Google’s Manual Penalty > Why You’re Still Doing it Wrong

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Google’s Manual Penalty > Why You’re Still Doing it Wrong
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Google’s increasingly cryptic advice surrounding manual penalty recovery has created a void that is increasingly being filled with mis-information and advice and spawned a cottage industry of poorly informed vendors feeding off that lack of understanding.

It’s something I see day after day now as site owners come to us at their wits end having, as far as they are concerned, done ‘everything’ they can to remove said penalty.

I’m going to put this out there: Some of the ‘advice’ written on manual penalty recovery has been guess work and some of those attempting to recover sites have little clue about just how thorough you need to be in order to achieve a revoke.

As harsh as that may sound over 12 months or so of fixing this for others I have seen more than enough evidence to support this opinion and today I want to attempt to tackle some of the myths surrounding the harshest of all Google’s penalties to date.

Having played with various ways of segmenting link data, including our own process based around link trust, I wanted to share some of my own ‘opinions’ to help counterbalance other miss-guided information out there about manual penalties.

manual penalty facts

Myth: Using sample data from Google Webmaster Tools

Fact: Make sure you grab ALL link data

The most common misconception when it comes to dealing with unnatural links is just grabbing your link data from Google Webmaster Tools or Majestic SEO and to go through your links. The truth is this is not enough. You have to remember that when Google has placed a manual penalty on a site, yes they are only looking at a snapshot of your link profile but we have no idea which part it is. The only true and concise way of dealing with a manual penalty is to grab all the link data you can get hold of.

At Zazzle Media we have had good success in using the following combined data sources:

  • Majestic SEO
  • AHrefs
  • Open Site Explorer
  • Google Webmaster Tools (Both Sample data and Latest)

If you grab your link data from all of these, copy it all into one Excel spread sheet, remove the duplicates and you have your entire link profile in one document. From here you can start going through and finding the links that are causing the issues.

Tip: We have seen a lot of people exporting the standard CSV exports from link data sites. Majestic for example will only give you the first 2500 links from the CSV export in site explorer. If you site has more than the 2500 links you will need to run an advanced report in Majestic to get all the links. This is the same for Open Site Explorer and in A Hrefs you will have to complete a raw export.

Myth: Automated link analysis tools can do the job.

Fact: Do not fully trust link analysis software

There are some very good link analysis tools becoming very established in the market and are able to help detect unnatural links. Link Detox seems to be the largest and most popular, others are emerging on the scene such as Cognitive SEO who has recently launched the automatic unnatural links detection feature in their software.

These tools are good and you are able to feed all your link data into them from other sources however they are not entirely accurate. They are a good start but we have seen a lot of healthy links being pulled in as unnatural and also a lot of unnatural links being reported as healthy. The tools are good in the sense they will check if the links are indexed in Google and have several ways of detecting spammy link networks but there are many more factors that they fall down on.

One example would be links built with spun content. We have seen a lot of sites that have entire link profiles built by submitting artificially spun articles to websites with links placed within them. The issue here is these links can be placed on perfectly healthy websites that will not be detected by the unnatural links tools but Google can easily work out that this link should be penalised because of the content on the page.

By all means use the link analysis tools as a guide but always go through your links manually to make sure you get all the unnatural ones and make sure you do not remove any that are healthy and may be providing a lot of link juice. You can quite easily cause a lot of damage if you remove the wrong links to your profile.

Myth: Just remove low quality and low DA links

Fact: Do not leave a single unnatural link in the profile

A lot of people when trying to deal with the manual penalty on their site are very careful in what links they remove. They may find an unnatural link that is a PR3 and want to leave it because it may be helping, big mistake. It is in fact these links that are causing the problem and must be removed.

The best way to think of this situation is to think that when you reconsider your site with Google, a human, a real person will be looking over your links to see if you can be allowed back into their trusted zone. When a human is involved you can be assured they can turn down any reconsideration if they see a single unnatural left.

For this reason it is critical that all the unnatural links are captured and dealt with before reconsidering.

Myth: Remove the unnatural links, disavow any that cannot be removed

Fact: Make sure you disavow ALL unnatural links before starting link removal

Once all the spammy links pointing to a site have been gathered, its now time to start the disavow and link removal process. In this situation, most people start the link removal process first, get a good number of links removed and then disavow any links that they have failed to remove. This is not the correct way and the reason behind this is simple. Even though you have removed the unnatural links flagged. Google will not know this until they recrawl the site and register this. This ultimately means that you could file a reconsideration with Google and they may turn it down simply because they don’t know about a link that you have already removed. If you disavow all your unnatural links before the link removal process, you are effectively telling Google about all the unnatural links you want to deal with before you have dealt with them.

