Google Gives Advice On Speedier Penalty Recovery

    December 10, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google has shared some advice in a new Webmaster Help video about recovering from Google penalties that you have incurred as the result of a time period of spammy links.

Now, as we’ve seen, sometimes this happens to a company unintentionally. A business could have hired the wrong person/people to do their SEO work, and gotten their site banished from Google, without even realizing they were doing anything wrong. Remember when Google had to penalize its own Chrome landing page because a third-party firm bent the rules on its behalf?

Google is cautiously suggesting “radical” actions from webmasters, and sending a bit of a mixed message.

How far would you go to get back in Google’s good graces? How important is Google to your business’ survival? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The company’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, took on the following question:

How did Interflora turn their ban in 11 days? Can you explain what kind of penalty they had, how did they fix it, as some of us have spent months try[ing] to clean things up after an unclear GWT notification.

As you may recall, Interflora, a major UK flowers site, was hit with a Google penalty early this year. Google didn’t exactly call out the company publicly, but after reports of the penalty came out, the company mysteriously wrote a blog post warning people not to engage in the buying and selling of links.

But you don’t have to buy and sell links to get hit with a Google penalty for webspam, and Cutts’ response goes beyond that. He declines to discuss a specific company because that’s not typically not Google’s style, but proceeds to try and answer the question in more general terms.

“Google tends to looking at buying and selling links that pass PageRank as a violation of our guidelines, and if we see that happening multiple times – repeated times – then the actions that we take get more and more severe, so we’re more willing to take stronger action whenever we see repeat violations,” he says.

That’s the first thing to keep in mind, if you’re trying to recover. Don’t try to recover by breaking the rules more, because that will just make Google’s vengeance all the greater when it inevitably catches you.

Google continues to bring the hammer down on any black hat link network it can get its hands on, by the way. Just the other day, Cutts noted that Google has taken out a few of them, following a larger trend that has been going on throughout the year.

The second thing to keep in mind is that Google wants to know your’e taking its guidelines seriously, and that you really do want to get better – you really do want to play by the rules.

“If a company were to be caught buying links, it would be interesting if, for example, [if] you knew that it started in the middle of 2012, and ended in March 2013 or something like that,” Cutts continues in the video. “If a company were to go back and disavow every single link that they had gotten in 2012, that’s a pretty monumentally epic, large action. So that’s the sort of thing where a company is willing to say, ‘You know what? We might have had good links for a number of years, and then we just had really bad advice, and somebody did everything wrong for a few months – maybe up to a year, so just to be safe, let’s just disavow everything in that timeframe.’ That’s a pretty radical action, and that’s the sort of thing where if we heard back in a reconsideration request that someone had taken that kind of a strong action, then we could look, and say, ‘Ok, this is something that people are taking seriously.”

Now, don’t go getting carried away. Google has been pretty clear since the Disavow Links tool launched that this isn’t something that most people want to do.

Cutts reiterates, “So it’s not something that I would typically recommend for everybody – to disavow every link that you’ve gotten for a period of years – but certainly when people start over with completely new websites they bought – we have seen a few cases where people will disavow every single link because they truly want to get a fresh start. It’s a nice looking domain, but the previous owners had just burned it to a crisp in terms of the amount of webspam that they’ve done. So typically what we see from a reconsideration request is people starting out, and just trying to prune a few links. A good reconsideration request is often using the ‘domain:’ query, and taking out large amounts of domains which have bad links.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going and removing everything from the last year or everything from the last year and a half,” he adds. “But that sort of large-scale action, if taken, can have an impact whenever we’re assessing a domain within a reconsideration request.”

In other words, if your’e willing to go to such great lengths and eliminate such a big number of links, Google’s going to notice.

I don’t know that it’s going to get you out of the penalty box in eleven days (as the Interflora question mentions), but it will at least show Google that you mean business, and, in theory at least, help you get out of it.

