A reconsideration request is the final step in the removal of a manual search penalty on your site. If you have received such a penalty, your life will be consumed by trying to remove that penalty until you are successful. Few things matter more to your online business.
The reconsideration request shouldn’t be taken lightly. Since this is the pinnacle of your labor, you need to ensure you take all the correct steps. I’ve created this document, because I want your reconsideration request to be successful.
First Things First
This article attempts to explain the final step in a manual penalty removal process — submitting the reconsideration request.
Here’s how a manual penalty process works:
- Receive a Google Webmaster Tools report that your site has received a manual penalty.
- Conduct an audit and remove (request and disavow) toxic links in order to comply with Google quality guidelines.
- Submit a reconsideration request to Google.
Step two is the most important. This is where you do the detailed and laborious work of removing the links. Without step two, there is no step three. This article is all about step three, once you’ve completed step two.
In order to get the best information on an audit process (step two), I recommend the following resources:
- Moz: Ultimate Guide to Google Penalty Removal
- Search Engine Journal: The Definitive Guide to Recovering From a Manual Search Penalty
- Search Engine Watch: Google Unnatural Links Manual Penalty: A Recovery Guide
Hang in there. This article is not for the faint of heart, but don’t worry — the reward for a successful reconsideration request is sweet indeed. So, here is a few things you need to know about sending a reconsideration requests.
1. Yes, you DO have to send a reconsideration request.
Let me deal with an obvious first point.
Do I really have to send a reconsideration request?
The answer is yes. I’ve seen several mistaken beliefs in response to receiving a reconsideration request. Here they are.
- “The penalty will just go away.” Some people believe that ignoring the problem is the best solution. The problem is, the penalty does not just “go away” (see possible exceptions below). You must deal with it.
- “We don’t depend on organic traffic. It will be okay.” Once your site is penalized, you’ll experience severe problems in all search engines, and your site may also negatively impact other linking sites due to vicarious toxic link damage. Besides, complete deindexing is possible. Maybe “organic traffic” isn’t the big slice in the “traffic source” pie chart, but it is significant. For the health and well being of your online business, you need to remove the penalty.
- “If we clean up some toxic links, the penalty will be lifted automatically.” Not true. Once Google puts you in the penalty box, you have to ask to get out. You can make your link profile as squeaky clean as you want, but until you inform Google, it doesn’t matter.
Bottom line: You must file a reconsideration request.
But, only send reconsideration requests for manual penalties.
The reconsideration request is intended for sites that have received manual penalties. If your site has not been penalized, there is no need to ask for reconsideration.
Sites are commonly affected by algorithmic penalties. Careful and consistent toxic link removal is advised, but you don’t need to worry about a reconsideration. Google will continue to index your site, taking note of the remediation, and rewarding you with a rise in ranking once more.
There is a possible exception: The so-called “penalty expiration.”
It is possible that a manual penalty can “expire,” and your site is somehow removed from the penalty list after a certain amount of time. This issue is discussed in detail at Search Engine Watch.
Matt Cutts hinted at penalty expiration in a video from February 2011, but it’s impossible to determine if such “expiration” is really a Google policy, or simply something that they were testing at the time.
Although penalty expiration or auto-revocation is a possibility, I advise against depending on this. First, penalty expiration may or may not be a fact. The algorithm has undergone massive changes since the video, and this could be a relic of past Google policy. Second, even if expiration is true, your site will probably remain penalized for longer than you wish it to be. The best course of action is to simply address the manual penalty with site therapy and then submit a penalty removal request.
Disclaimer: I have not personally witnessed a penalty expiration.
2. Wait to send a reconsideration request until after you’ve completely addressed all the issues.
The timing of a reconsideration request is important. There are two points I’d like to make here.
Do not send a reconsideration request right away.
When you receive a penalty, your immediate instinct is to say “Wait! No! Please!” and send a reconsideration. Don’t do this. Barry Schwartz dealt with this topic in a post earlier this year:
We know Google doesn’t like it when you submit a new reconsideration request a day or two after you get a rejection response from your reconsideration request. They want to see you put effort in after you get that response. So now, it seems Google is telling webmasters who get reconsideration request responses that they need to wait a “few weeks” before submitting a new one. If they don’t listen, Google will ignore their submissions.
