So You Were Penalized with a Google Manual Action. What Next?

Published Mar 01, 2014 by James Parsons in SEO
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So you’ve been handed a manual action penalty by Google, have you? What have you done, you naughty webmaster? The good news is that you know about it – you may not have even been made aware of the penalty before the 2013 rollout of the manual action viewer within Google Webmaster Tools, so you’re already ahead of a site that was penalized before the rollout. Now, what do you do with this information?

On Google’s Manual Actions page, you will find a brief description of the problem that resulted in your site’s penalization. It is of immense importance that you visit this page and discover the reason for your penalty, as each different type of penalty has its own method of resolution.

Here’s how to view Google’s Manual Action page:

• Click on ‘Search Traffic’ on the Webmaster Tools Dashboard

• Click on Manual Actions

• Note any actions that may be listed

According to Google, your next action is to ‘fix it’ and request a review – but what does ‘fixing it’ entail? That’s what this article is all about.

In general, if you’ve participated in any questionable endeavors to increase your website’s ranking via PageRank, cut it out. We’re not here to judge, but Google takes a certain stance on such actions, and many penalties are the result of such actions. Everyone makes mistakes, but cleaning up after them isn’t always easy.

Some actions impact your whole site, while others only involve a few specific links, and there are different ways of dealing with every sort of action that’s taken. Let’s take a look at each type of manual action penalty, and the methods you can employ to remove your site from Google’s penalty box while working to restore its previous glory (or, at least, it’s previous Google ranking).

Unnatural Links to Your Site – Impacts Links

In this case, your site has been noticed by Google as having a recurring role in a pattern of ‘unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative’ links that point to, you guessed it, your website. Sometimes this is not the fault of the website itself and, thus, there is no action you can take. Google realizes this and, as such, your site’s ranking is not affected by this particular action.


That said, if you do happen to know of any artificial links to your site, it is certainly in the best interest of your site to do whatever you can to have them taken down. If you don’t explicitly know of any artificial links to your site, search for them and, when you find them, do whatever you can do to have them taken down.

Whether you’ve been able to locate any ‘unnatural’ links removed from your site, look harder. Google has taken this manual action against your site for its own reasons, and it is in your best interest to take action. Google your site’s URL, and if you find any links that don’t seem quite right, do whatever you can to take them down.

The easy method of having these links removed is requesting that the linking site’s webmaster remove them entirely. Unfortunately, this is not always an option, and the question of whether or not you should endeavor to take more drastic routes (e.g. changing the URL of the destination to which the questionable URL linked) depends upon the specific site being linked, and the overall rank of your site. For example, if the link is nested deep within your website’s structure, changing the filename of one page might do the trick; however, if the link is directed towards your root page, and you still have a respectable PageRank, you may not wish to take such an ‘evasive’ approach.

Unnatural Links to Your Site

This is a more serious version of the ‘Unnatural Links to Your Site – Impacts Link’ action, so here are some additional steps you can take in this case.

• Download the list of links to your site from Google’s Webmaster Tools. You can do this via the following route – Links to Your Site > Who links the most > Download more sample links (or) Download more latest links.
• Familiarize yourself with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and compare the links that you’ve downloaded to the Google’s guidelines.
• If any links do not meet Google’s guidelines, try to contact the webmaster of the site hosting questioning links to your own, and ask them to remove/prevent the pages hosting those links from PageRank (you might suggest the “rel=’nofollow’ attribute.
• Finally, use the ‘Disavow Links’ tool, within your array of Google’s Webmaster Tools, to ‘disavow’ links that you were not able to have removed.
• Request a reconsideration of your site from Google and wait (patiently) for a response within your Webmaster Tools account

Unnatural Links from Your Site

In this case, you will again wish to revisit Google’s Webmaster guidelines. Remember, knowledge is power! Next, look for links on your site that Google might think you’ve paid for, or that might have violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines in any other way (excessive link exchanges, for example).

Unnatural-Links-from-Your-SiteIf you found any, either remove them entirely, or use the “rel=”nofollow” attribute to redirect them away from Google’s PageRank algorithms, and request a reconsideration from Google.

Hacked Site

Well, this is no good. No webmaster on Earth wants to wake up to find this action on their Webmaster Tools account. But what on Earth should you do, if you do?

This one goes beyond the scope of this article, unfortunately, but help is out there! As Google says, ‘Unfortunately, it’s likely your site was hacked.’ And they say that right here</a>.

Visit the site linked above (here’s that link again, because if your site has been compromised, we strongly encourage you to visit it: Take all of the necessary actions and precautions.

The short version of Google’s instructions involves taking your website down until the method of attack and the extent of the damage can be reviewed (use Webmaster Tools to help with this process), identify the specific vulnerability that allowed the attack to occur, patch the vulnerability and deal with any recognizable damage, then request a review from Google.

