How Do You Know Which Bad Links Caused Your Google Penalty?

Share Button

Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you haven’t been affected by the recent Google algorithm updates. Unfortuately, my site did fall victim to the recent updates. In May, I was hit by Penguin 2.0. In mid-June, I was hit by the spam query update and in late June, I was hit again by the massive update that was rolled out June 25th. I’m currently waiting for a response from the Google Webspam team regarding my Google Penalty Reconsideration Request. Meanwhile, what can you do to prevent this from happening to you?

Have You Lost Traffic Due to Google Updates?

I first noticed a significant drop in my organic search traffic from Google in June. By early July, my website traffic had dropped by 45%. (I know, I should have picked it up earlier but I’d been lax in paying attention to my Google Analytics.) To get a clearer picture of what was going on, I went to and signed up to use their free Google Penalty Checker. Sure enough, it confirmed that I had been affected.

My concern was that over the years, I had links to sites that are what Google now deems “low quality” content or the links were creating 404 errors. Another concern was that sites that I did not want to be associated with had linked to mine.

Part of the process of cleaning up my site included addressing all of the 404 errors that had popped up over the years. The tool that I used to identify them was the Online Broken Link Checker. I also used the Bad Neighborhood Text Link Checker Tool to scan the links on my website. Thirdly, I used Google Webmaster Tools to identify sites that had linked to me.

Should There be a Google Webmaster Tool to Identify Bad Links?

Recently, Matt Cutts answered the question “How can I get examples of bad links to my site?” Actually, he addressed the question relative to webmasters who have received unnatural link warnings from Google.

Bottom line, Cutts says that Google will work on getting more information in the messages that go out. However, not everyone who is affected by the algorithm changes gets notified. (I have not received any official messages from Google and may have well wasted my time even submitting a reconsideration request but time will tell.)

Over to You:

Has your website been affected by the recent Google updates? Do you know anyone else who has been affected? Do you think Google should offer webmasters more tools to help them resolve the issues that we’re encountering? Please feel free to share your thoughts suggestions and recommendations with the rest of us. I’ll be keeping everyone posted as time goes on. (Special thanks to everyone who has contacted me with their support.)

Share Button

Author: Sherryl Perry

Welcome! If you're looking for help building an Internet presence that fits your needs and works for you, you're in the right place. I blog common sense articles about WordPress, social media and SEO. My goal is to help small business owners and entrepreneurs understand their core business. Together, we can develop and implement business strategies that make sense to you.

57 thoughts on “How Do You Know Which Bad Links Caused Your Google Penalty?”

    1. Tuhin,

      I realize that you left this comment for me last April but (somehow) it got past me. I wanted to thank you for letting me know that you found my post informative. SEO is constantly changing. So, it’s a topic that I continue to explore.

      Since I wrote this post, I’ve discovered some newer (more exciting) tools that you may find helpful as well. As I always try to do, there’s a free version that you may want to checkout
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..What SEO Tools Do You Use? #FridayFindsMy Profile

    1. J+C,

      It can take a while but I found by opening up in one window/tab and having your comments (in your WordPress admin) open in another, you can get a real rhythm going. What I do is look for domain names that have a lot of broken links. Then, I search my comments for that domain name. If the comment looks spammy, I’ll delete it. If the comment appears to have been legit and it adds value, I’ll leave the comment and strip out the URL.

      Good luck cleaning those links up!
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..What is Your Favorite WordPress Plugin? #FridayFindsMy Profile

  1. yes I’m one of those unfortunate enough to have been affected by the recent updates but it’s no use sulking now. I’ll take up your advice. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Hi Sherryl,

    Google quietly made some changes on their link scheme updates:

    Attention should be paid to Advertisements and press releases; Big G made it clear that it is better to make links present in your advert nofollow because by not doing so, you are kicking against their policy.

    Big time news websites were hit by this update and I just thought of adding it to complement this wonderful post.

    Best regards,

  3. Sherryl, thanks for the recommendation to use Fruition. I have been curious about potentially damaging links, but wasn’t sure of how to investigate them. Your tips are much appreciated!

  4. I for one am getting sick of Google chasing what they consider “bad” backlinks. There may be good intentions there, but in reality it is a terribly flawed idea. I just checked the backlink profile to a website I own and the very large number of the backlinks there are from very low quality “spammy” type sites, and I did not place ONE of them! Why should I be penalized for that? My other problem with this is that there is nothing from stopping a competitor form bombarding someone else’s website with awful spammy backlinks for the purpose of getting the site penalized by Google. They may be opening a serious Pandora’s Box with this new algo update.

