How do I remove un-natural backlinks?

Backlinks are connections from other websites to yours, so removing unnatural backlinks to your site involves persuading the operator/owner of the remote website to remove the link(s).  The process involves:

Identify the unnatural backlinks

There are a number of excellent tools now available to collect backlink data to determine if the link is potentially unnatural, but the most relevent information comes direct from Google WebMasters Tools.  Refer to the Google Quality Guidelines, and in particular those that refer to link schemes

Form the links into a list so the remote webmaster can easily process them – the easier you make their job the more likely they will action your removal request for you.

Determine Contact details

Many of the websites that generate unnatural links will not have phone contact, indeed many don’t have any form of contact in their website.
If you manage to get an email address that is probably most helpful, as you will need to send your list of backlinks to them anyway. Emails make it easy to followup and of course also create a paper trail of your interactions with them.

Dispatch the Request and backlink list

Send a removal request with your list of links


If you don’t hear from the remote site followup, followup and followup
Removing bad links is the fastest way to recover from a Penguin penalty so is you best option.

Can’t get the links removed?

If the remote website wont remove the links, they may agree to converting the links to NOFOLLOW
In some cases NOFOLLOW is a preferred option, for example where you attract prospective sales leads to your site, but don’t wants the link’s unnatural characteristics to compromise your site. A backlink that Google thinks is a paid or sponsored link is a case in point.

Still cant get the link removed ?

The final option is to ask Google to consider disavowing the unnatural links.
This process involves uploading these remaining unnatural backlinks into Google WebMaster Tools’ Disavow Links Tool
Be *very careful* as this tool can completely destroy your site’s Google authority if used incorrectly.

What should I do to avoid or recover from a Google Penguin 5 penalty?

Your site may be penalised by Google’s Penguin 5 if it calculates that your site has Low quality backlinks 

Recovering from Low Quality Backlinks 
If Google determines your site has a significant number of unnatural backlinks it may be at risk of a ranking or even a manual penalty.

Unfortunately backlinks seem to be more typical cause of a Penguin 5 penalty. Read more.  To recover from or prevent a future Penguin 5 penalty, arrange to have the low quality backlinks removed or converted to no follow links ASAP.

Unfortunately this is not as easy as it sounds as the link(s) that need to be removed or reprogrammed are at the originating website, not yours so you need to convince that person to take action on your behalf.  Further, many website owners are just not aware of the risk they are exposing your site/business to and probably all of their other clients as well!

If all else fails then you can request Google ignore or disavow your unnatural links via your Google WebMasters Tools interface.

If all else fails contact us and we can facilitate the removal or disavow of unnatural links from your site.


What is a ‘low quality’ Backlink?

Since the arrival of Penguin 5 there is a great deal of interest in understanding what a low quality backlink is : specifically what Google ‘thinks’ is a low quality backlink.

Google defines broadly defines low quality backlinks in its WebMasters Guidelines in the Link Schemes section where they refer to these as:

  • Buying or selling backlinks
  • Excessive Link exchanges
  • Large scale article marketing
  • Automated programs to create links

Google also provides a range of examples of unnatural backlinks including:

    • Text advertisements (without a no follow directive)
    • Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles  (without a no follow directive
    • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. 
    • Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
    • Links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites
    • Widely distributed links in the footers of various sites
    • Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature, for example:

My interpretation is:

  • Backlinks from advertiser sites that do not include a no follow tag
  • Backlinks from low quality sites eg sites that are clearly just a backlinking farm

Ironically backlinks that may have helped your website rank prior to Penguin 5, may now be the cause of its non-performance.

Who are the Victims of Penguin 5?

Backlinking Industry

This ‘industry’ was an enormous global market that was made instantly redundant by Penguin 5 – Presumably thousands of people with previously gainful employment have been impacted.  Some of the backlink creation businesses are still operating, despite the risks of compromising the websites their work is intended to assist.

Businesses with Backlinked Sites

If your website was involved in an SEO program prior to Oct 5 2013 it is very likely that a backlinking program was part of it. If the Penguin 5 filter deems the level of ‘unnatural links’ in your site is too high then your site will be penalised by not appearing in search results.
For contemporary businesses reliant on online sales or sales lead generation penguin 5 penalties are catastrophic.

Innocent victims of Penguin 5

I have witnessed several ‘innocent victims’ of Penguin 5 as a result of :

  • Directory sites
    Google has clamped down on backlinks even from well known directory sites who provide links without a no follow directive.
    I’m sure I’m not the only SEO specialist who is contacting the directory site’s management to have my client’s backlinks removed or converted to no follow. These people are typically shocked and in denial of the thought that their site is compromising their clients sites. I feel for them, as they are providing a genuine and valuable service. There is no way they would deliberately compromise their clients sites – Who would ‘bite the hand’ that feeds them ?
  • Advertising Links
    If advertising links to your website do not have a no follow directive it can result in ranking penalties. As an example, Ive been involved in one case where banner advertising on an industry portal site didnt not contain no follow resulting in a client’s site being penalised with significant ranking drops.

What is Google Penguin 5?

Penguin 5 is the fifth update to the Penguin series (also known as Penguin 2.1) of Google’s spam detection filter. Penguin 5 penalises websites that its algorithm says has “low quality back links” and /or “thin content”.

Affected sites can be identified by the sharp drop in ranking (typically between 20 to 30 rank positions) within days of the Oct 5 2013 release. Notably, Penguin 5 impacts all organic ranking results in the site – ie across all terms for the domain.

Read more about Penguin:

Penguin History

Penguin is a part of Google’s results processing that detects and removes or diminishes ‘web spam’  in search results.

Where does low quality content come from ?
‘Low quality’ web content exploded after backlinking became proven as a technique to improve Google website rankings. This lead to commercialisation of backlinking  driven by businesses wanting to maximise their exposure in Google. The technique was to create multiple articles online containing links back to the client’s site, and to maximise the value of the link, the link text contained the clients’ target terms. As a result thousands of websites also emerged with the ability to publish articles, directory entries, bookmarks and other forms of ‘thin content’ that could be quickly created to generate the desired backlinks.

In the meantime Google’s Caffeine infrastructure upgrade (August 2009) enabled Google to more effectively digest literally all content on the internet, including this burgeoning ‘web spam’.

Google launched its first major web spam offensive in April 2004 with what has become known as Penguin; a filtering process that identifies and removes web spam from Google’s search results. After several iterations, Penguin version 5 emerged in Oct 5 2013 as a much more evolved ‘web spam detective’ targeting low quality backlinks and ‘thin content’ as these are the signals that Google interprets as web spam.

Particularly notable in recent Penguin releases Google is being more heavy handed with penalties for websites it determines are connected to link spam; applying penalties such as a rank reduction of 20 to 30 positions, sometimes across all searches for the site through to complete removal of the website from Google search results.