So, you’ve been hit by a Google manual penalty and you’re starting to notice the devastating effect it is having on your website.

The recovery from this can be a hard, drawn out process. Unless you have a helping hand from the experts of course!

At Receptional we have assisted a number of high profile businesses in their manual penalty recovery. Over the last few years we have noticed a dramatic rise in manual penalty removal requests, and they are not getting any simpler.

In early 2014 we had the task of aiding a renowned international client with their website’s penalty recovery. A recovery that would turn out to be one of the most complex and challenging projects we had ever been faced with.

But we did it.

Now we’d like to pass on our expertise to help other businesses revoke their penalties.

Why the Sudden Upsurge in Penalties?

Does the word Penguin sound familiar? We are not referring to the beloved, flightless, black and white bird, but the Google penalty algorithm that was introduced in 2012.

It seems that manual penalties are the by-product of the Penguin penalty algorithm. This penalty system was introduced as a way to penalise over-optimised websites, forcing site owners to ‘disavow’ links to recover and eventually start ranking highly again.

Here’s a message you’ll likely receive in your Google Webmaster Tools Account if you’ve been hit with a manual penalty:

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Contrary to Google’s official statement, the disavow process likely provided Google with a host of information about link networks, opening their eyes to the shady activity of black hat wizards that violated their terms and conditions on a regular basis.

Once aware of a link network, Google are then able to manually penalise any website that benefits from the links that the identified network provides but have yet to be noticed by the penalty algorithms. This is the reason behind the rise in manual penalties.

Many businesses have been contacting us for penalty removal work. Here’s a case study about one of our biggest and successful removal projects to date.

Case Study

Recently a client with nine country specific subdomains, each affected by a separate manual penalty, requested the help of Receptional to remove these and recover their online presence.

Google’s message regarding this penalty specified that the manual action was applied to devalue particular links, instead of the “rankings as a whole”. However the detrimental effect on the website’s traffic levels was at odds with the message in WMT (Webmaster Tools).

Overall the root domain had approximately three million unique backlinks that needed to be evaluated and, if deemed necessary, removed; highlighting the enormity of the task.

The Process of Recovery

It is important when working on any project, but particularly one of this stature, to have a clear and concise plan mapped out, outlining the steps that need to be taken.

Here are the actions we suggest are taken:

  1. Create a list of all linking URLs pointing to site. It is important to cross-check link data from Google’s Webmaster Tools (WMT) with more extensive link intelligence databases, such as Majestic SEO.
  2. Manually assess each link to identify which ones to remove. At Receptional, we have developed some tools that help us categorise links, so we can speed up the process (more on those later).
  3. Reach out to webmasters to get offending links taken down.
  4. Reach out for a second and third time to all the sites we did not hear back from and re-request removals.
  5. Create a disavow file for all links that were not removed after multiple attempts or where people requested we pay for removals. Then submit the disavow file to Google.
  6. Write a re-consideration request and submit it to Google through WMT.
  7. Wait (sometimes up to six weeks) to see if the re-consideration request has been successful.

We, at Receptional, have had a 100% success rate in removing manual penalties. This has been through the rigorous following of the above process.

To understand the root cause of a penalty one must investigate every link individually. You wouldn’t automate link building, so why would you automate link purification? We make sure to address every one of the violations of Google’s guidelines, not only the major ones.  This is where experience comes in handy.

Here are some things you should consider:

Manual, Man-ual, Man…

The clue is in the title.

As the type of penalty suggests there is a huMAN involved in manual penalties. At least we can assume so; we obviously do not have secret spy cameras at Google HQ, so we can’t be certain.

It is also reasonable to assume that there is a flagging, alarm bell, light type system that informs the penalty team when a spam pattern has been discovered in a site’s backlink profile. Once a certain website receives multiple alerts a member of the spam team will look into the site a bit further. They then have the power to decide what the punishment should be. They will also determine the duration of this penalty as well as the seriousness and nature of the actions required to rectify the issue and get the penalty revoked.

