There is something weird happening when I watch the movie “Escape from New York” by John Carpenter (1981): an impulse of rebellion that rises any time against injustices. Sometimes I feel alone against a post-apocalyptic black-hat world, and I feel like there are just a few people and a few strategies I can count on. At present, this condition is comparable to the circumstances which see good websites penalized by Google reviewers. At the same time though, I feel better, because I am aware that we all can change and make better what went wrong with our lives.
Now, I would like to focus on the topic of this article: how to fight to “re-establish peace” in your website when important search keywords do not seem to appear in the SERPs anymore. In this context you could be affected by a “manual penalty”: this means there are no algorithmic updates (Penguin/Panda etc.) and no automated intent to destroy your rankings. What happened then? Some Google guy watched your links and/or web-pages and said: “Well, here’s another unskilled guy playing smart and expert”.
Introduction: The basic scenario
The first time I met Keliweb CEO he talked about a previous SEO consultant who did not work so well: he just made some article spinning with strategic linked anchor texts. So I watched SEOPanel rankings report, and it looked as follows:
There was something strange in the fourth, fifth and sixth column in the first and last row (note: keyword are all hidden for privacy reasons): no positioning for Google (“-”), but a very good ranking for other search engines (Yahoo! and Bing as in the example). The fact that they got stuck for eight months, as I observed, made arise the strong suspect that something was going really bad for Matt Cutts and Co.
In general: you can suspect a manual penalty if you check your ranking in the last 6-8 months and analyze these situations into a SEO report. This means you are well ranked according to certain search engines but, at the same time, with no rankings at all for Google.
Phase 1: Hunting for bad backlinks
First step: open Webmaster Tools and monitor any traced back-link. This phase was very time-consuming because I looked unknown things made by others and just a few “natural” buildings. So I decided to make a clusterization of all back-links as follows:
Blog/articles quotations of the site (some of them were good, a lot of them were very bad);
Bookmarks (with some little exceptions they all seemed good);
“Just-for-fun” back-links as domain and “SEO analysis” tools (all bad for our purposes);
Partnership back-links (all good if real, i.e. “Abc Technology is exploited by Keliweb”);
Other minor back-links (not relevant for this analysis, i.e. from very recent websites)
Phase 2: building back-links from bookmarks and pertinent external websites
As soon as I ended the previous link analysis, I passed to increase good back-links (frequency: 6-8 per day, duration about two months), exploiting:
Hosting and IT (Information Technology) forums (first step, to build a reliable account and use it for the common asset of the community; second step, to promote your brand in a reasonable way);
A lot of fresh bookmarks (social news, social networks);
Pertinent guest blogs articles;
Some “article marketing” sites with high quality content (i.e., managed by colleagues and good old friends).
Phase 3: disavowing bad references and then contacting Google
In the end I found out what was completely wrong for the SEO target: looking at *.blogspot.it links, there was a bunch of articles replicated into several Blogger websites, all with identical anchors and exactly the same to the keywords which penalized us. This was what the previous SEO made for the agency, and we were still paying the price of it: i.e. Snake would say: “What’s that?” while Pipeline would answer: “Tsunami, Snake! Tsunami!” (Escape From New York, 1981).
Then I decided to use Google disavow tool against:
Back-links which were not useful for the users (excluding bookmarks i.e., Digg, Slashdot, etc.);
Back-links which were not related to the website content (articles, poor quality directories, random-comments with targeted anchor texts)
Finally I wrote an e-mail to Google explaining the scenario, including:
My presentation (“I am the new SEO consultant” etc);
An abstract about the “link analysis” we made for the site;
A sample of bad back-links (specifically almost all*.blogspot.it);
Some ideas about the problems cause (i.e., our old SEO made bad work);
I sent this e-mail to Google on January 31th and I received a reply on February 22nd.
Phase 4: reviewing on-page optimization
While waiting for Google reply, I took some time for reviewing the internal content of the main site. This, in my opinion, is often an underestimated target for the SEO actions, i.e. because we often limit ourselves to “adjust” titles and/or descriptions. Just remember a thing: meta-descriptions are not the SEO main objective for a simple reason: it is all related to Google technology.
They often like to generate descriptions by themselves, mixing at best:
Queries meaning (synonyms, etc.);
Content of pages matching query;
Meta-descriptions matching query.
So do not be too much obsessed with the last, but try to follow the guidelines I exploited for my company website:
Create very simple titles (they just need to describe a single page content);
Insert meta-descriptions with max. 1-2 sentences i.e., with something really endearing inside;
Review any products page rewriting clearly their content, or at least the most visited ones;
Avoid to report on any page title the website name unless you are in the home page; especially when it comes to blogs optimization this seems to be the best way to work, with just some little exception (not discussed here);
Make sure that your title does not even contain keyword stuffing (repeating n-times the same keyword is not SEO)
Phase 5: the final escape!
About 20 days from our disavow submission, during a sunny Friday I received some notifications from Google. It said: “we received your reconsideration request and finally approved it. The manual anti-spam intervention is revoked, and it might take some weeks before all results return into the ordinary rankings. Thank you for helping while improving search results.”
Breathe! This ended my fight to Google manual penalty, and I really hope you appreciate my little contribution to SEO knowledge. We should remember – while we still must write against article spinning and PageRank (TM) Compulsive Disorder – what said by Snake Plissken: “the more things change, the more they stay the same…”