Note: While this post was originally published in May 2014 and the tools/resources included are still relevant today, we updated it on 17/08/2015 it to further improve how helpful it will be for you.
As website owners and business owners, our livelihoods are tied directly our websites traffic.
The unfortunate reality is that a Google is still responsible for referring a significant portion of traffic to a huge number of websites.
The fallout can be huge.
And when that traffic disappears – it’s difficult or just costly to get back the traffic that you once had.
But, it needs to be done.
Whether you’re at the stage where you need to identify what’s gone wrong, or you’re ready to go and get nasty links removed.
In this post I’m going to share a number of extremely useful tools with you that can help you do the following:
- Identify a penalty and what type of update it relates to
- Collate link data from multiple sources
- Identify which links are toxic
- Collect contact details and manage outreach
On top of these helpful tools I have also included some great resources to help you:
- Submit your disavow file correctly
- Submit your reconsideration request (for manual penalties) to give you the best possible chance of success
- Additional resources to guide you through the recovery process
Manual penalty? Algorithmic penalty? What’s the difference?
Before I get into the meat of the post I just want to explain the key differences between manual penalties and algorithmic penalties.
What is a manual penalty (or manual action)?
This is when someone from Google takes a look at your site and deems that you have broken Google’s webmaster guidelines in some way.
It may be that someone has reported you to Google for doing something that you shouldn’t or their algorithm has flagged your site for review.
Whatever the reason for the manual action, you should receive a message via your Google Webmaster Tools account that explains exactly what the issue is.
What is an algorithmic penalty?
This is when Google’s algorithm has automatically begun to impact your traffic.
There are two algorithm updates that could be affecting you, Panda and/or Penguin.
Panda typically targets site with lower quality content and Penguin targets sites using manipulative link building tactics.
A few more things you should know
- The road to recovering from a manual action or algorithmic penalty isn’t easy
- Manual actions usually expire after a particular amount of time but that doesn’t mean you should just wait it out
- It’s possible to suffer from an algorithmic penalty and manual action at the same time
- The Penguin algorithm has varying degrees of severity
5 Powerful tools to help you identify a penalty quick
Your first step should be identifying whether you have a penalty at all.
The usual indicator would be a drop in traffic.
If your site has a Penguin related issue then you should see drops in traffic around particular date that co-insides with an algorithm update (see this resource on Moz for dates). Panda updates are more difficult to narrow down as they are now built into the algorithm.
Fruition Penalty Checker – This tool uses your Google Analytics account to work out the probability of whether or not your site was affected by a particular update. All updates are listed with traffic change and they’re also plotted out on a graph. Note: you will need to update to the $20/month plan to get full visibility of the most recent updates.
Panguin Tool – This tool works in a similar way, by utilising your Google Analytics account to map out your traffic against Google updates. You don’t get the probability scores like with Fruition’s tool but you do get some great filtering options so you can compare landing page variances and keyword variances.
SEMrush – SEMrush has a database of keywords that it tracks which allows it to work out an estimated traffic level for a significant number of websites.
Ultimately data from your own Google Analytics account is more accurate but if you don’t have access to Google Analytics this works great.
You can use the free account to access data from when SEMrush first started tracking a site – it’s visible on a timeline which makes it quite handy.
If you use something like Moz’s Google Algorithm history resource you can get a rough idea for which updates could be impacting particular sites.
Google Analytics – If you would prefer not to use the Panguin tool or Fruition’s tool then Google Analytics is the next best thing for your own site. You will need to use a resource that shows you dates of all the important updates to Google’s algorithm like Moz’s resource mentioned above.
Google Webmaster Tools – This is a great resource for webmasters to find out more about their site, you can find links to your site, search queries and impressions, internal links and much more. There is also a section that allows you to find out if you have had a manual action.
Login to your account and click on your website then navigate to ‘search traffic’ which is on the navigation section on the left, then click ‘manual actions’ – you will then be able to find out instantly if you have a manual penalty. You would also be notified via the site messages section if you have had a manual penalty – this will tell you pretty much the same thing.