  5. Wow, Sherryl! I didn’t even know about this. There is so very much to learn and try to stay on top of, in order to get our sites acknowledged and recognized in a good way. I’ve bookmarked and will try and investigate further.

    1. Doreen,
      There’s also a CommentLuv Link Cleaner plugin (available with the premium version) that can help. Although, I read from one blogger who said that they thought some of the links that it identified were legit. When I ran it on my blog, I checked many of the links and all of the ones that I tested were broken. So, I was comfortable with letting the plugin do it for me. (The program is comprised of scripts that Andy Bailey wrote.)
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Top 10 of the Most Interesting New TechnologiesMy Profile

  6. I haven’t noticed any significant change in my traffic. But I value posts like yours in case I do or in case I need to help a client.

    Getting Webmaster Tools emails for this topic (and others) would be a wonderful blessing. I’ve gotten them for sites that all of a sudden have a lot of 404s – usually, it’s because we’ve upgraded the site recently and need to redirect some posts.
    Leora Wenger recently posted..Build a Blog with WordPressMy Profile

    1. That’s wonderful that you haven’t noticed any significant changes. There are several bloggers who have been impacted by this including Kim Castleberry. At least in Kim’s case, she has participated in more affiliate programs than I have. I really haven’t monetized this blog. So, several people I know have been surprised that I got hit so badly.

  7. Hello Sherryl, it’s important to know which bad link caused Google penalty for our website. You have suggested a nice tool, thanks for sharing this with us. Before this, for checking bad backlinks, I was using webmaster, there I manually identifies which link may cause harm to my website and then I just demote those links. Can you please tell me whether it was useful or just a waste of time? I would be waiting for your reply. Thanks.

  8. I have been affected some but haven’t check of late after I cleaned up my site from broken links (thanks to your broken link tool suggestion) and non quality comments. In the end I’m not sure what the outcome will be. My hope is that this action along with trying my best to be as clean a site as possible will help. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted..Gainey Chardonnay 2011: WineMy Profile

    1. That sounds good Susan. I’m glad my suggestion helped you. The other thing that I would suggest checking is the sites that are linking to you. You can use Google Webmaster Tools to do that.

  9. I just did the dead link checker and it’s CRAZY how many dead links there are on my site. It’s going to take forever to clean them up.

    A lot of them are from these link round ups I used to submit my blog to when it was new. Do you think it’s a bad idea to just delete these posts entirely? They seem like they’re always going to cause problems as people leave behind their blogs.
    Heather Fonseca recently posted..BlogcationMy Profile

      1. I’m thinking about deleting the whole post! It will get rid of a lot of bad links. Here’s one of the posts so you can see what I mean.

        I’ll probably just go through them line by line and remove the links from dead blogs. The site you recommended literally found hundreds of 404s, and because they show html it’s hard for me to figure out where some of them are. I can tell a lot of them are in these old Links a La Mode posts, so I will have to focus on those first.

        I’ve decided to go through each of my posts, one a day, and update the SEO, check for bad links, etc. I’ve already run the commentluv link checker and removed those bad links, but there are still lots left to deal with.

        Sigh. I wonder if anyone realizes how much work blogging is!
        Heather Fonseca recently posted..Summer Fun: Ideas on how to stay cool and chic in the heatMy Profile

        1. Heather,
          I just checked out the post that you linked to and I understand why you’re considering deleting it. I know firsthand how time consuming it will be to check each link.

          The way I approached it was that I made a list of those domains that seemed to be causing the most 404 errors and I started with those first. I used the search function for comments and searched those domains one at a time. Then, I chose “quick edit” and deleted the URL. Hitting the enter key updated it.

          Blogging can be a lot of work!
          Sherryl Perry recently posted..5 Basic Tips for WordPress Bloggers and Website OwnersMy Profile

  10. Oh Sheryl I’m so sorry this happened to you! I really find Google irritating. It seems like they can do whatever they want and don’t care how it affects the people who rely on search for their livelyhood.

    So far I have not been affected negatively by the updates, if anything my organic referrals have grown. I’m working now on slowly going through all my posts, removing old links that no longer work, and even rewriting posts to be more SEO and reader friendly. I do have to say however that I really make very little money on my blog, and it’s just a little blog relative to other websites. Still I’m going to check out those sites you suggest!
    Heather Fonseca recently posted..BlogcationMy Profile

    1. Heather,
      Thanks for your support Heather. That’s wonderful that your organic traffic is growing. You’re smart to try to keep up with the broken links. Actually, if you have the time, it would be a good idea to run that online broken link checker tool and follow even links that are timed out or bad hosts. You may be surprised at how many domains are no longer the sites that you originally linked too.

