Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog

How to Get Out of Google Penalty Hell: With Jim Boykin

Below please find the adapted script:

Welcome to our today’s Internet Marketing Ninjas show. We are talking about Google penalties with Jim Boykin, the CEO of Internet Marketing Ninjas: about all kinds of fun things that Google does to us that we have to deal with…

How to identify a penalty?

Jim: With the manual penalty, that’s fairly easily to tell: You are going to go to your Google Webmaster Tools, on the left-hand side you are going to click on “Search traffic” and then at the end there’s a link to “Manual Actions”.

So you can click on that and you’ll see if you have a message in there that says that you have a “Manual penalty”

For the automatic though, that’s a little bit different. You are going to look at your Analytics and look for specific days when you may have had a big drop. Then check all the dates when Google had updates, line those dates up with your traffic drop and see which updated you were affected by.

There are a lot of people who think they must have had some kind of a penalty because their traffic over the course of the year was steadily going down… but it could be just that you are a small brand and larger brands are pushing their way up; and you are doing nothing special to bring some brand mentions to your site, so you could be just slowly going down.

So what you really need to do:

  • Check messages in your Google Webmaster Tools
  • (If there are no messages) Check which date you saw the traffic drop and see if there was a Google Update on that day.

So Traffic Just Drops?

Thom: So to be clear… If there was a penalty being applied, your traffic is going to tank. It’s not going to go down slowly, is it?

Jim: The majority of the time, yes…

There are some people that have received a manual penalty (which is known as the partial match) and their traffic was a flat line, so Google may have taken action on a certain section of the site that may have not affected their overall traffic.

So there are some cases when, with the partial-match penalty, your traffic does not drop… but that’s fairly rare.

In the majority of cases, you are going to see a traffic drop on a certain date (anywhere from 30% to 95%). Usually it’s a fairly drastic decrease in the search referral traffic.

So where to look in Google Analytics?

Thom: So if I don’t see anything in Google Webmaster Tools but I know my traffic has dropped, I should probably be looking at not just traffic overall but your search referral traffic?

Jim: Correct.

So within your Google Analytics, you want to choose the organic traffic from Google.

Often when we want to diagnose a possible penalty, we compare organic traffic in Bing and organic traffic in Google. And there’s a decrease in traffic in both, you must have done something to your site. If Bing traffic is stable and Google has that drop, that’s another sign that you have a penalty.

What types of Google updates are there?

Jim: There are two main types of updates:

(1) The Panda Update addresses content issues… I was just looking at client reports this morning… They had very thin content on some pages as they had pages for every single state, for every single city and the content across all those pages was “near duplicate”. So Google affected 95 percent of that site.

(2) The Penguin Update is all about “bad” links.

So let’s talk about links…

Jim: If you see a message about “Unnatural links to your site” inside Google Webmaster tools, you have to analyze your backlinks to identify bad versus good links.

To get those backlinks, you can export your backlinks and download them. It tends not to be everything… It appears to be some type of a sample but it’s not everything.

Also, you need to get backlinks to your www and non-www versions of your website which means you need to add and verify BOTH of those domains (if you 301-redirect one to the other, you need to remove it and add both domains).

There are other sources that you can go and look at your backlinks is as well. My favorite is Majestic. They have an incredibly large index.

I would recommend going beyond Google and collect more of your backlinks elsewhere.

So now that you’ve got your links, what are you looking for?

Jim: You are going to pull down these backlinks, and then separate the good from the bad.

There’s a great tool that we’ve built called Penguin and Disavow Analysis that does a few things:

  • It separates the live from the dead links (Many (usually 50%) of the links that you’ll export from Google Webmaster Tools have been removed or the pages that used to link to you are no longer there or the links have been “nofollowed”, etc)
  • I helps you find the patterns: Spammy blog reviews, directory links, link-trade pages,same-IP links, links with the same anchor text, etc.

You want to keep all the natural ones: Your true natural citations / votes.

If you were hit by a penalty, you’ll need to remove bad backlinks. So you’ll need to email all of the webmasters and ask to remove those links. Usually if you emailed them three times, that’s fairly good for Google.

