What To Do After Getting Hit With a Google Manual Slap
There is nothing worse than waking up, opening up your favorite rank tracking program, and seeing your rankings crash and burn. Seeing previous top three positions showing as N/A is the worst feeling in the world. Then, you open up Google Webmaster Tools and see the dreaded message, alerting you that Google has assigned a manual penalty to your website.
You are fucked. Your traffic disappears overnight and you are left in panic mode. People always say, “Oh, just stay calm and figure out a plan to remove the penalty.” Yeah, that’s easy for someone else to say, but the person that just got fucked by Google has just lost everything. No rankings means no traffic. No traffic means no sales. No sales means no revenue. No revenue means you better figure shit out FAST.
Manual penalties are handed down by the thousand every week by an internal team. They have an entire manual team that responds to requests submitted to them (basically tips from competitors that are too big of pussies to try to outrank) and also uncovers offenders after discovering a link network or one of the many “private” (I am saying this with a heavy dose of sarcasm) blog networks out there.
You have to remember one thing about manual penalties: they are given out by real human beings. There isn’t some algorithm that flags your website and then you get slapped. Someone is manually looking at your link profile and poking around on your website before they drop the hammer. Because of this, I would say that 99.9999999% of manual penalties are justified. They aren’t just dishing them out to mess with you. You violated their guidelines and they are taking action. It’s as black and white as that.
So, when they slap your website you can be certain that they have very detailed notes on files as to why they assigned a manual penalty. They keep a record of why it was assigned and what date it was assigned. There is no avoiding the fact that removing the penalty will take time. It isn’t going to go away overnight, and I will explain WHY in a moment. But first…
YOU MUST HAVE MULTIPLE SOURCES OF TRAFFIC!
Read that again.. and then again. Engrave this in your mind, because if you don’t have other sources of traffic and you get hit with a manual penalty.. it’s game over. You aren’t going to recover anytime soon. This is why you need to master social media, PPC, guest blogging, etc. Have as many traffic sources as possible!
..ok, now back to WHY you will never get a manual penalty removed quickly. If you immediately submit a reconsider request they will look at the date it was assigned and deny it, because they know there is no way you could have performed what was necessary to fix the issue.
Most of the time a manual penalty is tied to link schemes. Cleaning up a link profile is a very time consuming and tedious task. Trust me, Google is very aware of this. You have to first completely audit your link profile, attempt to get websites to remove the bad links, and then submit the rest in a disavow file.
Warning: DO NOT just load up all the bad links into a disavow file and submit a reconsider request. This makes you look so guilty and Google is very unlikely to just remove the penalty under this situation.
The manual penalty team wants to see you sweat. They want to see you work your ass off to try to fix the situation. They aren’t going to hand you a removal on a silver platter without you putting in the work. I have no proof to back my thinking, but I would be willing to bet that any time a reconsideration request is submitted right after a penalty is handed out that Google notates the file, making it even more difficult in the future to ever get that penalty lifted.
TL;DR: if you are too lazy to put in work, just scrap the site and start over. After a manual slap it’s going to take a lot of work and even then there is no guarantee the penalty will ever be lifted.
Steps to Take to Remove a Google Manual Slap
Anyone can do this. You don’t need to hire an agency IF you have the time to dedicate to do it right. Most people don’t have the time to do it and the reason that agencies charge thousands of dollars (with no success guarantee) is because it takes time. It takes a lot of time, actually. If a website has 10,000 links in their profile and thousands of internal pages think of how much manual work that is to go through everything with a magnifying glass.
Determine WHY your website was slapped
The most common manual penalties involve:
- Unnatural links
- Thin content
- Keyword stuffing
Now, if you get a message alerting you that you were penalized for something other than unnatural links your “clean up” will be much easier.
If you got hit for thin content you need to delete all of your content and replace it with high quality content. Invest the money in a quality copywriter to re-write your page copy and then find someone to re-do your blog content. As you replace each page, make sure Google crawls it and monitor it in your Google Webmaster Tools dashboard to see if they naturally re-index. After you re-do your content on the entire site submit a reconsideration request.
If you got nailed for redirects and doorway pages just remove them. If you are doing this you probably don’t have a need for a website that follows Google’s guidelines, so there is a good chance you will just move onto a new domain in this situation.
A keyword stuffing related slap requires you to re-write your content again and follow the same steps as a thin content penalty.
Unnatural links are the cause of most manual slaps, so keep reading if this common manual action applies to you…
Download your entire link profile from multiple sources
Before you even think of figuring out what the offending links are, you need to gather the largest data supply of backlinks pointing to your website. I would suggest using the following tools:
These will pull a lot of duplicates, but you will also uncover a lot more links by running reports with all four, as some will turn up links the others do not. This part requires no manual work, as you simply enter your URL into the tools and let them extract the data. Save the data in Excel CSV files.
