. It creates these reports by collating link data from 24 sources, and those notification emails function like summaries. Use them to see new backlinks, but if you suspect negative SEO strategies may be in play, use the hands-off mode to detect attacks.
What do you do if your backlink analysis shows tons of unnatural links on your site? Well, as you know, you need to contact each webmaster one by one—unless you use this tool. This CRM system records your prospects, so you can easily use the templates to send emails. It also monitors how often you receive responses. And remember, you should personalize your requests, so do that within the templates before you reach out.
Along the same lines as BuzzStream, Rmoov lets you pull contact information from your bad backlinks list and send customized but automated requests and follow up reminders. It also helps you keep track of progress, separating the records of repaired links from outstanding links. Finally, the tool automatically takes you to the disavow step once the outreach period is over.
If you’ve ever received a penalty, you know what it can do: it can drop your traffic and “disappear” your website from search results. Use the right tools to recover after this kind of setback. And whether or not you’ve ever been penalized in the past, it is critical to use the best SEO link penalty recovery tools to maintain high-quality links and prevent future disasters.