Your traffic has plummeted and your business website has been slapped with a manual penalty from Google. Well, you can quell your doomsday thoughts, as we have actionable tips to help your site bounce back.

First, there are four major areas in which a penalty can be classified:

1. Unnatural links penalty

Majority of sites that receive a manual penalty (95%), receive an unnatural links penalty. It means you have a variety of links pointing back to your site that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. You’ll know you have one when you receive a notification in Google Webmaster Tools. It’ll look like this:

2. Hacked site penalty

This penalty is exactly what it sounds like: Your site has been hacked. Follow these tips from Google to help get your site back in your own hands.

3. User generated spam & other “black hat” tactics penalty

If you have this penalty, you probably know you were doing some risky black hat SEO tactics. Most people who receive this penalty typically rebuild their website from scratch.

4. Spam penalty

There are three different types and reasons as to why you’d receive a spam penalty: A) If majority of the pages on your website are hosted by a spammy site, it’ll be labeled a spammy freehost. B) If you’re using deceptive or spammy markups, it’ll be labeled as a spammy markup, and C) If your site is pure spam, which is self explanatory. Spam is pretty high on Google’s “do not do” list. Most site penalties don’t fall into this category.

How to undo the past:

The cause of the Google penalty needs to be unraveled in order to recover. This is tougher than untangling your iPhone headphones. It takes several months-to-a-year to do a full clean up job, and sometimes longer depending on the severity of the bad links. Go into the process with the right mindset, as there aren’t any short cuts. Here are the best recovery steps:

Clean up unnatural links up using the Google Disavow Tool

  1. Download “Most Recent Links” from Google Webmaster Tools. You can use other backlink services, like Moz’s Open Site Explorer, but Google has stated their “Recent Links” should be good enough to get a penalty removed.
  2. Upload links to a Google Drive (online Excel like platform).
  3. Work some Excel magic to remove duplicates, sort by root domain and keyword.
  4. Label domains as “remove” or “keep.” Yes, label domains rather than individual links. You’re going to be disavowing the whole domain, so if you find one bad link, the whole domain will be disavowed.
  5. When labeling bad links, don’t worry about getting every single link, look for trends instead. For example, look for the same keyword linking to a specific landing page.
  6. Email all web masters a link removal request and track the contact in your spreadsheet.
  7. Once you have your bad links identified, disavow them. We recommend disavowing the whole domain, not the individual links. Odds are, if you have one bad link from that site, you have more.

*Pro Tip: If you have to validate if or why a link looks “ok-ish,” get rid of it.

Note: The Google Disavow Tool can be dangerous. Here’s a great resource from Google about how to use it properly.

Ask for Reconsideration
After you’ve cleaned up your links, you’ll want to file a reconsideration request with Google. These requests are read by actual humans at Google. The biggest mistake many people make is not including enough information in the request. You can’t give Google too much information. Be sure to include your Excel/Google Drive spreadsheet in the request along with the number of links you removed and disavowed. Along with making SEO strategy changes for the better, we recommend saying “I’m sorry,” as it does go a long way. Powered by Search has a great example of a reconsideration request.

Rinse and Repeat

Unfortunately, the reconsideration request process isn’t always a one and done deal. It may take a few attempts and requests to get everything cleaned up. Usually Google will also be kind enough to give you a few problematic link samples causing the penalty. Take these links and do the following analysis on them:

  • Do they have exact anchor text matching?
  • Are the links from an article directory or link farm? Determine what’s wrong with these links and that should help point you in the right direction for further clean up.

We also recommend downloading more links from Google (and maybe even another source like Moz) to make sure you have the best data set. Once you label and reexamine the links, be sure to add that to your reconsideration request. Don’t delete anything from your first request because a new Googler might be looking at it without context regarding your situation. Even though you’ll be tempted to hustle through the “rinse and repeat” process, it doesn’t send the right message to Google. Leave a good chunk of time between requests as well, somewhere between 3 weeks to a month depending on how many backlinks you are dealing with. Also, be sure to continuously email webmasters to get your links removed from their sites. Google likes to see that you’re making an effort.


Once you’ve filed your umpteenth reconsideration request, waited on pins and needles, and obsessively checked your Google Manual Action Viewer in hopes of some good news, the day you dreamed about will finally arrive. You’ll receive a message that reads, “No Manual Spam Actions Found!” You’ll jump for joy, pop the bubbly and rejoice that your efforts were successful!

Not to burst any bubbles, but there are some realistic expectations that you should have after this experience. It would be safe to assume Google has a close eye on you, so don’t go back to your old ways! We can assure you the second penalty will be even more unpleasant. You should also not expect your keywords or site ranking to be back in its old position. Don’t forget, you removed or disavowed most of the links that were giving you those rankings, so it’ll take time to gain your rankings back the right way.

Getting through a manual penalty can be a frustrating process, but it’s certainly rewarding. Have you worked towards getting a Google penalty removed? We’d love to hear about your process in the comments.

Now you can go back to high-fiving everyone in your office.

Gif courtesy of Saturday Night Live

Want more tips? Get the VR Buzz delivered right to your inbox.

© 2014 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

Related Blogs

Ready to apply what you've
learned about Email