Remove duplicates and create one master file to work from
Now that you have four Excel files, turn them into one. Just copy and paste three of them into one that you chose. This will put all of the data into one file to work from. Now, sort the data A-Z so it is all in order.
Copy the file so you maintain the original incase there is a mistake made and you need to start over. Then, follow these steps:
- Click on the “Data” tab in the toolbar.
- Select the column that you want to check for duplicates. Click on the number or letter at the top or side of the column to select the entire column.
- Click the “Remove duplicates” button in the data toolbar.
- Find how many duplicates are in your selected cells. Click the “Remove Duplicates” button at the bottom, if the program has found duplicate as well as unique values.
- Save the modified file.
Now you have a list of every link to your website that these tools found. Remember, no tool will uncover every single link, so there will always be some that aren’t located using this method.
Identify all low quality links
This is where you are going to need to use a little common sense paired with some SEO knowledge. Do not base your evaluation on domain metrics, because those can easily be manipulated and they don’t tell the whole story.
You are going to have to manually visit each URL that has a link to your website if you really want to do it right. Also, this Excel worksheet that you are using will serve as proof to Google that you attempted a valid clean up effort, so be ready to be very organized.
After you visit each URL you are going to want to assign it either:
- Quality link (keeping it)
- Spammy link (request removal)
I just highlight the good links in green and the bad ones I will be attempting to remove in red. Go through your entire spreadsheet and assign red or green to every single URL. Take shortcuts when you can. For example, if you have 50 links from Forbes.com you know they are all good, so just highlight that entire block green and move on. Use common sense when you can. It will help save you time.
Start manual outreach removal requests
This is where the process gets tedious and time consuming. You literally have to manually identify a way to contact the website owner of every site that is pointing a spammy link to your website.
You can look for an email address listed on the site’s contact page, a contact form, or an email address from a ‘who is’ reverse search. Some will be easy, but some will be near impossible. A rule of thumb: the spammier a website the harder it will be to contact the person that owns it.
Keep it short and sweet. You are more likely to get a positive reply and outcome if you are honest. Don’t lie and don’t throw out threats. Something simple like:
“Hey, there is a link to my site here (include URL). Would you mind removing that for me? Thanks!”
If they reply and do remove the link, change the color to something else that signifies that it was removed via outreach. If you don’t hear from them change the color to something that signifies an ignored request. Document it all, as this will play a big role when it comes to a reconsideration request.
Wait 30-60 days and perform outreach round #2
After the first round you will see some removals and a lot of ignored requests. Send another request, but this time mention this is a follow up. A lot of people will ignore you the first time but not on purpose. They get busy and simply forget. Including a note that it’s your second attempt to contact them will see more deletions.
I usually wait at least 30 days to give them some time. There is no rush, because you want to wait at least 60-90 days from a manual penalty before you submit a reconsideration request. You want Google to think you spent a few long months really working on fixing the problem. There is no quick fix solution with this.
Disavow remaining links
After you go through two rounds you should have a very detailed Excel spreadsheet with three remaining colors: one for links that are high quality and you left alone, one for the links that were deleted at your request, and a final color for those links that remain because your deletion request was ignored.
Take all the bad links that remain and upload them into a disavow file. If you don’t know how to create the file, read this here. Upload this and then wait 5-7 business days before moving onto the final step below.
Submit reconsideration request
After you submit the disavow file you will want to return to your Google Webmaster Tools dashboard and go back to the penalty message. You will want to click on ‘Request a review’ and tell Google why the penalty should be removed.
You never want to admit to anything. Don’t say things like, “I learned my lesson and won’t use black hat links again.” Never say anything like that. Keep it short and simple. Something like:
“Please see the attached spreadsheet. You will see the action we took to have all of the low quality links manually removed. We attempted to contact website owners multiple times. The requests that were ignored are marked, and those links were submitted as a disavow file on (date). Our website now complies with Google’s quality guidelines.”
Then you sit back and wait. There is nothing you can do but wait at this point. I have seen penalties lifted with minimal work done and I have seen penalties stick after removing thousands of bad links.
Your results may vary, but if you do want to attempt it, use the tips listed here to improve your chances of getting the Google slap removed.
You have three choices if you get slapped with a Google manual penalty:
- Accept defeat, let the domain die and flip your effort to a brand new domain and start again.
- Pay an agency thousands of dollars to attempt to get the penalty removed.
- Roll up your sleeves and be prepared to do a lot of manual work in hope that you are rewarded with a lifted penalty.
No matter how you look at it, there isn’t an easy solution.
If you have any specific questions about attempting to remove a manual penalty drop them below in the comments. I will do my best to answer your questions and help you any way I can.