We recently had success in a reconsideration request for a client that had approached us for help after their site had been hit by a Penguin update and a manual action penalty from Google for unnatural links to their site. Following my personal experience of working to remove the penalty, I thought it would be useful to share some insights into the process, and what to do if you find your site has received a manual action.

What is a manual action?

If Google detects that a site is violating their quality guidelines, then they may take action and impose a manual penalty. Manual webspam action can be imposed for a number of reasons, including unnatural links to or from a site, low quality pages with thin content or lacking value, cloaking, hidden text and keyword stuffing. Any penalties that your site has received will be listed on the Manual Actions page within Webmaster tools, which will also indicate whether the issue is impacting the entire site or just affecting individual sections or URLs. If your site is facing a penalty, your site’s rankings may have seen a significant drop or you may find that your site has been completely removed from the SERPs.

To get a manual penalty removed, steps must be taken to remedy the issue and ensure that the site complies with Google’s Webmaster guidelines before submitting a reconsideration request for the site.
How to submit a reconsideration request
As already mentioned, the penalty our client had received was directed at unnatural links to their site. From the sample links provided by Google in Webmaster Tools, it was apparent that these offending links all followed a clear pattern – articles with similar content containing two or three examples of keyword rich anchor text, targeting very specific keywords and close variations. Matt Cutts recently identified the difference between organic and spam content in guest blogging, drawing attention to articles containing keyword rich anchor text as being a clear indicator of spam links. For the client in question, it was exactly this pattern of content spinning with keyword rich anchor text that was causing the problem.

Backlink analysis and submitting a reconsideration request

If your site has received a penalty for unnatural links, you will need to take action to identify and remove these links in order to get this lifted. The process of identifying and removing offending links can be a lengthy and time consuming one, particularly if your site has several thousands of backlinks, as we found out when working to revoke our client’s manual penalty.

In this backlink analysis stage, it is important to ensure that you gather as much link data as you possibly can. Rather than solely relying on the data provided in Webmaster tools, it is useful to combine this with data sourced from other link profile tools such as Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer and other sources to make sure that no bad links are missed. For the client we worked with, we found that it was also only when we had combined and analysed data from several sources that we were successful with our request.

After link data has been gathered and low quality links identified, steps will then need to be taken to remove them, either using Google’s disavow tool or by manual link removal (or a combination of the two). In the process of revoking our client’s manual penalty, we had submitted multiple disavow files that became progressively more aggressive and detailed, so it is definitely worth spending time removing the majority, if not all, of the offending links to your site. Although there are numerous tools available online that can help speed up the process of identifying low quality or spammy links, analysing the links manually (although this can be time consuming) can make sure that you correctly identify the links causing the problem, whilst also ensuring that any good quality links that are passing value to your site are not removed in error.

Once you have taken appropriate action against the issues with your site, you should then be well placed to submit a review within Webmaster tools. In order to receive a successful response to your reconsideration request, it is important to make sure that it outlines and explains in detail the work you have undertaken to address the problems with your site, emphasising that you are keen to ensure that your site meets Google’s quality guidelines. If the manual penalty is link related, you should also provide a list of the low quality links that you have either removed or disavowed as part of this process.

When you have submitted your site for review, it can take anything from a few days to a few weeks to get a response from Google, which will either state that the manual action has been revoked, or outline that the site still violates their quality guidelines.

Successful reconsideration request: what next?

A successful reconsideration request proves that overturning a manual penalty from Google is not impossible, although it can be a time-consuming and, at times, frustrating process.

However, it is worth noting that successfully revoking a manual action may not have an instant impact on a site’s rankings – as Google themselves point out, it can take time for these changes to be reflected in the SERPs. It is also not guaranteed that you will see a positive recovery in your site’s rankings following removal of a manual action, largely due to algorithmic updates that could be negatively impacting on positions.

Where can I read more?

Below is a list of useful articles that you may wish to check out for further reading on this topic!

http://moz.com/blog/ultimate-guide-to-google-penalty-removal

http://moz.com/blog/lifting-a-manual-penalty-given-by-google-personal-experience

http://www.searchenginejournal.com/what-i-learnt-from-revoking-a-google-manual-penalty/

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35843

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2604824

http://searchengineland.com/google-advice-on-when-to-submit-reconsideration-request-how-to-clean-your-link-profile-164263

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/backlinks-and-reconsideration-requests.html