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Google Penalty Removal: This Is What Professionals Do

If you’re looking to learn SEO or improve your Google Penalty Removal ninja skills and boost your sales and relevancy of your business in the marketplace, then this tutorial will be right up your alley.

There’s no doubt cleaning up a Google Penguin issue is not a very fun way to spend your time working on your business. I get that, I really do. After cleaning up thousands of Google Penalties I can tell you they are easy to clean up.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you what you need to do to remove a Google linking penalty from your site. The steps involved are simple and have been PROVEN effective.

Note: If you run across a term such as white hat links that you do not understand make sure to check out our SEO Glossary to get its full meaning. You’ll save tons of time for yourself if you do.

Why You Can Trust What I Say in This Google Penalty Removal Tutorial

Hi, my name is Matt LaClear, the author of this link building book and the founder and current VP of Link Building Services and Training here at and at Your SEO Squad. A full-service SEO Agency and On Page SEO Service provider that is responsible for driving well over 5000 websites to page one on Google from 2010 – present. We delivered those rankings using backlinks. A lot of them.

Consequently, it’s those same backlinks that propelled me into learning everything I know about toxic links today.

But I’m jumping ahead. Let me tell you how this all came about.

After 32 consecutive banner months, my company, SEO Traffic Services, smashed into a brick wall hard (along with just about every other SEO company in the world at the time) on April 24, 2012, when Google launched their first Google Penguin Update.

It’s a day I most likely will never forget. It made that much of an impact.

In a nutshell, Google changed the algorithm in such a way that it transformed millions of our once beneficial backlinks into cement anchors that sank our clients’ site rankings instantly. When I say instantly, I do mean instantly.

David Copperfield style. As in poof. Gone. Cya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.

As you can imagine it wasn’t very fun at the office the following months. Losing just about all the organic traffic we fought so hard to generate for our clients was absolutely devastating not only to their businesses but to ours as well.

We Found Ourselves Immediately Thrust into Learning How to Recognize and Clean Toxic Links and Other Google Penalty Removal Tactics

Our customers demanded it. Some of their voices are still echoing on the Internet today when you Google my name “Matt LaClear”. Folks usually are not very patient or gentle when it comes to losing their website traffic. Can’t say I blame them either. Losing web traffic just plain stinks.

Given the sheer number of campaigns we have run in the pre-Google penalty years, I suspected my company would be cleaning links until my beard is gray. I was right. But that’s okay, every penalty my squad and I cleaned up made us stronger and better able to work for the next customer in line.

If you happen to be one of our former backlink clients from 2012 or before you can contact me and I’ll get you a complete Google penalty removal cleanup at no charge. The only caveat being, it must be for the same domain we linked to for you. Cool? Cool.

Seems like we had a million domains to clean up for clients. I can’t remember the exact number of Google penalty removal cases we had to work on but it was MOUNTAIN sized.

Note: The link building strategy and guest posting tips we recommend now is safe and stems from what we learned through this terrible ordeal. Amazing things happen when you refuse to quit at the first sign of adversity.

You’re looking at the two people who very likely have cleaned up more Google Penalties than just about any agency in the world. My sister Danielle Peffers did most of the brute force work though. And yes, I replaced the camera that erroneously gave me the second chin. Seriously.

The Old Way of Ranking Websites Using Automated Links Are Gone and They’re Never Coming Back

Remember the adage “Garbage In, Garbage Out”? Well, it applies to ranking sites too.

Google has gotten much better at recognizing the difference between low-quality toxic links and higher quality beneficial links. Which means you’re also going to have to learn to tell the two apart if you want Google to send you any sort of meaningful web traffic.

Now, listen to this next part very carefully:

When a business site loses valuable web traffic they lose much more than just traffic. Lost traffic means lost revenue. Which leads to lost employees. Ending up with lost opportunities.

How long would your business last under those circumstances?

If Your Site Was Negatively Impacted by A Google Penalty, The Odds Are Very, Very Good That the Issue Lies in Your Link Profile

Although Google Penguin took aim at webspam in general, it also focused a great deal on the inappropriate use of links to boost sites’ rankings.

