We engaged the services of a 3rd party SEO consultant to assist us in managing our Meta data and to write regular blogs on our site http://cyberdesignworks.com.au

Without our authorisation, the SEO also ran a link building campaign which has seen us Penguin slapped and we no longer appear in Google for a number of our core keywords.

Since notification by Google that we have "unnatural links" back in March we have undertaken a significant campaign to rid ourselves of these dodgy backlinks by a number of methods.

I have just received feedback on my 4th or 5th resubmission which is still advising that we need to make a "substantial, good-faith effort to remove the links" before Google will reconsider us for inclusion.

After the effort that I have gone through to get links removed, I am now at a loss as to what else I can do to demonstrate "substantial, good-faith effort to remove the links".

Below is a summary of the actions that we have taken to date.

  • According to http://removeem.com we had about 5584 back-linking domains.
  • Of those we have successfully contacted and had removed links from 344 domains
  • We ignored links from 625 domains as they were either legitimate press releases, natural backlinks or client websites containing an attribution link in the footer that points back to us.
  • Due to our efforts, or the sites simply becoming defunct, removem.com reports that links from 3262 domains have been removed.
  • We have contacted but are yet to receive feedback from 1666 domains so we can assume that the backlinks remain.
  • We have configured an automatic 301 redirect for each of the links from these 1666 domains to point to http://redirects.sanscode.com/ which we are calling our Bad Link Catcher (a stroke of genius I thought). i.e http://www.mysimplewebdesign.com/create-a-perfect-webpage-with-four-important-tips-from-sydney-web-development-service-companies.php
  • As we are a web design agency, we have a large number of client websites which contain an attribution link in their footer which points back to us. We have gone through the vast majority of these and updated these links to replace anchor text with an image and rel="nofollow" link.


<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.cyberdesignworks.com.au/"><img src="https://sessions.sanscode.com/site/assets/media/badges/Badge_CDW_SANSCODE.png"></a>

See http://www.milkatwork.com.au/

  • An export from http://removeem.com detailing the number of times we have contacted each link and whether it is still found or not was also supplied with each resubmission.
  • The total back links reported in Google Web Master Tools has dropped from over 100K to 87K and I expect it to drop significantly lower once Google re-crawls each back-linking page.

Based on all of the above, I am not sure what else I can do to to demonstrate a "substantial, good-faith effort to remove the links".

I would sincerely appreciate any feedback or suggestions that you may have as I am out of ideas.

  • I wouldn't consider it a substantial good faith effort until you have contacted > 50% of the websites. But that's my personal opinion. Google may have a set of guidelines that are very strict that the people you've been in contact with have to follow, or they may be very loose and subject to interpretation. In either case, have you actually asked them what they would consider a substantial good faith effort? Edit: Type :(
    – Randy E
    Oct 5, 2012 at 2:24
  • By my math 2 thirds of the backlinks have been removed already and the remaining third are being automatically 301 Redirected that any traffic from those links doesn't reach our site. I haven't been so bold as to ask what their definition of substantial good faith is as yet. It is my last resort to be honest. Oct 5, 2012 at 5:59
  • How have you redirected links from external domains? Are you saying that the linked content itself now re-directs off-site?
    – GDVS
    Oct 5, 2012 at 7:33
  • Honestly, if 2/3 have been removed and the remaining third are being automatically 301'd away, and Google is still saying it's not, you really should ask them why they deem it not to be and what more you can do to satisfy their requirement. Because in my opinion that is a good faith effort :)
    – Randy E
    Oct 7, 2012 at 19:16
  • 2
    Google have just launched their disavow links tool which lets you clean up backlinks by telling Google which incoming links you'd like them to ignore. Might be worth trying. (See my updated answer for more info.)
    – Nick
    Oct 17, 2012 at 9:57

3 Answers 3


The Penguin update penalises sites that have a high proportion of "unnatural" inbound links. One thing that constitutes unnatural inbound links is identical anchor text used in a high proportion of those links.

