Dealing with Manual Actions to Fix SEO Penalties

By Peter Kent

If you have a Manual Action message, you are lucky. Your SEO is not damaged beyond repair. You can just follow the instructions provided in the linked Help information; you may even find a video. If Google is complaining about links pointing to your site, it wants you to do two things:

  • Remove the links

  • Disavow the links

Removing bad links can often be pretty difficult; if an SEO firm your company used years ago placed these links, for instance, good luck figuring out how to get them removed!

As for “disavowing” the links — telling Google that you don’t want the links to be used when assessing your site rank — that’s much easier to do, but you should not do this unless you have found a Manual Action message, or if you are absolutely sure that you are being penalized for having bad links pointing to your site.

You may want to consider not using the Disavow Links tool if you get an Unnatural links to your site — impacts links message in the Manual Actions area; this means Google has found some bad links that it is going to ignore, but it won’t penalize your site.

If you decide to use the Disavow Links tool, follow these steps:

  1. Download all the links pointing to your website that Google has indexed.

    You can find this information by clicking the Search Traffic link in webmasters console, then clicking the Links to Your Site option.

  2. Review the downloaded file, then remove all the links that you dont want to disavow.

    The file now contains the list of links you want to disavow.

  3. Upload the edited file to Google.

Reconsideration requests

After you fix the problems, you can file a reconsideration request. There’s a link in the Manual Actions area of your webmaster account. You can state what happened and what you’ve done. Explain, for instance, if an SEO firm you used did some bad things, or if something you did may have been misinterpreted by Google.

Provide as much information as possible. If Google is complaining about links, even if you haven’t been able to get all the garbage links removed you should explain how much incredible effort you have put into getting them removed (right? … you know, you’ve tried over and over to get to the root of the problem and just can’t get them removed …).

Google provides a document and a video explaining what it wants you to do when submitting a reconsideration request, which you should definitely refer to before doing the request; explain what the problem was, what you’ve done to fix it, what the final result was, and then, be contrite!

Pyschological warfare?

It could be argued that there’s an element of psychological warfare going on in the area of links. Google’s representatives have stated that they do everything they can to avoid innocent websites being penalized for having bad links pointing to them, yet at the same time Google says that sites could be penalized for having bad links pointing to them.

Those two statements are hard to reconcile; if your competitor’s site can be penalized for bad links pointing to it, then can’t you just pay a firm a few hundred bucks to point the spammiest possible links at the site? Yes, says Google! … No, says Google!

It’s easy to think that Google is attempting to scare webmasters into two things. First, not creating spammy links pointing to their sites; second, telling Google where the spammy links are! If Google sends thousands of “bad link” messages to webmasters and encourages them to use the Disavow Links tool, and if thousands of webmasters send Google, via the Disavow Links tool, thousands of text files containing information about millions of bad links … that’s fantastic information for Google!

And the proof is in the pudding. Over the last few years, Google has become much better at identifying sites that are in the business of selling links. For years, by default, Google encouraged webmasters to buy links of various kinds, it encouraged the creation of spammy links. Creating spammy links worked, so an entire industry grew up to help websites rank well by creating garbage links. If your competitor was beating you in the search ranks by buying links … well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

Today, some of the action around links is more intended to scare you and elicit information about bad links than it is really related to a direct penalty. If you receive a Manual Action message about links, has a penalty really been applied? Or is Google just fishing for information? In some cases, it may be the latter.