The past two years have seen vast changes in the SEO industry. The changes, though mostly positive, included the aggressive activation of Google penalties, whether algorithmic or manual. As a result, numerous websites ended up with a manual penalty or worse, an algorithmic penalty or a filter. Unlike algorithmic penalties when we’re at the mercy of Google’s algorithm refresh mechanism, manual penalties can at least be revoked following a lengthy process of correction that culminates in a reconsideration request. Or can they?
Before we closely examine the necessity of this thorough procedure using real life examples, I’d like to address a few key terms to ensure we’re all on the same page.
- Can be manual or algorithmic
- Can be time limited or not
- Can sometimes be removed by filing for reconsideration
- Solely algorithmic
- Most common (I estimate most website owners aren’t aware they’re dealing with a filter)
- Cannot be removed by filing for reconsideration
- An extreme measure against heavy spammers
- Often irrevocable, best to desert site
Many people confuse a Penguin penalty with a Penguin filter, for instance. The difference there is that a website that receives a Penguin penalty will likely experience decreased rankings in numerous keywords and drop dozens of page rankings – something any site would struggle with. Conversely, if a site is faced with a Penguin filter, it will experience a mild decrease in rankings, generally single digits, and only for select keywords. Banning, on the other hand, is an extreme measure not taken lightly by Google. Personally, I haven’t heard of many websites that were banned altogether from search results, unless they were using explicit black hat methods and other practices that blatantly violate Google’s guidelines. Other notorious past penalties are the Sandbox and -950.
Typically, filters are applied in instances where duplicate content, slow loading time and inappropriate use of tags are found. If you’re interested in learning more about filters, refer to the full list in an old-but-great post written by Barry Schwartz.
We can only hope to remove algorithmic penalties and filters once we’ve resolved the problem and an algorithm refresh takes place. I’d like to focus on manual penalties since so much has been written about tweaking an optimal procedure that will successfully remove it. We’ve seen everyone weigh in on the topic, from superficial articles to thorough, professional guides offering a step-by-step manual to handling a manual penalty efficiently.
A number of years ago, seeing the penalty removal business flourish, I too saw the value in learning the ropes. I started to delve into the subject and after months of research and consultation with experts worldwide managed to formulate an efficient method for manual penalty removal that has enjoyed very high success rates. The system is tedious and mostly manual, but it pays off eventually. We have yet to file more than three reconsideration requests for clients before removing a manual penalty, and we’ve handled over 120 cases so far.
Is Active Link Removal Necessary?
There is one case I’d like to use as an example here, since its journey to penalty removal was unique and somewhat strange – making me question the necessity for the strict guidelines Google set forth for penalty removal.
It all started when a new client approached us about removing a manual penalty. With 15 years experience and 12 years online, his company was well established and enjoyed a positive reputation. This company collaborated with NASA, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and other large organizations, leaving no room for doubt: we were dealing with a legitimate and honorable company.
After carefully inspecting the client’s website and link profile, examining a his link profile, the link profiles of the sites that linked to the client’s website, and of course analyzing the competitors, we concluded that were weren’t dealing with an overly complicated case. The website had thousands of incoming links from thousands of different domains, some high quality and some of lesser quality as expected for a website that’s been around for more than a decade. The bad links were weeded out and found not to comprise a high percentage of the overall links, making us even more confident of being able to remove this client’s penalty relatively swiftly.
The first things we did after the research outlined above, was map the existing incoming links using all available sources: Google Webmaster Tools, MajesticSEO, Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, and Yandex Webmaster Tools. Secondly, we ran all the links through two systems to ensure they were all live. All the links that were marked as non-existent (404 errors, link not found, site is down etc.) were tagged and forwarded for manual inspection by our team, to ensure they were in fact gone. In our experience, sometimes live links and live pages can be marked as non-existent due to heavy traffic, server issues, time-out responses, and other problems. To be thorough, we always conduct a manual verification.
We opened a Google Docs file and copied the links. The reason we managed this using Google Docs instead of MS Excel, for example, is outlined in this video by Matt Cutts. Then, it was time for the longest and most rigorous phase – manually sorting the links. We sorted through all the links, deciding which to keep and which to remove. For every link we decided to remove, we wrote a reason and tagged it in red.
Our team manually pulled the contact details of the website owners using three different methods:
1) Listed on the page itself
2) Using WhoIs