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Penalty Recovery Report and Disavow Links Guide - Rewind SEO


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Rewind SEO's penalty analysis and Google disavow links guide. This document covers basic link metrics, Google penalty information, manual and algorithm penalties, and how to disavow links. Visit:

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Penalty Recovery Report and Disavow Links Guide - Rewind SEO

  1. 1. Making Sense of the Disavow Process and Link Reports Full Recovery and Beyond A Basic Guide to Google Penalty Recovery from Rewind SEO Last Update: April 7, 2014 Note: This guide is no longer distributed with our penalty analysis at Rewind SEO. It was designed and used in 2012 and early 2013 before Link Detox and other invaluable penalty analysis oriented data services existed. That said, the information contained is just as relevant and valuable for Google penalty recovery in 2014 and beyond. Since most information is just as relevant and up to date, it for informational value with Google penalty identification and recovery. 1
  2. 2. Recovery Steps After a Penalty Analysis 1. First, don't forget to upload the disavow .txt file HERE to the disavow tool through your Google Webmaster Tools account. (Instructions in section III) 2. Check if your penalty was manual HERE. Manual penalties can be resolved faster but usually require MUCH more work. If your penalty was manual ('unnatural links warning'), file a reconsideration request to Google with as much details as possible (including that you disavowed the spammy/bad links). It is important to understand that for manual penalties, Google employees will usually want to see some 'good faith' documentation of manual link removal requests (like email messages to webmasters). The disavow file is technically supposed to be bad links that you could not find webmaster contacts for, webmasters who refused to remove the links, or did not reply. Note: you may also check with Moz's record of Google penalty dates to see if your penalty corresponds with an exact date of an algorithm update (if it does not, this does not mean it is not an algorithm of course). 2
  3. 3. Report Contents Your Report will contain some or all the following files and more, depending on your gig service order and sorting process required: • “DISAVOW FILE” is the file of bad links to be submitted to Google's Disavow Tool. • Link Detox report: this is the raw unedited report from Link Detox. • “All Links” is the full up-to-date analysis of all your backlinks. • “Bad Links” is the same analysis but only the bad links. These links are included in the disavow file. • “Good Links” is the same analysis but only the good dofollow links that are not disavowed. • “Non-factor Links” include neutral 'nofollow' links, • Other “non-factor links” include dead links, page errors, and links removed. These probably not significant in the disavow but may be disavowed as a precaution. • Deindexed Domains / Domain Level Disavow / Sitewide Links /etc... if present, these lists include domain sorting for mass sitewide links, deindixed domains and other high-risk single-domain links that will be disavowed on a domain level (includes every possible link from those domains). • Link Sources: may include raw backlink reports from, Google Webmaster tools, or other link lists used in the analysis. • Audit/Disavow Report – Written report where I will explain the identified problems with your link profile that the disavow will help to rebalance. This guide will explain what the disavow is, how it works, what to do if it isn't working, and how to move forward with new SEO. Table of Contents I. Introduction: What Does Disavowing Links Do? II. Link Analysis Factors – Interpreting Your Report III. Submitting the Disavow File IV. Disavow List Format V. What if Your Site is Not Recovering After Several Months? VI. Full Recovery and Beyond – How to Move Foreward with Good SEO 3
  4. 4. I. Introduction: What Does Disavowing Links Do and How Does it Work? To put it simply, disavowing links discounts or greatly lowers the 'weight' of links in Google so those links will not hurt (or help) your SEO as much. Disavowing links by itself can recover from algorithm penalties and is a major step in recovering from manual penalties. However, in both cases, you may need additional safe SEO. Disavowing will have no effect with Panda penalties as these are on-site issues like lack of content, duplicate content, overoptimized keyword usage, or too many ad links/banners. With this gig I will disavow to normalize and balance your site's link profile by removing the low quality, spammy, irrelevant, over-optimized anchors, and other red-flags, while keeping as many beneficial links as possible. Remember that disavowing is a destructive process; it is removing links that are harming your ranking but may once have been helping. Either way, the ranking value of these links cannot be regained without new links. Therefore, high quality SEO with proper link velocity is often still needed after disavowing. This will increase link or anchor text diversity (which may be lacking even after disavow), and give Google the signals of a high value/authority site in