Unfortunately, this became a widespread problem in the months leading up to Google Penguin’s release. Then again, no one knew it was necessarily bad.

I knew Google would one day close the loophole but I thought that when they did the suspect links would just become dormant and useless and we’d move to a different type of linking method.


This was taken back in 1972, right before the dinosaurs went extinct. I’m the curly headed boy in the middle. I think I knew as much about cleaning backlinks back then as I did the day Google Penguin hit. Sometimes our toughest lessons come at a price we will never forget paying.

Google penalty engineers turned most types of links you place yourself or purchase into toxins that poison the search engine rankings of the site they’re linking to. Which is something I never thought they would never do in a million years.

After all, that would mean a seedy competitor could link to your site and hurt your rankings out of spite.

But make no mistake about it: Google has changed everything about SEO as we knew it and the more you know what those changes are the easier time you will have in improving your site rankings.

What’s a Backlink Anyways?

When a website links to another website it generates a backlink to that website.

Simple enough? Let’s break it down a bit further just in case.

If I visit your website and like it so much that I link to it from my own website that would be considered a backlink to your site.

If you were to link to my site from your own that would be a backlink to my site. Backlinks play a huge role in how well your website ranks on search engines such as Google and Bing.

Why that is, is beyond the scope of this report but it has something to do with social proof. The search engines figure if enough trusted sites are linking to your site then your site can also be trusted by their own customers too.

Since Google uses backlinks as one measure of a site’s popularity. If the links are artificial, they aren’t true reflections of a site’s popularity or authority. Google Penguin aims to remove such links from consideration.

Some Backlinks are Positive and Will Increase Your Site Rankings While Others are Toxic and Will Hurt Your Site Rankings

What are toxic backlinks?

Generally, any links you obtain from paid sources such as blog networks, paid links, gaming, or links from link schemes are now considered toxic and will hurt your rankings. But there is obviously more to it than that.

When Google notices toxic backlinks in your link profile it reduces your rankings and if they find too many they will eliminate your website from its database entirely! Beware!!

First, let’s discuss a bit about what Google’s definition of a toxic link is:

Google states on their quality guidelines page that any link placed on another site for the sole purpose of fooling them into giving your site a better ranking on their results pages is completely unnatural (toxic).

Clear wording, isn’t it?

They go on to give examples of what they deem as unnatural links:

Examples of Link Schemes Which Can Get Your Site Penalized

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.

  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.

  • Large-scale article marketing or quality guest post campaigns with too many keyword-rich anchor text links.

  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.

Links that you purchase are considered toxic to your site. Link exchanges are bad and so are any links you can create with software such as Article Marketing Robot, SEnuke, and Xrumer.

You probably already knew that Google wasn’t so hot on those kinds of links so nothing earth shattering there.

Let’s look at some more examples of types of links that will put you in need of a Google penalty removal in real short order.

Additionally, creating links that were not editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines. 

Here Are Examples of Unnatural Links That May Violate Their Guidelines

  • Text advertisements that pass PageRank.

  • Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.

  • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.

  • Low-quality directory or bookmark site links.

  • Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites.

  • Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites.

  • Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature.

Obviously, non-relevant or automated forum links that have your keywords as clickable links are bad news and extremely toxic to your site if you have them.

Nothing new there given they have been toxic for a while now. Same goes with bookmark links and low-quality directory links.

Stay away from them for now on like you would dog doo on the sidewalk while wearing your best sandals. Nothing good can come from stepping into them. Best just to avoid them.

But hidden in the middle of Google’s quality guidelines is the reason why most businesses have toxic links linking to their site and why you probably do too.

Let’s look at it:

Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.

That means anytime you place a link on another site and the clickable text in it is a keyword other than your name, your brand name, or your website address then it’s completely toxic and could put you in need of a Google penalty removal. That’s now true for all links and not just for press releases and articles.

How to Find Out If Your Website Needs a Google Penalty Removal

In the aftermath of Google Penguin, website owners were penalized by Google in two different ways: Some were manually penalized while others simply experienced drops in ranking due to the algorithm changes.

Neither option is fun or desirable, of course, but you need to figure out which one applies to you to recover your site rankings.

