How to Deal With Google's Manual Action Penalties
As a webmaster or SEO, there's nothing worse than getting a message from Google Webmaster Tools about a manual action that has been placed on your website. Manual actions are Google's way of demoting or removing web pages or websites as a whole. They aren't related to Google algorithm changes like Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, or the others. They are simply Google manually punishing websites for spammy behavior.
In this post, we're going to look at the different types of manual actions websites can receive and ways to deal with them.
How often do manual actions occur?
Here's Google's chart showing the number of manual actions they have imposed over the course of one month.
Should you worry about a manual action?
The answer depends on an important factor: whether the manual action affects your website's organic search traffic and rankings.
Some manual actions may not significantly impact your website's organic search traffic and rankings as a whole. They may only impact pages that you no longer care about or pages that do not generate revenue for your business. Instead of fighting the manual action, it may be worth just deleting the page(s) in question.
So how can you tell if a manual action is hurting your website and your business? Start with your Google Analytics. Note the date Google applied the manual action on your website and look at your organic search traffic before and after the action. Does it change significantly?
You can also use the compare to previous period option in the date selector to see how your traffic has changed over a longer span of time.
If you measure goal conversions in Google Analytics, the traffic may not be as big of a concern as a change in the number of conversions.
If you don't see a significant, negative change in organic search traffic and conversions after the manual action was taken on your website, then you may not need to worry about it. Or at least, you don't need to be aggressive about fixing it. On the other hand, if you do see a significant, negative change that is hurting your business, then you will want to be aggressive about fixing it.
Now, let's look at the types of manual actions Google imposes on websites and how to work towards fixing them.
Unnatural Links to Your Site
There are two types of manual actions regarding unnatural links to your website. The first type is where Google acknowledges that the unnatural links they found are out of your control, and therefore they don't take it out on your site's overall rankings. They do suggest you try removing links that you can control, but they don't punish you for the ones you can't.
The second type is where Google believes that you have been involved in link schemes and deceptive or manipulative link practices. This one likely affects your site's rankings overall in search.
If your website has received the latter manual action, you may have a long, hard road towards getting it rectified. You will have to show Google that you have made a strong effort to remove as many unnatural links to your website as possible and explain any links that you were unable to remove.
Link Detox can make the process of rebounding from an unnatural links manual action a little less painful. For starters, you can use it to analyze your backlink profile, including the backlinks you export from Google Webmaster Tools.
Link Detox will quickly identify the links that are at the highest risk of being considered unnatural by Google. You can then use LinkResearchTool's integration with Pitchbox to contact webmasters with customized templates and ask them to remove links to your website
With automated follow-ups, you don't have to worry about trying to remember to email people again and again. You can just create a template that does the job for you!
Once you have removed (or attempted to remove) your high-risk links, you can ask Google for a reconsideration request. If they deem you have done a good enough job of removing your unnatural links, they may remove the manual action. You should then monitor your analytics to see if the removal leads to regaining your site's organic traffic and rankings.
If your reconsideration request is denied, then you will need to continue to remove links that are considered at a high or above average risk.
Note that, in either case, no matter how good of a job you do of removing unnatural links, you may not receive a complete recovery of your organic search traffic. Since the links were helping your website rank for specific keywords, having those links removed alone will lower your ranking. You will, therefore, have to work towards link building the Google-approved way.
Unnatural Links from Your Site
Google doesn't only punish websites with unnatural incoming links. They also will impose a manual action on websites with unnatural outbound links. This likely occurs on websites that Google believes is selling links to other websites directly, or by offering dofollow links for sponsored or paid reviews. It can also affect outbound links that are a part of link exchanges or other link schemes.
If you receive this manual action, your job will be to remove paid links, exchanged links, and other links you have given to other websites.
Alternatively, you can mark them as nofollow. Depending on how many links you have given on a paid basis, you may have a large task at hand.
If none of the outbound links you have on your website are part of a link scheme, then you may want to look for dofollow links in comments on your blog or posts within your forum. You may also want to look for links that are completely unrelated to your website, as those may be the ones Google has identified as unnatural outbound links.
While a website hacking is not your fault, Google will apply a manual action to your website as soon as they detect malicious code.
The fix for a hacked site is to get all of the malicious code and malware removed as quickly as possible. Once you have done this, the manual action will be removed, and Google will no longer warn visitors to your website that your website is infected.
If you have no idea how to fix your website in the event of a hacking, you can turn to services like Sucuri or SiteLock that specialize in malware monitoring and cleanup. You can prevent these events from happening by paying similar services to constantly monitor and secure your website from hackers and malware.
You can also use Link Alerts to constantly monitor your backlinks since having too many links from websites affected by malware, may get you in trouble as well.
When Google decides that you have content that provides little value, they may impose a manual action for thin content.
Google defines thin content like the following.
Automatically generated content - If a human is not creating your content, then it will likely fall under this category and be considered thin content.
Thin affiliate pages - If the only content your website has is for the purpose of promoting products or services as an affiliate and provides no additional value, it might be considered thin content.
