Every self-respecting search engine optimization (SEO) professional wants backlinks because they help improve a website’s search engine rankings. However, not all backlinks are good. Some can actually get you into trouble with Google. When that happens, you’ll need a recovery plan.
In this article, we’ll look at bad backlinks and how you can recover from them so that your website will still rank. This article looks specifically at a manual action known as “Unnatural Links to your Site — Impacts Links.”
But first, let’s give a little more background information for those who are new to this topic.
Practitioners of spammy SEO will often employ sneaky methods to build backlinks in an effort to trick the Google algorithm into thinking that the site deserves a high place in the SERPs. Alas, the good folks at Google are not so easily fooled.
When Google has determined that your site has spammy backlinks pointing at it, it’s going to be placed under a manual action. That basically means that the site has fallen out of favor with the search engine giant, and it will either be demoted or removed entirely from search results pages. (For more specific information on manual actions, read Google’s documentation.)
However, it’s not just people who want to rank a site who create bad backlinks. Some really devilish SEO engineers intentionally create bad backlinks to a competitor’s site. They know full well that if they create spammy links pointing at a competitor, then Google may take notice and potentially take a manual action on the site. When that happens, they’ll have one less website to compete with in the SERPs.
Pretty shady, right? Yet this does happen — I have actually had a few people who had negative SEO issues reach out to our company in the last couple of weeks.
There’s method to Google’s madness when it comes to penalizing sites that have unnatural backlinks. The company is interested in protecting “user experience.”
What that really means is that Google wants to ensure that only the websites that deserve to appear at the top of the SERPs actually end up there, because that is what searchers want to see — the best and most relevant results.
If people try to manipulate Google’s search algorithm to give a website the appearance of authority when it really doesn’t deserve any, that’s not fair to people who are using Google to search for information. That’s why it’s important that everybody play according to the same rules.
The issue, of course, is that when Google interprets negative SEO as an attempt by the website owner to get their own site ranked and gives the site a penalty. We will save this hot topic for another post and focus on unnatural links to your site impacting manual action.
It’s very easy to tell if your site has been penalized by Google. All you need is an account with Google Search Console.
Simply log in to Google Search Console and select the site that you think might be subject to manual review. Click on the “Search Traffic” option in the left-hand navigation, and you’ll see a number of new options appear underneath it. One of those options is “Manual Actions.” Click on that.
Ideally, the message you see on this screen reads: “No manual webspam actions found.” If you see that, you’re good. However, if you see a message indicating that your website is subject to a manual action, then you’ve got problems.
Now, as mentioned, there are different kinds of manual actions, all of which I have helped websites deal with at some point.
Three kinds of manual actions are related to unnatural links. I will only talk about one — “unnatural links to your site — impacts links” in this post. The link to the Google page is highlighted below.
When it comes to “unnatural links to your site — impacts links,” Google says the following:
As we can see, Google says the action is against the links, not the site. However, they still do hint that you may want to clean up your backlink profile to get the manual action removed.
Though Google gives you steps to take to get rid of the manual action, I am sorry to say it can often be much more complex than their proposed solution makes it sound. This is especially true if you are dealing with a large number of links, if the webmasters are non-responsive, or perhaps if they try to extort you.
In the rest of the post, I give you some specific information on how to deal with this. If you do this correctly, you will get rid of the “Unnatural Links to your Site — Impacts Links” manual action.
The first thing you need to do is get a list of all the links to your site. Generally, I like to export all the links from Google Search Console, Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer and SEMrush. Once you do this, you will have a fairly comprehensive list of the links pointing to your site, including the ones that could possibly be bad.
Also, if you used an SEO company, make sure you ask them for their link-building reports. That can save some time and might uncover other links out there that simply have not been cached yet.
Now, take all of those links and run them through Screaming Frog or Xenu’s Link Sleuth. Look for all the pages that do not return a “200 ok” HTTP status code, and get rid of them. We only care about the pages that are live.
In addition, get rid of all the URLs that have 0 external links on them, because it means there is no longer a live link on the page. This can really save you some time when you are dealing with a lot of URLs.
So now you know all the links that are live. The next step is to find out which ones are bad. Now, if you only have about 500 to 1,000 links, you can look at them manually and generally tell which ones are bad. Look for:
These links won’t necessarily all be “bad” links, but they serve as good starting points for further investigation.
If you have more than 1,000 links, I would recommend using a tool like Link Detox. This will let you upload all of your links and categorize the bad ones.
Now, the kicker is that about 10 percent of the links Link Detox marks as “bad” will probably be good links, so you will still need to go through those manually; but at least the tool will shave down your list before you need to do that.
So now you know which links are bad. The next step is to get rid of them. Here is what you can do:
If they are links on sites that you have access to (usernames and passwords) you can take them down yourself. Just go on in and delete them.
If there are way too many links for you to handle, you can pay an SEO company to do it or hire someone on Upwork. Just put out an ad, and someone will help you out.
For websites you do not have access to, you should email the webmasters and ask that they remove the links. The website owners will do one of the following.
In most cases, you have to send three emails before you even get a response on these items. Whether they take the links down or not, you should document your attempts to contact webmasters and keep this in a spreadsheet — Google may need this information when you file a reconsideration request.
I really like the tool rmoov for sending takedown requests. It is a little complicated to figure out the first time, but it keeps track of the links that have been taken down for you and helps a great deal in facilitating the emails.
It even gives you templates to use for the email and looks up all the website contact information for you. Imagine looking up 10,000 website email addresses. It is almost impossible. So this tool is really valuable. It streamlines the entire link takedown request process.
At this point, you have done your best to take down all the links. If you got them all, getting the manual action removed should be easy. If there are still some left, it could be tough.
Generally, Google wants to see that you have worked on the takedown for months. If you have not, and there are still links live online, you will have a very hard time getting the manual action lifted.
They want to see that a good 80 percent to 100 percent of the links have been taken down. If there are few live that you cannot take down, they usually understand. But if a significant number are still live, you need to keep working.
If you have cleaned up enough links, take the remaining links and place them in your disavow file and submit them to Google. Now it is time for the reinclusion request. Again, here is the info from Google on this:
Once you’ve removed or disavowed the artificial links, request reconsideration of your site. Including documentation about the links you’ve had removed, and an explanation of any links you were unable to remove, will help us process your request. After you’ve submitted a reconsideration request, be patient and watch for a message in your Search Console account — we’ll let you know when we’ve reviewed your site. If we determine your site is no longer in violation of our guidelines, we’ll revoke the manual action.
They want to hear the following:
If you got a manual action against links, then either you did something wrong or someone pulled some blackhat SEO on you. Either way, I am sorry you are in this situation.
I have cleaned up many of these penalties. When we first started Ignite Visibility, we got a lot of new clients who had been penalized by the work the other agencies had been doing.
So I spent much time dealing with these issues. In one case, I got rid of a penalty in three weeks. In another case, a really bad one, it took six months. Each case is different, and I wish you the best of luck.
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