How we helped a client recover from a Google manual penalty

Imagine waking up one morning and checking your emails to find a notification from Google letting you know they have applied a manual spam action to your website. Your heart sinks into your stomach, you didn’t think something like this could ever happen to your website. Your worst fears are confirmed after a few quick Google searches and you realise your website is nowhere to be found.

Sounds scary right? Unfortunately this is an all to common occurrence for many business owners with Google dishing out over 430,000 manual actions every month according to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team. Businesses relying on search engine traffic to survive are often forced to close down as a result.

Don’t give up on your website just yet, there is hope…

Before you decide to give up on SEO completely and move all your marketing budget into traditional print advertising, cold calling (*shudder*) and AdWords, we’re here to tell you that a manual penalty from Google doesn’t have to mean the end of your online marketing glory days, or your business! On the contrary, it can be a great opportunity to improve your website from an optimisation perspective, bring it back into the good graces of Google and further improve your search engine visibility.

How we helped a client successfully recover from a manual Google penalty

Recently we had a business owner contact eMagic who was one of the unlucky recipients of the following unnatural links penalty:

NB: Clients website URL has been blurred out to protect their identity and reputation

Google unnatural links to your site

As you can imagine this was like a death sentence to this local business who relies exclusively on leads generated from their website to acquire new customers. They were in an extremely competitive space and understood the importance of SEO, unfortunately they had engaged an SEO consultant who used very outdated, low quality link building strategies that ultimately led to their manual spam action.

Our Google manual penalty recovery plan

Phase One: Link audit

The first thing we did was assess the damage by performing a comprehensive link audit.

The process (the boring nerdy part we love)

  1. Downloaded a list of links from several major backlink sources (Ahrefs, Majestic, and Google Webmaster Tools). This was crucial to ensure the link data was as complete and accurate as possible.
  2. Filtered all the data by consolidating links by domain, removing all duplicates.
  3. Manually verified and labeled each link based on type; unnatural, potentially harmful or OK (while unnatural link detection tools can be used they will often flag quality links based on filters applied so you need to be very careful. There is no substitute for manual verification, and using an SEO company or consultant who knows what they are doing is the key to any successful recovery strategy).

Phase Two: Link removal requests

From the link audit we had identified several low quality links that we knew needed to be removed in order for our Google reconsideration request to be successful.

The process

  1. Obtained contact information for the websites we wanted links removed from (if contact details are not located directly on the website you can use whois lookup to research the domains ownership or use the sites contact forms).
  2. Crafted and sent link removal request emails.

This is the exact template we used (It doesn’t need to be anything fancy but we recommend keeping it friendly and specific for best results).

Hi [insert website owners name],

I am trying to remove some backlinks pointing to my website [insert your URL]. I would really appreciate your help in removing these links. Here is all the information you need:

My website is linked on your website here: [insert link to the page where your link exists]
It points to this URL on my website: [insert the URL the link points to]
And it uses this anchor text: [insert anchor text]
If you could please send a confirmation email letting me know that the link has been removed, I would really appreciate it. Thanks in advance! I hope to hear from you soon.

Phase Three: Disavow file creation

Once we had contacted all necessary webmasters and had all the links we could removed we created a disavow file for submission.

The process

  1. Created a .txt file and added all the unnatural domain links to be disavowed (while you can disavow individual links the most effective way to leverage the Google disavow tool is to disavow entire domains).
  2. Submitted the disavow file.

Submitting the file:

1. Login to your Google account
2. Go to: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main
3. Choose the website you are submitting the disavow file for and click DISAVOW LINKS
4. Click Disavow Links button and upload the .txt file created and Submit

Phase Four: Submit Google reconsideration request

Now we were on the home stretch and ready to submit the reconsideration request.

The process

  1. We submitted the reconsideration request (we made sure this was as detailed as possible and covered the situation, the steps we had taken to fix the issue and the results of our efforts).
  2. We included a link to supporting documentation containing all the link removal work carried out.
  3. Crossed our fingers and toes.

The results

Once we had submitted the reconsideration request all we could do was wait to hear back from Google. This can take several weeks and like most things SEO related there is no instant gratification here.

It took just under four weeks until our client received the following response from Google:

Google manual spam action recovery

Shortly after the manual penalty was revoked the clients rankings and traffic began to improve (all great signs of a positive recovery). However they weren’t out of the Google woods just yet. Often clients falsely assume as soon as the manual spam action has been revoked they will see a return to top rankings. This is often not the case for several reasons:

  1. The websites previous rankings were as a result of the unnatural links that were built.
  2. The website doesn’t have a good base of natural high authority links.
  3. The onsite optimisation is poor and rankings were obtained as a result of link building only.

These are all factors a quality ongoing SEO strategy can take care of and that’s exactly what we have since implemented for this client. Their current rankings and traffic is now better than it was before the manual spam action was placed on the site and most importantly they continue to generate consistent and highly qualified leads from their website every week. We will continue to focus on best practice SEO strategies that adhere strictly to Google Webmaster Guidelines to ensure their long term SEO results are maintained.

Nathan Whitaker About the author

Nathan is the co-founder and Strategy Wizard at eMagic. He is responsible for the development and execution of our effective SEO strategies. He is passionate about search and delivering unrivalled results for our clients and industry partners.

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