In this report from Open Site Explorer for your URL, there are 22,735 links containing the anchor text "sydney web design". Proportionally, these appear to make up the vast majority of your inbound links. It's possible that this is the reason you've been penalised.

Anchor text terms

Open Site Explorer reports that those 22,735 links are spread across 48 root domains. (You can discover some of them by clicking the plus sign to the left of the "sydney web design" text.)

I would suggest focussing your efforts on these 48 domains to ask them to remove this text and reduce inbound links with that term to a level that's proportional to your other inbound terms. If you've already contacted some of these webmasters, persevere without being rude about it and see where it takes you. If you've already removed links on these pages, it might take time for the changes to take effect.

My experience is that when Google says things like "substantial, good-faith effort to remove the links" this is simply a nice way of saying "we want to see those links gone". They're probably not too interested in the effort you expend getting rid of the links; they're more interested in them disappearing altogether.

Finally, I would petition your "SEO consultant" to help you with the clean up if you can. This stuff is time consuming, and it sounds like it's not your fault that you've ended up in this position.

UPDATE 17 October 2012

Google have just launched their disavow links tool which lets you clean up backlinks by telling Google which incoming links you'd like them to ignore. I'd recommend that you use it to ignore any backlinks with boilerplate text that you feel may still be affecting your rankings.

Matt Cutts has a video on YouTube with more information. He says that disavowed links may take weeks to update, so it's probably worth waiting a few weeks before you ask to be re-included.

  • Thanks @nick I have taken a quick look at the free report provided by SEOMoz and noticed that 99% of the links displayed are for our client sites which have been updated to use an image instead of Anchor Text and are nofollow links. It looks like Google is yet to re-crawl these pages and update it's data. It shouldn't be too difficult for Google to refresh their cache of back links when doing a re-inclusion review should it?? Oct 7, 2012 at 23:45

I recommend these three articles (two from May, one from September) on the SEOmoz blog where the authors give very detailed examples what they did. Read also the comments that contain updates to their efforts.

It's scary to see how much effort and time all of them invested to get their projects back running as they were, so it's important to focus on the most harmful linking sites first. Maybe you have access to some of the SEO databases (sistrix, seolytics, et al) that have historical records of keyword changes of the sites that cause you harm. You might be able to identify the ones that also got hit or got hit harder and focus on link removal on them first.





Simpler thing you can at the moment is to go to Bing WMT and disavow all those domains/links. If you see positive results in 1-2 months then it'd be that since Google's algo would be similar in penalizing for backlinks.

Also I've another idea - if a page is higly linked back from spammy pages then send a 404 for that page and also dispay the same page. I've never done it before but I want to test whether it could be done. Your server returns a 404 for that page also send full page content as of now. That means this 404 will not be shown by the browsers but will be observed by Googlebot hence removed backlink penalty to this page.

Cheers Google has introduced links disavow feature. That solves yours and mine problems.

  • Would returning a 404 as well as an actual content page be frowned upon? I chose 301 redirects so as to direct any traffic coming from the dodgy links away from my site completely. This I thought would demonstrate a greater "good faith" effort that I donot want any value that the redirected links may provide me. Oct 11, 2012 at 21:55
  • Who will come to know? The visitors will get what they want and Google will remove penalty to your site owing to the removed page. It is not at all black hat. After all you'll be sending same content to Google and to everybody else. About 301, even when Google accesses your page, it should get the same 301 otheriwse it'll be black hat to show one version to Google and another to visitor(301).
    – AgA
    Oct 12, 2012 at 8:50
  • What would be handy is if there was a specific "disavow" status code that you could use rather than 404 or 301 to specify that you do not endorse the backlink.<br/> I have re-submitted twice now with the 301 Redirects in place and explained in detail. The response to both submissions was that I am still rejected due to Unnatural links and with no mention of the 301 Redirect being a problem. To me this says that it should be fine and within tolerance. <br/> At the moment my main problem seems to be that Google has not re-indexed many of the pages that link back to me. Oct 14, 2012 at 22:47

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