5 Tools that make collecting backlink data easy
There’s a lot of mistakes that people make when they first try to get a manual penalty revoked or to recover from Penguin.
One of those mistakes is relying on backlink data from a single tool.
I know people who have scraped by with just using link data from Google Webmaster Tools but not using a combination of tools has always come back to haunt them later on.
Using as much data as possible is just one of the reasons why the team at the agency I work for (UK Linkology) get a 100% success rate on lifting manual penalties.
Ahrefs – I’m a big fan of how Ahrefs displays its data. You will find that it’s got a large database of links that’s updated every 2 weeks. You can then export to CSV. There is a free plan available but it’s worth upgrading to a paid plan to access more data.
Majestic SEO – This is another great tool with a large database and some very helpful features that include add-ons for Firefox and Chrome. Similar to Ahrefs there is a free plan available, but you can upgrade to a premium account for $49.99/month.
Open Site Explorer – I’ve definitely found that the database of links that Open Site Explorer has is nowhere near the size of Ahrefs or Majestic but you do get access to some other great features when you sign up. These include rank tracking, keyword difficulty, on-page grader, Followerwonk, Fresh Web Explorer and more. OSE is included in a Moz subscription which costs $99/month.
Google Webmaster Tools – This is a great free resource to use, you can simply login to your Webmaster Tools account, head to the ‘search traffic’ section on the navigation menu and click ‘links to your site’ from there you will be able to download a significant number of links pointing to your site.
One thing worth noting is that data doesn’t seem to be refreshed as often as the likes of Ahrefs and Majestic SEO.
WebMeUp Backlink Checker – This is a free tool that provides some great data and it’s well worth taking advantage of. It operates much like you would expect a paid tool to operate, giving you access to anchor text, linking domains, comparisons with other domains and more.
The database of links doesn’t seem to be as big as Ahrefs and Majestic SEO yet, although I’ve noticed significant improvements recently.
3 Great tools to help identify toxic links
I have included a number of tools that can help you to identify toxic links below but before we dig into the tools I need to make something very clear.
There isn’t a tool on the market that can be 100% accurate.
Some can get close but not 100%, with this in mind it’s important to manually audit any links because it’s possible there could be some false positives.
Link Detox – This is an extremely powerful tool from Link Research Tools. This tool will identify toxic links via an in depth scale and also create your disavow document for you.
It’s also worth noting that Link Research Tools (LRT) regularly publish case studies involving big brands that have had issues with Google updates.
These case studies incorporate some of the other tools that LRT offer, but they can also be a huge insight into penalty recovery and how the Link Detox tool works, you can find them here.
Cognitive SEO – This is a full SEO toolset that can be incredibly useful, not just where identifying toxic links are concerned.
The unnatural link detection system identifies links as unnatural, suspect or OK – it’s simple but sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
According to Razvan Gavrilas, the founder of Cognitive SEO – the false positive rating sits at around 3% which is incredible.
There are some additional features that could be incredibly useful which include:
- Website classification – instantly know whether a link is from a press release, blog or forum etc
- Link classification – this will tell you whether a link is from an article, forum signature or any other location on a website
- Content category – immediately identify irrelevant links
SEO Profiler – This is another feature intensive SEO tool which provides some incredible features. For identifying toxic links, SEO Profiler has a ‘link disinfection’ tool that assigns links a risk percentage and also provides some detailed filtering options.
5 Helpful tools to collect contact details and manage the outreach process
The reality is that you are going to have to ask webmasters to remove links (providing they don’t fit with Google’s guidelines) if you want to get any manual action revoked or to see your site recover from Penguin.
There will be sites that you won’t be able to find contact details for, but it is well worth trying.
I have also included tools that will help to manage the actual outreach process for you too.
BuzzStream’s free email research tool – This nifty tool allows you to type in some information about the person you’re trying to find (or just their website) and it will then generate a list of Google searches that are clickable and open in a new tab.
Whois.net – This is one of the many tools that access’s the WHOIS database to pull in domain purchase information. This can be a great way of getting directly to the people who control a domain but if they have privacy enabled, this won’t be much help.