your niche that may now be required for page 1 ranking in the current algorithm. Many link profiles I work with have used entirely automated SEO and are badly in need of some high quality editorial-type links and niche relevant links in order to produce the quality signals to rank in the new algorithms. Obviously this cannot be created by disavowing the bad links alone. That said, technically algorithm rank losses are not 'penalties' in that as soon as Google has updated the algorithm with your disavow file, and sees a rebalanced link profile with quality link and authority signals (whether through a link disavow alone or also new corrective SEO), they should bring the site back as an entirely automated process. In this guide, I will explain what everything means in the audit and backlink analysis, and how Google Disavow works. However, as long as you submit the disavow file to Google the rest of this guide is recommended but NOT required reading. For algorithm penalties the disavow will not take effect until the next Google refresh/update which could be days to months. 4
  5. 5. II. Link Analysis Factors – Understanding Your Report 2014 Update: Please note this section is outdated for 2014. First, we now use Link Detox and algorithm rules for all SEO analysis reports at Rewind SEO, and supplement with metrics in some cases. That said, many of these descriptions may be insightful or informative since they are the staple of most basic SEO link reports so they are remaining here for information purposes only: Main Link Analysis Report/Sorting Metrics Here is a brief explanation of the significant criteria in my main report (for anchor text balancing and most other manual and 'catch-all' filtering). URL: Technically the URL is not the backlink itself but the address to the page the backlink resides on. A single URL may have multiple backlinks. Therefore, disavowing a URL disavows every link to your site from that page. - URLs with relevant keywords are good. - Long URLs many levels deep are inherently less valuable. E.g. Links Back: The status of the backlink. Dofollow = A live dofollow (or just 'follow') backlink to the site was found on this page NOFOLLOW = the backlink is nofollow and not significant for SEO. NOT FOUND = No backlink. The link was not found and was probably removed. It is not significant for SEO. NOINDEX ROBOTS = The site is configured for Google not to index that page. It is not significant for SEO. Domain PR: A very important backlink quality factor. Page Rank (PR) is one of Google's statistics for the importance of the website. High PR backlinks are far more valuable than low PR links. Page PR: Another backlink quality factor. Page PR is the page rank of the specific page your link is on. It will almost always be lower than domain PR and is often unranked, making it a less important evaluation category than domain PR. The same principle though; higher page PR means a more valuable link. External Links: 'Outbound Links' or 'OBL'. This is the number of links on the page that are pointing off the site. There are exceptions but very high OBL is the single most important danger signal for a bad link. ~ 100+ OBLs often indicate comment or ping-back spam or other backlink spamming. Very strong red-flag factor for disavowing. Total Links: Total number of links on the page including outbound and internal links to other pages on the site. General not important but high total link count can help indicate what type of site it is (such as a directory). Backlink Page: This is the page URL address that the backlink is on. Anchor Text: The anchor text or 'hyperlink' used for the backlink is the text that the backlink is shown as on a 5
  6. 6. page. For example, this is anchor text backlink to Google. Anchor text imbalance for ranking keywords will often trigger a penalty so it is extremely important to vary these anchor texts and keep all individual keyword anchors in single-digit percentages relative to the rest of the link profile. Many of your anchor texts, should just be the plain URL and brand/site name, if applicable. In a safe profile, the only anchor texts with double digits (often 20%+) will be naked URLs and Brand Name anchors. Meta Keywords/Description: This is of little to no significance for the backlink itself. However, it will often tell a lot about what the page and site is about. DMOZ/ Yahoo Directory Listings: These two cells indicate if the linking site is listed in DMOZ and Yahoo business directories respectively. Yahoo has a high yearly fee and DMOZ is a strictly edited directory. Small indicators of the site's quality. IPAddress: This is the IP address of the website hosting the backlink. Generally not at all significant although if you have many different backlinks from different domains coming from the same host (IP address) this is a big red-flag for artificial link networks that you should avoid. Link Value: shows how much PageRank the page may potentially pass with a link. Roughly, the higher PageRank and the fewer outgoing links, the higher the link value. In short, higher link value is good but this greatly depends on site and page relevance and content as well as backlink type. Most links are actually rounded to 0 for this metric. Alexa Rank: This is a