Much of what Cutts has to say this time around echoes things he has mentioned in the past. Earlier this year, he suggested using the Disavow Links tool like a “machete”. He noted that Google sees a lot of people trying to go through their links with a fine-toothed comb, when they should really be taking broader swipes.

“For example, often it would help to use the ‘domain:’ operator to disavow all bad backlinks from an entire domain rather than trying to use a scalpel to pick out the individual bad links,” he said. “That’s one reason why we sometimes see it take a while to clean up those old, not-very-good links.”

On another occasion, he discussed some common mistakes he sees people making with the Disavow Links tool. The first time someone attempts a reconsideration request, people are taking the scalpel (or “fine-toothed comb”) approach, rather than the machete approach.

“You need to go a little bit deeper in terms of getting rid of the really bad links,” he said. “So, for example, if you’ve got links from some very spammy forum or something like that, rather than trying to identify the individual pages, that might be the opportunity to do a ‘domain:’. So if you’ve got a lot of links that you think are bad from a particular site, just go ahead and do ‘domain:’ and the name of that domain. Don’t maybe try to pick out the individual links because you might be missing a lot more links.”

And remember, you need to make sure you’re using the right syntax. You need to use the “domain:” query in the following format:


Don’t add an “http” or a ‘www” or anything like that. Just the domain.

So, just to recap: Radical, large-scale actions could be just what you need to take to make Google seriously reconsider your site, and could get things moving more quickly than trying single out links from domains. But Google wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing it.

Oh, Google. You and your crystal clear, never-mixed messaging.

As Max Minzer commented on YouTube (or is that Google+?), “everyone is going to do exactly that now…unfortunately.”

Yes, this advice will no doubt lead many to unnecessarily obliterate many of the backlinks they’ve accumulated – including legitimate links – for fear of Google. Fear they won’t be able to make that recovery at all, let alone quickly. Hopefully the potential for overcompensation will be considered if Google decides to use Disavow Links as a ranking signal.

Would you consider having Google disavow all links from a year’s time? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • http://www.cartridgesave.co.uk Alex M.

    This is pretty dramatic, is this the first time Google are actually acknowledging their dishing out of penalties? They must have done something before this without me noticing. Still, advice on recovering. Tremendous.

    Google’s very important to us; I’ve sharpened up everything on my Google+ account and have embraced (as much as is possible) the new YouTube comments section. Even though it’s weird and doesn’t work. The best bet is to not be stupid and don’t spam the place with bad links… it’s a mantra we have to repeat over and over.

  • Alexander

    i did a disavow 6 weeks ago, after forking out money for a link detox. The tool said 75% of our links were bad. The tool has NOT worked and after 6 weeks, our traffic is actually WORSE. If google only let people CONTACT them after an algorithm penalty and or TOLD the webmaster exactly WHAT is wrong with their site, things would be fixed so much quicker

    • http://everything-pr.com/ Phil Butler

      Alexander, a lot of people are feeling for you right now, not the least of them being me. By the time publishers get done forking over tens of millions for SEO that will not work any longer, maybe Matt Cutts and this Google subterfuge will be clearer for everyone.

      Greg down there hints at the real futility of SEO these days actually. As a high up exec at a competing search mechanism told me the other day; “Google just got too big for their britches. Odds are, they don’t even realize what they are doing. The company is like Godzilla now, swishing its mighty tail this way and that, oblivious to how their successes and mistakes affect millions.”

      I think you give these people far too much credit. There is no SEO solution to a purely monopolistic assertion of ads to proliferate the SERPs. Unless you pay the man, your SEO is done.

      Just my view.

    • http://www.ubermarketing.co.uk Shell Robshaw-Bryan

      I agree with you on that Alexander. If Google gave us more information we could get problems fixed immediately rather than having to flounder around and base our clean up efforts on guess work. The manual actions area is a good start, but none of the websites I look after have any reported manual actions and yet a couple clearly have very severe penalties against them.

