For all practical purposes, Google owns the internet.
Google rewards “white-hat” SEO practices by providing the sites that employ tried and true techniques a higher ranking in search results. Conversely, Google punishes “black-hat” practices. A common penalty - inflicted on about 400,000 sites a month - is the manual actions, and this post will help you very effectively resolve Google manual actions penalty.
Sites of any size can be punished for using shady techniques such as link buying, using fraudulent methods to drive traffic to a site, keyword-stuffing, having spam blogs to generate ad revenue, etc. A site need not even indulge in such activity. Mere suspicion on Google's part is sufficient to invoke the penalty.
Google’s primary and only interest is in ensuring that the online visitor trusts the internet and continues to spend more and more time online.
To accomplish this, Google is constantly revising its search and indexing algorithms. There are thousands of updates constantly applied, to ensure that the online visitor has the best online experience.
To achieve this, Google is also spending millions of dollars in the following activities:
- Laying ultra high-speed internet cables in select cities, such as Kansas City (KS), Austin (TX) and Provo (UT).
- It is making the internet safer. Google’s Project Zero is an ethical hacking program which identifies and stymies hacking operations even before they become effective.
- Heavy investment and continuous improvement in search.
- Identifying sites that are remotely suspicious from a user experience perspective, and knocking them off search results.
The last one is the topic of this blog post.
In 2014, eBay was hit with a Google penalty. You can read all about it here: http://searchengineland.com/google-hits-ebay-manual-penalty-search-results-192454
When this penalty kicked in, more than 120,000 pages on eBay dropped in the search results rankings overnight.
If a site such as eBay could suffer serious Google penalty, a small site stands no chance.
If you have received a message from Google Webmaster Tools which begins like the following then you know exactly what I am talking about:
Unnatural inbound links
Google has detected a pattern of artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site.Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank are violations of Google's Webmaster Guidelines.
Basically, Google has removed your site from showing up in any search results.
If you are doing any business online, this has the potential to hit you hard, very hard.
Dropping off the search results means that organic search traffic dries up completely.
Users will either have to directly come to your website through a URL or through a link from another site.
In this post we will focus on the situation where your entire site is penalized by Google, and chalk out an effective strategy for getting back in Google’s good books.
Once the shock, anger and resistance wear off, you will then be confronted with the question of how to handle this situation and get your site back on the search results.
The best way to chalk out a strategy is to think like Google.
Google has simply noticed that something is amiss with your site, and that the internet surfer – organic visitor to your site – could lose trust. This could mean anything. For example, when they click on a specific anchor text on a site and then land on yours, the topic may not be what they expected. They could find spam. They could be shown advertisements that do not match what they are looking for.
They will feel cheated and give up. Google will lose a customer. Given the scale of the internet, if this happens with multiple sites, very soon the whole search and backlinking infrastructure that Google has so meticulously built over the past decade could break down.
What Google expects you to do?
You may very well have a genuine site and not have purchased links or have indulged in black-hat SEO practices.
All Google wants to know that you are closely monitoring your backlinks. Google wants you to ensure that only genuine links that relate to your website subject, are of high quality and provide valuable information to the customer, point to your site.
Google wants you to stay in control of your site and everything that links to your site.
How do you show Google that you are in control?
Basically you need to do three things:
- Draw up a list of ALL the sites that link to your web site.
- Separate the good sites from the bad. The bad could be suspect sites, unknown sites or new sites that have started sending a lot of traffic to your site recently.
- Leave the good ones alone. For the not-so-good sites or unknown sites, send an email, requesting them to take down the link, or find a way to ignore the link from an SEO perspective.
This ensures that the click (which leads the user from their site to yours) does not consider SEO rankings.
You may want to specify the specific web page where the link is available, and you may have to sometimes send two or three emails.
- For sites that are totally suspicious, you can straightaway neutralize the links using a free Google resource for disavowing the links.
When you feel you have completed this exercise, you can submit your site to Google for reconsideration.
