Your client built some bad links. They may have seemed a good thing to do at the time (about 5 years ago), but now Google has upped the game on spammy backlink profiles. So those links have given your client a penalty.
Google is constantly getting wiser regarding black hat tactics, and it’s not a good idea to be employing such tactics in this age of search, even if it was effective five years ago.
One of my co-workers said that SEOs working in the industry five years ago have had to ‘change hats’ in order to be successful, and as someone relativity new to SEO I do find some of my clients’ past tactics to be, frankly, appalling. I suppose given how I’ve been in SEO just a year, and went straight into agency-side SEO, I came straight into white hat.
Some of the links which my clients’ previous agencies built are pretty intense. I’ve learned a great deal about things I’d rather not learn a great deal about by browsing backlink profiles. While those kind of links might have slipped under Google’s radar in the past, it’s no longer the case – these days, it’s not uncommon for a brand’s attempts to manipulate search engines in the past to come back and truly bite them now.
Why You Don’t Want a Penalty
The effect of a Google penalty can be highly detrimental to your brand’s success.
When you get a penalty, your rankings plummet. Not always for your brand name, but certainly for your chosen key terms. And for larger brands, it can be a PR disaster. I won’t name any names here, but…well, this article is quite revealing.
There are two types of penalty; the manual penalty, and the algorthimic penalty.
An algorithmic penalty is often seen after algorithm updates. At present, most SEOs will put algorithmic penalties into the categories of Panda or Penguin.
Panda updates will relate to the over usability of your site, and the quality of your onsite content. Penguin penalties will relate mainly to the links to your site, specifically the ‘bad’ ones.
A manual penalty comes when a Google employee has manually reviewed your site, and decided that your site goes against Google Webmaster guidelines (which, incidentally, you can find here).
If you have a Google Penalty, it will look like this. You can see it in Webmaster Tools, in the ‘Search Traffic’ tab.
To lift this, you will need to complete your link audit. It’s pretty straightforward – I take all the links from Webmaster Tools, and also use Open Site Explorer by Moz and MajesticSEO to pull together a backlink profile (you will find that you’ll need to use at least three tools, as each one may miss some links).
You can then filter the links according to directory sites (these often have ‘direc’, ‘directory’, ‘seo’, ‘article’ or ‘submit’ in the URL and make for easy Excel filtering), poor sites, poor anchor text (Open Site Explorer will show you this) and poor irrelevant offsite content.
You’ll then need to complete a disavow file of all those sites which do not have contact details, and contact the ones which do for link removal. It’s a long and arduous process, but if you show Google that you put the work in you are much more likely to get that penalty lifted.
When you’ve completed your link audit, put it all into a Google Doc file, with seperate tabs to denote types of website, information regarding how you contacted webmasters, and include your disavow list.
Finally, it is very important that you set this Google Doc to open viewing – simply click ‘anyone with the link’ on the sharing settings (it’s the first option in the ‘File’ menu) like so:
Writing Your Reconsideration Request
Now you’ve come to writing the actual reconsideration request itself.
One of the key things to remember is that this is the fault of your client – don’t write the request as if it isn’t. Accept the responsibility, but don’t be scrounging. You need to delivery the facts regarding what you have done to rectify the situation, there’s no begging involved.
Your introduction needs to include details of the penalty itself – when it was implemented, what the penalty was for (usually a Penguin-based penalty), and how you have attempted to make everything okay.
It’s also worth citing the date at which you uploaded your disavow file, and any dates which you uploaded previous disavow files or submitted previous reconsideration requests.
Next, give some examples of links you have removed which you believed caused the penalty. Include you link to the Google Docs spreadsheet you created. If you can include some screen shots or examples of emails you sent to remove said links, do so.
Include examples of what you expect to be doing in the future in regards to building links. Note that you will be keeping tabs on the links which appear in your backlink profile, and how you intend to create insightful, enriching content for the site in the future.
Note that you have gone over Google guidelines, and do not believe that the site goes against said guidelines any more.
Example Reconsideration Request
Dear Google Web Spam team,
Thank you for taking the time to read this request.
I am writing to request the resubmission of my client’s site, [website]. This is due to an Unnatural Link warning which was received, via Webmaster Tools, on [date of penalty]. This penalty was caused thanks to the building of unnatural links which intended to manipulate the SERPs.
This work was carried out by a previous agency which we no longer employ. However, we do take full responsibility for the work of said previous agency.
Following the receipt of the Unnatural Link Warning, our new digital agency has completed a link audit. Links were taken from Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO, and analysed carefully.
During this process, links were filtered according to the following criteria which would go against Google Guidelines:
– Comment spam
– Trackback spam
– Profile spam
– Links from pornographic websites
– Links from low quality sites
– Low quality and/or free directories
– Relevance to our industry
– Poor anchor text, exact match anchor text
After this, webmasters were contacted via email or contact forms (where avalible) in order to manually remove links. Any links which we could not remove due to lack of contact details, or thanks to being hosted on a hacked domain, were moved into our disavow list.
In total, we were able to remove [number] bad links out of a total list of [number] contacts.
We were unable to remove a total of [number] links; these were placed into a disavow.txt file and submitted via Webmaster Tools. Sites which are parked or hacked were also included in the disavow file for safety.
Our disavow.txt file for [website] was submitted on [date] and featured a full list of domains which could not be removed manually because:
- We have not been able to contact the domain owner (as no contact details are displayed, emails have bounced back, supplied emails were invalid
– We have no received a response from the webmaster after contacting them requesting the removal of the offending link
– The domain is parked, suspended or hacked
– Full details of contact history of domains which our agency’s link audit flagged as unnatural can be seen in this Google doc:
[insert your link to the Google doc here]
We believe that we have been successful in making our site compliant according to Google’s search quality guidelines.
Moving forward, we will be working hard to maintain the quality of our site, monitoring any links or mentions of our website in order to analyse new links and whether we want those sites linking to ours. In this manner, we will ensure that we attract natural, quality links which are relevant to our site.
We will also be working towards the implementation of a content plan to improve the enrichment and informative nature of content on [website] in order for our site to be made for users and not exclusively for search engines.
In the instance of this resubmission request being unsuccessful, we would be very appreciative if you would offer us some information regarding the reason for rejection in order for us to more effectively target our activity.
What if the Reconsideration is Unsuccessful?
If it isn’t successful, you’ll get a message in Webmaster Tools which looks like this:
It’s not uncommon for a penalty removal to require at least three link audits and reconsideration requests. Further attempts really only need much of the same – you may find that on the second link audit they’ll be a good handful of links which were missed the first time round.
Your second reconsideration request needs to include all the dates from before, and the date of the original rejection. It’s best to leave it a while – at least a month – before resubmitting.
Once you get the penalty lifted, don’t ever return back to your old habits. If not to avoid getting slapped again (which you will – and Google won’t be so lenient on you a second time), then to spare whoever does your link audit from seeing things which cannot be unseen.
(p.s Regarding my featured image for this post, I just typed ‘reconsideration’ into Creative Commons image search and got that. I thought it was quite funny.)