It’s often the worst nightmare for a webmaster: the dreaded email from Google via search console that informs of a manual action being taken against the website, which is likely to mean that your Google rankings are about to decrease.
At BrightonSEO, I attended a talk about Google penalties by Kaspar Szymanski, who used to work within the web spam team at Google. Kaspar spoke at length about the different types of manual actions that are applied against websites and the reasons behind them.
This type of manual action tends to relate to thin (which is generally considered by Google to be spammy) or low quality content such as doorway pages. Historically this was part of Google’s Panda algorithm, which was introduced by Google back in 2011. In 2016, Google announced that Panda was being incorporated into it’s core algorithm, rather than one off updates.
Usually, the penalty that comes with this action doesn’t mean your site will be completely removed from the search results, it just means that your site is less likely to be visible.
Removing this action will require a thorough review of your website and your content. Once this has been completed, a reconsideration request can be submitted to Google for your site to be reviewed by a member of their web spam team.
2) User Generated Spam
This type of action tends to relate to large community websites, such as blogs or forums, where the comments function is being exploited to add links en masse to other websites or other black hat tactics.
There are a number of ways that you can resolve this before submitting a reconsideration request to Google. This includes making sure your software is running the latest version and you’ve downloaded any recent security patch updates, keeping your forum or blog well moderated and limiting your users ability to link off to other websites.
3) Hacked Content Spam
You’d expect to see this manual action if your website has been compromised by hackers, where malicious code has been injected into the site. It is usually something that is associated with open source software, especially if themes / software / plugins haven’t been kept up to date.
This can not only be a time consuming exercise to fix, including having to possibly re-install your website from a backup, but it also has additional complications. This could be that your website being shown in the search results as being hacked, which in turn is likely lower your click through rate as visitors are unlikely to click on a result that has been hacked.
Once the malicious code has been cleared from your website, the site must be submitted to Google via search console for a reconsideration request.
4) Incorrect Structured Data
Many webmasters are huge fans of structured data. It is an increasingly popular way to jazz up your organic search results and make yourself stand out from the crowd. Whilst having this is an amazing way to increase your SERP click through rates, if not implemented correctly it can result in Google giving the site a manual action. This will need to be cleaned up and submitted to Google for a reconsideration request. A good tool to use to check your structured data markup is https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/
5) Unnatural Inbound Links
This is by far, one of the most common manual actions given out by Google. This is where Google has deemed the links coming back to your site as unnatural. Often seen as one of the most severe penalties Google gives out, this particular penalty requires a lot of work to resolve, especially if the inbound links are being automatically generated and are continually growing. Often, even changing your domain name won’t help as Google may then apply the same penalty to your new website.
The best way of managing this kind of action, is to run a backlink audit, using tools such as HREFS, SEO SpyGlass or Majestic, which will then give you a list of all the links coming to your site. In the first instance, it is advisable (if possible) to get in touch with the webmasters directly to request for the link to be removed. If this isn’t possible, then a disavow file would need to be submitted to Google in your reconsideration request.
Historically part of the Penguin algorithm, which was first released by Google in 2012, in 2016, Google announced that there would be no further updates to the Penguin algorithm (after 4.0) and that this would become part of the core algorithm.
What else can you do if you receive one of these messages?
If you’ve got a technical understanding of Google algorithms and understand the reason why you’ve had the manual action applied to your site, then you’d be able to self manage, however, these manual actions are often incredibly complex and require an experienced SEO specialist to thoroughly investigate and diagnose the exact cause of the action.If you’ve had one of these emails from Google, which has resulted in a drop off in rankings and organic traffic, please get in touch and we can work with you to get your site back to where it should be.