If you fire off a reconsideration within the first few days, Google will not only ignore it; they will actually refuse to acknowledge future reconsiderations for a period of “a few weeks.” I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on the Google Webmaster forums, listening to the concerns of the reconsideration concerns of many webmasters. Here is a message from Google that continues to resurface. This Google message is also cited in the Schwartz article above.
Removing links takes time. Due to the large volume of requests we receive, and to give you a better chance of your next reconsideration request being successful, we won’t review another request from this site for a few weeks from now. We recommend that you take the necessary time to remove unnatural backlinks to your site, and then file another reconsideration request.
Wait “a few weeks.”
Based on the Google message above, I recommend that you wait “a few weeks” to submit your penalty. How long is “a few weeks?” If you want a number, hmm…I’ll suggest six weeks.
But there’s really no magic number. You simply need to take the time to deal with whatever amount of spammy links are affecting your site. The entire process takes a long time, assuming that you are being sufficiently thorough. Furthermore, you should allow a reasonable amount of time to elapse when you contact the webmasters of spammy sites for a removal request.
Six weeks isn’t a waste of time. It’s a built-in protection mechanism that essentially forces you to do a thorough job. Besides, you’d rather wait a couple of weeks and be safe, then hurry up and submit a reconsideration that will only delay you for several more weeks.
3. Use Google Spreadsheets.
The third essential ingredient in your reconsideration request is the use of Google spreadsheets.
Why is this important? Let me explain.
- Google wants to see data — clear and compelling evidence that proves your act is clean and your site is ready for showtime.
- In order to provide such data, you’ll need to use resources apart from the copy of your actual reconsideration request (e.g., spreadsheets, screenshots, etc.)
- The only links to such information that Google will trust are links to Google documents.
Matt Cutts, in a video surveying the elements of a reconsideration request, made this very point:
When you create your spreadsheet, make sure that you adjust your share settings to allow anyone to view it. Whoever views your reconsideration request at Google will probably want to see the data you’ve compiled to make your case. A locked document does no good.
4. Create detailed documentation of every action you’ve taken.
This point is the most important. I have provided a brief list of features that you should document and detail in your reconsideration request. I’ve created this list based on thorough research and real life experience.
The whole point of this massive effort is to show Google that you’ve done the hard work. A penalty demands penance. Most likely, the webspam team member is not going to click on every link, and examine every screenshot in your reconsideration request. But you still should put it there just to show him/her that you’ve spent serious time and effort to remove the penalty.
Here is how Cutts described it in a video (emphasis mine):
It’s almost as important to help Google understand that you’ve tried to correct things. Great documentation is extremely important for a reconsideration request. It’s indicative of the amount of effort that you’ve put in to clean up your site. Because the purpose of reconsideration request is to enable or reinstate trust for your site with Google, the more documentation you provide us, it’s easier for us to reconsider and see the progress you’ve made on your site.
So, here are the five components of documentation that I consider to be necessary. Remember, this documentation will be linked to from the reconsideration request and will be used as supporting evidence to back up the legitimacy of your request.
- Full link audit spreadsheet. Often, a webmaster begins his or her audit with a report generated by Link Research Tools or a similar auditing tool. Then, the webmaster conducts a series of operations and analysis on the spreadsheet. This entire spreadsheet should be transferred to Google Drive so you can link to it within the reconsideration request. The more columns, tabs, information, and data, the better.
- Complete documentation of webmaster contact process. I recommend you document the site name/URL, source link, destination link, quality of the link (e.g., DA level), anchor text, webmaster contact information, link to screenshot of sent email (including sent date information) or webform submission (prior to sending). Everything that’s even a little relevant should be include it in this document.
- Full disavowal list. Obviously you’ll need to create a disavow text document and upload it to Google in order to fully rid your site of all the spammy backlinks you could not get removed. Create a spreadsheet of this list and discuss this in your reconsideration request. Provide both the URL information, and the reason for disavowal, for example “no webmaster contact form,” or “webmaster did not respond nor remove link after 9 days, did not respond to an inquiry sent 8 days later, and did not respond to a third inquiry sent nine days later.” Include the date of your disavow.txt submission, too.
- All suspicious activity conducted by an in-house SEO or outside SEO agency. This element, often overlooked in a reconsideration request, is a helpful point to have for your own reference and for Google’s reference. If you’ve worked with an agency, you need to find out exactly what they did. They are potentially culpable for your receiving a penalty. I recommend screenshots of email exchanges with SEO agencies, list of services rendered, and receipts for services provided in order to show Google, “Yeah, we screwed up, and here’s what they did.” There’s no need for vengeance on your estranged SEO agency, but if you happen to share their contact information in such document, so be it.