traffic indicator for the site. Lower ranks mean higher traffic but that's all. Rank '0' is actually N/A, meaning unranked. Domain Age: This is the age the domain has existed. It doesn't necessarily mean the site is that old. In general older domains and sites are more reputable and better links but this is a very weak quality indicator. Domain: This is the base domain of the backlink (which can also be seen in the 'backlink page' URL). It is useful for finding sitewide links or detecting site/link networks when many domains are coming from similar identical or similar IP addresses. Particularly suspicious when the class C values match for different domains (where IP is in the form Deindexed Domains: This is another backlink factor that I use a different analysis for (not shown on the report). Deindexed domains are bad. They have been dropped out of Google's index for a reason and it's likely spam or bad SEO. Backlinks from these domains will not be helping you and may be harming you. These backlinks are ignored in my report because instead I disavow the entire domain which includes all current, future, and undiscovered links from that site. Domain IP: IP address of the domain, as explained above, useful for finding site networks to disavow. Anchor URL: The page on your site that the backlink links to. Country: The country the linking site is hosted from. For search results, a local/national site will often want many links from their own country, for example. Otherwise of no significance. 6
  7. 7. III. Submitting the Disavow File Visit the following URL to access Google's Disavow Links tool: You will see a page like this: If you have more than one site, click on the website URL (where it says in the image). This will open a dropdown menu of all your sites where you then select the site which the disavow list was made for. Then click the red “Disavow Links Butten” button. This will bring you to a warning page, basically stating you should only disavow bad links. Click the “Disavow Links” button again and you will see this final page: Upload the disavow .txt file I created in this gig and you are done. 7
  8. 8. IV. Disavow List Format If you ever need to edit the disavow file, here is the format it will look like: Every domain or url needs a new link and there are three different options: 1. A line starting with “#” means it's for comments. Comments are for your reference only, and are not read by anyone else (the disavow is processed automatically). Add as many lines of comments as needed, each line with a # at the start. 2. To disavow an individual URL, place the full URL (including http://) on the new line. This disavows the specified URL only, not the domain. 3. To disavow the full domain, start the line with "domain:" and follow with the domain name, excluding “http://” and “www.”. The entry on this line will look like “” and will block all URLs from that entire domain. This will not disavow sub-domains, which must be disavowed as 8
  9. 9. V. What if The Site Doesn't Seem to be Recovering? Note that the disavow is not registered until the next Google algorithm refresh/update. This is beyond our control and could be days or months. If you have submitted the disavow file and a Penguin refresh/update has happened, with no new results, read on: However, first if you have not done so already, check if your penalty is manual or algorithmic: HERE. If the penalty is algorithmic, we will need to remove links. Disavowing alone is not enough so documented link removal is required for almost any manual penalty recovery. Second, your site may need some more quality SEO to balance out link variety or anchor text diversity that is either insufficient or non-existent. This is actually the case for the majority of my clients. Link profiles that could rank a year ago, or provided a temporary rank jump, are not sufficient for ranking long-term in the current Google algorithm. (see section VI for SEO recommendations) On the other hand, it's also possible (though not likely) the disavow was not strict enough and you still have too many dangerous links. In this case, a stricter disavow OR 'corrective' or diversifying SEO link building will help to fix this. You can always modify and resubmit the disavow file as much as you need although it is still a waiting game each time. I always have to strike a balance between disavowing enough links to remove an algorithm penalty but not destroying too much legitimate organic SEO you might have. If you know for a fact that you do not have any redeemable SEO work, you may just want to disavow everything and start your SEO over with a proven service (then skip to the SEO section of this report). However, if you do have a decent link profile and diversity with a good number of high quality links, you or your SEO service should work from this point and continue to disavow additional low quality links while if possible, also getting new high quality and diverse links coming in. Fortunately, as stated above, the disavow links tool is very forgiving. You can resubmit a disavow list as many times as needed so in-effect, everything you disavow is reversible and can be 're- avowed' (though it can take another 2-4 weeks for Google to process). You just need resubmit the modified disavow list and wait for the changes. In short, you already have a good starting point and there is nothing to lose from trying. 9
