Let's start off with the good news. Check out the message below that I received from Google on November 16, 2013 for my domain name LuxurySarasotaRealEstate.com.
This message was like Bigfoot to me. I heard it existed but honestly didn't think I would ever see it. Naturally, there were a few backflips done after receiving this good news. The process of getting it removed was a long and tedious one.
March 12, 2013
This is when it all started. Like thousands of other people I received the warning below.
- See also: Penguin VS. Unnatural Link Warnings
My websites are the crux of my real estate business and losing rankings definitely affects the bank account. Despite the penalty my rankings didn't drop. My site remained on page 1 for plenty of long and short-tail phrases. Regardless, the penalty still needed to be removed so I sent a reconsideration request 7 days later. Naturally, it took Google only 4 days to get back to me with a negative response.
8 Reconsideration Requests
It took 8 reconsideration requests to finally get my penalty removed. In all honesty, there wasn't much done to correct my problem for the first 6 requests. In August of 2013 I decided to get a little more serious in getting the penalty removed and decided to recruit some help. I use Freelancer.com for side work and posted a job seeking someone experienced in getting a Google penalty removed.
The freelancer I hired compiled a link profile on an excel spreadsheet. There were nearly 700 URL's on our list of questionable links.
The column categories were URL, Status or Action, Contact Info Available, 1st Contact, 1st Contact Reply, 2nd Contact, 2nd Contact Reply, 3rd Contact, 3rd Contact Reply, Final Status: Link Removed/Disavow Link.
The first step was for me to decide which links I wanted to keep. We parsed the list of URL's down to 648. The freelancer attempted to make contact with all of them asking for removal of our link. Some of them obliged but most requests went ignored. We waited 7 days before doing the 2nd request and another 7 days to make the 3rd and final request. We then disavowed all sites where we heard no response.
7th Reconsideration Request
After disavowing the 648 URL's which amounted to thousands of individual links we sent our 7th reconsideration request. I was mostly hands off on this one since I had the freelancer doing most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, Google responded again with yet another "Sorry Charley". However, they did provide some very valuable information in their response.
They provided 3 bad links in their response. One glaring similarity with all the links was the manipulated anchor text. The first 2 links were unnatural and I did have a say in the anchor text. However, the 3rd link was actually natural. My site made a list of the 25 best real estate websites and they had used "Luxury Sarasota Real Estate" as the anchor text for the link. I didn't know about the link and had no influence in getting it. They linked to me on their own. Thus, that is why I think it was natural.
Penguin 5 Update
I received the above response on October 8, 2013. On October 4th Google came out with the Penguin 5 update. After this algorithm change my rankings plummeted. I was no where to be found for much of anything. For the most competitive phrase 'Sarasota real estate', my site wasn't found in the top 1,000 sites. For long-tail phrases my site was almost always found on page 1,but now it was ranking on pages 3-5. Needless to say my PPC budget tripled.
This really lit a fire underneath me. I needed to get the penalty removed quickly. I used Google Webmaster Tools and downloaded the first 1,000 links.
My categories consisted of URL, # of Links, Linked Pages, Contact Information, Notes, 1st Contact, 1st Contact Response, 2nd Contact, 2nd Contact Response, 3rd Contact, 3rd Contact Response, Final Action and (Color code) Key.
I personally went through every single link and reconciled each one to see if they were worthy or not. Despite working on this extensively it took me weeks to reconcile the links as well as contact all of the owners requesting link removal. Ultimately, many of the links were removed and/or the anchor text was changed to my URL. Sites that didn't respond to link removal were disavowed. I was the only working on this and I have a hunch that is what Google likes to see.
Reconsideration Request Letter
Below is what I wrote to Google.
Dear Google Webmaster Team,
Thank you for taking the time to read our request. My site LuxurySarasotaRealEstate.com received a manual penalty roughly a year ago for unnatural linking and manipulating anchor text. After receiving the penalty notification I made some efforts to correct any problems and asked for forgiveness but those efforts were not sufficient enough to have the penalty removed.
I have been proactive for several years in building unnatural links. This strategy consisted of mostly reciprocal linking, getting my site included in directories, blog comment spamming, using article distribution software and buying links. I handled many of the reciprocal link relationships myself but the other activities listed above were mostly done by "SEO Expert" freelancers that I hired. At the time, these strategies were very effective for good rankings.
1) Reciprocal linking - I no longer seek out reciprocal linking opportunities. Any new reciprocal links built since receiving the penalty are with people that I actually know and have a referral relationship with.
2) Article spinning and distribution - I no longer use Unique Article Wizard to spin and distribute articles around the web.
3) SEO Experts - I no longer use XXXX XXXXX with(Link Builder URL) to build links for me. They were responsible for building a variety of links including blog comments, forum links and directory links.
Since receiving the penalty notification I ceased all link building activities and focused purely on building new, original content for LuxurySarasotaRealEstate.com. Any new links to my site are either natural, have been removed or are in the process of being removed.
About a month ago I hired someone to help me remove links to my site. We compiled a list of unnatural pages/domains that link to LuxurySarasotaRealEstate.com, using Google Webmaster Tools and LinkResearchTools DTOX. We have worked diligently over the last few months to remove as many of these links as possible by contacting webmasters using their email address available on the site, their whois address and also via website contact forms when possible.
Some webmasters responded promptly, some wanted a payment for link removal while most requests were simply ignored. For those that did not reply within 7 days we contacted them a second time with another request. Waited another 7 days and then contacted each of them a third time for link removal. It was obvious that the majority of people we contacted were never going to respond, so we have submitted a disavow.txt file to ask Google to disavow the unnatural links that we were unable to remove. Please see the following Google Drive spreadsheet:
(Google Drive Spreadsheet URL)
Thank you again for reading this request. We have worked hard to resolve the quality issues on our site and are completely committed to following the Quality Guidelines from this point on.