  11. Sherryl, I had it happen back in March with my retail sites – I believe it was link exchanges that did it, I got rid of the page called resources and our traffic bounced back in 3 months. Thank God for Pinterest which drew traffic and some sales as we fell off Google’s search. I like using Bing Webmaster tools too. I may do a post soon on it. They offer a little different things than Google’s. I also had someone clean up my broken links in my Inspire blog from Fivver. It was nice to see no broken links in my Google webmaster tools.
    Google sure doesn’t make it easy for us Sherryl. I hope your site recovers soon and you are NOT alone.
    Lisa recently posted..A Blogger Named Mayura – Who Is He And Where Is Sri Lanka?My Profile

    1. Lisa,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with us! That may help someone reading this. I’m happy for you that your sites bounced back.

      I’ve never participated in any sort of link exchange but I did discover a spammy site that had over 1,200 links to me. I’ve since requested that Google disavow it. I learned a valuable lesson to pay more attention to incoming links in oogle Webmaster tools.

      I have my sites verified with Bing Webmaster Tools but I honestly haven’t paid any attention to it lately. I do have it on my “to-do” list but I should prioritize it. I think a post on it would be a nice reminder to everyone to pay attention to it.

      I hope my site recovers soon too. As always, thanks for your support!

  12. Hi Sherryl,

    This is a very serious problem. Why honest sites and hard working owners are hit? Sometimes you simply don’ know.

    I acknowledge the importance of a proper maintenance and using tools to identify broken links 404 errors etc. This is our job. However, This is not the worst part.

    The worst part is the so-called “negative SEO”. This begins with low quality sites that link to us and ends with competition using spammy links to destroy the rankings and reputation of a site.

    Yes, we need a powerful tool to identify bad links. More important, we need a method to protect from negative SEO. I think this must reach the official, judicial level. New laws that will specifically deal with this kind of not loyal competition must be created and enforced. Without a collaboration between states, companies and individuals (site owners, bloggers etc) we are on our own. The hope that Google will do something serious and powerful to fight against negative SEO makes me smile.

    Sooner or later new companies will specialize in negative SEO protection. New software will appear and we will be much protected. Until that day we need to take the matter into our own hands and find ways to protect ourselves.

    We should ask everybody about new means of protection and try them. A kind of book in this domain becomes more and more necessary. Each blogging community must try to develop a kind of database with ideas and tools related to site/blog security. I think this is the first step.

    Have a nice and more secure day
    Silviu recently posted..Blog Commenting Results. Case Study2My Profile

    1. Silviu,
      I heard back from Google regarding my “Penalty Reconsideration Request”. As expected, their reply was that I hadn’t officially been penalized and any negative impact on my site would have been a result of recent algorithm changes. Their suggestion was for me to use the Webmaster forum as a resource.

      According to, I have been negatively impacted by Penguin 3.0, the spam query update and the “Wooly Mammoth” update. So, I’ve had multiple issues. I agree with you that the worst part is “negative SEO”. After I cleaned up my 404 issues, I discovered that there is a spammy site that had over 1,200 links to me. How is that fair? I uploaded a disavow list to Google including that site and 4 others. Hopefully, everything will settle down at some point but I can’t really afford to spend much more time on this.

      Thanks so much for sharing your insight with us and for your ongoing support.

  13. Hello, I am not familiar with any of this technology at all; I barely understand what these terms and bad links are, other than that they are something very detrimental to my blog. So I did the check you mentioned and have over 120. Please can you explain the first thing a blogger like myself should do to get rid of these links or 404 errors or whatever they are and mean? And then what I should do afterwards? Thanks very much.

    1. Amanda,
      Do you use CommentLuv on your site? If you do, that’s the first place that you can start. I used broken link list to identify the URL and then I searched on all comments that were left from me (using that URL). I then edited each comment and stripped the link out. If the comment was generic and/or spam, I deleted it completely. If it appeared to be a meaningful comment, I left it but if the person had left keywords as their name, I would edit that too. (Usually, I could identify the person’s real name from their email address or some people sign their comments.)
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Friday Finds – Blog Reader Engagement, Google Penalties, Mobile WebsitesMy Profile

      1. Thanks Sherry. I don’t use CommentLuv, I am not sure what caused the broken links (over 120) because I hardly get any comments on my blog at all.