Fortunately, it’s easy to determine whether your site was affected by the algorithm changes or manually penalized by Google:

Manual Google Penalties

The easiest way to rule this out is by logging into your Google Search Console account and looking in the message section.

If you have a message from Google, the odds are high that it’s about a manual penalty. Another sign that your site has been manually penalized is if it’s been completely removed from the listings.

This is, of course, the worst thing that could possibly happen. Even if you make the necessary changes, you won’t be able to recover from Google Penguin without manually submitting a reconsideration request to Google once you cleaned up your toxic links.

Algorithm Penalties

The clear majority of website owners who were slapped by Google Penguin were hit with an algorithm penalty. This simply means that Google’s algorithm (instead of one of their employees) found toxic links to your site and has lowered your ranking accordingly.

The amount that your ranking drops and how badly your traffic is affected both depend on the severity of your site’s infractions as well as what Google penalty removal steps you need to take to alleviate the problem.

If your site has just a few toxic links under the new algorithm, its ranking may have dipped slightly and traffic may have dropped a little. If your site has numerous problems based on the new algorithm, its ranking could have tanked and traffic could have slowed to a trickle.

Google Penalty Removal Tools You Can Use to Find Toxic Links

The first thing to do is to determine where most of your backlinks originate. You probably already know. If you’ve just created a bunch of sites and made links back to your own, that could very well be a huge part of the problem.

Odds are that those sites don’t have a lot of domain authority, so they aren’t doing you a lot of good anyway.

Google frowns upon sites with backlinks that primarily come from sites that don’t have much authority. Even if those sites are relevant, those backlinks are hurting more than they’re helping in the post-Google Penguin world.

For years, SEOs (me included!) drilled the importance of keyword-rich anchor text into people’s heads. That’s precisely why so many incoming links have only a few anchor text variations, and why we had so many Google penalty removal cases to clean up.

To Google, repetitive anchor text is a sure sign of manipulation. Natural links don’t follow a set pattern. Many of them have generic anchor text like “click here” and “learn more.”


Google Console – Checking for Manual Penalties

First, log in to your Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) account and look for any messages from Google. If you do not have a GWT account set up for your site, you’ll need to take care of that first. Any messages Google sent will hit your new GWT account a bit after you set it up.

Once you’re in the GWT account you will see something that looks like the screenshot below.

First, click “Search Traffic”.

google penalty removal screenshot 1

Then Click “Manual Actions”.

google penalty removal screenshot 2

If your site has a manual action you will see a message like this one:

google penalty removal screenshot 4

If your site doesn’t have a manual action you will see a message like this one:

google penalty removal screenshot 5

The reason it is important to check for manual penalties is as I stated earlier you won’t be able to recover from Google Penguin without manually submitting a reconsideration request to Google once you cleaned up your toxic links. It’s not the kiss of death for your site if you have a manual penalty. It just means you have a couple extra steps to take care of your Google penalty removal.

Regardless of whether your site has a manual penalty or not, you will still need to analyze your backlinks to find out which links are poisoning your website rankings if any.

The first place to do that is from right inside your GWT account. Click “Search Traffic” again.

google penalty removal screenshot 6

Then click “Links to Your Site”.

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Then Click “More”.

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Press “Download latest links”.

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Download the links into CSV.

google penalty removal screenshot 10

Pulling the Rest of Your Backlinks Using Cognitive SEO

While the links you pulled from your Google Console account are important you need to understand that Google does not report all the links they find to your site.

The general theory being they do not want you to be able to reverse engineer their algorithm so they do all they can to hide as many variables of it as they can.

That means you must rely on another tool to pull the rest of your links that Google didn’t report.

That tool is

They report aggregated backlink data from 5 big backlink sources which make them the most accurate & complete backlink checker on the market today.

The service is not free like GWT is but they do offer a free 14-day trial which will give you more than enough time to pull all your backlinks.

I am not affiliated with them in any way and recommend them only because we use the tool ourselves with great success.

