We regularly receive enquiries from potential clients about our Google penalty recovery services asking if we can help them to have their penalties revoked. Over the past year, It’s become evident that a lot of clients don’t understand how they’ve receive the penalty, what type of penalty they have, or how they’re able to recover it. In an effort to try and help others out, we felt it would be helpful to put together a list of the top 50 questions asked in regards to penalty recovery.

Can Google penalties actually be removed?


How do I know if I’ve received a penalty?

Manual penalties are very easy to identify as these contain a message which you will receive in your Google Webmaster Tools account. Usually, an email will be sent to you, but this isn’t always the case as notifications could be set to disabled. In order to check for a manual penalty, head over to Google Webmaster Tools, click on your site and then from the left hand menu select ‘Search Traffic > Manual Actions’. In here, you will either see the message ‘No manual webspam actions found‘, or alternatively, a message showing that manual action has been taken against your website.

Algorithmic penalties are a bit harder to check and require some investigation into your traffic drops along with the algorithm updates that Google releases fairly regularly. In order to keep this guide fairly short, we’ve put together a separate post called ‘How to detect if you’ve been hit with an algorithmic penalty‘.

What is the difference between ‘manual’ and ‘algorithmic’ penalties?

Manual penalties are when an actual member of Google’s webspam team has placed a physical penalty on your website. Algorithmic penalties are sites that are not affected by a manual penalty, but instead by Google’s algorithm. In this instance, your site is negatively being affected by changes Google has made, where they may have devalued certain types of links, or enforced penalties on companies who are building links in a certain way.

What is the difference between Google Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird and Pigeon?

Every time Google makes a major change to the way its algorithm works, they name the update after a different animal. Normally, these algorithm changes focus on a particular aspect of your site, and figuring out which update is responsible for your penalty can also help you to figure out what you’ll need to change in order to recover your lost rankings.


Panda was the first of Google’s named algorithm updates, (originally deployed in May 2011) and mainly focused on eliminating sites that:

  • Lacked informative content,
  • Suffered from the inclusion of excessive advertising
  • Featured poor navigational markup, or suffered from an unintuitive layout

Panda penalties are normally given because Google doesn’t feel that a given site is offering a beneficial end-user experience, or because Google’s search bots think that it doesn’t offer any real value to people browsing the web.


Penguin was the name of Google’s second major update, which was responsible for the overwhelming majority of algorithmic penalties experienced by eCommerce businesses. Unlike Panda, Penguin was specifically designed to penalize sites that had an unnatural link profile, or that were deemed to have been partaking in ‘spammy’ SEO practices like:

  • Link trading
  • Forum spam
  • Directory spam

Penguin also penalized guest-blogging, which was one of the most common SEO practices at the time. This resulted in an incredibly large number of sites being hit with an algorithmic penalty, and loosing rank in Google as a direct result.


Hummingbird was the third algorithm update that Google introduced – focused primarily on improving the way that the context and meaning of long-tail searches were interpreted. Hummingbird was deployed for nearly a month before Google announced the change, and didn’t really result in any sites being ‘penalised’ as such.


Released just last month, pigeon was an algorithmic update focused on local search terms. Like hummingbird, this update didn’t really introduce any penalties, but it did significantly alter the way that a lot of sites ranked on local-based SERPS by heavily emphasizing the importance of NAP citations, and improving the way that Google Places pages ranked for key search terms. Because each update has focused on radically different factors, removing the corresponding penalties requires a number of unique techniques. This means that figuring out which algorithmic change your site is suffering from will always be a top priority.

When do I need to submit a reconsideration request?

Reconsideration requestsonly need to be submitted for manual penalties. For algorithmic penalties, you have to wait for Google to lift the penalty from your website, this can take any length of time and unfortunately is a case of clearing up the issue and waiting for them to ease the penalty.

What is the disavow tool?

The disavow tool was created in order to allow webmasters to tellGoogle about links that they don’t want Google to countagainst them. Google make very clear that the disavow tool should only be used by someone who knows what they’re doing, so files can only be uploaded by site owners. Disavow tools are very easy to create, but you must be certain that the links you add are bad, as these will no longer give you any benefit / negative effect. We’ve covered the disavow tool in more detail in another post, with a guide on how you should format the files and in what circumstances you should disavow links only, or domains.