    1. It is frustrating Jeri. According to Google, I haven’t actually been penalized. I’ve just been negatively affected by the algorithm changes. There suggestion is to go to the webmaster forums for help. It reaches a point where I don’t have any more time to spend on this. I’ve been neglecting my blog! (For example, I’m replying now to a comment you left for me 3 days ago.)
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..How Do You Know Which Bad Links Caused Your Google Penalty?My Profile

  14. Great post, Sherryl! Thanks for writing it – you brought a whole new bunch of tasks on my to-do list! 😀

    While my personal site which you are familiar with is pretty small to be impacted (not so much traffic to be reduced lol), i did use the fruition tool you mentioned on one of my older sites… I think it is somewhat accurate (this is in relation to a previous comment) because most of the report says “no impact” and i even have a few green spots (positive impact) and that’s what i gathered also when monitoring my organic search traffic a few weeks after each update. So thanks again for sharing – i will sure be spending some time on the sites you recommended in this post, getting my hands dirty with all those broken links and bad companionship links.

    Which, by the way, leads me to another point – am i the only one who finds it annoying and kinda unfair to be penalized for links that other people place to our sites? I mean, come on – what kind of control can WE have on it?! It just creates more work for the little guy who is trying to run a blog or an online business 🙁
    Diana recently posted..The Work Principles of a FreelancerMy Profile

  15. Sherryl — thanks for sharing your experience and your tips. I just typed my URL into Online Broken Link Checker and was shocked to see that I was up to 70 broken links when I lost my internet connection (I was trying to fix some links while it was still at work). It’s late at night I’m going to need to take a day to work on this. I have the broken link checker plugin which sends me notices 3-4 times a week but it certainly has missed many. Thanks for letting me know about this service — I wasn’t aware of it. Many of the links are to global companies, but obviously broken links can happen anywhere. I did find a site that linked to mine that I wasn’t aware of but I’m not sure how to delete that link.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted..Twitter Still #1 Social Network for Fortune 500 Companies, Study SaysMy Profile

    1. Jeannette,
      The first step Google wants us to take is to contact the webmasters and ask for the links to be removed. If that doesn’t work, you can submit a text file to Google and ask to have the links disavowed. (FYI – the file needs to be in UTF-o or 7-bit ASCII.)

      (Thanks for leting me know that you found my post helpful.)

  16. Great information and links Sherryl, thanks for sharing. It’s challenging to say the least trying to stay on top of this stuff. I’m going to check my links now.

  17. I think it is getting all too hard Sherryl especially for those who are not heavily involved with technology. I believe in the webmaster tools they should give you step by step instructions (in plain english) how to fix certain problems. From your last post I did find links from CommentLuv that were 404s and domains that no longer existed. I also have to fix some of my own 404s.

    Thanks for updating us.
    Susan Oakes recently posted..Should You Discount Price To Get Customers?My Profile

    1. You’re welcome Susan. I’m glad that I can (hopefully) shed some light on what’s going on. Even for those of us who consider ourselves to be techies, it’s difficult to navigate this situation. Officially, I have yet to be notified by Google that I’ve been penalized. Technically, I’ve fallen victim to their algorithm changes.

      Good luck with your 404 errors. I ended up manually following links from even trusted bloggers who I’ve known for years. I deleted a lot of CommentLuv links that weren’t 404 errors but they had been redirected to sites that I did not want to be associated with. In some cases, I believe the blogger had launched a new site and then possibly sold or parked the domain.

    2. Hi Susan, I completely agree! I could spend my time trying to pacify Google for a speculative problem that isn’t my fault or I could spend my time writing interesting articles. I choose the latter.

      People who have tried to fix perceived problems haven’t gotten very far with Google. I am guessing that Google wants to send traffic to the bigger players who are the ones buying ads on Google.

      Although my traffic has dropped quite a bit, my Alexa rank hasn’t, indicating to me that many people are suffering at the hands of Google.
      Carolyn recently posted..Has Technology Made Us Smarter or Dumber? [Poll]My Profile

      1. Carolyn,
        I haven’t even checked my Alexa rank lately but my Google page rank has remained steady. (That’s a bit of a relief to me.)

        I don’t know if it’s me being stubborn but I really wanted to try to discover what else could be contributing to this. It couldn’t be 404 errors alone because (according to, I’ve been negatively impacted by Penguin 3.0, the spam query update and the “Wooly Mammoth” update. So, I’ve had multiple issues.

