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How to Recover from a Google Manual Action Penalty

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    Updated: Jun 03, 2019

    If your site has been assessed a Google manual action penalty for unnatural links to your site, the only way to have the penalty lifted is the submission of a successful Reconsideration Request. In this article, I’ll touch briefly on the steps leading up to the writing of such a request and then detail the characteristics that will make the request itself successful.

    First, it is important to note that you only need to submit a Reconsideration Request for manual action penalties.  You will know if your site has been assessed such a penalty when you receive the following message in Google Webmaster Tools:

    Unnatural links to your site—impacts links
    Google has detected a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. Some links may be outside of the webmaster’s control, so for this incident we are taking targeted action on the unnatural links instead of on the site’s ranking as a whole.

    Receiving the above message means that an actual person at Google has reviewed your backlink profile and has manually taken action against your site.  For this reason, you will need to submit a request to have the penalty manually lifted in the same fashion.

    If, on the other hand, your site has been penalized by an algorithm change, you can simply make on and off-site changes in order to reclaim your rankings.  In this case submitting a Reconsideration Request is unnecessary.

    Before submitting a request, you will need to clean up any questionable backlinks pointing to your site.  This can be a long and arduous process, but it must be undertaken and all steps documented as you work.  The following is a summary of what needs to happen:

    1. Download all backlinks from Google Webmaster Tools– You will want to make a spreadsheet containing all links.  It is best to use Google Docs for this as it is the format you will use to submit your Reconsideration Request.
    2. Perform a complete audit of your backlink profile– There are many tools available to help analyze backlinks, but it is probably best to go through every link manually.
    3. Identify unnatural links– Create a column in the spreadsheet that marks each link as good, bad, or questionable.
    4. Make an effort to have the links removed– If you have knowingly paid for links, you may have an easier time getting them removed.  This will involve sending emails, filling out contact forms (take screenshots of these), and doing anything else that you can to have the links taken down yourself.
    5. Submit a Disavow Links Request– Any links that you could not have removed can be disavowed using Google’s Disavow Links Tool.
    6. Put policies and procedures in place to avoid a future penalty– Google wants to know that you’ve not only made an effort to remedy the current problem, but that you’re committed to ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.

    Once you’ve followed all of the above steps, you will be ready to request that the manual penalty be revoked.  This is the most important part of the process.  It is imperative that you are able to show Google that you have addressed the issue thoroughly and that steps have been taken to avoid unnatural linking in the future.  Here are the top characteristics of a successful Reconsideration Request:

    1. Let Google know you’re serious– Make sure that you open by stating that you understand Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, that you understand the penalty assessed against your site, and that you have worked diligently to bring the site within guidelines.
    2. Confess to your mistakes– If you have purchased links or knowingly spammed in any way in the past, let them know that you are aware of your mistake and that it will not happen again.  Remember that Google not only wants to know that you’ve addressed the problem, but that it won’t happen again in the future.
    3. Detail the specific efforts that you’ve taken to have the links removed– Explain the steps that you’ve taken to have the links removed yourself. You must also link to the Google Docs spreadsheet that you’ve kept as you were going through the process.  Your spreadsheet should include only the links you’ve determined to be unnatural, the dates that you attempted to contact the webmasters, and any responses that you may have received.  List links that were successfully removed first and highlight them as successful attempts.
    4. State clearly your success– In addition to the spreadsheet that you’ve supplied, you can summarize quickly how many links you identified and how many you were able to have removed.  A simple line stating “We were able to remove 125 of 250 total questionable links” will make it easy for Google’s team to understand exactly what success you’ve had without having to quantify what’s on your spreadsheet.
    5. Identify your failures and how you’ve addressed them– Explain the reason for the difficulty in getting links taken down.  Again, a simple sentence summarizing will suffice: “We were unable to remove 125 links due to no response from webmasters after multiple attempts.  These links have been disavowed using the Google Disavow Links Tool.”
    6. Link to your Disavow Request– This should also be in Google Docs.
    7. Re-affirm your dedication– Close your request by re-stating your commitment to keeping your site within Google’s Webmaster guidelines.  Let them know that you will continue working to identify questionable links and that you will be diligent about maintaining these standards going forward.

    Following these guidelines, your chances of having the manual action removed will be greatly improved.

    Below is an example of a reconsideration request that was successful in removing a manual action penalty for one of our clients.  I would not suggest that you copy this exactly, but it demonstrates the guidelines mentioned above.

    Dear Google Webspam Team,

    Thank you for taking the time to review this reconsideration request.  Our company, FourFront, LLC, has recently been engaged as SEO and web strategy partner for xxxxxxx.  I am making this second request on their behalf.  We at FourFront pride ourselves on practicing strictly white hat SEO.  We have never purchased a backlink and do not, in fact, provide backlink building services to any of our clients.  Our strategy revolves solely around creating good content.  I invite you to learn more about us on our website:  I also invite you to contact me directly with any questions or concerns that you may have.

    Google has issued a manual action against xxxxxxx for unnatural links. The owners of xxxxxxx have assured us that they have not purchased links since disengaging with their prior SEO firm, and we have worked with them not only to remediate the questionable links, but also to put a strict company policy in place to prevent this from happening again.
    Our team has worked extremely hard over the last few months to remove as many of these unnatural backlinks as possible. This effort included manually identifying all links, scrutinizing anchor text, and  viewing the source code on each page to look for hidden links. We then cataloged each of the links we found and classified them as either natural or unnatural.
    In an effort to be thorough, any top level domains containing questionable links have been disavowed. We recently submitted a disavow list with approximately 40 top level domains that we have recently disavowed.

    The following spreadsheet details all links that we have deemed potentially unnatural, and what efforts we have taken to have them removed:
    Summary Spreadsheet

    The following document shows the text of the link removal e-mail request sent to webmasters:
    Sample Email Request to Webmasters

    The following document shows screenshots of contact forms that we have filled out:
    Forms Filled Out

    We then submitted a disavow.txt file to Google which can be seen here:

    Finally, we created an official external linking policy which is now on the company website.  This policy has been reviewed with all relevant employees.

    Thank you again for considering this request. We have worked hard to resolve the quality issues on our client’s site and are completely committed to doing anything that is required to correct past mistakes.  Please do not hesitate to contact me directly if you have any questions, or if there is anything else that we can do to help.  We are more than willing to take whatever additional steps that you deem necessary.

    Best regards,

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