  10. 10. WORST CASE Scenario You have a site that was either deindexed completely from search results or else heavily penalized in rankings. You or your SEO company may have already tried additional disavows with substantially larger lists each time, waiting several months between each submit. Still, there is no sign of your site recovering. Perhaps you already know your ranking relied on cheap or old SEO methods that no longer work. In this case, Google likely sees your current link profile as irredeemable. It's time to take things to the opposite extreme. Rather than looking for links to disavow, look for links to NOT disavow. You will disavowing almost every single link except for the very best and most relevant. Here are some ways you can do this: 1. In your backlink report, sort through the link URLs and titles for your keywords in order to find backlinks with relevant content that you will want to keep. Remove these good links to a second file or spreadsheet. 2. Sort by Domain PR (Page Rank) for all (or most) links above PR4. Then sort by Page PR for anything above Page PR 1. These are generally strong links. 3. If you have any lists of quality content links that were manually built, take these off the disavow list as well. Then, take ALL of the remaining links and submit them to be disavowed. Make sure you have not forgotten all the other links and domains you have previously disavowed. Bottom line in the strategy: You will remove the penalty but lose your former rankings and get an almost-fresh start on SEO with a nice mix of high PR and relevant backlinks. At least it's better than having your site permanently tanking. Just make sure you diversify your anchor texts and link types, use steady link velocity rather than 1-time blasts, and don't get any mass spammy links with SEO going forward. The primary culprits for spam link types are as follows: 1. Mass sitewide links (footer/sidebar/'sponsor' links): recently with Penguin 2.0, I have found these are the most dangerous of all. NEVER use a money keyword for a sitewide link. 2. Mass non-relevant blog comment spam with hundreds of other spammed comments on the page. 3. Mass Forum/website profile links in large quantities. 4. Mass general web directory links in large quantities. Too much of any of the above, particularly when combined with a lack of real high quality links, will guarantee a penalty; either algorithm or manual. 10
  11. 11. VI. SAFE SEO and Moving Forward – Full Recovery and Beyond Bad news first: you can't get a 100% recovery from disavowing. Disavowing is the same as removing links that may once have helped you rank but are now penalizing you. Their positive value was already lost with the algorithm update and disavowing is essentially removing any negative value they may be passing now. Therefore, from the disavow alone, you will not fully recover the rank you once enjoyed. Getting back your former rank (and moving above it) will require additional SEO; more importantly, SEO that works and will not get you penalized again. This involves 4 main factors: 1. Diversified anchor texts 2. Safe and steady link velocity 3. Some links from niche relevant sites 4. Some high quality editorial in-content contextual links #1 and #2 are almost universally necessary signals of safe SEO. #3 and #4 are the really tough links to get but are basically required to rank long-term with competitive niches and keywords now. Links and anchor ratios that worked to rank last year don't necessarily work anymore or are not enough. The next point is, unless you were targeted by negative SEO from a competitor, your SEO was done wrong (in Google's eyes). Old SEO methods that rely on building huge numbers of links, only one or a few different types of links, or optimizing everything for a single keyword do not work. SEO automation will not give authority signals like niche relevant or quality/editorial links. Likewise, lack of anchor text diversity is the single leading cause of penguin penalties; anchor texts should contain a high percentage of brand name phrases, keyword in phrase, generic terms, and naked URLs. How to Find a Good SEO Service With Lasting Rankings When looking for a good SEO service, here are some of the most important features to look for: – Proven long-term track record with continued good customer reviews within the past year – Link diversity: ensure the service builds many different types of links and uses many different keywords. You cannot rank on just one type of link or just one keyword. – Quality over quantity: A single strong is worth more than thousands of spammy links and will strengthen your overall link profile. It will also be a lot harder to acquire though. – Specifically, quality links mean links from sites relevant to your own, and/or with strict editorial submission (human approved). – Analytics and analysis: If possible, use an SEO service that takes a look at your website on- page optimization, and not just off-site backlinking. They should also be analyzing your niche and competitors prior to link building. Best luck with your recovery! – Daniel Delos Rewind SEO 11