Visit Cognitive SEO and Grab their Free Trial

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 1

Once you have an account set up you will need to log in. Once there click the “+” sign next to “Manage Accounts”.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 2

Then click the Start Button next to “One Time Snapshot” on the left-hand side of the page.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 3

Then add your URL and click next.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 4

Next make sure both boxes are check marked and the number in the drop-down box is set to 10. Then click next.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 5

Name your campaign and click start.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 6

Click “Go to Your Campaign”.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 7

Next click “Import” to add the links you pulled from your GWT account.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 8

Upload the CSV File with Your Links You Downloaded from GWT

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 9

The larger your CSV file is the longer it will take to import into Cognitive SEO. Once the import is finished you will get an email like the ones below.

Click on the one that states your campaign is finished. Then click “View Analysis”.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 10

After clicking on “View Analysis”, you end up on your campaign page.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 11

Next, scroll down a bit on the page and you will be able to classify the anchor text as being a brand, commercial, or miscellaneous.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 12
You can either classify the anchors by searching the anchors in bulk or individually. If there is no anchor available (N/A), those will not be able to be classified. N/A are dead links.
Any anchor using your brand name or URL is a brand anchor.

Anchors with a keyword you would like to rank for is a commercial anchor. All others are miscellaneous.

When done, click on “When finished run the unnatural links classifier”.

After Running the Unnatural Links Classifier, You Will Be Able to Mark Each Link That You Want to Disavow or Remove by Clicking on “Link Navigator”

The following screen will pop up in your browser and you can view each link quickly and mark them for disavow. Be sure to add a tag to each domain you disavow so you can easily find them in the export csv file.

This window will also show you the reason the link is classified as suspect or unnatural.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 13

Now, click refresh on your campaign window for the changes to take effect. Then export your links to a csv file.

screenshot of Google Penguin tool 14

Open csv file. Sort the links by remove/disavow, links to keep, no follow links, and dead links. Then add them to a google doc. Make sure to add a header to your links, “Link, Link Type, Contact Email, Date of Removal Request (3 times), and Webmaster Response”.

How to Get Google to Neutralize the Toxins from Your Bad Links

Following are some basic steps that you can use to remove the toxic backlinks.

  • If the toxic backlinks are from your own sites, then you can remove them yourself. Duh right?
  • The toxic backlinks from other websites you will need to contact and ask the site owner to remove that toxic backlink and tell them about the exact link that you want removed. Keep a record of this on Excel that you can also show this to Google as well. Make at least three attempts in contacting the site owners before moving on to the next step.

How to Disavow Toxic Backlinks

Transfer your documented efforts into a report you can submit to Google via their disavow tool.

screenshot of of google disavow tool for google penalty removal 1

This is an advanced Google penalty removal tactic because this tool asks Google to exclude the links for the page rank of the website. If you disavow the wrong links you can seriously damage your site rankings.

Make sure you follow all the directions we share with you in this report to the letter.

Familiarize yourself thoroughly with the support information Google has regarding their disavow tool.

Make sure you use the proper formatting on the report:

screenshot of of google disavow tool for google penalty removal 2

Once you have the disavow file put together properly visit go to the disavow links tool page.

Enter the URL you are disavowing links for and click “Disavow Links”.

screenshot of of google disavow tool for google penalty removal 3

Read the warning message Google shares and take heed.

Click “Disavow Links”.

screenshot of of google disavow tool for google penalty removal 4

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Additional Steps to Take If Your Site Needs a Google Penalty Removal

If your site has a manual penalty you will also need to submit a reconsideration request to Google letting them know that you have removed all the toxic backlinks and would like the penalty lifted.

In your request make sure you include the steps that you took to remove the toxic links. Include a link to the Google Drive document in which you recorded all your removal efforts.

You should make this request polite and gentle and tell them that you will do your best to follow their best practices in the future.

To submit your reconsideration request log back into your Google Webmaster Tools account. Click “Search Traffic”. Click “Manual Actions”. Then click “Request A Review”.

screenshot of of google disavow tool for google penalty removal 6

Once you submitted the reconsideration request you should hear back from Google within a couple of weeks with their decision regarding your Google penalty removal. If your site does not have a manual penalty levied against it, you do not and cannot submit a reconsideration request.