On May 22nd, 2013, Google released what they call "Penguin 2.0", which in their own words is an algorithmic change targeting "link schemes". For months, Penguin 2.0 was hyped up like it was going to be earth-shattering. Google's head of web spam, Matt Cutts, spoke out publicly about how the update was going to be "jarring and jolting". It turned out to be more of a blip on the radar.
Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of sites hit with ranking losses but it doesn't look like it was for anything new in particular. From what we can tell here at DTC, this latest update was a further devaluation of spammy directory links, article distribution networks, blog comments and link networks. These were all tactics that were phased out a long time ago but a lot of sites had links that still remained in the closet so to speak.
Since I'm currently remodeling my home, my analogy here is to look at this whole thing like home building. When homes are built, they are built to certain codes that are set by the local government. When these building codes change, people don't necessarily rush out to make the updates to get up to code. Most of the time, these changes happen slowly as people renovate or make updates to their homes.
Some of the links (like directories) that were devalued, were a standard practice a few years ago and even Google themselves suggested starting out your link building journey with the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) and Yahoo directories back then.
That being said, Google is surely on a crusade to stomp out all manipulative types of link building and we know there are more updates in the pipeline. This is why we're recommending to any site owner that has done link building in the past to please take a closer look at what links they have in their backlink profile, and if necessary, start the link removal process.
Here's a quick overview of the link removal process:
- Step 1: Check backlinks using multiple tools (because one tool usually doesn't have all of them in its index). We like to use ahrefs, Majestic and Google's Webmaster Tools and cross reference all the links on each one of these reports, meaning determine where the link is coming from and compare them across reports.
- Step 2: Color code all the links (Good, Not sure, Bad) and then double check them to make sure you're not removing any good links and/or leaving any bad ones untouched.
- Step 3: Contact each of the sites that are classified as bad and ask them to take your link down. Sometimes this takes multiple contact attempts to get an answer. Some sites will even go as far as asking you to pay them to remove the link. The reason we have to contact sites first is that Google wants to see that you made a serious attempt to remove links before you submit a re-inclusion request (in other words, they want to see you admit to any frowned-upon practices to obtain links).
- Step 4: Disavow any links that haven’t been removed after multiple contact attempts. Google allows you to disavow links via Webmaster Tools. Again, we advise not to simply disavow links without trying to remove them first.
- Step 5: Submit a reinclusion request to be re-considered in Google search results pages (if a manual penalty has occurred and you received a direct message from Google). If you did not receive a manual penalty, then a reinclusion request is not necessary. Removing and disavowing links should solve the problem unless some bad links have been missed.
- Step 6: Monitor rankings for improvements. It is important to note that a ranking recovery is not likely until the next algorithm refresh or update which can potentially take a few months. There is no way of knowing when the next update will be but Matt Cutts has said publicly that we should expect more updates this summer.
There's no question that removing links seems counter-intuitive and can be a lot of work depending on your situation but we definitely have seen the positive effects that cleaning up a backlink profile can have and think it's worth the effort.