Case Study: Dealing with unnatural links and penalties
What kind of unnatural links did you have to deal with?
We faced this penalty attack on one of our client’s website. It is a popular website selling home garden and backyard lake care products.
The project came to us after they spotted around ~50% decline in their Avg. daily organic traffic.
It was their previous agency focusing on creating huge number of backlinks without paying much need to the quality.
When we got the access to the Google webmaster /Search console, we found a message from the webmasters about the “unnatural links” penalty on their account.
We then analyzed their entire link building work done by previous agency and observed that following category of unnatural links were dominating their link profile.
- Spammy web directories
- Automatically generated links on targeted keywords through automated scripts / Submitter
- “Private Blog Networks” PBN links- identically themed blog, common owner, who controls them and posts articles with do-follow links at his own discretion.
- Commercial Anchor Text: Keyword stuffing unnaturally with anchor text everywhere on website.
- Forums and Blog Comments
Majority of links were:
- From the footer of the websites: A link exchange placeholder
- Non thematic links (Irrelevant connections)
- Excessively keyword usage in anchor text
Below: Before -> Drop -> Resurrection of traffic coming to the website.
Were they caused by spammers, bad choices, negative SEO attacks?
Unfortunately, a majority of those links were created by the previous SEO company, which apparently was least bothered about the qualitative aspect of the link building, and was spinning more links to account for huge billable hours.
A lack of (any) link audit system in place was also to be partially blamed for not catching up on this early, by client. Their previous agency used to send a simple list of link created in a given billing period in an excel sheet without any attributes or additional details about the qualitative aspect of those links.
How did you deal with them?
Here are the top level steps that we followed:
Step 1 – Scanning through all previous link submissions reports which the client had and making top level observations
Step 2 – Compiling all the (live) backlinks data from the Search Console and the Ahrefs in an excel spreadsheet
Step 3 – Filtering the live link data
Step 4 – Sorting live links by unique domains
Step 5 – Weeding out the most obvious, the standard culprits from the list (0 page indexed /Spam by name / 0 authority / Affiliate / Link farm)
Step 6 – Such links were all Disavowed by submitting a request via GSC
Step 7 – Flagging of all the rest of the low quality links through manual inspection and looking at their state and quality metrics
After compiling and identifying all “bad links”
Step 1 – Outreach campaign was launched to send email/Phone request to the webmasters and owner of the directories and other approachable resources to pursue them to remove our links
Step 2 – Incessant Follow-up was taken for upto 4 rounds.
Step 3 – All the successfully removed responses were compiled in a spreadsheet as a proof.
Step 4 – We then had created a report of all bad links which were removed.
Step 5 – We then reached to Google with this report and a request to reconsider.
Step 6 – A grand list of all leftover links from above was feeded straightaway to Disavow interface!
Our reconsideration request to Google to remove the penalty was diligently followed up with elaborated proof along with explanation of the efforts made to revert to a “good natural link profile”.
Eventually, submitting the report, disavowing the bad links and lodging the reconsideration request to Google resulted in success!
It took more than 3 rounds of iteration through Google team to reach success. They asked for additional details everytime.
Following was the response from Google. “Congratulations! Your penalty is removed. “, all ranking were seemingly restored and traffic started to revert back to the better state!
If you need any assistance recovering from a bad link penalty from Google, please contact us.