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Dealing with penalties from Google is a major pain, sometimes resulting in webmasters having to scrap their penalized sites and start from scratch (although a recent Google Webmaster Hangout indicates that the Big G might be able to find you at your new domain). Fortunately, most people don’t have to go to these extreme lengths—less egregious offenders simply have to bend over backwards a few times, contacting webmasters and disavowing links until Google is satisfied.
One of the most popular methods of penalty recovery is to pull lists of backlinks (tools like Ahrefs, Majestic, OpenSiteExplorer, and of course Webmaster Tools usually catch most of them), comb through them and classify them as good or bad, then build your disavow list based on the bad ones (you may also benefit from attempting to contact individual webmasters and asking them to remove the links to your site manually).
The disavow file tells Google “Ok, we’ve looked at all of these sites and determined that these links were gained unnaturally—from now on, don’t count them.” Then you send Google an apology note and if you’ve done everything right and they’re having a good day, your penalty will be lifted. If not, you’ll have to repeat the process, possibly several times, digging up new links and submitting new requests until it is lifted.
Penalty Recovery Side Effects
But some webmasters are noticing an interesting side effect of disavowing links—once the file has been submitted, their homepage disappears from the rankings! We’ve heard of sites that have submitted disavows and come back the next day to see crazy pages like their sitemap ranking for their company name, while the homepage is nowhere to be found.
What’s going on here?
Is it possible that Google is taking disavow files and tanking the homepage as an extra punishment? Possibly, though unlikely. Do they factor disavow files into their ranking algorithm? Almost definitely. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably much simpler than that.
Most of the unethically garnered links I’ve seen link to a site’s homepage. This makes sense—the homepage is the highest authority page on the site, so it’s natural that you’d want to beef that one up before the internal pages. However, when you disavow most of the links pointing to the homepage, you’re also removing a lot of authority from that page, which Google might take as a signal that the page isn’t worth much and should be dropped.
What can you do about it?
In most of the cases I’ve seen, the homepage typically bubbles back up to the top after a couple days to a week as Google recrawls the site and figures out how to readjust the rankings. So while it doesn’t seem to be a big problem, it’s definitely something you’ll want to keep in mind as you try to recover from any Google penalties.
Why is my sitemap outranking my homepage?
But even so, how can a sitemap outrank the homepage, despite having no content and no optimization? Well while the sitemap doesn’t necessarily have “optimized” content, there are still words on the page—and probably a lot of them, depending on how many pages your website has. And since your sitemap is linked from every page in the footer (right?), it gets a lot of internal link juice from the other pages in your site, so it’s not entirely surprising that such a page would rank.
When it comes to penalty recovery, we recommend pairing link removal with a solid content marketing strategy to minimize the effects of losing large amounts of links at once. At Blue Corona, we can help you with both preparing and sending your reconsideration request as well as building content that will benefit both your website and your potential customers.
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