        After I cleaned up my 404 links, I discovered that there is a spammy site that had over 1,200 links to me. I’ve asked Google to disavow them. The only good thing that may come out of this is that I’ve been documenting what I’ve learned and done and at some point there could be an eBook out of this. 🙂

  18. Hi Sherryl,
    I have not been affected by the update. However there is another problem that is effecting our sites. There is a website called I put in my site url and two companies came up, one in China and one in Malaysia had copied my site verbatim. Of course they are out of the country and there is nothing I can do. Google looks at duplicate content as cloaking, I am working furiously to change all the text. The most irritating thing is that they have all my images, banners, etc that I paid a web developer a lot of money out of my pocket. The stupid thing is that we had put up a banner with my logo and they have it on their site. I am not saying this is your problem but it is worth looking into.
    Arleen Harry recently posted..Juggling and Balancing Business ProductivityMy Profile

    1. Hi Arleen,
      I’m sorry to hear that your entire site has been duplicated. That’s definitely something that I’ll keep in mind. One of the things that I found using Google Webmaster Tools, is that I had over 1,200 links to my site from a site that potentially could be perceived as spam. I believe that could have contributed to the problem. I had never noticed that site before (under sites that links to me). It’s one of 5 links that I submitted to Google to disavow.

      1. Sherry, I found the same thing in GA. I have over 1200 links from a site that may be a spammy site. I have no idea because it’s a membership only site and I can’t get in. I wrote to them asking them to take down the links to my site but they wrote back and said they don’t have any links to me site, making me think that it’s a forum site and people are linking to my site, which could be a good thing?

        The strange thing is that I’m seeing zero traffic from this site in my stats. How could I have over 1200 links and zero traffic? I can’t see what it is so I can’t know whether this is good or bad.

        Are you having the same experience, Sherryl? If so, we should compare notes!
        Carolyn recently posted..Shapeways 3D Printing – Transform Your Ideas into RealityMy Profile

        1. Carolyn,
          I don’t get any traffic from the spammy site that has the links to me. There’s no reason for them to have any links to me at all. I honestly didn’t even try to contact them. I simply submitted the disavow text file to Google. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t processed it yet though. I just checked and I still have those links.

          Do you know anything at all about the site that’s linking to you? I’m so suspicious at this point that I’d probably just try to disavow them.

  19. Hi Sherryl, thanks for this most helpful post. I found 5 bad links on my site which I will correct and I am waiting to hear back from Fruition about my site. I like practical self help posts like this Sherryl, because it saves a lot of time. I have noticed on an off that my orders have dropped away, but I would like to see proof of this, and that it’s not all in my imagination!! I really appreciate your efforts thank you.

    1. Hi Diane,
      The verdict is still out whether or not all my efforts will pay off but I’ll keep everyone posted. I’m definitely not the only blogger who has encountered this issue. I’ve always known that we can’t depend upon organic search traffic but still, it hurts and it’s definitely a frustrating situation to be in.

      Thanks for dropping by. It’s good to hear from you again!
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Friday Finds – Website Redesigns, Matt Cutts, Google+ and LinkedInMy Profile

  20. According to Fruition I’m also affected by their new Google algorithm on June 25th. But when I look at all that they display, Google’s new algorithms have had alternatively negative or positive impact on my blog for years.

    And my new site that I started on April 1st has been impacted the same way. There are NO bad links on my new site. No broken links no nothing. So I’m beginning to wonder how accurate Fruition is? It even claims my Swedish site has been more hit than my blog. If that’s the case it has nothing to do with bad links.
    Catarina recently posted..Would you, like George Clooney, trade places with Richard Branson?My Profile

    1. Catarina,
      Have you lost traffic since the updates? (If not, I’d keep an eye out to see if you do.) It’s not only broken links that can have a negative impact. It could also be links that aren’t broken but lead to spammy sites or it could be links from other sites that point to you.

      You’d be surprised how many well-known bloggers have left comments on my site and they no longer own that domain name. Depending on where it lands, you may want to remove those links completely.

      Also, have you checked your Google Webmaster Tools lately to see what sites are linking to you?

  21. Hi Sherryl,

    I read your post five minutes ago and implemented the use of the online broken link checker ( it detected five broken links just now, and I have fixed them) curiosity is the fact that I use broken link checker plugin and it did not detect this links.
    Thanks for this post, I will implement and try fruition registration to check the status of my site because I am trying to bring my site back to its pre-panda and penguin traffic status.

    1. Hi Dare,
      Thanks for letting me know that you found my post helpful. Five links is not bad. When I ran, it, I chose the option to identify all links (rather than unique URLs) and it found hundreds of potential issues on my site. Many links were not broken but were ending in timeouts or landing on parked domains that were riddled with ads. (Therefore, putting me at risk for linking to spammy sites.)

      The site I linked to is much more thorough than the broken link checker plugin. As a matter of fact, the plugin that I was using had been causing issues on my site. So, I deleted it. Good luck! I’ll be continuing to share updates and I’m seriously thinking of writing an eBook on this at some point.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Friday Finds – Blog Reader Engagement, Google Penalties, Mobile WebsitesMy Profile

Comments are closed.