Beat web spam: how to get traffic and sales back on track

In the past eight months many New Zealand businesses have noticed their rankings on Google deteriorating rapidly and suddenly. This has had a massive knock-on effect on visitor numbers and sales. Why is this happening, and is there a way to recover?

For an explanation, you need look no further than a man called Matt Cutts. He heads the web spam team at Google and with the help of his team of geniuses, has the express job of improving search quality, something achieved in part by identifying web spam and destroying its value.

For some time, several SEO companies and so-called in-house experts have been gaming the Google rankings by using ethically questionable tactics. These can include buying links from websites specifically set up for the purpose of putting a directory page on all their clients’ websites linking every client to the others.

Every link should have some value to your potential target market, so if it looks like spam, it probably is, and Google will detect and punish it. Finding out you have a Google penalty can spell many months of hard work towards recovery.

Here is best practice, step-by-step advice about how to come back if you’re hit with a penalty:

1. Make a list of all of your backlinks

Google Webmaster Tools will give you a lot, and you can get more from Yandex Webmaster tools and other software like open-site explorer. These must be collated into a single spreadsheet and duplicates must be removed.

2. Assess the quality of the links using a link detox tool (we use the one by LinkResearchTools)

This will identify potential toxic or suspicious links. You will need to manually check all the links to make sure they are spurious.

3. Once the list of bad links is compiled, the first step is to try and get website owners (webmasters) to manually remove the links.

To do this we utilise third-party software called Remove’em. This finds details of webmasters and requests the removal of the links, and will provide a report that shows how many links have been removed.

4. Upon the list being finalised, a Disavow list must be created

This is a file of URLs that you can upload to Google to ‘remove’ from your link profile. This must then be submitted to Google via Webmaster Tools.

5. The final stage is to submit a reconsideration request, in which you ask Google to consider removing the penalty. Once it is removed, the link cleansing is complete.

It often takes several reconsideration requests before a Google penalty is removed. The process of link detoxing must be undertaken very carefully to prevent good links from being pruned by accident.

Richard Conway established Pure SEO in 2009 after he moved to New Zealand from the UK. He’s worked in SEO and SEM since 2001 and lectures on digital marketing for the New Zealand Marketing Association.

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