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Understanding Google’s “Manual Actions” and How to Deal with Them

Marcel Casella April 19, 2019

Getting a manual action notice from Google can be stressful and disheartening. Yet, as the company updates its algorithms and guidelines, it is not unreasonable to think that you might have to deal with one eventually.

Especially if you are always trying new strategies to give an edge to your site exposure-wise.

Whether you understand why you are being penalized or not makes little difference. Once you receive a manual action notice, the fact is your site’s traffic is going to plummet down like a rock until you address it.

Today, you are going to learn the basics of how Google’s manual actions work, and how you should proceed if/when you get one.

The Importance of Google Search Console

Google Search Console (GSC) is one of Google’s most helpful services and a definitive must-have for anyone managing a website. That said, it’s frankly baffling the number of site admins – particularly those without professional assistance – who neglect setting up one.

Providing so many incredibly useful features for site admins and webmasters at the affordable price of free, that there’s really no excuse not to set one up.

However, if its assortment of utilities isn’t reason enough to get you using GSC, here’s one that should do the trick: GSC is the only way to see the messages sent by Google indicating that a manual action has been applied to your site.

Maybe even more importantly, GSC is the only medium to get them removed!

Having made that clear, it’s time to move to the meat of this piece.

Manual Actions? What They Are, and Why They Matter

Put simply, manual actions are Google’s way of penalizing sites – from specific webpages to entire websites – where they find undesirable behavior.

Spammy strategies, artificially generated links, and senseless content, are just some of the attributes Google is keen to find and quick to punish. Manual actions, then, are penalties by Google against objectionable content and practices.

Why should you care? Because they represent the eye of Sauron gazing directly upon your site and finding it wanting!

Once Google issues a manual action upon your website – whether partly or in its entirety – it will lead to a decline in your SERP rankings.

Put simply, sites under manual actions by Google will see their traffic (more often than not) severely affected.

Types of Google’s Manual Actions (Quick Reference Guide)

As mentioned above, Google is continuously updating its policies and requirements. But as it stands now, the following is an overview of the different attributes and practices google penalizes with manual actions:

  • Thin Content: Often found in low-quality or shallow pages that add little or no value to viewers. Fixes involve removing such instances.
  • Hidden text and keyword stuffing: Found in pages engaging in any of those practices. Fixes involve auditing your site and removing hidden text and stuffed keywords.
  • Structured Markup Spam: Often found in markup content invisible to users. Fixes involve removing or updating markups that violate Google’s rich snippets guidelines.
  • User-generated Spam: Often found in comment sections, forums, and user profiles/names. Fixing these usually requires deleting all the spammy content.
  • Spam-filled “Free” hosting services: Often found in hosting services claiming free hosting, and stuffing your site with spam ads. Fix usually involves migrating your website to a different hosting.
  • Spam: Often found in pages engaging in spam techniques like cloaking, scraped content, etc. Fixes involve removing spam content and complying with Google’s webmaster guidelines.
  • Unnatural links to and from your site(s): Often a result from buying links or participating in link schemes. Fixes involve link auditing, removing, or disavowing unwanted links.
  • Cloaking and Sneaky redirects: Often found on discrepancies between your site’s navigation. Fixes involve finding and removing all redirects sending users to unexpected destinations.
  • Cloaked images: Often found in images obscured by other images, different from the image served, or redirecting users away from the image. Fixes involve consistency between your images and the ones presented to google.
  • AMP content mismatch: Often found in discrepancies between accelerated mobile pages and its official version. Fixes involve rewriting the content to consistently match topics of both.

 

Addressing Your Manual Actions – Step by Step Overview

Now that you understand what manual actions are, how they work, and have a list of things that lead to them, it’s time to fix them. While their origins and fixes vary, every time you need to address a manual action on your site, you’ll go over a handful of steps.

Here they are.

