If you’re reading this, then it means that you’re interested in cleaning up your backlink profile. You’ve either been assigned a devastating Manual Penalty or you’re looking to take preemptive action to avoid one. It can happen to even the best of businesses and, unless they have a dedicated and observant SEO team, it can go relatively unnoticed. It can be assigned to you as the result of work done weeks, months, even years ago. So while you may have forgotten about the guy you hired off of Craigslist to do some quick link building, Google hasn’t forgotten. Google never forgets.

Whether you already have a penalty or you’re looking to avoid one, the process for cleaning up your link profile is the same. Those who have seen a dramatic decrease in traffic may panic and say:

Jumping at the sudden urge to go Rambo with a disavow file isn’t the way to go. The disavow file is meant to be a last resort, which is why Google makes it so difficult to find and use. Google wants to hold businesses responsible for the SEO practices that they employ as a way to deter link spammers. Thus, Google requests that you remove first and disavow last. So if the urge to disavow everything begins to overwhelm you, just say…

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of cleaning up your link profile the right way, it’s time to discuss how we’ll go about doing it.

Step 1 – Assemble a Link Profile

In the past, Google has – on occasion – provided me with an example of a bad link that I wasn’t able to find in the Latest Links report. So while Google recommends downloading the Latest Links report from Webmaster Tools, I like to grab a more comprehensive list from Majestic – especially if the manual penalty has already been assigned.

Step 2 – Identify the Bad Links

At this point, I highly recommend importing your link profile into Buzzstream, which provides you with the ability to quickly browse through your link profile and sort/categorize your link profile in order to make the process more efficient. Buzzstream will also help out in the next step as well.

Tools such as Link Detox can be of assistance, but they are not definitive and should be used only to help point you in the right direction. Ultimately, you should be looking for signs that indicate irrelevance or spammy practice.

Bad signs include, but are not limited to:

  • A blog with only one post, especially if it’s several years old.
  • A series of social bookmarking accounts with the same repeated text attributed to a very strange name.
  • Non-niche general directories with weird sites.
  • Ridiculously low authority-indicated metrics.
  • Blogs that publish articles on any topic, which may range from How Your Toilet Works to Studying Accounting and Business in Europe.

In the end, your biggest assets are intuition and analysis. If it looks spammy, it’s bad. If its presence doesn’t make sense, it’s bad.

Step 3 – Outreach

If you’ve made it this far and resisted the urge to disavow every link that even looks at you the wrong way, congratulations. You’ve made it to the part that takes the most time and patience. Now that you’ve decided what you would like to clean up from your link profile, it’s time to reach out and get those links removed.

Thankfully, Buzzstream makes outreach easy by allowing you to keep track of the outreach progress for each individual domain.

An effective link removal request is personal, short, and specific. Include important details such as the webmaster’s name (whenever possible) and the URL where the link is located (always possible). Be polite – a threat to disavow is not necessary, especially in the first contact, as most webmasters will be accommodating.

If working on behalf of a client, I recommend an email address from the client’s domain for added credibility.

Also – keep records of every contact attempt and response. If you have a manual penalty, you will need to detail your efforts to Google in order to earn their forgiveness.

After several days, I recommend sending a second request to anyone who has yet to respond. Repeat this a third time and after a few days gather together the list of links that remain.

Step 4 – Disavow the Remains

Now that you have a list of bad links that you weren’t able to have removed, it’s time to disavow that list. This list should consist primarily of unresponsive webmasters, webmasters who are angry that you dare insinuate that their site may be spammy, and webmasters who want to charge you money to remove the bad link. A guide to the process of disavowing links can be found here.

Step 5 – Request Forgiveness from Google

*If you do not have a manual penalty, skip this part. You are done!

Now that you’ve done all that you can, it’s time to submit a reconsideration request to Google. In this request, you will account to Google a record of everything that you have done to bring your link profile in accordance with Google’s standards. While it is not necessary to remove every single bad link, a good show of effort to do so will go a long way. A full guide to reconsideration requests can be found here.

Once Google has considered your request, it will decide whether or not it will remove your penalty. If Google decides that you still have work to do, you will need to start again at Step 2. Sometimes this process can take two or three rounds, so this is where keeping your records in Buzzstream comes in handy.

If Google removes your penalty, congratulations. Your work here is done. Stick to solid SEO from now on and you should be fine.

Rachel Libby
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