Many website owners feel quite violated when they login to their Google Webmaster tools only to see a message similar to the one below appear:
Google’s fight against Spam
Google are locked in a constant battle against a barrage of spammers and ‘black-hat’ SEO companies all vying to push their customers up the Google rankings in ways that are against Google’s quality guidelines. Basically, Google want to show websites in their results that are relevant; if you were searching for something and started to feel the results were ‘spam’ or just irrelevant you would probably stop using Google and switch to another search engine. This is the reason that Google have a ‘clear-out’ of websites every few months that they consider provide little value by being “over SEO’d”, (i.e. manipulated in their rankings) and visible, but that do not give searchers what they are looking for.
A manual action applied by Google basically means that one of Google’s staff have looked at your site and manually flagged it as ‘spammy’ in the Google results (or links in the form of forums, blogposts and business directories) that are pointing to it. You might wonder where these links have appeared on the Internet from pointing to your website; usually the answer is either your SEO company working to push you up Google or links posted in forums and reviews posted by your happy customers.
This leads to the question of how do you know whether your SEO company is using these underhand tactics to give your website a leg-up in the rankings, only then in months to come Google do another update, only for you to see your website vanish into the ether in the rankings and/or be hit with a Google manual penalty.
To find out if your website has been ‘hit’ by Google and a manual penalty applied, log into your Google Webmaster Tools and expand the “Search Traffic” tab as below:
If you see anything like this in there it means your website has been ‘hit’ by a Google employee manual action.
What do you do about a Google Manual Penalty?
The short answer is firstly, identify if the penalty was applied because of spam-like posts on your actual website (this could be in a forum on your website or blog). In many cases, spam issues on your actual website usually means that a helpful editor or webmaster has tried to ‘over optimise’ your website and has written content for search engines rather than website visitors.
In the old days, repeating the same phrase on a page (e.g. “buy jeans online buy jeans online buy jeans online”) used to work but are long gone. Some website owners used to even write the text in white thinking that it would defeat Google and make it think that their website was about “Jeans”. These days are long gone. You have to be smart when doing SEO these days.
If the reason for your website becoming penalised by Google is not because of content on the website it will most probably be because of toxic links built by your SEO company or webmaster which we come onto next.
What is a toxic link?
A toxic link is basically a link pointing from a website to your website that Google has decided is ‘spam’. The source website with the link is probably what is called a link farm – a page full of links with little relevant text content on the page. The important thing to know is that these ‘link farms’ or toxic links coming from websites were not always flagged by Google as spammy; Google has been on a huge anti-spam drive over the last 2 years to mark these links not only worthless to rankings, but also carry that penalty through to your website. Of course, they know that SEO companies build links to your website and that it is ‘accepted’ practice of link building – it is the underhanded and blatant techniques used by some SEO companies that buy links, swap links and generally do a bad job that your website has been penalised for.
Cleaning up your Links
We offer a full link-cleanup service and it can be time-consuming. Although Google has a ‘disavow tool‘ to mark links as bad that point to your website, it is not enough just to load the bad links into the Google Webmaster Tools and click the disavow button; they want to see that you have at least tried to remove some of the bad links.
There are several tools available to help identify toxic / bad links pointing to your website and it can take several weeks to remove; you have to quite literally, write to each website owner that has a bad link on it and then ask them to remove it – there is no shortcut.
Once some of the links appear to have been removed to Google only then should you upload a ‘disavow’ file.
A closing note is that the best way to see if your SEO company is up to the job is to ask them for examples and good old-fashioned references of their customer work, showing historical progress for some campaigns before they started and after and during the project. It can save a lot of pain later on when you then have to un-engineering bad links they have build.