SEO and Content Marketing Blog

DIY Google Penalty Recovery Tips: How to Identify Bad Links

Penguin update and bad linksWhat made Google stand out from the rest of the search engines was their unique algorithm, which stated that every website that links to your site is giving you a “trust vote.” The more sites that vote for you (link back to you), the more trustworthy your site is to Google, and the higher you rank in their search results.

Many webmasters have tried to violate this algorithm, but Google’s retaliated with Penguin. Read on if you’d like to learn if your site is on Google’s bad list, and what you should do next if it is.

Why Google’s Penguin Targets Bad Links

Soon after it came out, Google’s algorithm became a target for hackers and black-hat SEO specialists, who began creating spammy, un-worthy links in order to increase the ranking positions of their websites. In order to prevent this, Google introduced the Penguin algorithm update and the manual penalty for unnatural links.

I want to note that Penguin is an algorithm and will always be an algorithmic penalty. However, I do believe that this algorithmic penalty can trigger a manual review of your links and lead to a manual penalty as well. Both the manual and algorithmic penalties may affect your site at the same time.

Patrick Stox, What is the Google Penguin Algorithm?

Here are some of the issues that Google addresses with the Penguin Update:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
  • Excessive link exchanges or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

Using any of these tactics means that if you haven’t yet been hit by the Penguin Update, you should expect to be hit in the future. Along with that, you’ll lose your rankings.

But how do you know if you’ve been hit? If you see a steady decrease in your traffic, that’s usually a certain sign you’ve been hit by a recent release of the Penguin Update.

Google Penguin Penalty

If you think you have bad links, but your site hasn’t been penalized yet, now is the time to take action. It’s best to take care of this before your website’s rank is affected.

As we already shared in a previous blog post, the very first step of the recovery process is to run an audit of your link profile.

If you find bad links, you have to either manually remove them or look for a professional Google penalty removal service. But how do you know if the links are bad in the first place?

How to Identify “Unnatural” or “Bad” Links

Unnatural links come from “bad” sites. For Google, those “bad” sites are most often ones that provide no valuable content, or ones spammed with ads contributing to the low quality of the site. This is not a complete list, but here you can see the most popular sources of bad links:

  1. Links from pages with thin content
  2. Links from directories and link networks — Often these sites are no longer updated (dead & rotting directories). Another indicator is if these directories are non-niche with no particular focus or criteria.
  3. Links from irrelevant websites and content — Google pays attention to your “link neighborhood” — they reward you with a good rank if you have links from sites related to your business area, and it devalues link authority from sites which are totally irrelevant to your website’s subject.
  4.  Links from a website containing a malware or virus warning — You may get a manual penalty for this, which can be removed once you remove the malware.
  5.  Links from pages with no PageRank (brand new site) or zero PageRank
  6.  Sitewide links — especially blogroll and footer links
  7.  Paid links

Example Sites Breeding Low-Quality Links

Now check out some real-life examples of bad sites breeding possible bad links to your site. With a little practice, you can quickly learn how to spot these low-quality websites:

1. A typical directory site with no specialization, Page Rank 0


2. A website library with no particular value, no PageRank

Spammed with adds website directory

3. A website with no particular value, thin content, lots of links and ads

A website library spammed with adds

4. Thin content, no recent updates  (or what we would call a “rotting site” — one that has not been updated for months)

Almost no content with no value (but the webmaster made sure to add an advertisement)


5. This site violates Google Webmaster Recommendations by offering “free backlinks”

Offering free backlinks

6. A self-submit website directory with Page Rank 0, stuffed with ads, providing no valuable content

a website library with Page Rank 0

In addition to the information above, you can also identify bad websites that can link to you by checking out Google’s Quality guidelines.


It’s important to understand that bad links are harmful for your website. Identifying them is just Step 1 of the Penalty Removal process. Once you’ve found bad links on your website, it’s crucial to remove them from your link profile and submit a disavow file to Google to make sure everything’s in order.

Showing Google you’re putting real effort into maintaining a quality site with genuine backlinks is the best way to protect your chances of ranking high in search results.

If you want some help identifying bad links or if you’d like to get a professional link audit of your website, feel free to contact us.

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Atanas Atanasov

Atanas is an SEO specialist committed to helping websites recover from and avoid Google penalties. He is also a vegetarian trying to live a minimalist lifestyle and publish DIY guides. In his spare time he loves reading old books about ethnography, history and literature, and listening to movie soundtracks.

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