- Anything else you want. You could go a lot farther, documenting nearly every action, click, email, and information you experience over the course of the reconsideration saga. That’s fine. Be organized, be thorough, and provide as much data as you want. More will not hurt.
5. Create a letter surveying everything you’ve done. Provide links to every Drive document.
Now, you’re ready to craft the letter to Google. This is not data compilation. This is action explanation. You’ve assembled all the information, and now you’re ready to explain everything to Google.
The Gryffin/Backlinko infographic sums up the main ingredients of such a letter:
A lot of reconsideration advice explains how you should grovel, do penance, speak words of kindness, be hard on yourself, etc. I understand the intent behind the admonitions for such catharsis.
The fact is, it’s unlikely that Google will sustain your penalty just because they are disgruntled over your tone, or want to hear you shout “uncle” a little louder. In order to remove the penalty, what they want to see is that you’ve completely cleaned up your site. They’re attacking spam, not bad attitudes.
Based on my viewing all the Matt Cutts videos, trolling the webmaster forums, and reading more articles on topic than I scarcely thought was possible, here are the two big picture elements that need to be present in your reconsideration request:
“We stopped doing bad stuff.”
In this section, you want to make a strong case that proves you have pulled the plug on all suspicious activity, and that you are absolutely not in violation of any webmaster guidelines. Pile up proof upon proof to make this point:
- Proof: Link to a spreadsheet of actions taken on site: Removing the sneaky redirect (link to a screenshot), nofollowing suspicious links (link to a screenshot)., etc.
- Proof: Link to document that contains the copy of an email stating the discontinuation of your services with SEO agency.
- Proof: Link to spreadsheet that documents removal requests to webmasters.
- Proof: Link to spreadsheet that contains a full link audit record.
“We have taken action to make sure we will never do this again.”
In this section, talk about your ongoing efforts to prevent such spam actions from ever taking place again. Your goal is to convince Google, with data and documents included, that there is no possibility you’re going to commit a violation again.
- Proof: Link to Google Drive upload of the PowerPoint deck you created to teach your in-house SEO team about possible SEO violations.
- Proof: Discuss the creation of a “SEO Compliance” position in your company, appointing a person responsible for reviewing all SEO practices, and insisting upon adherence to the webmaster guidelines. Link to the Google+ profile of this person, if applicable.
- Proof: Share your requirement that all team members read the Google Webmaster guidelines while on the clock.
You may be looking for a form letter that you can copy and paste. I haven’t provided one. The reason why is because I think such form letters are easy to spot, and easier still to reject on account of their formulaic nature. Google employees can see through things like that. Focus on the two elements I traced out above, and you’ll be fine.
6. Send your letter.
It’s now time to submit the reconsideration request. This is the moment when all your labor is given to the decision-making power.
Go to Google Webmaster Tools → Search Traffic → Manual Actions.
7. Be patient.
Once you’ve submitted a reconsideration request, there is nothing much you can do. Here’s how the process might go:
Look for an automatic confirmation in Google Webmaster Tools.
Customarily, Google will provide a notice in GWT that they’ve received your request.
Expect to wait around one month for a response to your reconsideration request.
In my experience, you can expect to receive a response from Google within thirty days. I’ve seen turnarounds happen in two weeks, and I’ve seen it take around two months. It probably just depends on the workload of Google webspam team members.
The webspam team manually deals with 20,000 reconsideration requests each month. There’s a chance that your request will take a while.
The response will provide either a yes or no on whether your reconsideration was successful.
If the reconsideration request is approved, then your site is free and clear. No penalty remains, and you breathe a huge sigh of relief. If, on the other hand, your reconsideration comes back with further issues, you’ll have to start at square one and go through the process again. In many of the cases that I’ve worked on, the removal request is not honored the first time. It takes a second, and often a third attempt before Google will remove the penalty.
I can’t guarantee your removal request is going to be successful. I do know, however, that following the steps I’ve outlined above will give you a very strong chance at a home run of a reconsideration.
What have you found to be important elements in a reconsideration request?
Featured Image: docstockmedia via Shutterstock
Screenshots: Taken June 2014