Step 0 –Sample Lists and Reconsideration Request

Alongside your manual action notice on your GSC, Google will also send a description of your issue(s), and a sample list. This list contains the URLs of pages where the manual action was applied.

It’s important to note that this sample list is exactly that, a sample list. Meaning that whatever fix you need to apply should not be limited to the pages in the list only! You need to scour the rest of your site for all similar violations and address them accordingly.

Otherwise, it is very unlikely that your reconsideration request will go through.

Step 1 – Diagnose

The first step to diagnose the issue that resulted in your site getting a manual action lies in Google’s notification. That email should contain a description of the problem and a sample list (as mentioned above).

Often, this message should be enough to give you a clear picture of the problem, which should suggest how to address it. When that isn’t the case or the task proves to be too big, you can contact an SEO firm to audit your site, and develop a penalty-recovery strategy.

Do also keep in mind that each time one of your reconsideration requests is rejected, the next one will take longer to get reviewed. So, it’s hugely encouraged to make absolutely sure you fixed all instances of the issue the first time around.

Otherwise, you risk to prolong your site’s banishment and impact your organic traffic for an even longer timeframe.

Step 2 – Do The Repairs

Once you know what’s wrong, you can go around your site finding all the instances it occurs and fixing it.

Sample URLs are a great place to start. Once those are taken care of, you can move to other areas of your website and make sure they don’t have the same issue. As you apply these fixes, it’s also a good idea to look for other elements that might warrant a manual action and eliminate them too.

When you send a reconsideration request, Google does a manual audit of your site’s pages. Last thing you want is for them to find even more reasons to keep your site out of view.

Step 3 – Double check!

After you are done applying the fixes for the manual action on your site, it’s advisable to double check.

That means going over the fixes you applied, and making certain instances of those issues don’t appear on other parts of your website. As mentioned above, reconsideration requests are increasingly difficult to get, and you want to go through it only once.

Step 4 – Sending a Request

Once the fixes on your site are completed and have been double checked, it’s time to send your reconsideration request.

You do it from your GSC account, and the option only shows if you have a manual action on your site. There, you can upload a .txt file with your request.

Now, what you say in this request is extremely important. You need to convince Google that you are aware of the issues, have taken measures to fix them, and ensure they won’t happen once more.

Here are some pointers that might help you accomplish this:

  • Be apologetic: manual actions occur when your site breaches Google’s quality guidelines. Owning that you did wrong and stating that you’ll prevent it from happening again goes a long way.
  • Outline the issue: It’s useful to state the problem your site had to demonstrate you are fully aware of the problem. Which is a prerequisite to fixing it.
  • Outline how you fixed the issue: Providing a bit of detail on how you addressed these problems also helps show you already took care of them.
  • Apologize: A sincere apology always shows that whatever you did wrong, was not intentional.
  • Mention other relevant information: For example, if you hire an SEO firm to help you solve your site’s problem, mentioning you did so could also help your case. As it suggests some professionals already verified your site’s viability and good standing.
  • Proofread: Yes! Having a well-redacted, comprehensible file can make all the difference.
  • Wait: Once you submit your request, avoid resubmitting until Google contacts you in your GSC email.

 

Recovery Might Take Time, Be Patient

To verify if your manual action was adjusted or revoked, you can go to the “manual action viewer” in your GSC. If you see a “No issues detected” message, it means your manual action has been taken care of. If not, go back to your manual action viewer and see if new URLs have been added to the list. Fix and repeat.

Eventually, after solving all the issues, you’ll see that “No issues detected” message, but that doesn’t mean you are entirely out of the woods yet.

Some manual actions penalties go away quickly after resolved. For others, your site’s metrics can waver for weeks or even months before bouncing back up.

It’s important to give Google time to re-crawl your site and rank it once more. If you stick to the process, your website will eventually go back to normal.

If you are having problems getting on the good side of Google, or are wondering if your site might have some potential issues, you can always contact our team.

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