How to Fix Penguin Link Penalties for Toxic Links

Conceptual image - how to fix Penguin toxic link penalty

Learning how to fix link penalties applied by the Google Penguin toxic link penalty algorithm became really important in late 2011 / early 2012. Google implemented a raft of punitive algorithms and subsequent amendments to those, penalizing many websites in the process.
That has been sustained for a decade, to this day…

  • Penguin penalties – assesses content quality and trust
  • Panda penalty – assesses participation in manipulative link-building schemes
  • Phantom penalty – assess thin content, doorway pages, scraped/copied content
  • Top Heavy penalty – assesses advertising content percentage above the fold

Falling foul of any of these punishing algorithms can incur severe penalties that cost you dearly in terms of rankings and traffic. Figuring out which one, or if more than one has punished you can be a challenge.  Google Panda penalty remedies are a core part of our SEO rates, services and packages.

  • Auditing your incoming link profile
  • Determining which links are good
  • Identifying which links are bad
  • Managing a link removal campaign on your behalf.

SEO services to remove link penalties start from $960 for a small/medium business website which has engaged in link-building efforts over several years.

Ask for a free, no-obligation Website Audit now!

The Penguin algorithm was all about links – determining if your rankings were enhanced by orchestrated link-building efforts, and deserve punishment. Manipulative link-building efforts are now regarded as a serious breach of Google’s Terms of Service and webmaster guidelines.  Algorithmic penalties are automatically applied, but penalties are lifted once problem links are eliminated. How to fix link penalties is a real challenge…

Very few websites have Manual Penalties applied, where a Google reviewer has decided the site has severely breached the rules. In those instances, you will have been notified – but only if your site is registered in a Google Webmaster Tools account.

Regardless of whether it’s an automatic or manual penalty, the required remedial action is essentially the same;

  1. Assess where the problem lies, and document what you believe was wrong
  2. Fix the problems, and document all the steps you’ve taken

In the event of manual penalization, you will need to apply to Google for Reconsideration, and the application must include the documentation accumulated in steps 1 and 2 above. This is quite a complex process – for many website owners, it is beyond their resources. I’ve accumulated a lot of experience in identifying both Panda and Penguin penalties, and in solving the underlying causes.

What We Do

  1. Carry out a full website link profile audit, looking for issues that must be addressed, and prioritising those.
  2. Manage the  remedial work as part of Penguin SEO packages

Based on many previous projects, the usual estimate is a minimum of 8 hours of hard labour to get a toxic link penalty sorted out for you.

Costs: from $895 to $1295 for a business site which has engaged in modest link-building efforts over several years.

That includes analysing the combined “Incoming Link” data from;

  • Google Webmaster Tools
  • Bing Webmaster Tools

Determine which links are;

  • Valuable
  • Potentially harmful, and possibly penalised
  • Toxic and certain to be punished severely

As/if required, I will also manage a toxic link removal requests campaign via and

– the additional cost for that is two monthly subscription at US$97 per month to

Note 1: LinkDelete also offers expedited service is available at extra cost for those who want it done ASAP.

1 Week Expedited Service US$177.00
2 Week Expedited Service US$127.00

Note 2: DeleteBacklinks can remove links from over 100 directories within 24 hours, for approx $0.65 per domain.

What Will Be Done:

Once commissioned to address the toxic link penalty problems that got your site penalised, I will;

  1. Add the site to my Google Webmaster Tools  account, in order to access “Links to Your Site” data – or use data you provide
  2. Analyse that data and commence identifying the potentially problematic links
  3. Run a check on – establish if there are any quickly removable directory links
  4. If necessary/requested, sign up for basic plan – 400 link removal requests per month
  5. A week later, I will have an additional list of incoming links prioritised by trust factor
  6. I will combine and go through every link from LinkDelete, Google & Bing and determine if it’s a keeper or a loser
  7. I then provide LinkDelete with a list of the first 400 links to remove, if you have opted for this service
  8. If required,  I will request Expedited Service
  9. Approx 3 weeks later, we have the first results as evidence of removal efforts
  10. Immediately refine the list and ask LinkDelete to initiate the 2nd link removal requests
  11. Create a new Disavow-Links.txt file, refined to Domain level as/where preferable
  12. Insert all links so far removed into a Disavow file and add notes on work done
  13. Load the Disavow file into Google Webmaster Tools, or provide it to you with instructions
  14. Add the Disavow list to Bing to get back into their good books also, or provide it to you with instructions
  15. Document all procedures undertaken on your behalf and provide that with the final report.