Thin Content with Little or No Added Value

There are a number of reasons this action could have been taken, but they all typically involve associations with low quality, shallow websites. Google has basically deemed your site to be of limited value and low quality, so we do hope that you didn’t spend too much time working on it.

Your first course of action, in this case, is to follow some recommended actions, such as:

• Review Google’s Webmaster Guidelines concerning…

  • o Automatically generated content
    o Affiliated programs
    o Scraped content
    o Doorway pages

• Use a service such as CopyScape to identify any content within your site that duplicates content found on any (or any number of) other sites 3. Check your site for doorway pages (pages that have been created for the specific purpose of ‘spamming’ search engines, utilizing certain content to accrue clicks and relay them to a different page)


• Google’s official suggestion, at this juncture, is to ‘think about whether your site provides significant added value for your users.’ This suggestion suggests that Google is interpreting your site as nothing more than an advertisement for another site. If it is, consider other means of promotion. If it is not, find ways to prove it to Google (by, for example, adding unique and valuable content via content brokers such as

• Implement Google’s suggestions and request an official review.

Pure Spam

You will only see this, or any of the next few actions, if your website is doing ‘spammy’ type actions of which you’re likely aware. While we can offer our best advice in this matter, Google is rather adept at staying on top of this sort of thing.

If you see the ‘Pure Spam’ action attributed to your site, you’ll want to remove any aggressive spam techniques that may be currently in use on your website. These techniques include scraping content from other sites (thievery), cloaking (black ops), and generated gibberish (trying to fool PageRank). If you wish for your previous PageRank to ever return to normal, it is in your best interest to remove these features from your website.

User-Generated Spam

This one involves users and form sanitization, basically. If you’re flagged with user-generated spam, it’s time to look at any portion of your website in which users can generate content. Forums, profiles, and blog comments are all possible suspects.

Check these areas out. Look for posts, or even profiles, that seem to be advertisements, or even those that include out-of-context content and/or links. Anything that’s user-generated, and doesn’t look like it quite belongs on your site, should be firmly dealt with.

Once you’ve sterilized your user’s content (and hopefully sought methods of keeping it sterile for the immediate future), request a review from Google.

Cloaking and/or Sneaky Redirects

This is a dark area in which we hope that you are not purposely treading. When you are flagged with this action, it means that your site could be showing different pages to viewers than it is showing to Google, or even directing users to different site than those that are shown to Google.

We’re going to assume that you don’t know anything about this, so take the following actions:


• In your Webmaster Tools, use the ‘Fetch as Google’ tool to compare the content that is fetched by Google to the content that is seen by a human user (this would be you) whilst visiting your website.
• If the content differs in any way, immediately remove the portion of your website that is serving different sorts of content to Google than it is to regular viewers (again, you, using the ‘Fetch as Google’ tool).
• If the content differs in any way, immediately remove the portion of your website that is serving different sorts of content to Google than it is to regular viewers (again, you, using the ‘Fetch as Google’ tool).
• Once you’re absolutely, positively sure that your site follows Google’s webmaster guidelines, request a reconsideration from Google. /LIST

Hidden Text and/or Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is largely considered to be an unethical search engine optimization (SEO) technique, and Google is among those companies who believe it to be unacceptable.

If Google has accused you of keyword stuffing, here’s what to do:

• Using Google’s Webmaster Tools, use the Fetch as Google tool to check your website for content that may be visible to Google’s webcrawler but not to the human user.
• Check the text.

  • o Make sure that all of the text on your website is the color that you want it to be, and not the color of your site’s background.
    o Look out for any text that’s hidden in any way, or unavailable due to certain types of CSS styling.
    o Look for text that’s repetitive, or text that doesn’t include any observable, valuable content.

• Find any hidden text? Unhide it. Make it discoverable by both search engines, and human users. If your content is to blame, make sure that it offers a sequentially observable value to regular, human users of your website.
• Re-check your entire site for strings of repetitive text, and remove any redundant data.
• Once your site has been sanitized using the above guidelines, request a reconsideration of your site from Google.

As we wrote earlier, we’re not here to judge, we’re here to help. Google does its best to keep its search results from displaying spammy content that offers little value to users who are searching for meaningful content. The best advice that we can give? Use that to your advantage – the more value you add to your content, and the less tricks you use to draw viewers to your site, the more likely it is that your site will earn a good value within PageRank, and the less likely it is that you’ll be penalized with a manual action.

Written by James Parsons

James Parsons

James Parsons is a blogger and marketer, and is the CEO of Pagelift. When he isn’t writing at his personal blog or for HuffPo, Inc, or Entrepreneur, he is working on his next big project.

Join the Discussion

  • I just started really trying to learn and understand penalties. This has been the most in depth article I have read on the subject. As an example, I did not know a website could be penalized for outbound links. But, I have also never sold links on my site. But it makes sense. Now, I have another reason to avoid link management companies.

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