      For one client, their one and only product that they sell (with thousands of different variations), they were ranking at 4 in Google and had been at 4 for many years. A month ago, they disappeared and now do not rank AT ALL for that same phrase. This is their only, core business, the only product they sell and Google has decided that it shouldn’t rank at all for that product despite being the UK biggest supplier.

      The impact this has on SME’s is massively damaging and forces them to use AdWords to get visibility (which of course Google knows full well) whilst their organic visibility is non existent.

      Even so, there are no manual actions being reported and I can’t locate anything dodgy that previous SEO’s might have done for them to cause this.

      Google should be producing lists, made freely available to webmasters that it keeps updated with all of the domains it has permanently banned from it’s index, webmasters could then immediately ensure all of these were disavowed.

      I bet you any money, that the spend in Google AdWords has gone up massively since Google started dishing out more and more penalties.

      The current system is wide open for abuse, evident from the proliferation of tools and services claiming to identify and remove toxic links. I’ve been doing this process manually, but it’s a lot of work, especially when you work at an agency with lots of websites to look after.

      Interesting hearing that the link detox tool you used did not work – perhaps worth naming and shaming?

  • http://www.vkool.com/14-steps-on-how-to-increase-blog-traffic/ Tony Nguyen

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    • http://www.ubermarketing.co.uk Shell Robshaw-Bryan

      How the hell did the above comment make it through moderation – seriously?!

  • http://www.50bubbles.com Greg

    I’m still baffled with Googles approach. Wouldn’t it just be better to ignore bad links than to penalize for them? Applying a penalty to bad links opens the whole market to anti-competitive tactics. If I want my competitor to nose-dive all I have to do is go purchase a bunch of links for his site!

    • Barry D

      Ignoring bad links once they were discovered is what Google did up until a couple years ago. Since people just couldn’t resist the urge to try to cheat by simply changing their sources of fake links, Google started penalizing which is probably more of a deterrent than a solution.
      Think of it like the IRS. If everyone who cheated on their taxes just said “oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t deduct all of that” and didn’t have to pay a fine, people would keep trying.

      And that anti-competitive negative SEO link thing isn’t as easy as some would like you to believe. Check out this story where the site has received anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand new spam links a day pointed at it and guess what happened? http://kercommunications.com/seo/negative-seo-reality-check/

    • Sappo


      God Google wants to punish. Oh mercifull church of google you cann **** my ****.

      Our 15 sites affected by negative SEO and some old time spam links will move away with the adwords from google to other sites and other channels.
      We think google does this punishment joke to push people into adwords. Thats the simplest explanation not that “we want to make people behave” jibberish.

      Money, church of google motivates theee. Be evil google. You will crash and burn soon enougth like all the other self fulfilled sects before you. Farewell, we give our money to the competition now.

  • http://www.mindconnection.com Mark

    This article is yet another great one showing the insanity of Google. My advice to Webmasters is to make response to Google a low priority and instead put your efforts toward making Google irrelevant to your business model. A simple cash flow analysis will prove this the right course, because it’s not going to be 11 days until you recover what Google obliterated. More like a year, if you are very lucky.

    I’ve helped other Webmasters get their manual penalty removed in a similar timeframe (a week or two). But guess what? That’s only part of the problem! Plan on a very long stretch of invisibility on Google and adjust accordingly. To verify what a slow crawl it is out of the Google septic tank, keep track of how long it takes your WT to stop showing a deleted page as linking to your site. I’ve seen plenty last more than a year, even after notifying Google more than a dozen times per deleted page that it no longer exists.

    Matt Cutts’ video–talk about spin. I can’t count how many site owners, including myself, have been down that road and done even MORE than Interflora only to be told by Google it wasn’t enough.

    When Pandageddon hit, I had fairly simple Panda issues that could have been easily fixed if only Google didn’t try to sound like Alan Greenspan when providing what they laughably call “guidance.”

