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Post-Penguin Link Building Strategies - Pruning Your Links

  |  May 1, 2013   |  Comments

The core principles of trust, relevance, authority, and commitment all play a role in this link "pruning" process. Part one in a two-part series.

I have written about the importance of enterprise link building and the core principles of trust, relevance, authority, and commitment in the past and thought that it would be a good topic to revisit post-Penguin. Link building strategies relate directly to the Penguin algorithm update, making cleaning up or "pruning" your link profile important. The Penguin update is aimed at cleaning out websites that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines by decreasing the violator's search engine rankings. However, link pruning is a process that all companies, of all sizes, SMB or enterprises, should be thinking about and implementing on an ongoing basis.

If a Penguin update and penalty has sent your website to the bottom of the SERP (see example image below) and you find your website on page eight now after enjoying ranking on page one for a highly competitive term, it is time to review and evaluate your backlink profile and "prune" some of those low-level backlinks. The following is part one of a two-part series that will assist your business with cleaning up your low-level links and getting you back in Google's good books. The first part will discuss how to audit your links and perform outreach to remove the low-level links, and the second part (next month) will address how to compile the data for a disavow in Google and Bing and maintain positive standings with the search engines.

Does this look like your website? If so, you may have been hit with the Google Penguin algorithm update.


                                               Image credit: www.searchmetrics.com/en/

Audit/Review Your Backlink Inventory

The very first thing to do is to get a list of all of your backlinks to your site in a CSV file format. You can get this data from the Google Webmaster Tools, SEOmoz's Open Site Explorer, or Majestic SEO's database. All are equally good tools.

There are some great automated backlink research tools out there and all are reasonably well-priced. I recently used a tool called Link Detox, which makes the process much simpler. Link Detox is easy to use and a great automated link building audit tool. All you need to do is add your root domain (http://www.example.com/) to start the report builder and the tool goes to work, returning really detailed and useful information. Some of the data it pulls in real time includes URLs (from and to), anchor text, link status (follow, no follow), detox (healthy or suspicious links), site type (blog, bookmark, directory, and comments, etc.), Google PR, IP information, contact information, and a lot more information that is all very useful in the audit process.

Create and Maintain a Communication Record

It is important to create a document from the beginning of the link pruning process that you will submit to Google's disavow tool when you have reached out to these sites, but there is no reply/contact from the site owner/webmaster. I recommend, in the Link Detox CSV that you will eventually export, adding another four columns with these headers:

  1. Date of initial contact. When did you originally send out the email to the webmaster?
  2. Removal verified. If you receive a reply back from the webmaster or website owner that the link has been removed, be sure to double-check by going to that web page and making sure that the link was actually removed or if it is a site-wide link that these were removed. Be sure to include the date here as well as when you received a reply.
  3. Other response requests. There are cases when you will receive other replies to your request such as payment to remove the link or not willing to cooperate with you. It is important to record all of these responses in this file to submit to Google.
  4. Date(s) of follow-up contact. Have you received follow-ups from the webmaster/site owner? Have there been emails going back and forth? If yes, then you are going to want to document this communication as well.

Email Webmasters/Site Owners - Link Removal Request Email Template

Here is a simple email template that sends the message to the webmaster/site owner that you are trying to do the right thing in the eyes of Google and requesting that they cooperate with you.

Email Subject Line: Please remove our link
Email Body Copy:


My name is [NAME] with [DomainName.com], and I wanted to thank you for linking to our site from


However, it has come to our attention that this link may have been acquired against Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

It is important for us to bring our site into compliance. Would you please add a rel="nofollow" attribute or remove our link from this page and any other page on your site?

Thank you


The above post-Penguin link building strategy is a good start if you have been affected by Penguin or if you are just taking precautionary measures to protect yourself and your domain form future problems with low-level links. The core principles of trust, relevance, authority, and commitment all play a role in this link "pruning" process. It is imperative to make sure that you are auditing and reviewing the links that are pointing to your domain. So, don't only build new links but also look at existing links and know that it is important to evaluate these as well on a regular basis.

How are you performing your post-Penguin link building strategy? Does your process look similar to the above? Do you have any other automated tools that you have had success with? Please share in the comments below.

Crispin Sheridan

Penguin image on home page via Shutterstock.

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Crispin Sheridan

Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.

Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.

A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.

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