Note: for clients who have received an Unnatural Links Penalization, I can help you prepare a Reconsideration Request.
– this is NOT necessary for Penguin algorithmic penalties.

Time Frames: initial results show up within 2 – 3 weeks, but completing all tasks will take 6 – 8 weeks. Rankings trend upward for months thereafter.

The data from, Google & Bing Webmaster Tools is combined into my link software tools. Tests are run to see which links are live, which have expired, and what the respective link’s Anchor Texts are. Previous work has enabled me to build a large list of “known bad” directory links, which may quickly identify links in your profile that may be punished and should be disowned.

I then review;

  • the source of the links for quality/authority
  • the anchor text of the links for over-optimisation

I initiate link removal requests to site owners (personally in small volumes, and via LinkDelete in large volumes). This contact explains that the link/s are contributing to a Google penalty. For those that are ignored, this is followed up by a second request. I document the actions and results to provide supporting evidence of the efforts undertaken.

Another aspect is the anchor text variations within those links.  If you’ve acquired a great many links with identical keyword-rich anchor text, that could appear to be unnatural and may incur a penalty. A link profile that has lots of links showing the domain name, website, or business name in the anchor text is normal. Iterations of read more,  more information etc. should not be seen as unusual or undesirable…

However, if a keyword-rich anchor text string has greater prominence than the domain or business name, that may be an indicator of link manipulation.

What other people’s websites say about your website is important!

Authoritative sites are characterised by having incoming links to them from other similar and/or related sites. Incoming links will be from a mix of multiple “trusted” sources such as sites in your peer group, high-ranking websites, social media signals and relevant directories.

  • A good site’s link profile would have outgoing links to relevant websites of equal or higher quality…
  • Low trust links – incoming or outgoing – will be a minor percentage of the overall link portfolio.

The more links you have from high-ranking “trusted” sites, the higher the likely value placed on your site by the search engines.

Conversely, if your incoming link portfolio consists primarily of low-grade links, your site’s perceived trust and value may in turn be downgraded.

One theory is that sites in various genres may have an ‘averaged’ link profile against which sites in that genre can be measured. If your site’s link profile differs markedly from the “norm” then that might be an indicator of link manipulation efforts. There’s really no proven theory, no definitive answers from Google. There is a lot of speculation about exactly how the assessment and punishment for link manipulation is achieved. However, link penalties are happening, and you’d be wise to consider your own circumstances.

Google’s move to actively penalise websites with a high percentage of low-quality links opens a Pandora’s Box scenario, where “negative SEO” becomes a real possibility. A nasty competitor, a disgruntled employee or a disaffected client with a grudge can easily go ahead and buy thousands of cheap and nasty incoming links to your site… Your rankings plummet as a consequence

Incoming links are something that the average website owner has minimal control over… Anyone can add one link, or a thousand links, to any site at any time… If trashing a competitor or “getting even” over a dispute is a possibility, it can (and probably will) be done!

Comments by Google’s spokesman Max Cutts can be cold comfort;

“Again, most people don’t have to worry about this. If you’re just a regular mom and pop – you’re a small business, this is not the sort of thing where you’re likely in any way, shape or form to run up against this.”

Affordable small business SEO is a fiercely competitive industry, never more so than in times of economic hardship. Exploiting possibilities is one way of getting ahead. Allowing negative SEO to move from speculation to reality is not going to win Google any friends. Ignoring low-quality links makes more sense to me, but Google seems more intent on applying punishment for the acquisition of low-quality links.