    Not being able to decipher the alien language, I turned to an SEO only to find out later the initials stand for Spam Emitting Organization. Things didn’t improve, and I hired a second one (bad mistake). The result of this “expert help” was to bury two of my sites in a malaise of malicious links. That was “help” that I paid thousands of dollars to get, and it included blatantly lying about what they were doing. Google did not give a sh– about the circumstances.

    It took over a year to clean up the link mess, time that would have been better spent not trying to please Google but just putting products up on the online marketplaces (hindsight is 20/20).

    When your disavow file includes over 1200 domains (most of which you have never heard of before) AND you’ve spent mega hours begging other sites to take down their links AND you spent several hundred dollars on software to find the links that WT won’t show BUT Google says you did not show “significant effort” what is that? Meanwhile, Google dawdles for over a year in removing its own Diigo and Blogspot spam.

    In the process of getting the link profiles straightened out, I learned a lot about Panda and cleaned that up also. All this “diverted resources” activity left me with huge debts. Thanks, Google, maybe you’ll give me VD next.

    Let’s all promote Bing and Yahoo. Google has proven it cannot be trusted with anything related to the Internet.

  • Jost

    When we first got into the web as a revenue source (ie post corporate life!) we aggressively went after links and got convinced it was a good thing but now things are dramatically different.
    Today it’s simple for us – we’re page one for all our target keywords except 1 where we’re page 2. We have removed ALL links from our sites and do not engage in any link building exercises. If we find someone linking to us that we want no truck with we take action to get it removed or nullified. We concentrate 100% on good content, good navigation, good code as much as we can and real customer service – we are after all a business not a ranking machine.
    Let’s face it after the first 2-3 years of the WWW internet linking became just black hat and continues to be. I keep wondering why Google keeps ranking it.

  • http://www.rockprint.co.uk Martin Rock

    I made the mistake of buying bad backlinks in my novice days. I didn’t know I was doing wrong!!
    When I started my website (in dreamweaver) I was self taught and had never heard of ‘meta tags’, ‘H’ tags, Alt Tags, keywords etc……….and yet for some two word phrases, I found my site on the first page of Google, a couple in the top two………….

    Maybe its not such a bad thing to strip all backlinks out and start again!!

  • http://rhbmp-2.biologicscorp.com Chance@RHBMP2

    Before we used the SEO outsourcing service to do do our SEO work. after the OCT 4, we found the keyword ranking is affected servely. Then I use google disavor Disavow to clean up all the links. Then we pay attenting to the nature links, for example we try to search and contact with our production agents and put our products on theire website. I think the brand recognition is more important. Also it can bring direct traffic and thin the effects of google penalty. At the same time, we write the more professional articles from the end-user’s prospective. After two weeks of the content lanch, our keyword rank in the second or third page. The content should be the powder of ranking.

    In conclusion: Nature links, brand Awareness, Good content.

  • http://www.i-webtechsolutions.co.uk/seo-consultant.html Ritesh

    No a days its very difficult to find out that where are the bad link building you have done. What google want is Natural Link Building?

    If you shuffle your keywords while doing link building then you can expect improvement in rankings, rather then building link on same keyword again and again.

  • http://www.realitist.com BobP

    Have to call shenanigans on Google. Clearly this is about reducing load on their servers. Scaring webmasters into thinking links to them from good websites is a problem, nonsense. Ignoring scraper sites and cookie stealing sites that appear ahead of legitimate sites in the listings returned. Webmaster tools that cause as many problems as they suggest cures for. They show wp test pages as broken 404 that were never submitted or even linked to from the site, trying to remove them from Google removes the entire site. Another site, a year of hard work, real original content, gets kicked to PR1 with no reason given. Time to starve the beast.

  • http://www.jezebeldesign.co.uk Andy

    As alot of people have said…I don’t think Google are helping by suggesting that removing great heaps of links is a good idea without properly defining what it SEES as a bad link.

    I have never explicitly paid for a single link though I have paid SEO firms to get me links using methods described by them as white hat.

