Google: We Prefer To Assess Reconsideration Requests On Links Within Webmaster Tools However…

google-webmaster-tools-video-1330350240What do webmasters do when receiving a manual action from Google telling them they have a penalty because of paid or bad links pointing to their site?

Google told us back in June that we should use Google’s “links to your site” report within Webmaster Tools to analyze bad links pointing to our sites.

In fact, earlier that month, a Google engineer who works in search quality named Aaseesh Marina told an SEO named Marie Haynes that using Google Webmaster Tools “Links to Your Site” section would be enough to discover the bad links pointing to your site and to submit a reconsideration request. I actually confirmed that with Google’s John Mueller later that day, and he did agree that the downloaded sample links report would be enough to find the bad links to your site.

Then last week, I spotted a help thread where Google sent an unnatural link notification to a webmaster, and one of the example links provided by Google in that notification was nowhere to be found in the link report within Google Webmaster Tools.

One would think that Google representatives Aaseesh Marina and John Mueller weren’t telling the whole truth when they said all you need to worry about are the links in the sample links report. So, I immediately emailed Google and asked them why are we getting mixed messaged.

Google’s Matt Cutts, the head of search spam, responded saying:

It’s certainly the case that we endeavor to show examples from the set of links returned by Webmaster Tools, and likewise we prefer to assess reconsideration requests on that basis of those links. However, if there’s a really good example link that illustrates a problem, we do leave enough room to share that link, especially because it can help point the webmaster in a better direction to diagnose and fix issues.

From this response, it seems that even if the link example is not removed but all the bad links found within webmaster tools are removed, Google may decide to lift the manual link penalty. I am not 100% clear on this, but that is my impression from this response.

Typically, Google is not asking you to remove all the bad links, but they want to see you make a significant effort to remove most of the bad links. Which may be why Aaseesh and John said it would be enough to just look at the links within Google Webmaster Tools.

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • http://www.mediawyse.com/ Casey Markee, MBA

    I always start with a download of links from GW Tools when conducting a link audit. But I personally thank it’s professional MALPRACTICE to just stop there. With the breadth of tools available now (most of which allow you to upload an export from GWT to add more depth to the analysis) there is just no excuse, none, not to do so when formulating a list of questionable links both for physical removal and to drop in a disavow file.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    My biggest concern is that GWT is not 100% and up to date. I’ve found some terrible links in the past and set out to remove them as quickly as possible only to find the link no longer existed online. It was several weeks before GWT updated and was no longer counting those links for/against my site. I don’t want to be penalized for something that is no longer kicking around!

  • http://www.searcheminence.com/ Byron Hardie

    Thanks for the update Barry. Though Aaseesh and John at Google claim that you only need worry about the potential bad links found in GWT we know that isn’t a comprehensive list. In light of recent guideline changes regarding linking and the intent of your link relationships there seems to be a disconnect between what is required for the reconsideration request and what Google claims is a violation.

    I’m sure other people are thinking the same thing I am… what is the severity level of a “bad” link? Is it a simple low-quality link that doesn’t help but doesn’t necessarily hurt you either or is it an outright violation? And if it does violate one of the many arbitrary guidelines, which infraction occurred?

    There are some sites that have millions of links. If that site received a penalty how do they know what to remove? Are there only 1000 really bad links that should be removed or disavowed? Are all of those links even in the WMT list?

    I’ve seen instances where knee-jerk reactions by companies hit by a penalty force them to erase 10 YEARS of link building initiatives simply because they have no idea what Google wants them to fix. Sure the penalty is eventually lifted but the rankings never return and the business is destroyed.

    The argument can be made that the site is now ranked where it should be without the apparent link manipulation and that it should have never had its rankings to begin with. But the REAL million dollar question (literally in this case) is: Did they remove 90% more than they needed to in order to get back into the good graces of Google? Was the baby thrown out with the bathwater?

  • Sam Fletcher

    GWT’s backlinks report was, I found, all I really needed for an effective disavow file. It makes a lot of sense; if Google knows about a backlink, they put it in a database. The backlinks report on GWT must be drawing from that same database. If Google doesn’t know about a bad backlink, it’s irrelevant to your Google rankings anyway.

