Receiving a manual penalty from Google can be a nightmare for your website. There are several reason whys this can happen, such as using spammy SEO techniques (e.g. low quality directories, bookmarks and comment spam) that do not comply with Google’s Webmaster guidelines. If you get one, you’ll see a message similar to this when you log into Google Webmaster Tools:
To get out of this situation, you will need to be proactive and try to resolve all the issues with your site. In most cases, this will require you to remove or disavow the offending backlinks to your site, then plead your case to Google by means of a ‘reconsideration request’.
It would be more convenient if Google’s penalty message provided you with step-by-step guidelines on how to remove your penalty, but unfortunately, it doesn’t. Many people think that the decision whether Google revoke the penalty or not is not always based on strict guidelines…
Joking aside, a lot can be learnt from experience, and our experience has taught us these 7 key steps, which will go a long way to improve your chances of a successful reconsideration request:
1. Remove Unnatural Links
The most common reason for websites receiving a penalty is unnatural links (e.g. paid links, link exchanges, blog comments). Google considers these types of links as ‘manipulative’, as they have been built purely to affect the results of search engine pages. Therefore, you will have to make a diligent effort to target these links and take steps to remove or disavow them.
The most effective way to prove to Google that you are serious about getting the penalty revoked is to remove lots of unnatural links.
This process starts with going through all your links and classifying them all so you know which are the unnatural ones. Whilst this can be a timely process, you will quickly spot patterns in your link profile that allow you to classify links quicker. This should be the most time-intensive part of the process – you really need to be 100% sure you have classified each link (or at least each domain) correctly. Keeping a ‘good list’ as well as a ‘bad list’ will also help you for future reconsideration requests.
Once you have classified your links, you should end up with a big long list of sites you want to get links removed from. Then you can use tried-and-tested outreach methods to find contact details for the sites and automate the emails to them all.
We have typically found that there is not a lot of benefit in sending more than 3 emails (over about a 2 week period) – if they don’t get back to you in this time then they’re not going to remove the links, period.
Pro Tip: You will end up with lots of emails returned to you as the email address will no longer be valid, make sure you save these or take screenshots – this will be useful during the reconsideration process.
2. Disavow Everything Else
For every other link that you’ve classified as ‘bad’, if you can’t get it removed, then go ahead and disavow it. This could be hundreds or thousands of links – one of the reasons that the disavow tool exists in the first place is because some links are simply impossible to remove.
3. Show Google Proof Of Your Efforts
If you have a manual penalty, that means that someone at Google has look through your links and decided you have been, effectively, cheating. Whatever the history of the site, or whether it was deliberate or not, somewhere along the line you have benefited from bending Google’s rules.
If you want to get back in their good books, you need to show them how sorry you are. They are looking for a ‘good faith effort.’ What this means in practical terms is ‘a shitload of work’. They want to see you suffer, toiling for hours on link removals to help right your wrongs.
So the key aspect when writing a reconsideration request is showing as much evidence as possible that you have worked your ass off and tried as hard as possible:
- Include link to Gdoc spreadsheets of all the sites you have contacted, with contact emails and dates of follow up, and copious notes.
- Take screenshots of your email inbox (particularly if you have a lot of bounce-backs) to prove you have been doing the removal requests.
- Take screenshots of contact forms as you fill them in, then upload to a Dropbox file you can link to in your reconsideration request.
When you review the data you present on your reconsideration request, you need to make sure it looks like weeks and weeks of work.
4. Emphasize Clarity
When a reviewer looks through your reconsideration request, they might have another 20 to do that day. They don’t want to have to hunt for the facts. Whilst you do want to bombard them with ‘evidence’ of all your activity, you don’t want to make it difficult for them to find the salient facts.
Start your reconsideration request with a clear list detailing exactly what you have done:
- Removed x links from y domains
- Contacted x thousand site owners and webmasters to ask for links to be removed
- Sent over x thousand emails over the course of
- Spent over x hours checking links and contacting webmasters
- Paid over $x for site owners to remove links
- Disavowed x links and y domains
Pro Tip: If you have 404ed some pages that had a lot of dodgy links pointing at them, claim these as links you have ‘removed’ (as Google have confirmed this has the same effect).
5. Be Professional and Respectful
It’s natural to be upset, even angry when you receive a penalty warning message from Google, but crying about it will get you nowhere. Submitting a reconsideration request that is laced with profanity, accusations, blame assignments or combative language will hardly leave a positive impression with the webspam team member who reads your request.
Rambling on and on about how you feel is also a bad idea. Present relevant comments and documents needed to get your site a clean bill of health in a professional and respectful manner. See the penalty message as a chance to learn from your mistakes and put forth the best effort possible to make your site even better than before by complying with Google’s guidelines.
6. Wait For Google to Respond
If manual action was taken on your site, it will get read by a webspam team member once a reconsideration request has been filed. In most cases you should expect to hear a response within two to three weeks but occasionally a response could take up to six weeks. The response by the webspam team will appear in Google Webmaster Tools under “All Messages.”
Don’t try to chase Google or pre-empt them by filing another reconsideration request – simply wait it out and let them respond. In this instance at least, patience is a virtue.
7. Be Persistent
Most reconsideration requests do not result in a penalty being revoked at the first attempt. We have been helping website owners remove their manual penalties for almost two years, and have successfully removed over 30. Most of these took 2 to 4 reconsideration requests, with one taking as many as 9. Whilst Google have never published the criteria for success, it seems to be dependent on the severity of the penalty/situation in the first place, and the volume of work put into recovery.
Either way, if you stay persistent and keep working to remove the penalty, eventually one of your reconsideration requests will be successful.
There’s No Magic Bullet
The steps outlined in this post have been learnt from brutal experience – many reconsideration requests and hundreds of hours of work – if you are in the middle of the reconsideration process you would be wise to follow all of them. The fact of the matter is that there is no quick and easy win here – it comes down to hard work.
If you’re willing to put the work in, you will get rewarded.