We have a website which used to get around the 1000 unqiue visitors a day. The website is a PR4 and is several years old. We ranked 1-5 on the first page for most of our search terms, and have done for around 18 months with stable rankings.
We hired a SEO company overseas (Philippines) to do some SEO work for us, this consisted of web 2.0, blog comments, article links, blog networks (before they went bump) and these links were built in several layers. We started to see some movement for our main search terms from position 3-4 to positions 1-2 and we were happy.
Then we got this in webmaster tools......Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links. We were given an immediate penalty and all of our rankings suffered. Most suffered a penalty of between 5-30 places. Our main keyword has been sent back around 10 pages.
We have submitted a re-consideration request, but they keep sending back automated responses after 4-5 weeks saying:
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you've made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google's search results.
If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.
We have outlined all work which was done and the fact we placed trust in an external agency, we contacted them to remove all links which they had built for us, but they say its not possible.
What is the best way to recover our rankings from here. It causing us major issues and financial loss.
Have you guys been able to recover your rankings after similar penalties?
Your help is much appreciated.