If you’ve ever woken up to find a Google manual penalty in your Google Search Console account, you’ll know precisely how devastating it can be. The effects of a manual penalty can see your pages booted down the search results with a corresponding painful loss of traffic. A common reason for receiving penalties is a link profile that Google sees as unnatural. If this has happened to you it’s completely deflating. However, you can recover from a penalty for bad links, but you need to clean up your act. I’m going to explain how to disavow links in Google to do just that.
In the course of this I’ll explain:
- What are bad or unnatural links?
- Why does Google penalize bad links?
- What does a manual penalty look like?
- How to disavow links in Google.
By the end of this post I hope to reassure you that recovery from an unnatural links penalty is entirely possible even if it’s utterly terrifying when you first discover you’ve got one.
What are Unnatural links?
I’ve written several in depth posts about unnatural links. If you want a detailed explanation of what they are, check out this post: What are Unnatural Links and Why Should You Avoid Them?
As a summary, unnatural links are any links to your blog on external domains that search engines determine to be an attempt to manipulate search rankings.
Links are a key indicator to search engines of how important a blog is. The more links that point to your blog, the more possible it is that your blog will appear higher in search results.. Unless they’re considered unnatural.
Unnatural links might be considered so if there are lots of them coming from:
- Directory sites.
- Article directories.
- Low quality blogs.
If hundreds or thousands of links to a blog suddenly appear overnight Google might determine this to be unnatural. In the case where they suddenly appear on low quality domains, it indicates that some kind of spam activity is taking place.
Most often we associate unnatural links as a black hat SEO technique.
Why Does Google Penalize Unnatural links?
Google defends the quality and relevancy of the search results it delivers to searchers with some vigor. If Google cannot deliver useful and relevant results, it impacts its brand.
Since Google relies on the accuracy and quality of results, it takes a very dim view of anyone trying to manipulate them. If Google cannot satisfy a user’s need to find the most relevant results for a search quickly, it fails in its objective. Hence blogs found not adhering to its Webmaster Guidelines around links are treated severely.
I know this from experience having worked in a business that was penalized for unnatural links many years ago. I’ve posted about my experience of Google manual penalties, so readers can understand what it’s like. But the short version is… it’s something I’d recommend you avoid!
What Does a Manual Penalty Look Like?
There are several ways you’ll be able to see what a manual penalty looks like.
The first is Google Analytics or any other tool you use to track your site visits. If you’ve received a penalty you’ll likely see a dramatic and immediate decrease in your organic traffic from Google.
Another way you’ll be able to see a manual penalty is by using the Google Search Console. In this indispensable tool, there is an area (Security & Manual Actions) that tells you specifically if you’ve been slapped by a penalty and why. It also provides examples of links causing a problem. It looks something like this:
A third way, also for those with a verified domain in a Google Search Console account, is via email. Google Search Console will send email notification if it serves a manual penalty on your blog. The email will give you a warning you that you’ve been slapped.
If you don’t have a GSC account, they are straightforward to set up. I’d recommend you do so asap. Here’s how: How to Set up a Google Search Console Account
How to Disavow Links in Google
It’s devastating to have a manual action on your blog. A manual penalty can decimate your traffic, depending upon how big the penalty is. It might be site-wide that completely drops your pages from the index or it might affect a few pages only.
Regardless you’ll want to know about any bad links pointing to your blog and fix them asap. Fortunately there are several methods to check for bad links.
When you have a clear idea of any bad links that have likely caused your penalty, there is mechanism to disavow links in Google using the Search Console itself. It’s imaginatively called the Links Disavow Tool and you can find it here.
Google’s Link Disavow Tool
To use it you have to create a file containing all the links you want to disavow in a format the tool expects. You can submit an entire domain or individual pages from a domain.
I won’t list the specific format required since Google does that here in as much detail as you’ll ever need.
After you submit your disavow file, Google will work upon it and remove the link association from the linking domain / page to your blog. It’s important to note Google can’t remove the link from the page itself. Instead it’ll just be ignored it when factoring your backlink profile.
A word of warning on this though… and this is VERY important. When you submit links with the disavow tool, you need to be as close to positive they’re causing you a problem. Google is explicit in this and advises only to disavow links if:
1. You believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, andSource: Google Search Console Help
2. The links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site.
If you disavow a link that’s actually helping your blog to rank, this will likely cause a further decrease in your position in results that’ll further impact your visibility in search. The net result being more organic traffic losses in Google.
- Unnatural links are what Google perceives to be attempts to manipulate search results in a way that deviates from its T&Cs.
- Google penalizes unnatural linking patterns heavily and can drop your entire blog from its index.
- Disavowing links in Google is useful if your blog has been penalized for unnatural links.
- You can disavow links in Google using the Link Disavow Tool in Google Search Console (but you’ll need an account).
- For any link you submit to the link disavow process, you must be as near to 100% certain that the link is causing you a problem. Any link you disavow that actually helps your blog to rank will cause you further traffic losses.
As I explained earlier in my post, I have worked on a site that was penalized. I used the disavow tool in the way I’ve explained and managed to restore all the traffic lost through the penalty.
I don’t recommend the experience to anyone, but to end on a positive note it is possible to tidy up your link profile and recover your traffic.
So don’t panic… but be very careful with the links you build and NEVER do anything unnatural to manipulate search results with them.
That’s it for now.
If you’ve ever suffered from a Google manual penalty or want to know more about how to disavow links in Google, please leave a comment below.