BuzzStream – The paid version of BuzzStream is a full outreach management system that also scans for contact information which includes social profiles, email addresses and contact pages. The platform is specifically built for link building but can work perfectly for managing this type of outreach too.
Remove’em – This tool will collate links from Moz, Ahrefs and Majestic SEO while giving you a viable platform for managing the clean-up of your domain. You can also use the tool to find contact details, send emails, track links and more.
RMoov – This tool is an incredible time saver, it will allow you to add your list of toxic links and RMoov will pull in the contact information and manages the entire process of emailing site owners.
The really amazing thing about this tool is it automatically generates a disavow file and keeps a detailed record of each step of the process of contacting webmasters – it even records when they were contacted and whether a domain has been ‘cleaned up’.
This is exactly the type of proof you need to give to Google to ensure that you are serious about cleaning up your link profile.
You’re almost there – it’s time to disavow and submit your reconsideration request
This is all done within Google Webmaster Tools.
Using the disavow tool
Before submitting the disavow document, I would recommend reading through this post by Dan Petrovic which explains how the tool works in great detail.
Once you’re happy to move forward and you have compiled your disavow document you will need to submit it via this link.
Filing your reconsideration request
The important thing to note here is that you only need to file a reconsideration request for a manual penalty. If your websites issues are related to an algorithmic update then you just need to disavow the links.
There are a number of things that you need to include in your reconsideration request to ensure that you get a positive response from Google.
I recommend checking out this post by Lewis Sellers that includes a full run down of everything you need to include.
Once you are ready to file the request, head to your Webmaster Tools account and select the website in question.
Then select the ‘search traffic’ tab and click on ‘manual actions’ as seen below:
Note: this can only be done by the account owner in Webmaster Tools, if you are setup as a user (whether it’s full or restricted) you will be unable to file a reconsideration request.
Account owners will see a ‘request a review’ button on the manual action screen.
If you focus on what works today you could be making a huge mistake
A lot of people focus on what works today, but not on what will work in the future.
I can see why people do this – it makes sense.
The problem is that when Google rolls out updates it usually looks at things retrospectively.
That’s why you need to move to thinking about what will work in the future, not just what works today.
By adjusting your focus you will be able to help future proof your website from future updates.
It’s true to say that there’s no way to completely avoid penalties but by doing things the right way you will be reducing the risk to your business.
You need to react to potential issues – FAST
It’s extremely important that you also monitor things like your traffic, keyword rankings and new incoming links.
By doing this you will be able to discover if there is a potential issue pretty fast.
For example if someone engages in negative SEO on your site and starts blasting lots of low quality links to your site – you need to know so you can take action.
I’d like to think that Google’s algorithm is smart enough to detect negative SEO and I’ve seen cases where it has been – but that’s not always the case.
There are tools on the market that can alert you to this type of thing, Monitor Backlinks is a good example – they send email alerts when it detects new links to your site.
How To Get Your Manual “Unnatural Links” Penalty Lifted Every Time – Advanced Web Ranking
Google Unnatural Links Manual Penalty: A Recovery Guide – Search Engine Watch
7 Content Marketing Tips to Recover From Google Penguin – Search Engine Watch
Recover From Google’s Penguin Algorithm – Distilled
Putting it all together
I’ve listed quite an extensive list of tools and resources that will help you to get back on to Google’s good side but there’s something else that I need to mention.
The truth is that the road to recovering your rankings and traffic is a long one.
They’re not going to come back over night, and possibly not within a few months.
You need to be patient and make sure that you are 100% focused on delivering high quality content to your websites readers.
Your focus needs to be on giving your readers an incredible user experience.
That’s not to say link building is dead.
But it’s about more than just building links to improve your rankings.
It’s more about traffic, visibility, branding and authority.
What about conversions?
If you can’t convert your visitors into leads, then what does it matter?
The good news is; there are tools that can help you improve your conversions.
Are there any specific tools that you find helpful when it comes to dealing with Google penalties?
I’d love to talk more in the comments.