To start this topic on fair ground, we own several web properties and a few of them we use for experimental purposes, to push the limits of white hat search engine optimization. One of these sites got penalized by the infamous Google Penguin update which caused our very well ranking site to drop to page fifteen of Google’s search engine results in a single day.
For most webmasters this was a tragedy, fortunately for us, we almost expected this so the sudden change in rankings wasn’t as devastating to us. In fact, it was almost a blessing because it allowed us to experience the process of going through a Google Panda penalty. The result is an admittedly painful lesson in both what types of activities Google sees as SPAM as well as the best options to remove this penalty. Most importantly, is that it gave us the opportunity to share the experience with you. So, without further ado…
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to list the actual bad links as that would be harmful to the rankings of iBacklinkPRO so we will instead do our best to describe the qualities of the links that Google literally told us were penalizing our site. You did read that correctly. Apparently, when your site becomes penalized, a website owner that is verified through Google’s Webmaster Tools (here) may ask for reconsideration (here.) The major benefits of doing this is that, at least in our case, Google replied with two specific example links that were pointing to our site that were causing the site to be penalized. We removed or disavowed (more on that in a second) all of the links that we thought were of a similar type then emailed them again showing them what we did. Unfortunately, the penalty was not removed, thankfully though, Google did reply with two more examples links, which again, were actual links pointing to our site. After removing or disavowing those types of links, we thought that this had to be it. We emailed them again but believe it or not, they said that we needed to remove more links! In fact, this happened another time again. At this point, we either removed or disavowed close to a quarter of the links pointing to our site (out of about seventeen hundred.)
Although the ethics of whether a site could be penalized for incoming backlinks is a heavily debated subject, Google does have a problem that places them in between a rock and a hard place. If they don’t penalize people for spam backlinks, then the top results in their search engine will go to those who do the fastest job of spamming backlinks. The opposite side of course is that since they do penalize for spam backlinks, there will be those who will be unfairly penalized because of evil webmasters. In fact, there are some services that exist that will take out your competition in Google, for a fee. In response to this, Google created the Disavow Tool (here) which lets you list any link to you site that you want Google to ignore. The controversial problem with this tool is that Google now has thousands of free workers, telling them which links are bad, however as a webmaster does that really matter to you? What’s important is that Google stops penalizing your site, right? So, here we go, the characteristics of “bad backlinks” according to Google:
- The most prevalent type of backlink was the duplicate article link. In other words, we wrote an article, posted it on sites like EzineArticles and those articles got posted on other sites, by webmasters who found that article relevant to their site. This was the most frustrating of all the links because we felt that these links were not spam. We did not create that backlink to our site and yet were being penalized for it. The example links had a domain Page Rank (PR) of 2 or less as well as pages with a PR of 0. We removed or disavowed all links with these qualities.
- Link exchanges were also on our list links to remove, we ended up removing or disavowing all link exchanges that had a domain PR of 2 or less.
- Blog post comments was the third link type that we saw penalties for, however, these ended up on blog posts with hundreds of other spam comments. Even though our comments are always on topic with the post and truly try to add some value to that post, we should have foreseen this problem and avoided posting a comment there in the first place.
It was certainly nice to see our site’s penalty finally removed and our site back in the top of Google’s search engine results, however, the time investment of the very repetitive (boring) process made this a very painful experience. We ended up removing links that most likely would not have hurt our site rankings at all and probably some that actually helped them. The experience was educational, but I do not wish this education even on my worst enemies, it was that painful. In the end, stick with the white hat stuff. Write original, high quality articles. Write press releases. Use iBacklinkPRO to find out what links your top ranked competition has and make sure that you select only the high quality links to point back to your site. Slow but steady is the key. Perhaps five to ten such links a week, even less if your site is small. For a final tip, if you need to go through this process, make sure that you download all three of the lists of backlinks that Google has pointing to your site (found at Google Webmaster Tools/Traffic/Links to Your Site/Who links the most/More >>) Don’t give up, eventually, you will win the fight.