We have had sites revoked from their penalties when we have reconsidered the day after submitting a disavow file for the site. We have taken this info and worked out that the human reviewers at Google must overlay the disavow profile immediately when looking at the site. This ultimately means that if you make sure you disavow ALL the unnatural links and show a good percentage on them removed, you will get revoked.

Myth: A simple outreach email asking for the link to be removed is enough

Fact: Spend time on writing a good removal email to get the highest Conversions

It is well known now that although not impossible, it is very difficult to recover from a manual penalty by just disavowing links. However it is possible to recover by disavowing all your unnatural links and remove some of them. At Zazzle Media, we have had recoveries by only removing around 15% of links so this is a good start to go on. Obviously the more links you are able to remove the better.

When it comes to removing links, create a good, well written email that explains the situation and details the links that need to be removed. Some of the email we have seen are quite threatening in the sense they brutally request for the links to be taken done or else. From the conversion rates we have seen this is not needed.

A simple email explaining the situation and that you have lost traffic because of it often does enough? It can help to add a small amount of fear in and explain that sites providing unnatural links to other sites can often be targeted for penalisation often helps conversion too.  Always remember, you need to have as many links removed as possible to improve your chances of being revoked. Do not skimp on this part of the process.

Myth: When a site recovers, rankings will be restored.

Fact: A site will not increase or may drop even further in rankings before it starts to increase

When we pull a site out of the manual penalty, most people expect to see an increase in rankings because of it. Unfortunately this is simply not the case and it is quite simple to see once you think about it.

If you think, a site may be on page 3 for its keyword term when the site starts up. At that point they may have used spam to game the algorithm and progress their site to page one of even position one. At this point the site owners are going to be extremely pleased with the results and expect this consistently. Then, the manual penalty hits and they are reduced to lower rankings than when they started.

From this point they remove a load of links and recover. Now originally and even in the manual penalty stage the site may have still been propped up by the page rank of the unnatural links. Now these links have been removed there is only one thing that will happen and that is the site will drop even further in rankings.

The only way to start to see the site retuning in rankings is to build a consistent number of good quality links that will restore the lost page rank.

There is a lot of information about manual penalties and a lot of information that isn’t necessarily correct. However the main points I have raised cover off many of the most common issues we’ve come across in relation to manuals. Hopefully, then, you guys can read through this, take away some points and push your site through the recovery process faster. I always like to hear positive results from the information I provide so if any of these changes work for you please let me know. I’d love to hear about them!

 

2 comments
jasonacidre
jasonacidre

Agree on most of the pointers/facts listed on this post. 

I actually experienced recovering from a manual penalty first hand - on my blog, which happened 2 months ago (unnatural link warning sent on May 23 - and the manual penalty was revoked last June 14). 

Well there were 2 reasons why I got the manual penalty:

1. My blog was a victim of a negative SEO campaign last June 2012 (but I was able to disavow all of those links way even before I received the Unnatural link warning, I believe I've disavowed those links as soon as the disavow tool became available).

2. I realized the second reason when I failed on my first reconsideration request. I remembered that I did a case study on exact match anchor texts on reciprocal links 2 years ago (yep, deadly sitewide links from 4 topically relevant sites).

Although I didn't really remove these reciprocal links (since these are mostly from industry peers), I just asked them to change the anchor texts (into a branded one). Then submitted a second reconsideration request, then the site was reconsidered after 2 days :) 

Well, that's actually the fastest recovery I've encountered so far (as for some of our new clients, it took weeks/months to remove, disavow and get reconsidered). 

So my point is, if you're really confident that you haven't done anything wrong to violate Google's terms, then there's nothing much to worry about.  Just be really honest with your copy for your reconsideration request (and make it as succinct as you can). 

AdamJamesMason
AdamJamesMason

@jasonacidre Thanks very interesting Jason. We haven't seen case study for a manual penalty in which simply changing the anchor has resulted in a revoke. We have always been very clear and dealt with the site-wide itself.

We have had a few sites now that we have been able to get reconsidered first time. If you are thorough enough with grabbing all links that are causing an issue then there is no reason it cannot be successful first time round.

Also, it has become more and more clear to us that you can simply submit your disavow file and reconsider your site shortly after. We are seeing evidence that the human reviewers put the disavow file over you link profile and look at what is left.

I think it is easy to forget that you are dealing with real people when reconsidering for a manual penalty. So I completely agree with your last point. If you are confident that you haven't done anything wrong, be very honest in your reconsideration and you can get revoked. They are real people at the end of the day :)

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