Content from other sources - If you rely upon content scrapers to steal content from other websites, or you get low-quality content from outside contributors (guest posts), then it might be considered thin content.
Doorway pages - If you have multiple pages or websites that you are trying to rank for specific queries that take the user to essentially the same piece of content, then they might be considered doorway pages.
If your website contains any of these types of content, you should look to create new, valuable, and unique content to replace the poor quality and automated content or remove the pages altogether. Once you have updated your website's content, you can submit a reconsideration request.
Not sure about what constitutes high-quality content? Be sure to review Google's guidelines. You can also look at Google's guidelines for content reviewers see what they look for when evaluating web pages for quality.
For those who do not have the time to create the replacement, high-quality content, you should consider outsourcing the content development. You don't want to get in trouble for the same low-quality issues. Therefore you will want to find content creators who specialize in creating high-quality content within your niche or industry.
The manual action for pure spam can cover a lot of different abuses of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. These include scraped content, automated gibberish, cloaking, and other items that are covered by previously covered manual actions. This includes spammy incoming and outgoing links.
The only way to recover from this manual action is to clean up any pages and links that are considered to be spam by Google. Depending on the type of spam and how much you have on your website, this may involve completely restructuring your website's architecture, content, on-site optimization, and off-site optimization.
If you own a blog, forum, social network, or membership site with public profiles, you may receive the manual action for user-generated spam based on the behavior of visitors and members of your website. User-generated spam can include blog comments, forum posts, and profiles that are spammy in nature.
Depending on the size of your website, number of users and the amount of user-generated content, you may have a tough road ahead of you to fix these issues. You can start by looking through the names of people who have signed up to your website to see if they are real names or computer generated usernames. Google also suggests that you use searches like site:domain.com keyword to find profiles and user-generated content that includes keywords used by spammers related to adult content, online pharmaceuticals, insurance, payday loans, casinos, and similar niches.
Another way to help combat this issue is to implement a system of user voting. This way, real users of your website can down vote content and profiles that they consider spammy or offensive. Instead of you having to find all of the problems on your own, you can let your users help you moderate the community.
If that is not an option and you don't have time to police your community, you may want to hire someone who can moderate the spam out of your website and keep it moderated going forward.
Once you have managed to remove the spammy user-generated content, you can submit a reconsideration request to Google showing that you have cleaned up your website and put assurances in place to make sure the user-generated spam does not build up again.
Cloaking and Sneaky Redirects
This manual action covers two scenarios. If your website has content that is shown to Google, but not shown to visitors, Google may consider it as cloaking.
If your website has any pages that are indexed in Google, but redirect users to pages that they would not have gone to intentionally, you may have what Google considers sneaky redirects. Sneaky redirects can also apply to redirects that are conditional, such as redirects that are only applied to visitors from Google search.
Sometimes, cloaking and sneaky redirects can be the result of hacking. For example, you see a normal web page as a user, but the code behind the page has been stuffed with various spammy keyword phrases.
If you do not know of any instances of cloaking and sneaky redirects that you have set up on your website, you may want to have your website checked by a hacking or malware removal service to ensure that your website hasn't been hacked in a way that you cannot detect.
Once you have removed instances of cloaking and sneaky redirects, or have determined that both were due to hacking or malware, you can contact Google for your reconsideration request.
Hidden Text and Keyword Stuffing
Manual actions for hidden text and keyword stuffing happen when Google discovers keywords on a page that are not shown to users or an overuse of keywords in the website's optimization. This manual action can sometimes include websites that have been hacked or infected by malware, where the hack injects keywords that you do not know about in your websites code.
If you do not know of any instances of hidden text or overused keywords that you have done to your website, you may want to have your website checked by a hacking or malware removal service to ensure that your website hasn't been hacked in a way that you cannot detect.
Once you have removed instances hidden text or overused keywords, or have determined that both were due to hacking or malware, you can contact Google for your reconsideration request.
For the most part, Google can tell when a website has spam versus when a website on the same hosting server has spam. But in some cases, if your website is hosted on a server is full of spammy websites, your website might also be lumped into the same grouping.
If you suspect that your website is hosted on a server with other spammy websites, your options are as follows.
- You can contact the web host and have them see if they can remove the other spammy websites based on a breach of the host's terms and conditions.
- You can ask to have your website moved to another server or a dedicated server that would separate your website from the spammy websites.
- You can move to a different hosting company where you can get assurance that your website will not be hosted with other spammy websites.
Once you have removed the association between your website and the spammy websites on your server, you can submit a reconsideration request to Google. Your rankings and organic search traffic should recover.
Spammy Structured Markup
Structured markup for websites can help make your website stand out in search results. If you have knowingly abused structured markup by using markup on your web pages that does not match your content, then you could receive a manual action for spammy structured markup.
Start by reviewing Google's rich snippets guidelines to see if you might have accidentally misused structured markup on your website. Remove any instances of misused structured markup, and you should be able to submit a reconsideration request to Google.
If you have received a manual action from Google, it isn't the end of the world. You may have a long way to go to repair your website and recover your rankings. It can be done if you are honest about what has gone wrong and can invest the time and resources into making things right again.