A publisher asked a series of questions about how Google handles manual penalties. The answers by Google’s John Mueller offered a peek into a secretive part of Google.
When I lived in San Francisco, I was invited to the Googleplex to meet the spam fighting department and have a tour around the campus. I was a moderator at the most popular SEO forum in the world at the time (WebmasterWorld) and I guess that’s why I was invited for a visit to Google’s main campus.
I was surprised by how small the spam fighting office was and how cramped the handful of workers were in that little office. The office computers and desks seemed to be organized back to back against each other.
The reality of Google’s spam department was a lot different than what I had imagined it.
I don’t know how Google’s offices are nowadays but the takeaway I got from that day I spent at Google is that how we perceive Google might not line up with the reality inside Google.
So it was pleasant to hear Mueller graciously answer a variety of questions pertaining to how Google’s manual review department handles reconsideration requests. His answers reminded me of that day when I was given a sneak peek behind the scenes.
How Google Handles Reconsideration Requests
The first question the publisher asked was about how much time the Googler’s spend analyzing each reconsideration request.
“Because these are manual reviews, we can spend a little bit more time but it’s also the web is big and we have a limited time so what usually happens is someone will look at the bigger picture of the website and try to determine if there’s really a strong pattern of unnatural issues here which could be all kinds of things.
With links it’s always a bit tricky. That’s something where the manual reviewer has to double-check a little bit more and see, is this something that probably the website did by themselves, or is this something maybe a competitor did or someone is trying to harm them… by doing these links.
And if we can recognize that it’s not in their control we’ll try to find a way to just ignore those links.
But they do spend a little bit more time to look at the website as well.”
That’s very interesting. There are important takeaways.
The manual reviewer isn’t looking at just the one issues but trying to understand what kind of site they are reviewing. Is it a spammy site that’s going to go back to spamming or is it a legit business that maybe got spammed by someone they hired.
In the early days of search, I used to be able to email directly with people at Google and Yahoo about sites with penalties. One thing that stood out was that they wanted everything about a site to be squeaky clean. Even something like a hyphen in a domain name could be cause for a raised eyebrow and maybe a gently sarcastic comment about site quality.
John Mueller’s comment seems to indicate that the scrutiny of the entire site continues. This is something I always emphasize to clients who are dealing with a reconsideration request, to not limit their focus to fixing just the one issue but to focus on all issues, even those not specifically targeted for the manual action.
What is the Size of Google’s Manual Review Team?
The next question sought to get an idea of how big the manual reviewer team is.
Here’s the question:
“Do you have multiple teams in multiple languages or just one big team in the US?”
John Mueller’s answer:
“We do have multiple people in multiple locations for multiple languages… just because sometimes websites are hard to understand in different languages and just looking at kind of the number of links makes it really hard to determine is this kind of unnatural or is this just… maybe one language that they don’t speak and all of the links look like this because that’s a very common word… I don’t know.
So that’s something where we do have multiple teams in different locations that on the one hand that makes it a little bit fairer with regard to international websites.
But that also means for some languages in some locations we might not have as many people as for other locations. So that sometimes slows things down with the reconsideration requests.”
Myth About Reconsideration Request Speed
The next question is about something I’d never heard of. It’s apparently the idea that if you respond too fast to a link penalty manual action that the reconsideration request will be viewed with suspicion as if perhaps not enough was done.
The publisher asked if how fast a publisher responds to a manual action makes a difference, as he was told to not respond too fast.
“No. That’s something where if we send the manual action and you fix it within half an hour that’s fine.
I think, especially with links it’s more important that you really clean up the bigger picture and sometimes that does take a bit more time.
But there are different issues which you can just fix if you have a plugin on your website that causes the problem then you can just remove that plugin and suddenly everything is fixed.”
Are there Priority Queues for Reconsideration Requests?
John Mueller’s answer:
“No. I don’t think so.”
Second Looks at Websites
This question is about whether manual reviewers ever return to take a second look at a site after it’s been reviewed.
“Does the team voluntarily wait a longer time before taking another look at the website?”
The one thing that can happen is, if we see that a website goes back and forth then that’s something where the web spam team will say okay you’re just wasting our time.
Like, if you fix the problem, do the reconsideration request and then a couple weeks later you have the same problem again then like a little back and forth and the web spam team will say okay, we will take a look in a couple of months when you decided what you want to do.”
Are Second Looks Scheduled?
The publisher then asked if Google scheduled websites for follow up reviews after they’ve been cleared of a manual action.
No. If it’s fixed it’s fixed. There’s nothing that hangs around.
That was a pretty good series of questions. I kept expecting John Mueller to say okay that’s enough but he kept answering the questions. At one point the publisher apologized for asking so many questions but Mueller responded that it was okay because he understood how the publisher must feel.
You can watch the questions and answers here. It’s a long series of questioning and is interesting to watch!