    I have also spent many many hours myself engaging in conversations in blogs and forums where a website address is harvested as part of the reply…are these all now seen as bad links?

    My suspicion is that as Google makes no money directly from organic results but makes an obscene amount from Adwords, that any link to a website which is commercial, an online store etc, will become more and more invisible to Google so the person or business feels they have to turn to paid ads.

    Good in a way that Google would return to being a search engine for information but lets face it as many searchs are for people wanting to buy a new toaster and wanting the definition of toaster, so these would then only show in paid ads from large companies and regardless of the price.

  • http://www.flaminghotmedia.com FHM

    As a SEO company amongst other things web related, we always get contacted by people who want to try it themselves, thinking they can do no harm. Imagine going to a drug dealer and saying the same ‘I want to try dong this myself first’. I will all go wrong. Personally, I have nothing but admiration for people trying to do it themselves, but they really do need to understand whats involves, and this is here I think Google need to do things differently.
    1. Google need to and they can do, penalise no websites, as the links they say are bad can be easily ignored and so no benefit will be gained by the website owner.
    2. Google out to explain more in depth to Joe Public, rather than releasing videos and articles are beat to much around the bush, and just gives tiny clues.
    3. Google ought to provide an online SEO forum, where they can interact or have people in the know, interact with people and companies who want to learn the correct way, which only Google really knows.
    If Google would to do this, then the web from the Google experience would benefit enormously. There would be less black hat tricks and forums promoting black hat tools, taking money off people saying it works, when long time they damage your site. It may cut out part of what we do by helping sites recover from penalisation, but for the good of all, this is the best way. Please listen Matt Cutts and Google!

  • Sue Austin

    How do Google expect us to identify a ‘bad link’. They have spent years and no doubt millions working out how to identify, what they deem to be a bad link. The common sense route, would be for Google to de-list the offending companies selling links or tell their bot to disregard those links. That would put an end to this circus. Instead Google prefer to penalise many people who have done nothing wrong and small website owners who don’t have a clue how to rectify the problem.

  • simon

    Today i know that i must try to use Bing to search , because the result is different form Google . Because of penalty of google , then i think the result of google is not complete answer .
    If the result is similar , yes google is better .
    But it different . Then i think it have some websites which i can not find in Google in TOP20 .

    I think traffic of Bing will grown up by google penalty .

  • http://ri-website-designers.com Mike A

    As I’ve commented in these forums before, Google should just assign black-hat links a zero value for link juice or any other variable. That wipes out any motivation to use them or to provide them. And it is done without having to educate the hundreds of thousands of small website owners on how to identify or eradicate bad links. Google identifies you as spam/blackhat, assigns you a zero, you are now in oblivion, end of story.

  • http://www.bizwaremagic.com Titus Hoskins

    The Click Is Mightier Than Google

    Please, 11 days – more like 11 years.

    Webmasters sometimes make the fatal mistake in
    believing that traffic coming from Google is
    their traffic.

    It is not now, nor has it ever been your traffic…
    even if people are searching for your quality
    site/content/products – it’s Google’s traffic and
    they can do whatever they want with it.

    Google is not some neutral arbitrator of search traffic
    or quality content on the web – it has sadly become a multi-billion
    dollar empire which will do everything in its power to
    promote its products and return a profit.

    What really boils my blood, even if you do take a machete to
    your supposed bad links (article marketing was my crime)
    and even if you get a manual webspam action removed in
    Google – it makes no difference if Google has still
    decided to muffle/silence your site from its rankings.

    It’s those other manual actions which Matt Cutts and Google are
    not telling us about which we all should be concerned about.
    If Google doesn’t like your site or believe it’s too
    promotional or too critical – it’s game over.

    Now even if you check your Webmaster Tools and see your
    numerous top 10 keyword rankings have returned, your site
    is still limited to 200 or 300 impressions and until someone
    within Google pulls a switch – it’s still no soup for you!

