Manual Webspam Actions

Gyi Tsakalakis
August 22, 2013

Earlier this month, Google gave webmasters the ability to view manual webspam action in Webmaster Tools. This post discuss what manual webspam action are, how you can see whether you have one and what you can do about it if you do.

So, you've been hard at work gaming Google. Maybe you set up a bunch of similarly looking spammy law firm or legal "information" websites and linked them together. Maybe you joined a spammy blog network. Maybe you paid someone in a far away land to build a bunch of crappy links to your website.

Maybe your bad law firm SEO even worked, at least for a little while. But then something happened. Along came the penguin.

Now you're scrambling to figure out what went wrong and what you can do about it (new guy's in the corner puking his guts out).

One possibility? You suffered a manual webspam action.

Google's Matt Cutts recently announced:

We strive to keep spam out of our users’ search results. This includes both improving our webspam algorithms as well as taking manual action for violations of our quality guidelines. Many webmasters want to see if their sites are affected by a manual webspam action, so today we’re introducing a new feature that should help. The manual action viewer in Webmaster Tools shows information about actions taken by the manual webspam team that directly affect that site’s ranking in Google’s web search results. To try it out, go to Webmaster Tools and click on the “Manual Actions” link under “Search Traffic."

What is Webspam?

For those of you who aren't familiar with what webspam is, Google provides some detailed information:

Spam sites attempt to game their way to the top of search results through techniques like repeating keywords over and over, buying links that pass PageRank or putting invisible text on the screen. This is bad for search because relevant websites get buried, and it’s bad for legitimate website owners because their sites become harder to find. The good news is that Google's algorithms can detect the vast majority of spam and demote it automatically. For the rest, we have teams who manually review sites.

Identifying and Responding to Manual Webspam Action

Before we discussed how to respond to manual webspam actions, we have to determine whether a manual wespam action was really taken.

It's important to remember that the majority of fluctuations that you're likely to see in your organic search positions and organic traffic are the result of algorithmic actions, not manual actions. In other words, most of the time, when you gain or lose rankings, it's because a search engine made a change in the "math" that they use to rank pages. Manual action means a person flagged your site, pages or links for spam, not the machine.

To see whether a manual action has been taken, head over to Webmaster Tools.

  1. On the Webmaster Tools Dashboard, click Search Traffic.
  2. Click Manual Actions.
  3. Review any manual actions that are listed. Once you've addressed these problems, and are sure that your site follows the Webmaster Guidelines, click Request a review to ask Google to reconsider your site.

If you see a manual spam action listed, congratulations, Google has caught you.

Before you freak out and immediately submit a reconsideration request, you should spend some time learning about the different types of manual actions.

Submitting a reconsideration request without taking the right corrective action first, will lead to a denial of your request.

My .02 on recovery, disavowal and reconsideration is to document everything. Google wants to see that you've worked to contact other webmasters to get links removed.

If the site that has had manual action taken isn't your main site and you can live without it, dump it and start fresh.

Recovery from manual action is a frustrating, time intensive process. Often times, your best bet is to start fresh with a new approach to web marketing.

If you're losing rankings and organic search traffic and a manual webspam action wasn't taken, you're probably just the victim of an algorithmic update. You don't need to submit a reconsideration request. However, you do need to consider changing your ways.

If you'd like, we're happy to take a look.

Moz has a few really informative posts on Google penalties and recovery:

Lifting A Manual Penalty Given By Google (Personal Experience)
Recovery From Google Penguin - Tips From The Trenches
The Difference Between Penguin and an Unnatural Links Penalty (and some info on Panda too)

Okay lawyers and law firm SEOs, anyone brave enough to share their manual webspam action or reconsideration request story?

Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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