Acquisition of a penalty can be a daunting task to address. You have been told by your SEO that the work they have done up to this point abides by the Google Quality Guidelines, and now that trust is broken. More than likely you have severed ties with your SEO company / employee, and now the responsibility resides with you to lift the penalty from your website.
The first step to addressing any penalty is to pinpoint the links that Google wants you to remove and/or disavow. Performing an in-depth back-link analysis is a REQUIREMENT to lift an unnatural links penalty from a website. Check out our Back-link Analysis Beginner’s Guide for a walk-through to guide you through the process of analyzing your back-links. Once you have analyzed your back-links and removed an acceptable percentage of unnatural links from the linking domains (~40-60%, depending on the amount of ransoms requested by webmasters, unresponsiveness, and a few other issues that prevent removal), you will need to prepare a reconsideration request that does each of the three following things:
- Explain the exact quality issue(s) on your website.
- Describe the steps you have taken to fix the issue(s).
- Documentation that shows the outcome of your efforts.
Explain the quality issues.
Quality issues are primarily regarding off-site work that has been done to unnaturally boost your rankings in Google. Describing on-site issues such as mobile usability, page-load times, and switching to a new e-commerce platform are not the issues that Google wishes to review when handling a partial or site-wide unnatural links penalty. The Google Search Quality team member wants to read specific details about the SEO strategies that were used to boost your website’s keyword rankings, whether it be article spam, directory linking, guest posting, or a combination of all the things! If you are not familiar with many of the link schemes that Google is attempting to eradicate, then please review their post regarding unnatural link schemes here.
You can explain the quality issues in a variety of ways, but the easiest way is to list them in bullet points. There’s no reason to FULLY explain each of the SEO strategies, the Google Search Quality Team is well-versed in the various schemes that have been used over the years to unnaturally boost websites in the SERPs. Just remember, there is an actual human on the other end reading and reviewing your letter. Think of it like a paper you write for your English teacher, except don’t add fluff to make it look like you did more work than you actually did, be straightforward and succinct with your details.
If you have to throw your SEO under the bus, then do it. However, the biggest pitfall I’ve seen when it comes to writing a reconsideration request are website owners that say, “We didn’t know what they were doing, we just paid them to help us rank.” LIES. The fact that you were PAYING them to help you rank implies you knew at least a smidgen of what your SEO was doing on your behalf, however, it’s more accurate to say that you were not up to speed on the specific strategies that were used to acquire unnatural links. Own up to your past mistakes, don’t just feign ignorance.
Describe what you did to remove the manual penalty.
Explaining the results of the work you’ve done to fix the link quality issues with your website is necessary to prove to Google that you have done all within your power to lift the penalty. Giving the Google team member the total number of websites contacted, removed, etc. will go a long way in proving you have put forth earnest effort to clean up the unnatural links.
If you had a network of blogs that you owned linking to your website that have since been deactivated, tell them that. If you hired a company or used to tool to help with link removal outreach, tell them that. If you spent hours of your day emailing and calling webmasters to remove links, tell them that. All of these details, as small as they may seem, are important to Google, and shows that you have put forth a great deal of effort to get your site back into compliance with their guidelines.
Documentation that shows what you have done to clean up the web.
Google does not expect you to remove every single unnatural link that was built to your website. However, they do expect to see evidence that you contacted each of these websites and the results of that outreach. You can do this in a variety of ways, but my favorite is to use a tool to track the links, contact dates, and all the other information for you, such as Remove’em. However, if you are a more hands-on kind of webmaster, then you can simply use a spreadsheet to track contact dates and the number of times you contacted each website. You should also keep very good notes regarding each response from the webmasters, whether they asked for a link removal ransom, removed / no-followed the link, refused to do as your email requested, or were simply unresponsive.
Many webmasters request that we take screenshots of each and every email that we send, as to provide to Google to review. Put yourself in the shoes of a Google employee, do you want to thumb through 1000’s of screenshots of emails and contact forms, or a spreadsheet that provides all the information in an easily interpreted format? We suggest using the spreadsheet format in providing evidence to Google, which has proved to be very successful, as every client that has followed our recommendations has successfully lifted their manual penalty.
The last step before you take the plunge and submit your reconsideration request is to have a comprehensive disavow file in place to negate the PageRank from the remaining unnatural links. Google created the disavow links tool to assist with the penalty removal process, so it should NOT be the cure-all of which you rely to lift your penalty. If you blindly add all the back-links to the disavow file without attempting removals, Google will not accept your reconsideration request and you will have to wait 3 to 4 weeks to submit the next reconsideration letter. Check out our guide on how to submit a disavow file here.
Don’t be afraid to take the plunge. You aren’t alone, as there are thousands of other webmasters with penalties similar to yours. If you have hit a wall with the work you are doing to clean up the back-links to your website, then you are more than likely ready to submit a reconsideration request to Google.
BONUS: Here’s a video from Matt Cutts on the things that should be included in a proper reconsideration request:
If this task seems too daunting, we have an expert team of consultants who can handle the analysis, link removal outreach, disavow file & reconsideration request submissions, and any additional consultation that is needed. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org today for more information regarding our pricing models!
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