Five Steps To Avoid When Your Site Has Been Penalised

Five Steps To Avoid When Your Site Has Been Penalised

When faced with manual spam action the instinct is to react swiftly, webmasters should think carefully before doing anything that could ultimately hold them back, according to Fili Wiese and Kaspar Szymanski.

Published 10th June 2015

Google applies manual spam actions, also known as penalties, to websites that are found to be in violation with their Webmaster Guidelines. The extent and impact of manual actions depends on the specific violation identified and can range from barely noticeable to complete removal from Google Search results. Several techniques can trigger a manual spam action to be applied, such as content hidden from users, cloaking or sneaky redirects, doorway pages and - most commonly seen these days - spam or unnatural backlinks pointing to a website. For the last few years, Google has been increasingly opening up regarding the penalties they apply both in general terms to the public1 , and with site-specific information provided to verified site owners via Google Webmaster Tools. There’s a tested and proven procedure in place for site owners willing to adapt their methods and get their websites back into Google’s good grace called the Reconsideration Request process2 . A lot has been said and published on how to approach a manual spam action3 and how to successfully apply for reconsideration4 . The process, while well documented, is at times emotionally charged and often executed under pressure of time, leading to unnecessary mistakes that hinder rather than aid an effort to lift the penalty.

Top 5 steps to avoid while applying for reconsideration

  1. Contacting an AdWords, AdSense or other Google product representative, seeking advice or merely to vent frustration, is on top of the list of most common mistakes while trying to resolve a manual spam action applied to a website. Google has been consistently protective of data, only granting access to employees on a need-to-know basis. None of the teams listed above, but a Search Quality Evaluation team or Webtrends Analyst team, are in the position to provide any actionable advice, and even doing so can be seen as a breach of confidentiality and likely grounds for contract termination. Trying to establish communication with a random Google employee regarding a manual spam action is both a waste of time and puts them in an uncomfortable position. There are therefore no alternative, unofficial communication channels to pursue other than the official reconsideration process.
  2. Immediately applying for reconsideration, often following the assumption that the manual processing thereof will take weeks (which it may or may not), giving the webmaster time to fix the issue, is another no-go. While at the time of writing, Google has not confirmed a turnaround time for Reconsideration Request processing, experience shows that it may take anywhere from hours to weeks before a response is received. There is no way of knowing when the website will be reviewed. On top of that, chances are that thoroughly analysing the issue that initially caused the penalty to be applied, as well as addressing it and documenting the steps in the process in order to be able to provide a compelling rationale for reconsideration, simply take time. A reconsideration request submitted shortly after a manual spam action warning was received is equivalent to indicating to Google that no clean-up effort was undertaken.
  3. Any attempt to rationalise, negotiate or threaten legal action is also a poor way to to try to solve the issue. The Google Index is private with clear, non-negotiable terms of service. It also does not matter whether competitor sites appear to be getting away with far worse violations of Google Webmaster Guidelines, or that the cause of a past penalty was a webmaster who disappeared from the picture a long time ago. Likewise, threatening or actually pursuing legal action, as undertaken in the past by organisations of all sizes, is futile and usually results in negative PR, as competitors and SEO industry voices will be quick to highlight any public denials of shady optimization methods.
  4. Similarly claiming no knowledge of any wrongdoing does not help. Neither do lengthy explanations as to why noone can be blamed for a lack of SEO expertise. Or partial disclosure, admitting to bits and pieces of what Google defines as black hat techniques, while conveniently omitting others. Splitting of hairs and providing an overload of information via excessive documentation will also not help save the day. If anything, these approaches are the exact opposite of that which tends to help deliver results, which is brief, honest and to-the-point disclosure.
  5. Seeking feedback and specific guidance, especially by the less-techsavvy entrepreneur or webmaster who repeatedly failed to apply for reconsideration, will also be frustrating and futile. While the Google Reconsideration Request process - at the time of writing this article - is a manual one, it does not allow for individual, site issue-specific responses. There are dedicated public Google support channels, such as Google Webmaster Help Forums or periodical Google Webmaster Hangouts, which provide free-of-charge assistance. A more confidential alternative is offered by SEO professionals providing penalty recovery and Reconsideration Request assistance in a package that includes auditing, documentation and a proven request rationale.

Finally, there’s one more thing you should avoid when dealing with a persistent Google manual penalty: falling into despair. Experience clearly shows that any penalty can be lifted, even if the effort required may on occasions be substantial. There is currently no limit on the number of times you can apply for reconsideration, even if every renewed request requires an even-more-thorough investigation and the likelihood of more rigorous clean-up efforts. With that important point in mind, any business website that has been penalized, whether long-established or recently acquired, has a future and the potential to grow visibility in Google Search. 

“Trying to establish communication with a random Google employee regarding a manual spam action is both a waste of time and puts them in an uncomfortable position.”

“Threatening or actually pursuing legal action, as undertaken in the past by organisations of all sizes, is futile and usually results in negative PR.”

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