Google’s Disavow Tool

This was made available in late 2012, in response to webmaster’s requests for a way of eliminating bad incoming links by instructing Google to ignore them. Think of it as a “bad link sitemap” and only use it when you’ve done what you could to remove potentially harmful links. You need to include information about the efforts you’ve made to eliminate links you distrust. As part of their work for you, the link removal services may provide a formatted summary of efforts to attach to any disavow request.

Google Re-inclusion Requests

Even if you think you’ve been penalised by Google for bad links, you should only make a “re-inclusionrequest if they actually contacted you and told you that there is a problem. Lesser infringements may well be worked off without a review as the bad link count diminishes as a result of remedial actions. Each Google data refresh in subsequent weeks and months should hopefully reward you with incremental improvements.

However, if you submit a re-inclusion request,  a manual review of your site is most likely. Any shortfall in the site’s link profile is likely to be viewed more harshly by a human reviewer and a manual penalty could be applied. It seems safer to assume at the outset that you’ve simply incurred a spell in the sin bin. You can work that off with good behaviour! Making the erroneous assumption that you’ve been banned from the game for the season, and appealing a decision that had not actually been made, is unlikely to improve the situation… it may make it worse!

I’ve never seen a notice from Google indicating that a manual penalty has ever been applied to either my own or my client’s sites. That’s reassuring but not 100% indicative that a problem is not present…

There are various mechanisms to get an overview of your link portfolio. Google shows your incoming links in Webmaster Tools at no cost. You can explore those and export them to a spreadsheet for systematic examination and review.

There are online services that provide in-depth analysis for a fee, and a ranking or trust value that identifies links that may be harming your rankings… They may require a sign-up for a trial option;

Where potentially toxic links are present, it’s important to make some efforts to remove those. All suspicious links should be examined closely, and efforts made to remove them if deemed inappropriate.

Care is required – I’ve seen links that were given “low trust” value by link assessment software, but the client insisted that the site actually generated lots of her traffic and new business!

Dealing with links you’d rather not have is extremely tedious and time-consuming! The steps are as follows;

  • Identify a list of low-grade links you’d like not to have to point at your website
  • Locate the contact details for the owner of the site
  • Email the site owner politely listing all URLs you’d like him/her to remove and explaining why
  • Record all responses or lack thereof, noting that lack of response does not mean the link was not removed
  • Verify all removals, including those for which no response was received
  • Send follow-up emails for those that show no action was taken

A record of all actions and results is important because it provides evidence of remedial efforts that Google requires as part of a Link Disavow application.

There are several new online tools and services for this, with options of full-service or self-service in various price ranges. One that seems to get positive reviews is

It’s both helpful and normal to provide links to other useful sites for your visitors. You cannot keep them on your site forever, but you can help them depart on a high note to somewhere else of use. Reciprocal links from useful/high-ranking sites were good – not any more!

You need to be careful with links – simplified, it now works this way…

  • A link to your site from another site is a vote for you and is added to your total vote count
  • A link from you to another site is a vote BY you and is deducted from your total vote count
  • Reciprocal links are not exactly toxic but must be done with caution and not to excess.
  • Outward “dofollow” links transfer Page Rank, so you should confine them to top-tier reputable sites that add value to your visitor’s quest for information.
  • Outward links TO inappropriate sites won’t enhance your own standing.
  • Incoming links FROM inappropriate/low-quality sites will hurt your rankings

If you are unsure about the quality of a site that you link to, you should amend the outward link so that they don’t count as a vote outwards. Do this with the rel=nofollow tag.

This is also important as it allows you to specify how you want links to your site to appear. We want to control what people use in site links to you and include phrases similar to those used in the title and description!

You need a good links strategy for 2023, one that minimises your exposure to current and future penalties Google may or may not implement.

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Page last updated on Monday, October 2, 2023 by the author Ben Kemp