When Should The Link Clean-Up Happen?

If you have received an unnatural links warning or other penalty notification in webmaster tools or you’ve seen a considerable decrease in the rankings around the time of a Google Penguin update, this requires taking action as soon as possible. Likewise if your website is still ranking fine but you are sitting on a large number of bad links, it may be critical to get these cleaned up to prevent a future penalty. It may be effective to create new links of high-quality instead of starting a major link cleaning exercise but the best bet is always to clean up the problems as well. Depending on the penalty, you may not need to get the links removed. Using an SEO analysis service to disavow bad links without removing them is enough for algorithm penalties. Also, disavowing risky links before you actually get a penalty can save a lot of time and money down the road. It’s much easier to prevent a penalty then to clean up after the fact. Reputable services like Rewind SEO provide in depth risk analyses, link removal outreach, and reconsideration request writing. However, if you want to do a cleanup project on your own, here are some important guidelines.

Obtain The Maximum Amount Of Link Data From All Possible Sources

The blunder that many people make is they simply rely on 1 or 2 data sources for the link audits. For my SEO analysis, I will try obtaining the maximum amount of data possible from Google Webmaster tools, OSE, Majestic, ahrefs, and any other sources that client may have from past SEO agencies. Google mentions that information in their webmaster tools sample link list is not always enough data to lift a penalty. From my own tests, I’ve found webmaster tools only shows around 30% of the links most of the time, often less…

Relocate the Worst Offending Pages with a 404

Those who are in a more fortunate position will have unnatural links pointing to less significant inner pages on their sites. In this case it can be faster and more effective to just set the page to a 404 page (page removed) on that particular URL and move its content to a fresh URL. Of course this should only be done where there is genuinely no good links to that page. If there are good links that were linking to the 404 page, you could try to contact these sites to get them to update the URL.

It isn’t Only About Anchor Ratios

There are large numbers of studies on the correlations between websites with high ratios of commercial anchors getting hit with Penguin and manual penalties. This is certainly true but it is just as important to clean up the spammy linking sites regardless of anchor text. Link wheels, blog networks, hacked sites, forum profiles, article directories, badly spun content on web 2.0’s, and abundance of crappy links is where a metric-heavy analysis service like Rewind SEO specializes in identifying just about every possible risk including ones you might not think are risky just from the appearance.

For Link Removal, Be Creative

Quite often for manual penalties, my new clients have already gotten several reconsideration requests rejected because of insufficient work to remove links. Usually they are not able to find much contact details on for the linking domains so are unable to do good outreach. If you can’t find contact details, a good bet is to check contact forms; verify any social media profiles linked for finding contact details, and check whois records for website.

Be Prepared to Deal With Some Webmasters Asking for Payment

Don’t think that webmasters are going to be happy at having to login to a CMS backend, navigate to offending pages and remove/edit the links. Many will do it for free but others will ask for payment. I don’t mean that you ought to pay every requested price or even any of them but at least recognize it is a fair thing to ask. If they ask for $5 to remove the link you might want to consider it depending on the total number of links. But if a webmaster suggests to you that they need $25, $50 or $100 to remove a link or two, just note this on the CRM or spreadsheet and carry on. Ensure that you have included this kind of exceptional request in the disavow file or documentation for the project so Google can see it. Hopefully this gives you an idea on how to do a detailed cleanup and penalty recovery campaign. And also why investing in an analysis and preemptive disavow before a penalty hits is something Matt Cutts of Google is always suggesting for link profiles at risk of a penalty.