I've been right at the front of the whole "Penguin is horrible and Google's so mean and not everyone deserves it waaaaahhhh" movement. So I thought maybe this is a good time to offer a different viewpoint.
Can You Recover?
I've now seen a few sites get back into the SERPs after a thorough link and onsite SEO cleanup. Both sites received spammy link warnings before they vanished from the rankings. One received an official notice that they were being paroled from Google Jail, and the other didn't.
So What Can You Do?
In both cases, here's what the site owners did. I can't say "Follow this list and you'll definitely get back into the rankings," but I can say these steps sure didn't hurt:
- Grab all links from MajesticSEO, SEOMOZ, ahrefs and Google Webmaster Tools.
- Filter out clearly legitimate links from clearly top-quality domains. For example, a link from the business profile page on BBB.org gets an automatic pass.
- Filter out all linking pages that are now returning 404 errors. This happens a lot. Use your favorite spidering tool, paste in your list of links, and voila. Instant list of 404s.
- Filter out all pages that no longer contain the link in question. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog SEO Spider to make this a lot faster.
- Filter for domains on known link networks. Flag all links on those domains for immediate removal. Don't know how to spot a link network? Skip this step.
- Pull the WHOIS data for each linking domain.
- Flag all links on domains owned by a single party. That could be a link network.
- Flag all links on single C-blocks. Again, could be a link network.
- Flag all links on single hosting providers. Crazy, I know, but it could be a link network.
- Hand-check the links flagged in the last 3 steps.
- Filter for spammy on-page content. Flag for removal. I like to use Defensio to do this. You can also take a glance at the domain names. I guarantee that if the domain name is something like "GetLinksToday.com," it's spam.
- Flag all links from pages with bottom 5% page authority (SEOMOZ) and citation flow (Majestic) for removal. It’s unlikely these links are helping much, anyway.
- Filter for link location. Anything clearly in a blog roll, in a page footer or site-wide gets flagged for removal. You can write some code of your own to do this (which I don't recommend) or farm the list out via Mechanical Turk (my favorite technique).
- Filter for non-topical links. If a page has 10 links pointing at pages on 10 entirely different subjects, flag it for removal.
- Start requesting removal. Use e-mail, first. Use phone if e-mail fails.
- Track what happens with each link! Keep that data to send in your re-consideration request, so you can show Google which links got removed, which ones are pending removal, and where you simply couldn't track down the webmaster.
- While you're doing that, make your web site completely non-dairy: Remove all cheesy, tacky SEO tricks you're using, like the 250 links in your footer that are light light light gray against a white background, or the 252 character title tag, or the keyword-stuffed keyword tags. Penguin may be a linking penalty, but I bet the re-consideration team takes a look at sites, too, when they receive a request.
The Reconsideration Request - On Your Knees, Please
Then, write your reconsideration request. Include:
- Contrition. Don't protest your innocence. Whatever you may think, you are not innocent. Either you hired someone who spammed your link profile, or you did it. The chances someone did it maliciously are near zero—I have yet to see a case.
- Your full list of links slated for removal, and status;
- A description of any onsite changes made to bring the site into line with Google’s Terms of Service;
Then, you wait. It can take 5-6 weeks for Google to respond. I'm guessing they have a couple other re-consideration requests in their inboxes, somewhere (that was sarcasm - they probably have 999,999 of them).
Remember to Let it All Go
Last piece of advice: Don't think about trying to 'save some of those links'. Remove every link that appears artificial.
That means any link that looks like it wouldn't have been put there by a site owner because it helped their readers.
Footer links? Buh-bye. Blogrolls? See ya. Links to your socks store from a page that discusses toxic waste? Uh-uh. Be brutal. Remember, Google is pissed. They're tired of getting embarrassed by all the spam out there.
Give them what they want: Stop spamming. Even if you had no idea you were doing it.
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