A very important aspect is documenting your activities. Unless you submit elaborate documentation to Google, showing all that you have done, Google won’t be able to reconsider your situation.
The following is a very effective way to collect and submit documentation to Google:
- Create a gmail account for this very purpose. Use the Google drive on this account to build the spreadsheet of backlinks. In this spreadsheet, add your good/bad flags, date of first email, response to first email, date of second email, and conclusion (link taken down, nothing to do, disavow).
- In this spreadsheet, you can also extract email ids for each of the site in question. Some may have web-forms on their “contact us” page. No need to do this for the good links.
- In the Google drive, build a short message that you can send to the linking sites. It is ok to state that you have been hit by the Google manual actions penalty and that you are seeking redressal. Most webmasters understand this and are kind enough to respond. You will be surprised at the quality and promptness of some of the responses.
The following is sample text that you can use:
Google has penalized our site, xxxxxxxx.com, citing “unnatural links”. In an effort to get this penalty removed, we need your help. There is a link to our site on your site. I really appreciate it if you could remove that link. Would you please support us, remove the link, and then shoot us a quick email back? Much appreciated.
Google is reluctant to revoke this manual actions penalty, until they have seen meaningful action on our part to take down these unnatural links. They want to see a lot of these links removed. They would prefer to see a webmaster remove the links rather than see us disavow your website in Google webmaster tools. This is why your assistance is so important to us.
Many thanks in advance for your consideration. If you could confirm the link removal that would be terrific.
- Send emails from this gmail account, so that the volume of emails sent and responses received are all available on this account. Google does not expect you to show one hundred percent responses, since that is out of your control. It is the activity (proven by the documentation) that is important.
- Update your spreadsheet based on the responses received.
- Make an honest attempt, and allow some time. All these activities should take at least two months for a small/medium site (assuming about 1000 backlinking sites).
- In the end, collect all the sites that should be disavowed (according to your conclusion) and run the disavow tool.
Then you can submit your site to Google for reconsideration.
Submitting to Google for reconsideration
A simple note in response to the original “unnatural links” email requesting reconsideration is sufficient.
It is ok to provide the gmail account and password with the request. I advise you to list out the steps that you have taken. It is not known whether Google actually logs into the mail account and checks the documentation in the drive. Surely they have other ways of knowing the actions that were taken.
Usually, within a month of submitting the reconsideration request, there should be a response.
If you have followed all the steps listed above, then your site will be reinstated in Google search results.
The process of examining all backlinking sites and reaching out to suspect sites and striving for a response, takes time. Do not take the path of least resistance and simply disavow all links that you have so painstakingly built over years.
Google understands that most of the links to your site could be genuine, and that only a small percentage would be spammy, if at all.
What Google is interested in, is your effort to monitor, examine and then control the links.
It is conceivable that after a long and meticulous exercise, you may end up disavowing, or taking down a miniscule percentage of links. And that is ok.
Do not fall into the misconception of thinking that disavowing a small number of sites that send a large number of links will do the job.
What are the resources that Google provides for this purpose?
- Google webmaster tools provides a list of all site that link back to your site.
- Google drive lets you collect all documentation in one place, and Gmail allows you to send mails and collect responses in one place.
- Disavow tool. This is a free program provided by Google that takes a list of sites as input, and simply “neutralizes” or disavows the links from these sites back to your site.
Once your reconsideration request is successfully processed by Google, and your site is back on top of the search results, you have a bigger responsibility.
That is to ensure you do not get hit by this penalty a second time.
For this, you will need to periodically monitor your backlinks.
I advise a period of 4-6 weeks. During this period, you extract the backlinks from Google Webmaster Tools, and compare to the previous period.
Simply look at anything that stands out.
For example, new sites that are connecting to yours, any existing site that is now sending extraordinarily large number of links, or a site whose links have dried up.
Take appropriate action to stay in control of which sites link to yours.