Google Gives Advice On Speedier Penalty Recovery

    December 10, 2013
    Chris Crum

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.