I have seen a lot of people with link problems during the course of this year. Some of these have been companies that have gone really deep with bad linking practices. Lots of article directories, lots of directories, lots of paid guest posts, really bad anchor text mix ... well, lots of link building done for link building's sake.
Then 2012 came and the piper came calling. The bill was due, and they were either heavily penalized, or outright flushed from the index. For some, they were hit by Penguin. Others were hit by unnatural links messages, and some of these were followed by penalties as well.
Many of these companies have real people working at them, many employees, and their whole business got turned upside down. It's a shame really. Many of the impacted companies have good, genuine, people working for them, and they’ve been badly hurt.
Whether the participants were bad actors or not, Google is just acting to protect its business. For those who were penalized, the situation is dire.
Now the question is, can you recover?
The Recovery Process
Yes, you can recover. We have helped a few sites to get their penalty removed (not Penguin as yet, as there has not yet been an update to that algorithm).
Don't get me wrong, it was a painful process. For reference, I have written about parts of the process in two recent articles here on Search Engine Watch:
Those two posts should give you an idea of the some of the basic mechanics. In addition, here are some other things you should plan on doing when you begin work on cleaning up a bad link profile:
- Be exactingly thorough. At the very least, you need to look at each and every domain that links to you and make a call on whether it has bad links to your site or not. This is a binary decision – it's good, or it's bad. If it isn't in your good bucket, it goes in your bad bucket, and you're going to be requesting its removal.
- Be laser focused. Yes, it is all the rage to be mad at Google, but stay focused on your business. Most likely, you aren't going to sue Google, or participate in a mass outcry that forces Google to change what they are doing, so do the best you can to understand what it is you need to do, and sit down and do it. This is very, very hard to do because having your business damaged by the actions of a third party does make you angry. That just makes being focused much more important.
- Be harsh. As soon as you hear yourself justifying that a link really is a good link, you probably have a problem link identified. Good links need no justification, and no debate is required. Also, it is critical to get back to a point where you can simply focus on building your business as soon as possible. Don't waste your time and Google's cutting corners, otherwise this process can take a half year or more. Cut to the chase so you can move on.
How Much Work is This Going to be
We have seen situations involved more than one million links and 7,000 linking domains. Clearly this type of situation is going to be a lot of work. Those are big numbers but if you follow the process outlined in the Simplifying the Task of Pruning Links article you can significantly reduce the total effort. Nonetheless, we have seen projects of this size take 600 hours of work or more.
However, the bulk of the work can be done by inexpensive labor that you train to reognize the signs of a bad link. This will bring down the out-of-pocket cost considerably, and allow you to scale up the effort with multiple people. If you sit down and get right to it, you can push through the work in a reasonable amount of time.
Here's what a link recovery timeline might look like:
Obviously, one of the easiest ways to connect with people to request a link removal is by email. You should certainly start there, and be prepared to make multiple requests. Don't stop there. If that hasn't proved sufficient, look for phone and snail mail contact info.
When making the request for a removal, be polite. You're asking someone to do something for you. Don't tell them that there spammy links ruined your business. Instead, be matter of fact about it. Something like:
Google has complained to us about some of the links to our site, and we fear that the link on your site to ours may look like a paid link. For that reason, we would like to request that you remove the link(s) from your site. The link appears on this page: http://www.theirdomain/pagewithyourlinkonit.html.
The same approach is the best in the event that you send a snail mail or make a phone call.
If you have been hit by Penguin, it now becomes a waiting game for you, and you need to wait for an algo update and hope for the best. This is one of the main reasons why I emphasized the need to be harsh. Better to over-remove and be in a position to move on.
For those who received an unnatural link message, or a non-Penguin based penalty, once your work is done, you will need to file a reconsideration request. Google's documentation on how to go about that can be found here. In addition to the advice you will find there, I would add:
- Don't complain about what happened to your business. Surely you've been hurt. But, the people receiving your request are required only to review the facts of your case in regards to the problems that were detected with your site.
- Provide solid documentation of the details. I like to keep the actual reconsideration request message reasonably short and then link to Google Docs with the details of the situation. For example, if there are links you were not able to remove and you want to ask Google to discount them, link to a spreadsheet that lists them all.
- Don't mention how much you spend on ads. This isn't a factor in this process either.
You can get more information on reconsideration requests in my interview with Google's Tiffany Oberoi.
How Much Will You Recover?
This is the million dollar question. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer.
Remember that some of the traffic you used to get from Google was due to the bad links that you have now removed. After you get a penalty removed, it isn't likely that you will get back to where you were at your peak.
How much the permanent traffic loss will be depends on what percentage of the link juice that used to drive your rankings came from bad links. One of our recent cases lost 25 percent of their traffic even after the recovery.
As a result, even recovery can be painful. But, once you have recovered you will be in a much better spot to drive the long term growth of your business.