As it is a human that is handling the review process it may be beneficial to appeal to their human nature. This can be done by showing some repentance, let them know you have seen the error of your ways and your future commitment to abiding by Google’s terms and conditions. It will also help to demonstrate your laborious effort to remove the ‘bad’ links.

It is imperative that you include your workings; the way your case is presented may make the difference between a successful reconsideration request and an unsuccessful one.

Where you can Obtain your Link Data

For an effective recovery it is useful to gather as much link data as possible, here are three providers we regularly use and recommend:

1. Majestic SEO

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2. Moz

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3. Google Webmaster Tools

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Majestic features at the top of this list due to it usually offering more links than WMT or Moz; however the safer option is to be comprehensive and use all three. In the aforementioned case Majestic was only 2% short of the WMT/ Moz combined total, 2% seems like a low percentage but when a link profile consists of three million unique links 2% is actually 60,000 links, too large a number to miss out on.

Majestic also offer a fantastic historic index for manual penalties. This is favoured over Google’s WMT link map, as it is unknown how up to date this is. You can also find excellent link data from any link building reports generated by SEO companies in the past who contributed to the penalty.

Tools + More Tools= More Speed

Although we stand by our suggestion of manually analysing every single link individually there is no need to make life hard for yourself, there are some handy tools available to make this process a lot easier, not to mention quicker.

One tool you can use is the Majestic API, this is used to pull in citation and trust flow metrics as well as information about the IP and subnet.

We have also put together a custom spreadsheet to help us collect key data in an easy way.

Screaming Frog is an excellent tool to get page sizes, word counts, number of outbound links, page titles as well as server codes. These are useful to enable us to gain an overall picture of each website.

Domains that return a 0 server code have been de-indexed and therefore can be disavowed without being investigated.

It’s all in the Presentation

As previously mentioned, humans are dealing with your penalty therefore, if you present a document that is overly complex or unhelpfully vague, you are unlikely to be successful and your penalty is likely to stay exactly where it is.

Make sure the document you send is clear and easily understood. Also, it is a good idea to ensure that it follows a logical order making it cohesive, you should also include evidence of your steps and the workings we mentioned earlier.

Guideline not Rule

Although metrics are helpful in the process of link removal they should not be taken as law, some common sense and level headed judgement is needed from a human as well.

By only removing or disavowing links of a low trust threshold you would be shooting yourself in the foot (figuratively of course). There is a strong possibility that some of these links are valuable and are helping your rankings.

Trust metrics are good to aid judgement of a linking URL’s authority and quality; however it does not mean that the URL is in violation of Google’s guidelines. Remember; only remove the necessary links that do not adhere to Google’s terms and conditions.

Another reason to only use these metrics as a guide is that, regardless of a URL’s trust or page rank value, if multiple links have been bought these links are still in violation of Google’s terms and will be contributing to the penalty and therefore they must be disavowed or removed for the recovery to be successful.

The Process of Physical Removal

Proving just how arduous the task is, the physical removal of ‘spammy’ links gives a stronger indication to Google that you are repenting your link building sins. Although persuading webmasters to remove these bad links from their websites is a challenge in itself, we have found that more and more are willing to co-operate. Beware of those wanting money for the service; don’t be blackmailed into paying for the link removal!

Our process for link removal requests involves three rounds of emails. We have experienced a high success rate with our first and second rounds, but still like to send the third round to guarantee maximum results.

Success

Receptional has a 100% success rate in removing manual penalties. Although it can take some time results are always achieved.

In the ‘three million links’ case, after just seven days all nine manual actions were revoked, we believe this was down to the quality of the reconsideration request and of course having a great, knowledgeable team.

If you believe you have been hit by a manual penalty, don’t go hacking away at your backlink profile because you might cause further damage to your site’s rankings. Call in the experts first and we’ll get your site ranking again.

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