Many businesses have seen their Google search ranking drop dramatically in the aftermath of the Panda and Penguin algorithm changes. Many of the best SEO techniques that might have worked 5 years ago are considered completely unethical to Google today. And businesses are learning the hard way that a cheap SEO company can be much more costly than an expensive one. The long term repercussions of a Google penalty can be devastating to a business, especially to those that rely on SEO as their main source of traffic.
If you see a significant decline in organic traffic, then you have probably been penalized by the search engine giant. But which penalty did you actually get hit with?
This will explain how to discover if you’ve been hit with a manual penalty and six steps that you can take to get out of it.
Have you been slapped with a manual action penalty?
A manual action is Google’s method of combating spam and other unethical techniques that try to game Google’s search engine rankings. Google penalizes sites in question for the keywords they are unethically optimizing. Every single manual action that Google serves is reviewed and issued by an actual person at Google, rather than Google’s algorithmic updates.
The easiest way to tell if your site is in a manual action or not is to check Google Webmaster Tools. If you would like to add your website to Webmaster Tools, Google has a quick guide that you can follow. If Google has served you a manual action, it will be listed. If nothing is listed, your site is in the clear.
Simply put, you get out of the manual action by removing spammy links. This will show Google that you are making a conscious effort to clean up the web. There is no simple way to do this, no magic wand or special potion.
Here are six steps that you can take to get out of a manual action penalty.
Step One: Find the low quality links
It’s important to remain organized because this list will be quite large. In some instances, more than one server, large. You can compile a master list of backlinks to your site using services like Moz, Ahrefs, Majestic and Google Webmaster Tools. I recommend using more than one service to ensure that you’ve captured all of the links.
Often times, spammy links are disguised within great content. Here are some key things to look for when identifying a spammy link:
- Unnatural anchor text - If the anchor text is overly optimized for the keywords you are trying to target, Google will see it as unnatural
- Low quality domain - Some domains blatantly sell links, have unreadable content, thin content, or are completely irrelevant to your website.
Step Two: Search the yellow pages
Now that you have a list of low quality links, it’s time to remove them. This is no easy feat, often requiring hundreds of hours of research and outreach. I recommend hiring contractors from sites like oDesk or Freelancer that can help source contact information for your spammy links. You should also set yourself up with a new email address on Google that can track all of your outreach in one place. You will also be handing the email address over to Google when it comes time to submit your reconsideration request.
Step Three: Get in touch
Your outreach email should be clear and concise, with an explanation why you are requesting the webmaster remove your link. Some people may be offended by your email but it’s important to remain courteous. Remember that you are reaching out to people who have a web presence and people with web presences are typically a vocal crowd. Use a mail merge tool like Yet Another Mail Merge that can help you email a large list of people at one time.
One thing to note, if the website that you are reaching out to only has a contact us form on their website, you must to take a screenshot as proof of link removal request. Save the screenshot in an easily accessible Google Drive folder that can later be shared with Google when you submit your reconsideration request.
Step Four: Disavow the links you can’t remove
Google knows you can’t possibly get in touch with every single webmaster so they provide you with the option to add the links you can’t remove to a disavow file. The disavow file is a list of links that you tell Google not to use in a website’s backlink profile. Here is a guide from Google on how to properly create and submit a disavow file.
Step Five: Submit your reconsideration request
It’s finally time to submit your reconsideration request, which will contain everything you’ve done to clean up your link profile and why you deserve to get your penalty removed. In your reconsideration request to Google, make sure to provide stats on how many links you went through, removed, emails sent, links disavowed and anything else that you think could be useful and relevant to your case. Make sure to provide Google access to your disavow file, the email account you used to reach out, and the Google folder where you saved screenshots of the contact form outreach. Here is a great sample of a reconsideration request that you can follow.
Step Six: Rinse and repeat
It usually takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months for Google review your request. If your penalty is removed, then congratulations! However, it is common for your first reconsideration request to get declined.
Don’t fret! Each time your request gets declined, Google will provide guidance on what they are looking for including a sample of additional links that they are not happy with. Look for similarities in the links to help you identify those that need to be removed. For example, some sample links have the same anchor text, author or website network. Once the new set of links are removed or disavowed, update the reconsideration request and submit it again. With a little patience, time, and dedication, your site will be free from the penalty and business will be back to normal again.