How do I submit a reinclusion request?

When you’re ready to submit a reconsideration request, you should head over tohttps://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/reconsideration.

It’s important to note that you should always keep a copy of your reconsideration request on your computer. Google have recently announced that they’ll be storing previous reconsideration requests for you to see, but we’d always suggest keeping your own copy.

What information needs to be included in a reinclusion request?

Reconsideration requests are fairly straight forward to write. Thought should be given to the content you add, but we would normally suggest the following:

  • A list of a steps you have taken in order to remove the links which violate their webmaster guidelines
  • A summary of how these links were acquired in the first place (previous SEO companies, naivety, even stupidity – It’s best to be honest!)
  • A link to the spreadsheet / any additional resources as supporting documentation (keep these on Google Docs)
  • A little about your website / company
  • A statement to tell Google about the steps you’ve taken to stop this happening again
  • A little grovelling…

Reconsideration requests shouldn’t be really long. We’ve writtenanother guide on writing a comprehensive reconsideration request along with a sample boilerplate to get you started. Matt Cutts from Google has also made a video to explain what information should be added into a reconsideration request –https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35843?hl=en Remember, Reconsideration requests are read by real people, so it’s important that you’re polite, tell the truth and carry out the work to a high standard.

If you want toread more on how to write a reconsideration request, take a look at our other guide.

Where should I gather backlink data from?

Unfortunately, gathering backlink data can be a bit of a pain. Google themselves don’t provide you with a full list of your backlinks. Instead, they provide sample sets to give you a good mix of the links. In this case, you need to ensure that you gather backlink data from as many sources as possible. Below are the companies which we tend to gather backlink data with. We’ve also linked to additional blog posts which explain how you can export data from these sites:

When reading this, if you have any suggestions for additional backlinks sources, please get in touch.

Can I just disavow all of the bad links on Manual penalties?

No – There has been a lot of speculation on the internet about whether you can just disavow all of your bad backlinks in order to have manual penalties removed. Many webmasters say that previously, they have disavowed links only in order to achieve a site-wide penalty being downgraded to a partial penalty. In our experience, we would never recommend only disavowing links when trying to remove a penalty. Google say that they want to see a good faith effort of you trying to remove backlinks before using the disavow tool. In any case, we would always recommend conducting a full series of outreach to get the links removed properly.

Is there a list of all of the updates that Google makes?

Moz have very kindly have produced a page on their website which details all of the Algorithm changes that Google release. It’s sorted by date order so can be used to identify algorithmic updates –http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change

How do I know which links are bad?

Identifying whether a backlink is good or bad involves taking a number of very specific criteria into account, including factors ranging from the page-rank of the linking page, the anchor text that the link is imbedded in, the exact content of the linking site’s url, the presence of obvious money-terms and the Some of the easiest ‘bad links’ to spot are:

  • Links from low quality directory sites
  • Links from a site that features recycled or ‘spun’ content
  • Links from sites that contain malware

There are many, many more factors to consider though.For a more comprehensive list, take a look at step 3 of this link removal guide that we wrote for Moz towards the end of last year.

Will the disavow tool affect my websites ranking?

The short answer to this is yes. By using the disavow tool, you’re telling Google that you no longer want them to count certain links to your website, and while disavowing isn’t as effective as having the links removed altogether, it will still help to show Google that you’re serious about removing the link-spam that often leads to a penguin penalty. Take care though – If you disavowed the wrong links or domains, then this will affect your websites rankings negatively.

Does lifting a penalty mean my traffic will recover back to where it was previously?

Unfortunately, this is something that nobody can guarantee. In our experience, sites don’t tend to recover to their previous standings, but logic would suggest that this is because many links which were previously providing a positive affect on your websites rankings (even though they were in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines) are no longer providing any benefit. Every campaign we do link removal for has different results. We’ve had sites that have recovery 90% of their search traffic overnight, but we’ve also seen sites where a side wide penalty has been lifted and traffic has not increased. This could also be down to sites having received multiple penalties for different violations.

Should I pay other webmasters to remove bad links to my site?

