When You Have Bad Links Impacting Your Google Rankings, Which Do You Remove?

Dec 24, 2013 • 8:28 am | comments (9) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Santa PenguinI see this all the time, a forum thread, where a webmaster knows his rankings are suffering in Google because he was hit by Penguin because he has a lot of really bad, manipulative links. A WebmasterWorld thread sums up the issues a webmaster in this predicament is in.

(1) They hired an SEO company (2) That SEO company ranked them well for years (3) Then Penguin smashed their links (4) They no longer rank as well (5) They are upset with the SEO company (6) They need to figure out how to rank again (7) Removing the links are the only option (8) But removing links that were the result of their initial good rankings won't help them rank immediately

In this thread, the site owner sums it up as:

1) What is the sure proof way to make sure a link is 100% bad?

2) I don't want to remove all links cause I am worried my site will drop even more. I'm sure there are some semi-good links that might be helping.

3) After submitting disavow file, typically how long does it take to recover? We have two sites, one seems to be under penguin and panda updates and the other received a manual penalty for certain bad links for certain terms.

It is sad, indeed. But you need to disavow the links, that is for sure. Those links are not helping you and they are now hurting you. Remove the hurt. Then get people to link to you because they want to link to you.

But which links should you remove? Which links are actually hurting you. That is the hard question. One SEO offered his advice:

the best advice I think I can give is to disavow the "obviously bad" links, but keep the ones you think are "grey" or "borderline" and see if you recover -- Basically, in your situation, meaning you don't "know" what's good and what's bad for sure, I'd "start with the obviously bad" and then "keep going" if necessary.

Of course, there are tools, like Link Detox, Majestic SEO, AHREFs, Moz and others. But we are assuming you have the tools already or you manually go through all your links within Google Webmaster Tools. And when you disavow, make sure to disavow on the domain level.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

Image credit to BigStockPhoto for santa penguin

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Marie Haynes

12/24/2013 03:13 pm

When you have a manual unnatural links penalty Google wants you to be really thorough in removing self made links. It's not enough to just remove the obviously spammy ones. In early 2012 we could get penalties lifted by removing the worst offenders. But when the manual actions tool came out and Google started giving example links to those who failed at reconsideration, it became much harder to remove penalties. For many sites it seems that Google wants close to 100% of the self made links either removed or disavowed. Sometimes there are a few exceptions like relevant local directories and relevant business partners and the like. I'll keep links that would have been made even if links didn't matter for search engine rankings...i.e. links that bring the site referral traffic. I think that the reason that they require sites to address close to all of their self made links is because if they don't force you to deal with the vast majority of unnatural links then those links are likely to be hurting you in the Penguin algorithm. So, it might seem unfair that Google wants site owners to be so thorough, but if you're not then you could do all this work to remove a manual penalty and still not rank because of Penguin. What I think is unfair is that Google doesn't yet allow you to see all of your offending links in WMT. And it's not just a numbers thing. I can understand that a site with millions of links might not have all of them displayed in WMT. But, I've worked with sites with only a few thousand links and the example links we got back were russian forum profiles that were not in any backlink checkers. Why not show those links in WMT?

Alan Ng

12/24/2013 03:30 pm

If your site has been impacted by penguin, chances are if there are any possible odd anchor text stuffed in content, side bars, footers etc.you'll need to disavow as much as you can, that deem to look suspicious. If you hire someone to do it then trying to pick and keep anything that is known to be slightly dodgy in Google's guide lines is most likely asking for trouble further down the line.

David Beart

12/24/2013 10:41 pm

When it comes to “bad links” one thing that Google and most SEO writers will not discuss is how to remove articles from Article Marketing Sites that will not remove articles; will not provide login information so you can remove the articles yourself or they want a lot of money to remove the links. The problem with these types of article/links is the articles NEVER go away and actually continue to grow as other webmasters use the articles. To add insult to injury one often finds Google Adwords on these sites. Another type of link that Google needs to address are links within abandoned Blogspot pages… we have found hundreds of links to our site on ‘Blogspot’ that we have tried to remove but can’t as the user abandoned the site years ago. Google won’t remove the links as there are no laws against ‘linking to a site’. It would be nice if Google would simply remove Blogspot pages/members if the site has been abandoned for more than 2 or 3 years. (NOTE: Blogspot is owned by Google)

Patti Paz

12/25/2013 12:53 pm

ok, assuming what you write is correct, will Google accept and acknowledge your Disavow Request for these links??

David Beart

12/25/2013 11:43 pm

Google does respond fairly quickly to request to remove links/content on Blogspot pages, however for the most part they won't remove links unless they are within content that has been stolen; if it has been stolen they remove the articles quickly. My issue is that Google will not remove single links from Blogspot pages that are poor quality.... even if the members page has not been active in several years. At this point GWT shows over 2,300 links pointing to 203 'linked pages' on our site. I would like all these links remove.

Matt Fielding

12/28/2013 03:08 pm

"When will my rankings come back" is a hard question to answer. Usually they don't, because as you say the links that once helped are now hurting. The harsh reality is that until Google sees more natural links to your site, you won't recover your rankings - but of course clients don't want to hear that.

Matt Fielding

12/28/2013 03:10 pm

Disavow the domain, David. That means that when new pages are created and your link appears on a new URL, you're covered because you've distanced yourself from the whole site. Use domain:example.com in your disavow list and you're in business.

Ben Heligman

01/06/2014 03:15 pm

Hey Barry, in follow-up to your article I wrote this piece. 15 Indicators That Your Backlink Should be Removed (http://j-town.co.il/15-indicators-that-your-backlink-should-be-removed/). Hope your readers find it helpful.


07/09/2014 02:40 pm

I've also met people that would rather risk and get a Google penalty than remove an "apparently" useful bad links. As many other people out there, I don't have the necessary time to check all my backlinks manually, and I'm also against hiring a team that would do this manually for me since most of them use backlinks checking services but assure customers they've done it manually. That's why I'm using several analysis services and it works quite ok for me. For the sake of information here are some of them: www.removeem.com www.linkquidator.com (their plus is that hey have a free trial) www.linkdetox.com

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