With manual penalties, you are going to do a Reconsideration Request…

Jim: After you are done emailing webmasters asking them to remove your links (and disavowed those where you never heard back), you are going to send a letter to Google which called a “Reconsideration Request”.

In your letter to Google you are going to say things like “In the past we did things that were bad. We are sorry… We got a bunch of directory links. We paid for a bunch of blog reviews… We did content syndication… ”

Admit all your guilt, and say “But we’ve learned now… We are doing things to improve our brand, to create great content”.

Then in a couple of weeks you are going to hear from Google

Make sure you admit your guilt. If you don’t, it’s going to be a lot harder to get out. Just go with the system.

If you really never did anything wrong, can you still be penalized?

Jim: The whole bunch of links you are going to see will be like “I never got these..” There are going to be a lot of scraper sites, etc. You are bound to get some junk.

Usually these are not going to be a problem… That’s also what Google says and that’s usually true…

But it may not be a bad thing to be monitoring those backlinks each month to look at what goes in there and remove those that are especially shady. was never affected by any updates but I pull down our backlinks from Google on amonthly basis and look at them thinking “Oh my God! I never got these”… so I am basically doing a preemptive disavow

Let’s recap… In which cases are you doing a disavow?

Jim: Any time that you were hit by Penguin (your traffic fell on one of the dates when there was a Penguin refresh), then you are going to do a disavow.

If you got an unnatural manual penalty, you are going to do a disavow as well but first you’ll need to do your best to remove those links and then submit your disavow document (followed by a reconsideration request)

Is it advisable to hire a professional?

Jim: Yes, [if that paid professional is reliable enough…]

Paid professional can be scary… I ran a search yesterday for [penguin recovery service] or something like that and I saw that pay-per-click ad that said “100% recovery!”

The only way I can imagine someone guarantee a 100% recovery rate is to basically take ALL of your backlinks, combine them all together, and submit the entire thing to your Google Disavow document. Tell Google “Here, disavow them all!”

That’s really bad unless you are willing to start a new site from scratch.

Doing your backlink analysis means maintaining balance: you want to remove the bad backlinks and you want to make sure you are keeping the good ones because links are still the biggest part of the algorithm.

And if you start removing good links… Good links are hard to come by… They are little pieces of gold! If you go ahead and disavow / remove those, you may never really recover as Google may release the penalty but the traffic will be still nowhere.

How high your traffic is going to be after disavow and / or reconsideration request depends on the backlinks. Sometimes I look at backlinks and say that I’ll have to remove 89% of them so that site is never going to recover to the days that they had.

Once you’ve been hit by a penalty, you’ll have to re-think your whole strategy because the days of trying to gain unnatural and short-tail links are gone. And the staff that Google has been saying for ages – “Create sites for the user and Google will take care of the rest…” – now it’s time to take this seriously.

New strategy: Slow and Steady… Start creating good resources that are going to bring in natural backlinks. Days of exact-match anchor text are over.

If you have a trusted author for your site and you are coming up with great digital assets each time (tools, widgets, how-tos, etc), that’s the “slow and steady way now”.

Does Disavow have any negative affect on who you disavow?

Jim: No, I don’t think it’s going to hurt the site or the author who you disavow.

To add to this, if you’ve been hit by a penalty, no matter how much you are trying to create content and get natural citations, you are not going to get out unless you do your due diligence, clean up your links and submit a reconsideration request.

Doing “real things” might help you recover but it will not get you out of penalty on itself. While you are in the penalty hell, there’s nothing you can do until that penalty is released.

Keep as many links as you can and disavow everything that’s not natural.

So to sum up, if you traffic went down:

  • You’ll need to go to Google Webmaster tools and see if there’s a penalty message there
  • If not, you’ll need to look at your search referrals and see if the drop coincides with any of the Penguin updates
  • If one of the above happened, you’ll need to analyze your backlinks, separate the good from the bad.
  • With manual penalty, you’ll need to email those people trying to remove as many links as you can. Then disavow the rest and submit the reconsideration request
  • With Penguin, create a disavow document removing all the unnatural links while keeping natural citations.

And just talk to a ninja! We’ll help you out!


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Meet The Bloggers

Jim Boykin
Jim Boykin

Founder and CEO

Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty

Community & Branding Manager