Generally, we’d advise that you avoid paying web masters to remove spammy backlinks that point at your site – Google do advise against this practice, and the disavow tool is supposed to be the go-to solution whenever a webmaster can’t be persuaded to remove links for free. That said, there are certain circumstances when paying a webmaster to remove backlinks can be very beneficial, particularly if they’re offering to remove a large quantity of links for a relatively insignificant amount.

Do larger companies have their penalties removed quicker than smaller companies?

There isn’t any set answer to this, but when reading case studies online about large brands who are hit with penalties, they tend to have their penalties removed fairly quickly. This is usually because if a company of this size is subject to a penalty, they will have lots of resources placed into removing the penalty as quickly as possible. When submitting reconsideration requests, Google do seem to prioritise large scale companies, as many of these seem to have penalties dealt with and removed within a 7 day period.

Where can I gather website contact details from?

We use various different methodsfind contact details for owners. The easiest way to gather contact details is to look atthe website in question, find the contact page and take note of telephone numbers, addresses and any other forms of contact details. As a backup, you can carry out a whois lookup on the linking domain in order to find out contact details.

In-house, we have developed a tool that searches for webmasters contact details in various places across the web. If you’d like us to carry out some contact finding for a list of domains for you, contact us via our Penalty Recovery page. The tool will soon be available for a link removal system we’re currently building called ‘Peel’.

What is a nofollowed link?

A nofollow link is a link that’s been tagged in a way that prevents Google’s search bots from following it through to the destination url. This has an attribute added to the link which isrel=”nofollow”. Take a look at the W3 Schools page for more information about rel attributes.

Should I look at links which have a ‘nofollow’ attribute on them?

According to Google’s webmaster guidelines, nofollow links are notconsidered when handing out algorithmic or manual penalties so you can probably ignore nofollow links to your site when trying to analyse or clean-up your backlink profile. There is one exception to this rule though: According to Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team, you should look at nofollow backlinks if there are a disproportionately huge amount of them pointing at your site, as this can be picked up by Google as a signal of excessive spam.

Can I create more links to my website if I have received an algorithmic penalty to dilute the old and poor quality links?

Building more links to your site can help to dilute the poor quality of links pointing at your site, but only in the short term: Google update their algorithms fairly regularly, and are always making tweaks to the way they asses and penalise backlinks which means that, sooner or later, the high volume of bad quality backlinks still pointing at your site will tip the scales against you, and generate a new penalty. It’s far better to just remove the bad links before you begin building up a more sustainable link profile, that way you’ll be well protected frm any further updates.

Should I disavow links even if I don’t have a Google penalty?

While disavowing bad links before you attract a penalty isn’t strictly necessary, it can be very helpful, particularly if you’ve noticed a lot of spammy backlinks pointing at your site from link directories or article spinning sites. If you’ve got the time, being proactive about updating and maintaining your sites backlink profile can help to prevent penalties from ever being applied to your site, and ensure that you maintain your rankings. Just be careful not to disavow any beneficial links, otherwise you might end up penalising yourself.

Should I add comments to my disavow file?

You can add comments to your disavow file, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone will read them so it’s probably better to just focus on making sure that you’ve included all the negative links pointed at your site.

“I’ve heard that you can just get links from Google Webmaster Tools in order to have penalties removed, is this true”

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been our experience with link removal. John Muller from Google stated that using Google Webmaster Tools alone should be good enough to get your penalty revoked, however, after working with many different clients to help them recover, we have found that backlinks must be pulled from multiple sources. There has been a lot of discussion on the web about this issue, but we would certainly recommend using all of the main providers of backlink data to gather a comprehensive data set of your backlinks.

How long does it take for a reinclusion request to be processed?

Reconsideration requests usually take 10-20 days to respond to. Occasionally, responses come in quicker than this, but in our experience, the average wait time is 2-3 weeks. Larger sites who have been affected by penalties can received a response in less than 7 days.

I hope the above article has been helpful and that it’s helped to answer a few questions. If you’ve learnt something from the article, please share it for others to read or leave a comment below! Alternatively, if you’d like us to help you remove your penalty, please contact us or visit our Google penalty recovery page for more information.