How To Clean Up Your Backlink Profile

Phoebe Skinner

Project Manager
Contact Phoebe
Connect via LinkedIn

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This is a scenario we often hear in #TheLab; “previously we built lots of spammy links/one time we paid for some links to help boost our rankings and now we have a manual penalty by Google.” Sometimes you may be blissfully unaware of the reason behind your drop in rankings and diminished traffic. For eCommerce specifically, a penalty can result in a significant drop in rankings, directly impacting sales. Here we want to share with you some tips to clean up your backlink profile. 
Recently we have been working with an eCommerce client and a major part of the campaign has been to clean up their backlink profile and remove spammy links. The website was affected by both Penguin and Panda algorithm updates, significantly affecting their online sales and negating any positive SEO work done to the site. Google put particular focus on penalising sites that took part in some of the “dodgy” link acquisition from the 2000’s.
Google updates its algorithms continually, with one big change to each algorithm every year.  The algorithms are increasingly intelligent so it is important you are aware of when the updates are made and how they could impact your site.

Penguin Algorithm

First things first, the details of the Penguin Algorithm, what it targets and what it penalises. Here is a condensed list of practices that are negative to your backlink profile, followed by when the next update is predicted and how you can help any concerns you might have about your link profile.

  • Paying for links to your site. The rule issued by Google is simple – no buying or selling links in a way that passes on search engine ranking credit. Those buying and those selling links will be penalised.
  • Link drops. Links dropped on forums and blogs as comments which have highly optimised anchor text. This penalty has recently been given more weight.
  • Low quality links from irrelevant sites. Always check the site’s domain authority and spam score before asking for a link or placing a piece of relevant content there.
  • Low-quality directories. Simply placing directory links won’t help if they are poor quality sites. For Local SEO you will need some local directories which may have lower domain authorities but they should still be good quality directories.
  • Hundreds or thousands of links acquired overnight. Links need to be acquired naturally so you have a natural and logical link profile rather than one that is clearly paid for or just there to improve your rankings.

It is also a myth that if your website is impacted by the Penguin algorithm that it will appear in Search Console. That is only for manual penalties. The best way to check if an update has affected your site is to use the Panguin Tool where you can check for all algorithm changes in relation to traffic and your site.

The Next Update Is Imminent

In the past building, a high quantity of keyword rich backlinks to a website was a strategy everyone used because it worked. However, since the release of Google Penguin in April 2012, which had a huge impact, this is no longer the case and is now seen as a ‘black hat’ technique only used by shady SEO companies. There were many rumours that Google Penguin 4 was due in the first half of 2016, this has not happened, however at the recent AMA, Google’s Gary Illyes said the team was working on it. So the next version of Penguin is coming very, very soon.

So, How Do You Tidy Up Your Link Profile?

If you are concerned that what we have discussed could apply to your site then you need to act now. Whether you simply want to clean up your backlink profile to guarantee you are not penalised at the next Penguin update or whether you already have a penalty this guide will help you take the appropriate steps.

1. Check Search Console

The first step is to check your search console to see if you have been hit by a manual action penalty. To do this you need to log into your Search Console (Webmaster Tools) the diagram shows where that can be found:
Search Console
There are two types of actions that could be displayed on the Manual Actions page:

  • Site-wide matches section lists actions that affect a whole site
  • Partial matches section lists actions that affect individual URLs or sections of the site.

Following this, going to SEM Rush and inputting your website (this is free, you can pay for advanced features if you wish though) you will see a graph of organic and paid traffic, click on that and you will see if/when your site may have been affected.  

2. How do you find the bad or spammy links?

So you have found that you have spammy links, the next step is to remove them, you can do this by downloading the list of links to your site straight from Search Console:
GoogleSearchConsole 2
There are also various tools which can be used to analyse your website links. We recommend using Cognitive SEO which does a full backlink analysis of your site links and highlights any suspicious or unnatural links. You can manually check each link, mark links for disavow and removal, then download the report.

3. How do I remove said links?

We often get new clients saying “I did a disavow and it didn’t work”. Google likes to see that you have made an effort to get the links removed, they also want to see you make a conscious effort to increase your high-quality positive SEO links to balance out the bad practices prior.
The only links left after a manual removal should be the ones where either the webmaster refuses to remove them, does not respond to correspondence, or is requesting an unfeasible fee for removal.
Google can, and often does, ignore the disavow file you have submitted especially if it determines that you have simply placed every spammy link in the file and not made any attempt to manually remove them. A large spammy link profile may not be worth the resource of going through every link and contacting the webmaster and in those cases we would recommend spending time and effort on removing ‘suspect links’ and then put resource into earning positive, high-quality links to your site. Then submit a disavow. Where there are only a few links or a manageable amount, we recommend doing as much as you can and completing this manual process before submitting a disavow.

4. The manual link removal process

To manually remove the links is a testing operation but here are our top tips for a successful link removal.

  • Identify the bad links and drop them into a spreadsheet that lists their URL, the contact details of the webmaster or blogger (you will have to search for these), any cost implications noted on websites for their removal, and a column that just states the date for use later.
  • Contact the webmasters and bloggers and ask for the links to be removed. Use an email that lists the URL of your site and the one pointing to it and ask politely for its removal. Mention that you have or are concerned about a Google penalty affecting your site and will be submitting a disavow for links not removed. This can prompt them to act as their site will also be penalised by any manual action taken. Note the date of the first contact you make too.  
  • Send the second wave of requests to sites that do not reply about a week after the first ones.
  • Now you have exhausted all attempts to have the links removed manually you can create a disavow file and submit that to Google along with the evidence of you trying to remove those bad links yourself.

Here is the correct way of submitting a disavow file which must be followed to the letter:
It is a long, laborious and sometimes frustrating process. Considering how easy it is just to pay someone to acquire 10,000 backlinks to your site, the aftermath of those actions is usually long term agony.
Whatever you do, never pay for bulk backlinks to your site, do not comment on blogs and forums with keyword rich anchor text and URLs to your homepage, and always check the quality of the sites you earn links from as you develop your backlink profile.
If you would like assistance our team is very experienced in backlink removal and the whole disavow process. It can never come with a 100% success rate so do not believe all the promises companies can give, but we can certainly carry out the manual submission process, submit disavows and increase the quality links to your site.

Free Website Audit

Let's get started

Find out how your website is performing and what needs fixing!

Find out more

About Events

We hold various events and training days at the Digital Hub - Mosaic. Find out more.

Free Website Audit

Let's get started

Computer with website audit example on the screen

What our client say...

“Richard and his team took a lot of time out of his day to come and visit us, see our products, see what we’re about and understand our industry. The results, they speak for themselves really.”

Chris Brady
CEO & Founder
1 Stop Spas