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com incrediblehelp

    What I find even worse is they don’t give you examples when you get the unnatural OUTbound link warnings so you never know what you could be doing wrong. I would think that would be an easier example to report than unnatural inbound links.

  • lez bennet

    “What do webmasters do when receiving a manual action from Google” – You make friends with the underpaid, under appreciated Indian or Pakistani Google employee.

  • Zayeed Mohummed

    Those underpaid, under appreciated Indian or Pakistani Google employees have nothing in their hand.
    We actually practice SEO and unfortunately rest of the world is unable to beat us on anything..

  • Gagool

    ‘Several weeks’ would be great. I’ve seen no-longer-existing links stuck in Webmaster Tools backlinks for a YEAR (and Google still penalizing the site). GWT is as dishonest a tool as Google itself is dishonest as a company.

  • Gagool

    This is simply untrue. I’ve seen a site’s backlink count in GWT go down drastically from one day to the other, never to recover.

    Either Google suddenly ‘forgot’ 80% of (mostly legitimate, non-disavowed) links pointing to that site.

    Or what’s much more probable, and has been proved by countless examples throughout the years: GWT is completely unreliable and arbitrary, and as a product it’s a discredit to those who are charged with developing it.

  • guy

    they sure or not sure? I think they just don’t know what they want and prefer to confuse all of us.

  • Sam Fletcher

    I’m definitely not going to say you’re wrong. I can just tell you what worked for us and my speculation as to why it worked.

  • http://www.webtyde.com/ Allyson Seitzler

    Great article. We didn’t receive a manual notices but I recently dealt with the disavow process in Google. I’m not sure if this will work for others, but it worked for me and a client with a considerable amount of purchased inbound links from years past.

    I downloaded the list of links Google had listed and went to each URL armed with my Chrome plugin for Google Page Rank. I made a list of all URL links that were banned by the host or under PR 3. After trying to contact the website that were still hosted to get our client’s link removed, I listed roughly 70% of the URLs that were listed and submitted the .TXT via the disavow area.

    Almost two weeks later to the day, I saw a major jump in rankings and a 20% increase in overall traffic through Google / Organic the following month. I don’t know if my system works as I’m waiting for more test cases to come in, but I’m feeling more confident that these old purchased links from webmasters long-gone will finally stop haunting us.

  • http://www.quickmoney365.com/ Vin DiCarlo

    My Blogs Traffic was gone down and I was requested for Reconsideration. But They Was Said That There are No Manual Penalty have been found for my Blog. Now What To DO?

  • Jeremy Niedt

    I’ve seen all kinds of discrepencies while analyzing profiles. I had one profile that the AHREFs dump and WMT did not correlate at all, save for maybe 100 links out of a 2000+ profile. I found large link volumes(100k+) in another WMT profile that did not appear in AHREFs from a site that had died 6 years ago. To combat this, I just try and get as many sources as possible when making my list, dump them all into a column and have the individual lists mark them up with colors so I know what source they came from.

  • Jeremy Niedt

    Do you think the % of the profile removed implies removal effort to Google? We have clients come to us with penalties from previous agencies that have either used mechanical methods, or such low quality sites there is no administration. It results in quite a large remainder, and therefore a bloated disavow file.

  • David Beart

    After 10 weeks of removing links, 4 rejections and disavowing 1,000 domains; our site at the Professor’s House managed to shake the ‘unnatural linking penalty’. We did use Webmaster Tools, but also ahref’s and Congestive Seo.

    By using all 3 we found hundreds of links to us in hacked sites, plenty of examples of negative SEO and 70ish domains with links hidden in frames. The reality is we would not have been able to find all the issues with GWT alone. On a side note, part of the reason we got the penalty was because we distributed articles through article marketing between 2007 and 2011… I would suggest that people think twice before doing so as removing these links/articles is NOT a lot of fun.

  • David Beart

    After 10 weeks of removing links, 4 rejections and disavowing 1,000 domains; our site at the Professor’s House managed to shake the ‘unnatural linking penalty’. We did use Webmaster Tools, but also ahref’s and Congestive Seo.