  • http://Www.vukanisekusile.co.za Isaac

    No comment

  • http://www.miamifloridahomesecurity.com ADT Security

    We got destroyed during Panda update because we had no idea our SEO guy was posting articles and spinning them all over article directories. He also had purchased a ton of spammy backilnks. Its taken us months to even see our site again. We had vanished. Thank God we had a second website with another SEO company. My advice is dont ever put your eggs in one basket.

  • http://supramind.com/ Kiran Sulebhavi

    Most of the sites hammered by these updates by google who are promoting themselves online and having good rankings before google updates. Thanks for this article as it has detailed and useful info about how to recover your sites from these google penalties (actually from spam). Google is improving with quality and they want quality sites to rank. Spamming in link building is not allowed now. So whoever wants to come up from google penalties follow this article.

  • http://supramind.com/ Kiran Sulebhavi

    Most of the sites hammered by these updates by google who are promoting themselves online and having good rankings before google updates. Thanks for this article as it has detailed and useful info about how to recover your sites from these google penalties (actually from spam). Google is improving with quality and they want quality sites to rank. Spamming in link building is not allowed now. So whoever wants to come up from google penalties follow this article.

  • Ralphie

    Here we go again with Matt being coy. I LOVE LOVE LOVE how he always assumes the site owner “Bought a bad link” or “Hired a black hat marketing firm” .. What about those of us hit by negative SEO attempts?

    Those actions are usually tens of thousands of bad links, we cannot find them all because Google only shows us a portion of our links in their tools.

    Its the broken algo and they need us to help them clean up their own algorithm. Why PUNISH bad links if you KNOW they are bad links? Just dont reward them so your average Joe does not get smacked without any fault of their own.

  • http://www.nowebsite.com Tom Jones

    I hate to admit it, but to me it seems Bing search has become more relevant search than Google. Since the latest Penguin ‘punishment’, sites I used to enjoy seeing at the top of search in Google are no longer there. But on Bing they are. There are a lot of good sites that may have had some bad SEO in the past, but does it make that site less relevant? Seems to me you will almost always see Amazon on the top spots. With all the spamming links amazon does you’d think they would be penalized, but they aren’t. No doubt amazon is a great site, but there are definitely better relevant sites for certain keywords. I agree, Google just wants their adwords to dominate cause that is a major resource of money for them.

  • http://www.inkntoneruk.co.uk Don

    I agree, why punish the average small business owner for bad links? Just ignore them!

    Not many companies got hit more than us, due to so called “SEO experts” who built loads of bad links for us. We used the disallow tool to clear the bad links but our ranking dropped even further. Perhaps its just a coincidence.

    Maybe it is the right time to give Bing a chance and see how it goes.

    Great article nevertheless. Thanks for sharing, much love.

  • jonathan

    Too many companies claim negative seo when they just don’t realize that Google has caught on to their webspam, or worse, when they do realize and need an out. Question is, what is the best way to get Google to remove that penalty, and fast?

    What if you could get your client to file a lawsuit for bad links and then provided Google with a copy of that lawsuit? See this lawsuit: goo.gl/5uxU4K

  • http://whyalerts.com Dk Patel

    Really When its comes to blocking and penalize website google is master in that But until user engagement is there google can’t do anything. I have seen many website which were ranked within 1k alexa rank but now they are not in even 3k or 5k its due to new google Algo update.

  • http://www.redliondesign.co.uk J Frazermann

    I am in partial agreement with “FHM” comments. Google really need to have an area where it interacts with consumers and webmasters. Google Webmasters community is full of bashing and “know it all” comments. 95% of googles customer base are not familiar with SEO, manual penalty recovery. Yes, there are the webmaster guidelines, which is great. However with such generic suggestions and answers, we really need some specifics, rather than such generalised categories. My suggestion for 2014 would be some form of ticketing system, “support ticket system” where instead of waiting weeks, months for responses to reconsideration requests, you could at least be kept in the loop.