Link penalties: The easy walkthrough

Link penalties: The easy walkthrough

Link penalties raise constant questions for affiliates and operators, but often aren’t particularly well explained. Mike Litson, managing director of Greyheart Media, provides an easy-to-follow guide to selecting the most viable recovery option.

Published 30th June 2014

The subject of link penalties comes up again and again with affiliates and operators, but despite this, is often not well explained, particularly when it comes to which recovery option is most viable for your business.

The reality is that costs vary wildly between the different methods and breaking this down into a flow chart, as I have done on the opposite page in Figure 1, does come with some limitations. However, whilst this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, it will cover off an awful lot of cases. If you’re still not sure, it’s best to ask for some professional advice.

Domains 1.PNG

In order to get the full benefit of the flow chart, it’s necessary to first define and explain some of the terms used.

Defining “high value domains”
Really this comes down to one of two things, is it a strong exact match domain (EMD)? And does it have a lot of high value inbound links?

Defining the first element is straightforward. If your domain is a genuinely high value EMD like, or another high-level keyword or top level domain (TLD), then it’s probably worth holding onto.

Defining the second, i.e. whether the domain has a lot of high value inbound links, is a little more difficult, because this raises the question comes as to whether it would be easier to move the good links than clean up the bad ones.

This will take time and a lot of patience depending on how many total backlinks you need to check through and how well you’ve kept records of your link building activities. You also need to remember that just because you think it’s a good link doesn’t mean it is. A great site linking to you with an unnatural tie in can still cause issues.

Manual action
Manual action in some cases can simply mean game over for an affiliate. I have actually seen one case where according to Webmaster Tools, 100% of all the backlinks had been removed and Google still refused to remove the penalty.

Whilst this is only a single case it does go to show that Google spends a lot less time reviewing iGaming affiliate queries, especially when compared to similar cases in other sectors.

The time factor
Whether or not you can afford to wait six months and up for the penalty to be removed and for your rankings to return is a recurring question, and it’s something that I believe people don’t really think about enough when they’re getting into link penalty removal. Probably because of the way that they’re sold into it by a lot of agencies.

Generally speaking, the agency sell involves focusing on the hope that things will soon pick up again, and it does happen sometimes. Speaking anecdotally again, I’ve seen one removed in three weeks, but should emphasise that this is not the norm.

So you should think long and hard before committing that time. In many cases, that’s about the same amount of time it would take an affiliate to start rebuilding a revenue generating site, and getting rid of penalties is often the more expensive option.

The disavow tool
Remember, this is not a silver bullet, despite some people preaching that it is. It won’t work for everyone, and on some occasions, it may achieve nothing. And of all the penalty removal tactics (depending on your issues) this is the most risky.

If you’ve only experienced page level and term-specific penalties, this is not advised in most cases, as you risk doing more harm than good.

However, in some cases, for example a complete and utter removal from SERPs, where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, It’s well worth using. However, clean up should always be attempted first.

Seek professional advice
This is not a sales plug, because it’s not just myself who will potentially take a look at things for you. Generally speaking, a lot of SEO companies will give you an idea. Ask for someone to pitch penalty removal, get a couple of quotes, and you’ll have a much nbetter idea of what the costs are really going to be. It’s up to you then whether or not the risks outweigh the rewards.

Remember: There are no guarantees. Even if your penalty does get removed, in many cases you won’t see the same sort of traffic that you once had, as after all, it was likely the spam that was making you rank in the first place. So even if the penalty comes down, you’re likely to have some rebuilding to do as well. So, remember it might not just be a six-month wait for the penalty to go. It could be another six months rebuilding. Make sure you budget accordingly.

The last lesson
Diversify! No affiliate should rely solely on one site or one strategy for their income. You need to ensure that should the worst happen, you have an alternative revenue stream. A lot of affiliates learned this the hard way. Don’t let it happen to you!