Digital Insights

Google Penguin Recovery: When to Remove and When to Disavow Bad Links


Published: October 16, 2014

Recovery from a Google Penguin penalty is entirely possible, but it will take time and a considerable amount of work to get your organic rankings back. Once an update penalty has been applied against your website, you will not be able to rank no matter what you do until your link profile has been cleaned up to Google’s satisfaction and they have refresed their algorithm. Which has not happened in almost one year.

How to Tell if Your Website has been Hit by a Penguin Penalty

  • Check your Google Webmaster Tools account for any notice of a manual penalty being applied to your site.
  • Check your website analytics. A sudden and unexplained drop in traffic is a pretty good indicator that the Penguin has paid a visit to your site. Add “&pws=0” to the end of your query string to disable location and personalization settings for a more accurate look at your metrics.
  • Determine if traffic or impressions has dropped off for any specific keywords. Remember that Penguin functions at the page level so be sure to look beyond your home page.
  • If you suspect that your site has been hit by Penguin, run a full report from the Majestic, OpenSiteExplorer and AHrefs website and examine your link profile. Pay careful attention to links coming from paid directories or social bookmarking sites, any paid or site-wide links, and any thin or “spun” content.

How to Get Rid of Bad Links
Once you’ve identified the links that are killing your rankings and traffic, you have two options for getting rid of them: request their removal by the webmaster providing the links, or use Google’s disavow tool to remove them from any future consideration.

Be advised that Google expects you to make every effort to have the offending links removed before you resort to using the disavow tool. You can’t just dump all of your problem links into a disavow file and send it off to Google.

Create a spreadsheet containing the links you want to remove, along with details of the site that is providing the link, and documentation of your efforts to get the links removed.

Making a Link Removal Request
The best approach is to send a personalized email to the webmaster of each site that is pointing damaging links back to your site. Be sure to specify the page and location on the page where the link has been placed, the exact anchor text that has been used, and the URL that the link is pointing to.

Tell the webmaster that Google wants to see a significant number of unnatural links removed before they consider lifting a penalty, and that Google would prefer to see the links removed rather than having you disavow his or her site in Google’s Webmaster Tools. Be polite and non-confrontational.

Monitor and record every link on your spreadsheet as it is removed. Send a follow-up email about one week after your initial email to every webmaster who has not responded, and a third and “final request” email one week after that. Be sure to document all of your attempts to have the links removed. Any links that have not been removed after three requests should be added to your “Disavow Links” file.

Disavow any Remaining Bad Links
Go to your Google Webmaster Tools account, select the Disavow Tool, and enter your domain name. You’ll receive a prompt to upload a file of the links that you want to disavow. Make sure that your file contains all of the offending links that were not removed. Remember that you don’t have to include any nofollowed links in your disavow file since these links never pass PageRank and don’t affect your ranking.