    By using all 3 we found hundreds of links to us in hacked sites, plenty of examples of negative SEO and 70ish domains with links hidden in frames. The reality is we would not have been able to find all the issues with GWT alone. On a side note, part of the reason we got the penalty was because we distributed articles through article marketing between 2007 and 2011… I would suggest that people think twice before doing so as removing these links/articles is NOT a lot of fun.

  • David Beart

    After 10 weeks of removing links, 4 rejections and disavowing 1,000 domains; our site at the Professor’s House managed to shake the ‘unnatural linking penalty’. We did use Webmaster Tools, but also ahref’s and Congestive Seo.

    By using all 3 we found hundreds of links to us in hacked sites, plenty of examples of negative SEO and 70ish domains with links hidden in frames. The reality is we would not have been able to find all the issues with GWT alone. On a side note, part of the reason we got the penalty was because we distributed articles through article marketing between 2007 and 2011… I would suggest that people think twice before doing so as removing these links/articles is NOT a lot of fun.

  • http://www.avainfotechseo.com/ Ashish Ahuja

    As far as I understand Matt is saying that while manually reviewing reconsideration requests if they find any link which is worth showing to the webmaster that this is the kind of bad backlinks that the site is having then they report that link in the response.

    I think it is a very good practice as most of the webmasters are thinking why is my website penalised? doing this answers questions.

    That being said it may not be the webmaster who would have made that bad backlink. This again proves that negative seo is possible in today’s environment.

  • Graciousstore

    The links in the WMT may not be 100% accurate but it is a starting point to start your link audition.

  • Francis

    We got three example links. All outside of WMT. John Mueller has changed his advice on this. If you are a big site then WMT is not enough.

  • 2remem

    We had major Negative SEO done to us this past spring (1000+ backlinks). It took months of fighting to have the links removed from the source. Still under manual action though most of the Negative SEO links have been inactive or “404″ for months. Still these show. Many of the links were coming from our own development website that was active only for about a month and is “404″ for months now. Some were coming from our other websites and were removed months ago also. The worst thing is most of the “Disavowed” links Google has yet to remove and we are at the 3 month mark and every reconsideration under manual review has a basic automated response sent to us with a link once in awhile. The worst part is we have been working on this since May and have yet to get it straightened out because Google leaves us in the dark. When filing reconsideration, we include every link and action we took dealing with 10′s of thousands of links and they still claim we have yet to show good faith effort to resolving the problem. WHAT? We will be out of business before this is resolved and my family on the street. I am not kidding, Google needs to put good faith effort into it’s manual action responses for those that are trying so hard to correct the issue. And we did until this week do AdWords to the tune of over $250 thousand a year. You’d think they’d work with us cuz they are losing our money and I’m sure it’s not just us.

  • http://www.avainfotechseo.com/ Ashish Ahuja

    I know it is that google has allowed this kind of thing to happen but negative seo works only if the website is low-authority and low-brand value. Try negative seo amazon.com it won’t work. That may not be a fair example but its not easy to take down a authority site

  • http://www.avainfotechseo.com/ Ashish Ahuja

    You have been hit by algorithmic updates like Panda or Penguin

  • Daniel Delos

    I don’t place ANY stock in this claim that WMT links alone are
    enough. For one, sites newly registered on WMT will often show just a
    few links. I’m not sure if this is a bug but I’ve seen it happening for
    months on multiple sites. The WMT links are also way out of date,
    usually with many links that have been deleted or removed long ago…

    I just combined a list of ahrefs, WMT and Link Research Tools links for
    one of my client’s manually penalized sites (I do the recovery, not the
    SEO). Each list was about 6000 links and after removing
    duplicates, there were roughly 12,000 links remaining, which means each
    service had roughly 66% of the links that the other two didn’t have… GWT is only giving us back a small percentage of the links that Google actually sees.

    I realize for manual penalties, it’s the ‘good faith’ effort that counts
    as much as the actual work. But for disavowing, there is NO WAY the GWT links alone going to be sufficient unless by luck you pass some algorithm threshold…

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