You’ve been naughty and paid for a couple of sneaky links behind Google’s back. Google found out and kicked you out – now you’re sorry and want it back in your life. What can you do to show it you’re sorry?
Though Google may have been something of an old battle-ax lately with Panda and Penguin, it actually has a heart and wants to see you back in its arms sooner rather than later.
Which is why, last week, Google Search Quality representatives Kaspar Szymanski and Uli Lutz co-authored a brand new blog explaining what site owners can do if their site has been subjected to a Google penalty.
What’s a Google penalty?
Ranking highly for a certain search term and have more-or-less dropped off Google completely? Then you’re likely to have picked up a Google penalty which can either be manually sanctioned by the search giant or be dished out as part of its algorithm changes.
If you’ve picked up a penalty then it’s likely because Google feels your site has broken its quality guidelines and made you less visible in its SERPs as punishment. Indulged in a bit of paid, unnatural link building? No ifs or buts – penalty, whether it be an algorithmic or manual one.
It’s the equivalent of going to jail in Monopoly without passing go. The get out of jail free card? Cleaning up your act, your links, and letting Google know that you’re on the right path.
Step 1 – Managing your link portfolio
One of the causes for Google dishing out penalties if it feels that, through unnatural link building, your site is trying to spam its way to the top of SERPs.
So, contact the relavent webmasters to try to get those links removed, or put a ‘nofollow’ on them or request that they are removed completely from your backlink profile through the Disavow Tool in Webmaster tools.
Spent hundreds, even thousands on paid links? Tough. They’ll have to go if you want to get back into Google’s good graces.
If you feel it’s been a genuine mistake though then Google’s blog advises that you download a list of the links pointing to your site through Webmaster Tools and highlighting any that could be classed as spam (links on poor blog comments, site wide links, forum links and more).
Step 2 – Ready a Reconsideration Request
Site owners that have been hit with a penalty can write to Google to let them know that changes have been made by submitting a Reconsideration Request.
Before you prepare one, though, you’ll have to go through Google’s guidelines with a fine comb to make sure your site doesn’t violate their terms any longer.
Reconsideration Requests are typically reserved for those that have been subject to a manual penalty, not for sites that have been hit by an algorithmic change (though site owners can still submit a request if they’re unsure if their penalty is manual or algorithmic). There are also those who say that by submitting a reconsideration request you can speed up the disavow process, but this has yet to be proven outright.
But before you submit your request…
i) Analyse your links
As we’ve mentioned spend time analysing your backlinks and working out which ones are worth keeping and which are harming your site. How? Via Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer, Majestic and others.
ii) Contact webmasters
So you have bad links hosted on a number of websites… time to put on your email hat. It’s critical to email as many webmasters as possible to ask them to remove those links – not just for the benefit of your website – but so you can also document your efforts (using Google Docs) as part of your Reconsideration Request to show Google’s team that you’ve made a serious effort for the benefit of your site.
iii) Use the Disavow Tool
Google’s Disavow Tool is an effective tool that discounts low-quality links. However Google says ’You should still make every effort to clean up unnatural links pointing to your site’ before using it. Read: Get in touch with webmasters first!
The Disavow Tool should be used as a last resort if a low-quality link is pointing to your site and you simply can’t control it. If necessary a number of links from an entire site can be blocked with the ‘domain:example.com’ method.
Submit the links you’ve disavowed alongside the webmasters you’ve contacted (which can also be enclosed to Google as a Google doc) to show Google how much of an effort you’ve made and what your site means to you.
Pro Tip: Where a website links to your website from a number of different webpages consider disavowing entire domains over specific urls. To do this, simply use the following command;
Step 3 – Show your human side
It’s easy to think of Google as some kind of enormous Terminator/Matrix-style sorting machine because of its size and global reach (minus all the killings, of course).
But believe it or not your Reconsideration Request will be dealt with a human being working for Google.
Google’s Head of Webspam Matt Cutts even says in the following video about how much data you should be including when submitting a request:
So be honest and human. Outline that you’ve made a number of significant changes to your website’s policies and its overall ethics and that, most importantly, it won’t be happening again.
That doesn’t mean idle promises. That translates as a warts-and-all overview of who you were previously contacting in regard link-building and the measures your site is taking to ensure it never happens again.
If it was a mistake with your in-house SEO team have you put training measures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again, Cutts suggests,
Cutts also points out that if you were using an SEO company that “shot you in the foot” then tell them the details of the link networks they were using and outline the processes of the company that were at fault.
Cutts says you have to show your transparency and that your site won’t be trying anymore “fly by night” tricks for easy rankings. The more detail you provide and the more honest you are then the more likely the penalty will be lifted.
Step 4 – Wait…
As the request is being dealt with by humans and as Google has to deal with a number of queries (especially post-Penguin!) they don’t give specifics on turnaround times. Google says that people should wait ‘for a few days’ but that can vary.
Google will let you know the outcome of the request via Webmaster Tools when it has been dealt with.
Step 5 – Straighten up and fly right
“Give us a good faith assurance that it won’t happen again. [Google doesn’t] want to say ‘oh well this site looks like it’s reformed, OK, we’re going to lift this manual action’ and then they immediately go back to spamming and doing their old tricks.”
It’s as clear as that, says Cutts. Google, as the world’s largest search engine, holds all the cards. If you successfully have your penalty removed and go back to your old ways then you’re the only one that loses. They’ll clamp down again and your card will be marked.
More worryingly – alongside a drop in rankings and traffic – it shows that you don’t really care about your site and what it can potentially offer visitors and customers.
Producing creative content to attract traffic and entertain users is entirely in line with Google’s policies and complementing fresh, relevant content combined with an effective social strategy is an excellent way to build your brand and keep on Google’s good side.
If you’d like to find out more about the inner-workings of Google and what they mean for your website contact the Webpresence team today to find out more!