Preemptively Avoid Penalties: The 12 Steps of SEO Recovery

During the course of a websites’ SEO existence, a number of good and bad things can happen that may or may not be within the control of the webmaster.
Prior to managing your client, they might have hired a number of different SEO contractors that used a number of different tactics to gain rankings that they believe to be valid. Some of these tactics such as automated or paid link building campaigns can collect 1000s of spammy backlinks over the course of time.

These tactics might not come back to bite you right away, but eventually will.

We all know that avoiding a penalty is much easier then bouncing back from one. Once a penalty is put into place be it manual or algorithmic, Google makes it really hard to come back.

The main idea to take away from this is to identify when you are at that point.

Ever had that “feeling” when those bad links have been piling up over time, and you think that next algo refresh is going to bite you?


Well we know that feel too.

A few months ago we took on a major eCommerce client.  A major one.  We took the client on from a defensive standpoint, knowing that we have inherited 1000s of spammy links, and that it was only a matter of time before a love note got dropped into his GWT inbox.  We also knew that it would take 100s of man hours to even scratch the surface of manual removal.  These links were mainly unattended blog comments, forum profile signature links, and trackbacks.  When we went to view a lot of these links, the pages wouldn’t even load due to the size of the page that was created as a result of the other SPAM on the page.

The client received no warnings in Webmaster Tools, was steadily gaining in a positive direction in the SERPs, and was owning their niche.  We’ve seen this behavior in the past.  Lots of great results from SPAM then BOOM – off the map, see ya!

Manual removal was not going to happen. That being said, we embarked on a preemptive course of action that we hoped would avoid an eventual penalty.

I’d venture to guess that most people use the disavow tool when it is already too late.  While that mindset is totally rational, more rational and responsible SEO’s realize that before we can move forward with an organic campaign, we need to clean up those nasty links.

Client Education

backlink education

75% of our customer support at Elite Strategies is client education. Most complaints that happen are a result of a lack of knowledge on the subject.  Most clients have a ton of questions, and really want to be clued in on the process.

In this scenario, we really needed to give some tough love.  We needed to tell the owner of a profitable eCommerce website that we were going to disavow or “remove” the very links that were empowering this website to make money.

This makes zero sense,” says the client.  And why would it?  In a real world scenario, would you stop a brick and mortar flyer campaign if it was bringing in foot traffic?  Hell no!

So why would we remove the assets that were supporting our primary revenue stream?

We talked about some very basic business principles, and of course brought up ethics.

We gave an analogy of a company that was using unethical or even unlawful tactics to drive new customers to their business.  In the short term it might work, and might even get away with it but eventually they will get caught.  In the real world if you cease criminal activities you might avoid judicial punishment.  Same goes for search engines, if you stop now (and clean up your mess) you might have a chance of keeping your business open.

In many situations, this might make your client angry.  They were not the ones who did anything to deserve this.  They trusted the people and paid money who were doing SEO for them, and never expected for this to happen.  Sure, they didn’t get the results they wanted but now this “new” company is telling them that they might lose everything.

Some might call this a scare tactic, but it is the reality of the situation.  As SEO’s, we know that an entire industry has been created around the people who have been penalized by Google.  Google has an 80%+ market share in search, so it is important that we stay in their good graces.

Panda said this was bad, yet people are still doing it

ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS?!?!  Panda said this was bad, yet people are still doing it

Taking Action, the 12 Steps of Website Recovery

In our experience, Google has been much more gracious with sites that take step 1: “admitting you have a problem” then it does with sites that “got caught” and are now trying to dig their way out.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem

Step 2: Believe in a power greater than yourself

Step 3: Believe that power can restore your rankings

Step 4:  Made a searching and fearless inventory of your backlinks

Step 5: Admitted that these sites are violating webmaster guidelines

Step 6:  Were ready to make a change

Step 7: Humbly ask for help

Step 8: Compile a comprehensive disavow list, and a list of practices that might have got you to this point

Step 9: Submit the disavow list, break all ties with SPAM vendors, delete all SPAM automation tools

Step 10: Continue to not take part in link spam

Step 11: Sought through continued research of acceptable practices a better way to do SEO

Step 12: Help others with positive SEO and carry out these principles in all of our websites

This started out as a funny skit, but these 12 steps can really be a guide for clean living as a webmaster.

A lot of times webmasters who are under the care of an SEO company, might fall victim to email marketing claiming “instant rankings with 30 PR5 blogs for $99/month” only to find that this method might do more then not work, it could cause …


How to Know if You have a Problem? (A Questioner)

  1. Do you have backlinks that you paid for or traded?
  2. Do you have backlinks that were created using automated tools?
  3. Do you have backlinks from sites that have nothing to do with yours?
  4. Do you have backlinks that are from a “private/exclusive/personal network?”
  5. Do you have backlinks that were created by a link broker?
  6. Do you have backlinks that are from frameworks that allow anyone to post them?
  7. Do you use a paid service to obtain back links?
  8. Do you subscribe to a service where you create your own backlinks on “private” sites?
  9. Is your SEO company secretive in their methods or refuse to provide reports?


If you're backlinks look like this, you might have a problem

If you’re backlinks look like this, you might have a problem (click to enlarge)

One of the main problems that small businesses and brands are having, is that they are seeing thin affiliate sites and MFA’s still ranking using black hat methods. Let’s face it, they still work if you are looking for a short term game. So much bad information is being spread around that brands are listening to “successful” affiliates on forums and other communities who are ranking for this.  What these affiliates don’t let on is that they need to buy a new domain every month, quarter, or year.

Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe is the founder and CEO of Elite Strategies Llc. Patrick takes a hands on approach to managing Elite Strategies and loves to get involved with technical projects relating to clients inbound marketing needs.
Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe
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