4 Steps to Take After a Google Manual Penalty is Removed

roads-to-recoveryAfter you have meticulously completed a link audit and followed all of the steps necessary to emerge from a manual penalty, you will find a note like this in Google Webmaster Tools:

Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.example.com/,

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider http://www.example.com/ for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Previously the webspam team had taken manual action on your site because we believed it violated our quality guidelines. After reviewing your reconsideration request, we have revoked this manual action. It may take some time before our indexing and ranking systems are updated to reflect the new status of your site.

Of course, there may be other issues with your site that could affect its ranking without a manual action by the webspam team. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users. If your site continues to have trouble in our search results, please see this article for help with diagnosing the issue.

Thank you for helping us to maintain the quality of our search results.


Google Search Quality Team

This is the culmination of a lot of hard work and effort. It’s an acknowledgement from Google that you have taken the appropriate measures to merit a second chance. It should put a smile on your face. It’s also the beginning of a new era in how you approach Internet marketing.

If You’re No Longer Being Penalized, Then Where Are Your Rankings?

Many people are surprised when a penalty is removed and they don’t see any movement in ranking. Google may employ more than 200 different signals when determining SERPs, but links still carry the most weight.

Remember all of those “unnatural” links that you just removed and disavowed? In addition to being unnatural, many were still quite powerful and responsible for your pre-penalty ranking success.

The Google Paradox

According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Of course, SEO proves to be the exception to this rule.

google-results-paradoxSome of the same activities that were responsible for ascending to number one in the SERPs are now responsible for manual penalties. In other words, doing the same thing can and does, in fact, yield very different results.

This paradox is a real stumbling block for many webmasters. They’ve bought into the Einstein theory and just can’t believe it when told they have to give up their spammy ways. They find it hard to believe that the same methods which once made them successful have now led to their downfall.

Webmasters need to understand that the game has changed and they no longer have a choice. Adhering to the webmaster guidelines is no longer a “suggested” course of action, it is required.

The Road to Recovery

A key factor in recovering from a penalty is a promise to adhere to the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Google takes a dim view of those who break this promise.

After emerging from a penalty, you’re like a Delta on double secret probation. You can’t afford to take any short cuts. Your marketing efforts need to reflect the realities of 2013, which doesn’t include any spammy SEO.

Step 1: Inspect Your Foundation

At one time, I was a residential real estate developer. When I found a building that I was interested in, my inspection started at the foundation.

The same principle applies to SEO. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to repair a website’s architecture than it is a brick-and-mortar foundation.

A good foundation begins with clean source code. Glenn Gabe recently described in detail why your source code matters.

Once you have clean code, it’s time to conduct an on-page SEO site audit. An amazing amount of opportunities exist for on-page optimization.

Step 2: Panda-Proof Your Website

In the days before Panda, you could take a really bad website, stuff it with keywords, point the right links to it and rank number one for “name any keyword.” That’s much less likely today, and the truism “content is king” is now algorithmically enforced.

Steps to Panda-proofing a site include:

Step 3: Build Author Rank (Ignore Google Suggest)

The Google suggest feature is a funny thing – funny, as in majorly sucks if your brand is being hammered by the suggestions. This is especially ironic when a Google product is affected. Take for example, the suggestions for the query “Google Plus is…”


The problem is that when people see this, they have a tendency to dismiss Google+. What they don’t realize is that the power of Google plus has nothing to do with the social components. The power of Google+ is in authorship.

In case you missed it, authorship has been a pretty hot topic lately – and with good reason. Google is a master at spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) and delivering cryptic messages. They aren’t known for being transparent and forthcoming.

For that very reason, when Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is quoted as saying:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

It should be recognized as a very big deal. In other words, if you want rankings, you better verify your identity via Google+ authorship. Anonymity will become the new irrelevance. The clarity of the message is breathtaking, considering the source.

Step 4: Link Building – It Isn’t Sexy, it Just Works

I’m often reminded of a remark I made back in 2006, about the value of a link. My point at the time was that acquiring a few high quality links was far more important than building thousands of spammy links. As we eagerly await the second coming of Penguin, this is even more relevant, today.

After emerging from a penalty, one must focus on the acquisition of highly relevant, editorially given, links. In other words, links that aren’t spammy and available just for the taking (no more blog comments, web 2.0 microsites, article directories, etc). A link that requires human intervention to create is, by its very nature, a valuable link.

Opportunities for Acquiring Editorial Links

Some of the best methods for acquiring high value editorial links include:

  • Mine competitor backlinks: Generally the first step in any link building campaign is competitive analysis – identifying gaps in your backlink profile vs. your competition. Keep in mind competitors’ change over time and vary by keyword. This is an ongoing process, not a one shot. Competitor backlink profiles are often filled with spam, so it’s important to evaluate each link before performing outreach. Target only the best opportunities.
  • Mine competitor assets: There are a number of SEO tools on the market that allow users to find the “top pages” on competitor websites. If those pages have a high number of inbound links from unique domains, it may be worth creating an even better version of that page on your site. Next, perform outreach to those linking to the competitors’ page and ask for a link to your new page.
  • Create a resource or links page: The list of link building lists is a great example of a resources page. Don’t sweat having a high number of outbound links. In our research, we’ve discovered an interesting correlation: the more external links on a page, the more inbound links it tends to attract.
  • Create a tutorial: Video tutorials perform consistently well on YouTube. If you can solve a problem or answer a question, you will attract links. Ever wonder how to get six-pack abs in 3 minutes? Then, you’re not alone as this dopey video has nearly 5 million views.
  • Build a glossary: The Search Engine Marketing Glossary at SEOBook is packed with useful definitions and explanations. Many companies have an opportunity to build an industry related glossary on their own site.
  • Give away free stuff: The key here is that it has to be useful. Things like free tools, free ebooks, and free widgets can all attract links if they provide genuine value.
  • Guest posts: This one is a little tricky, as I’m referring to real blogs and not the “made for guest post “blogs. Stay away from:
    • Blogs in which all of the content is created by a “guest”.
    • Blogs which allow unnatural links in the content or the author bio.
    • Pay-to-play blogs where money, not editorial approval, determines if a post is published.
    • Blogs with no identity – What the heck do weight loss, payday loans. and life insurance have in common? (Yes that’s a rhetorical question.)
  • Egobait: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie. Human nature hasn’t changed much since Carnegie wrote those words in 1936. If you recognize industry leaders in your blog posts, you will get links back from those leaders, citing that recognition.
  • Make the web a better place: Clean up broken links (a.k.a., broken link building). This is by far the best way to secure related links from an authority website. The best way to get someone to link to you is to provide a compelling reason to do so. Fixing a broken link is a compelling reason.
  • Make the world a better place: Offer a scholarship. The team at CustomMade.com has leveraged a scholarship and turned this page into a virtual link magnet. With 213 backlinks, including 45 .edu, this $1,000 scholarship has produced a solid ROI.


You get one chance to recover from a manual penalty. If penalized a second time, it will become exponentially more difficult to recover. Therefore, you need to follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines to the letter.

Since the introduction of Panda, the first step in any marketing campaign is to make certain that your website architecture is sound and your content is unique and valuable. Follow that up with authorship to build author rank. Finally, execute a link building program that concentrates on the acquisition of relevant and editorially approved links.

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